Visiting Uyuni Salt Flats was the highlight of our Bolivian and Chilean trip. Although we spent only a day at the salt flats, our 3 days tour provided many experiences and unbelievable scenery with lagoons, geysers, unique rock formations, mountains and volcanoes on Bolivia’s Altiplano. Our tour departed from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile and finished in Uyuni, though there are many kinds of tour options. Continue reading to know how to pick the best Uyuni Salt Flats tour to Bolivia.
Best time to visit Uyuni Salt Flats
The salt flats have 2 different faces, the experience is different in rainy and dry seasons.
It’s up to you, what you prefer to see 😉
During the RAINY SEASON (December-April), you can witness the “mirror effect”, when a thin layer of water on the salt acts as a mirror. So you can look at the blue sky and its reflection on the water at the same time. However, some parts of the salt flats aren’t accessible because of the water, like the famous Incahuasi island (Isla Incahuasi). This island is located in the middle of the salt flat and covered in cactuses.
The rainy season, the South-American summer assures warm weather during the day, though nights and early mornings can be cold.
In the DRY SEASON (June – November), every part is reachable and you can adore the endless white salt flat with its hexagonal pattern, but you can’t observe the fascinating mirror effect. But the temperature is lower and you might need warmer clothes and a sleeping bag during the night.
However, AT THE END OF DECEMBER AND THE BEGINNING OF JANUARY you can explore the mirror effect and visit Incahuasi island too. So that would be the best time to visit Uyuni Salt Flats.
The high season is December in the rainy season and July in the dry season.
We visited the salt flats in February, and we were mesmerized by its vastness and “mirror effect”. The attractions and stops during our 3 days weren’t busy and sometimes we were even alone without any other groups.
Watch our travel video on YouTube about our 3 days Uyuni Salt Flat tour!
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How to pick your Uyuni Salt Flats tour to Bolivia?
You’ll find loads of Uyuni tours for 1, 2, 3 and even more days, so you just have to decide your starting point, finishing points and the length of the tour.
Tours depart from Bolivian cities like Uyuni, La Paz, Tupiza, Sucre and even from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Itinerary can be modified according to climate and road conditions and keep in mind that tours starting from Uyuni have different routes.
If you have enough time, I’d highly recommend the 3 days tour. Beyond the fascinating salt flats, you will see many colourful lagoons, mountains, extraordinary rock formations and even llamas and flamingos.
How to book your Salar de Uyuni tour?
IN LOCAL TOUR OFFICES YOU CAN BOOK YOUR TOURS FOR A LOWER COST THAN ONLINE on the actual day or a few days in advance. Collect brochures from different agencies to compare their tours, prices and read reviews about them online. Always ask what to bring and what is included in the price. Usually, English speaking guide, hot shower and private room in hostels aren’t included.
We booked our trip in the centre of San Pedro de Atacama, which is full of tourist agencies. White & Green International Travel had good reviews online, so we reserved our 3 days Uyuni Salt Flats trip with them, starting in San Pedro de Atacama and finishing in Uyuni.
They also have the option to return to San Pedro, though instead of an extra night in a hostel and a long drive we choose to stay in Bolivia. The office also provides trips departing from Uyuni and Tupiza. Moreover, they organize many tours in Chile, so after booking more tours with them, we even got a discount from the tour price.
3 days Uyuni Salt Flats tour departing from San Pedro de Atacama and finishing in Uyuni
- Tour agency: White & Green International Travel
- Duration: 3 days if finishing in Uyuni and 4 days if going back to San Pedro
- Price for 3 days/2 nights – 110.000 CLP/ person (instead of 120.000 CLP), (starting in San Pedro and finishing in Uyuni)
- (Price for 4 days/3 nights – 140.000 CLP/ person (starting and ending in San Pedro))
- Included in the 3 days/2 nights price: 2 nights in hostels, all meals, transportation by minibus to the border, transportation by 4×4 in Bolivia
- Extra costs: private room in a hostel – 30 USD, English guide – 15 USD
- Additional entrance fee: National Reserve 150 BOB/person
On the following map (My Maps by Google Maps) you can see the main stops during our 3 days.
By clicking on the tab next to “3 days Uyuni Salt Flats tour”, you can see the actual points, and it’s also possible to turn off and on layers. Furthermore, you can also save this map (if you have My Maps account) by pressing the star next to the map title.
