After taking that side trip down Death Road, Paul and I jetted off on a 3D2N tour of Salar de Uyuni and its surrounding areas. This was the primary reason we ventured into Bolivia so my hopes and expectations were super high. We arrived in the little dusty town of Uyuni at 8am and we immediately set off to find a tour that departed that same morning. Hotels in this area were surprisingly expensive and we really didn’t plan or want to spend a night here. Our first choice, Red Planet, was fully booked but luckily our plan B kicked in and Cordillera Travellers was able to fit us in. There really isn’t much in the town of Uyuni so I was pretty happy we were able to leave straight away. And since our tour started here and ended in San Pedro de Atacama, we didn’t have to spend any time in Uyuni at all. The world is a really small place though, as we ran into fellow Death Road survivers (also from Vancouver!) here.
Paul and I were fully aware our tour would mostly be conducted in Spanish. In fact, we specifically chose the Spanish tour because we decided early on we wanted more Spanish practice and to learn more vocab . It turned out our guide/driver barely did any speaking and it was mostly us six travellers (2 Germans + 2 Brits) talking amongst ourselves. Throughout our trip Paul made good use of his handy offline Wikipedia app and we looked up the places of interest and educated ourselves. So much for learning Spanish…
The tour itself was a 3 day affair. About 3km outside of Uyuni, we made a brief stop at the Train Cemetery where the abandoned trains and tracks are reminders of a collapsed mining industry here in the 1940s. Before long, we arrived at the headliner attraction – Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats.
Home to the largest salt flats in the world, Salar de Uyuni covers a whopping area of 10,582 square kilometers. The blue skies, the massive white expanse and the extreme flatness in this area is a photographers dream come true. However, taking those perfect perspective photos was way harder than I imagined. Those amazing photos on Google images must have been planned, practiced and photoshopped! That night, we stayed in a salt hotel where one of our travel mates had a very major encounter with bed bugs. Luckily Paul and I escaped with not even a mosquito bite
You may ask, if we saw the main attraction on Day 1, what was left to see for 2 more days? Turned out there was lots left! For the remainder of the tour, we visited Cacti Island, and drove from lagoon to lagoon to see the large herds of pink flamingos. There were also volcanoes and bubbly geysers The weather was as unpredictable as ever. One minute it was hot and sweaty and then it would snow at our next stop. On our last day, we made a stop at an outdoor hot spring and it was snowing the whole time we were there
Day 3 was mainly a travel day and our driver dropped us off at the Bolivian immigration office by 11am. From there, it would be another 1 hr drive in a different bus to San Pedro de Atacama/ Chilean immigration office and time for us to say “hasta luego” to Bolivia.
You can see the rest of our Bolivia / Salar de Uyuni photos in the Gallery.
Salar de Uyuni Tips
1) Booking online prior to arriving in Uyuni is definitely more expensive. We suggest booking in person in Uyuni but have a couple of companies picked out in case one or more are full. Tours typically start between 10-11am. Our overnight bus from La Paz arrived at 8am (after a 1 hr delay) so unless there’s a major accident or delay, you should arrive early enough for same day departure.
2) Try to bargain. Paul and I booked our 3D2N tour for 900 Chilean Pesos each. Others booked online (or via an agent) for 1200 pesos. Another couple booked 30 mins after us in the Uyuni office and paid 800 pesos each.
3) Bring hand sanitizer / toilet paper. For the multi day tours, there will be a lot of driving and not many toilets. Be ready to use nature toilets.
4) For us, the tour was both an activity and a method of transportation. Travelling overland from Bolivia to Chile via this Salar de Uyuni tour saved us having to buy separate bus tickets AND saved us from having to pay Chile’s reciprocity fee (for Canadians, it’s $132 USD/pp) which is only payable if arriving by air. So in the end, we got to see the salt flats and ended up saving some money and hassle.
5) Pick a tour company with a good safety record. We’ve seen other jeeps speeding across the flats and it didn’t look particuarly safe, especially with so many horror stories floating around the internet. We had a flat tire on Day 2 and our driver drove noticeably slower the remainder of the tour.
6) If you value a good guided tour, I would for recommend paying more money for a good guide. Like I said, our guide/driver barely did any speaking and we had to look up information ourselves. Cordillera Travellers got good reviews on TripAdvisor but our guide was only soso. Our friends went with Red Planet tour said there was one guide per 2 cars and they barely got any information. So maybe do some reseach beforehand!