Must bring to your Uyuni Salt Flats trip
- Passport or ID card
- If you’re departing from Chile, make sure to keep the PDI immigration paper you get after entering the country!
- Winter clothes & layers (daytime temperatures can be warm and sunny but windy, the nights are cold)
- Hat, scarf and gloves
- Comfortable shoes, if possible water resistant
- Camera or other gears
- Swimsuit, if you want to enjoy the outdoor hot spring
- Towel (hostels don’t provide towels)
- Sunglasses, the sun can be powerful at high altitude
- Sunscreen + body lotion
- Lip balm
- Cash for state park fees, hot shower and toilet (min 250 BOB)
- Hand sanitiser + baby wipes
Buy before the tour
- Water (min 6 litres) to be hydrated
- Toilet paper
- Coca leaves and coca toffees to prevent altitude sickness
Day 1 – Lagoons, mountains and volcanoes of Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve
Our hostel pick-up was between 6:30 and 7:00 am, then we headed to the Chilean border, which opens only at 8 am, so we waited about 20 minutes there, but our bus was the 1st in the queue. Our passports were checked and we could even visit the toilet (which wasn’t at the Bolivian border).
Make sure to keep the PDI immigration paper you get after entering Chile! Here you’ll need it.
Crossing the Bolivian border
The Bolivian border was a few kilometres away from the Chilean, which is already part of the National Park. The immigration office was super small and didn’t look like an immigration office at all, though queueing was fast.
Our breakfast was served at the border, at the foot of Juriques volcano. We even saw a vicuña family crossing the border while eating our avocado sandwich. Beyond avocado, we had tasty Chilean bread, cheese and ham. I just drank a coca tea, because only powdered coffee was provided, so I didn’t drink coffee for 3 days.
Despite the sunny weather, it was chilly outside, so dress warmly and wear layers!
Our driver, Basilio, arrived by his 4×4 vehicle to take us to Bolivia after our English speaking guide, Kelly and 3 friendly travel partners joined us. After a few minutes drive, we paid a fee to enter Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa (Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve).
Laguna Blanca and Verde
First, we visited 2 lagoons lying at the foot of Licancabur and Juriques Volcanoes. Laguna Blanca (White Lagoon) contains minerals like magnesium and potassium, which give the white edge and shade of the water.
The other one next to it, Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon) has a green colour thanks to minerals like copper and arsenic, which make its water poisonous. So there you won’t see flamingos.
Desierto Salvador Dalí (Salvador Dalí Desert)
The car drove between fascinating colourful mountains and it stopped in Salvador Dalí Desert. Dalí hasn’t been in the desert, though the mountains on his painting called Nude in the desert landscape resembles this scenery, so they named it after him.
Thermas do Polques (hot springs in Polques)
The next stop was the hot spring of Polques. One is 36oC and the other is 38oC warm, both of them overlooking a beautiful lagoon. First, you’ll have to buy a ticket (including a toilet fee), which allows you to bath in the hot springs.
There are changing rooms, so you don’t wear your swimming suit from the beginning of the day. Though it’s better to separate your swimming suit, towel and flip flops to access them easily. And don’t forget your sunscreen before going into the water.
After bathing, we enjoyed our lunch with a view of the lagoon.
Sol de Mañana (Morning Sun) geysers
The area of Sol de Mañana (Morning Sun) geysers is the result of volcanic activities. The region of geysers, mud lakes and steam pools is around 10 sqm, though this number might increase over the years. The temperature of the exploding steam can reach 90ºC (and can be very smelly…).
Here everyone had an intense headache because we were at an altitude of 5000 m. Though taking “farting geyser” photos somehow reduced the pain.
Laguna Colorada, the red-coloured lagoon is located 4300 meters above sea level and it’s the home to hundreds of flamingos from 3 different species. Red algae and special bacterias give the colour to the lagoon, what the flamingos eat and get their pink colour.
First, we walked along the lakeside to meet flamingos and llamas. So for the 1st time in my life, I’VE SEEN LLAMAS! What a day! On the way back to the car, we took the road on the top to adore the panorama. This area, especially the path on the top was crazy windy, so don’t leave your jacket in the car.
Finally, we had a long ride to the hostel, accompanied by a headache as a symptom of altitude sickness. The accommodation was located in Quetena, an almost abandoned village. We got a private room, though we didn’t pay extra for it. The bed was covered with many blankets, so it wasn’t cold during the night. However, if you prefer to take a hot shower, you have to pay some extra for it.
After our arrival, biscuits, tea and water were waiting for us. For dinner, we had soup and vegetables with meat, which was a typical Bolivian dish according to our guide.
Day 2 – Rock formations and lagoons
Our breakfast was served at 6:30 am and included tea, powdered coffee, pancakes, marmalade, dulce de leche and even more.
We left the hostel at 7:00 am to discover more gorgeous landscapes.
Valle de las Rocas (Valley of rocks)
Valle de las Rocas (Valley of rocks) and its rock formations looked special thanks to the thousands of years of mega volcanic activity and wind erosion.
One huge rock’s shape was similar to the World Cup, though from an angle it resembled a screaming woman. There was also a sitting camel and 3 kings, which looked like a dinosaur for me… But you can decide what you see 😉
Lost Italian (Italia perdide)
The next stunning rock canyon was Italia perdide, which was named after an Italian camping there, who went to pee and after returning to his campsite, his tent disappeared. The tall cliffs had fascinating forms, many of them supposed to look like something and we were having a lot of fun figuring out its shapes.
We stopped at a lagoon because some llamas were eating grass at its side. I don’t remember the lagoon’s name because I was occupied with adoring the fluffy llamas…
These Bolivian llamas aren’t that domesticated, so don’t try to pet them and keep a distance.
Katal Canyon and Laguna Katal
At our next “rocky” stop, Katal Canyon, we’ve seen more extraordinary rock formations and even a black lagoon called Laguna Negra also called Laguna Katal and Laguna Misteriosa because of its high altitude location.
We spent around an hour to discover the cliffs, lagoon and animals. You can climb up on hills to adore the view from the top and up there you might even see some viscacha, which belongs to the family of chinchillas and looks like a rabbit. Though viscacha has a longer tail, which helps in balancing on the cliffs.
The vast green meadow between the cliffs was full of fluffy llamas. Many many llamas in different colours and sizes! They don’t like people, when I went closer, they turned their back and went further.
We had lunch and continued our journey to Uyuni. On the way, we saw even more llamas, vicuñas and quinoa plants.
Canon de la Anaconda (Canyon of snake)
The Canyon of snake got its name after the river’s shape, which curves at the bottom of the valley. The curvy river is visible if you walk to the cliff above the canyon, where you can adore the vastness of the valley.
This small village of San Cristobal was located at a nearby silver mine, which is the 3rd biggest in the world. They had to expand the mine, so the village was moved farther to its current location and rebuilt as it was.
Cementerio de Trenes (Uyuni Train Cemetery)
The Uyuni Train Cemetery is located close to the city of Uyuni. In the 19th century, Bolivia was planning to build a large railway system, though the project was cancelled because of technical difficulties. So the trains were left there in the ’50s.
These rusty locomotives are a perfect place for tourists to pose with them. Our guide, Kelly showed us her favourite trains and took awesome Instagrammable photos of us.
Sunset at Uyuni Salt Flats
On the way to Colchani and the hostel, we could see the setting sun. Our driver headed to the edge of the salt flat and we could enjoy the sunset and its reflection in the thin water layer.
We spent the night at a salty hostel in Colchani, only 10 minutes drive from the edge of Uyuni Salt Flats. The floor, some parts of the wall were made of salt, as well as the tables, chairs and beds. We were lucky to receive a private room again, though the hot shower wasn’t free. Electricity and light were also provided, which is not that common around the salt flats.
Our dinner was served in the salty dining room and we even got a bottle of Bolivian red wine.
After dinner, we went outside to watch the stars, because light pollution is very low there (level 2), so we could even see the Milky Way and its stars. We finished the bottle of wine while staring at the sky and appreciated this enchanting experience.
Day 3 – Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni)
The 3rd day was all about Uyuni Salt Flats, which are the largest and highest located salt flats in the world. It lays 3660 m above sea level and it’s more than 12.000 sqm, though this number increases every year. The salt layer consists of 11 layers, which is 100 m deep in total and the salt layer on the top is 15-20 m deep.
Thousands of years ago, a huge lake was there. Thanks to the climate of the desert, the water evaporated leaving behind minerals like salt, and salt flats appeared after a long time. The structure of salt bricks also shows the process with its white and brown layers. The white layers represent the dry season and the brown the rainy season.
Sunrise at Salar de Uyuni
Our last day started very early because we departed at 5:30 am to watch the sunrise at Salar de Uyuni before 6:20 am. Thanks to the rainy season and the mirror effect, we could enjoy the colourful sunrise as well as its reflection. Our guide, Kelly also made awesome photos of us and our reflection.
The morning was chilly, we even wore a light jacket and a knit hat.
Breakfast at the Salt Hotel and Flags of the world
We drove to the 1st built salt hotel on the salt flat, which doesn’t operate as a hotel anymore because the significant amount of visitors didn’t have a good effect on the salt. We enjoyed our breakfast there and also checked the “Flags of the world”, where we could observe the flags of the explorers from around the globe.
After a long drive on the salt flat, our 2nd photoshoot started. Kelly took many photos and videos of us playing with the perspective and using wine bottle, dinosaur and llama to create a unique experience and memory for us.
Colchani village and salt factory
Then we had to say goodbye to the salt flats and went back to the village of Colchani to check the salt processing mine and its market. We could see the techniques of salt making from salt bricks to salt, salt crystals and salty souvenirs.
The street of the factory is full of markets selling souvenirs like llama and flamingo toys, colourful Bolivian clothes, accessories and many practical and impractical objects decorated with Bolivian patterns and llamas.
Lunch in Uyuni
We finished our trip with lunch in Uyuni. The restaurant had wifi, so everyone’s face was glowing when they saw the wifi sign after 3 days. Our lunch was soup, Bolivian quinoa and llama meat… Yep, we ate llama… Don’t judge me…
The final station was the office of White & Green International Travel, where we had to fill a form and say goodbye to each other because our travel partners returned to San Pedro de Atacama and a long drive was waiting for them.
How much did we spend during our 3 days Uyuni Salt Flats trip?
I’ve listed our expenses for you to calculate your budget and be aware of the costs.
In the Uyuni Salt Flats tour price, almost everything was included (2 nights in hostels, all meals, transportation by minibus to the border, transportation by 4×4 in Bolivia), so we needed extra money only for entrance fees, toilet and hot showers. BRING AT LEAST 250 BOB/PERSON IN CASH because you won’t be able to pay entrance and toilet fees by your card.
For both of us, the trip cost 228.200 CLP and 394 BOB in total, which is around 344 USD (if 1 BOB = 0,15 USD). I kept a record of our daily costs (see below per day) and these are our expenses in total:
- Tour price and preparations in San Pedro for both of us – 228.200 CLP (~286 USD)
- Entrance fees – 156 BOB/person (~23 USD)
- Toilet fees – 21 BOB/person (~3 USD)
- Hot showers – 20 BOB/person (~3 USD)
Previous days in San Pedro de Atacama
- 3 days Uyuni Salt Flats tour – 110,000 CLP (~138 USD)
- Snacks + toilet paper – 4200 CLP
- 2 x 6 litres water – 4000 CLP
Day 1 – Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa
- Entrance fee to Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa – 150 BOB/ person
- Toilet fee at the entrance of the National Reserve – 3 BOB/ person
- Swimming fee at Thermas do Polques, if you wish to bath – 6 BOB/person (toilet fee included)
- Toilet fee Thermas do Polques- 3 BOB/person
- Toilet fee at Laguna Colorada – 5 BOB/person
- Hot shower at the hostel – 10 BOB/person
Day 2 – Rock formations and lagoons
- Toilet fee at the restaurant next to Laguna Katal – 2 BOB/person
- Toilet fee in San Cristobal – 1 BOB/person
- Hot shower at the salty hostel – 10 BOB/person
Day 3 – Uyuni Salt Flats
- Toilet fee at the salty hostel, our breakfast place – 5 BOB/person
- Toilet fee in Colchani salt factory – 2 BOB/person
Our tour was finished in Uyuni and we travelled to La Paz that evening with a night bus, but that’s another story and blog post…
This Uyuni tour was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life, we visited magnificent landscapes, met llamas and saw the neverending whiteness of the salt flats. Now you know how to pick the best Uyuni Salt Flats tour to Bolivia, so put it quickly on your bucket list and search for tours. I’m not saying that the trip of White & Green International Travel is the best, but it was pretty amazing and affordable 😉
Are Uyuni Salt Flats on your bucket list? Leave a comment below and tell me your experiences.
Interested in more Bolivian and South-American landscapes?
- A day trip to Isla del Sol, Bolivia
- How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile?
- Ilhabela travel guide – what to do and where to go
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