Any trip to Bolivia is not complete without a visit to Salar de Uyuni and the Bolivian Altiplano. The salt flats are located in southwest Bolivia and are absolutely amazing. Here is what I learned after my 3-day/2-night tour.
1. Tours may or may not be all the same
In an effort to maximize my time in Bolivia, I pre-booked my tour before arriving in Uyuni. I went with Andes Salt Expeditions and paid Bs. 900 ($130) for a 3-day/2-night tour with transport, food, and accommodation. I met people who paid $190 with another company and did pretty much the same things. The only catch was that my driver/guide only spoke Spanish. If I wanted to upgrade to an English-speaking guide, that would have cost me an additional $50. I needed to practice my Spanish, so it was all good.
The main thing when looking for a tour is the vehicle you’ll be transported in. The roads in and out of Uyuni are rough, especially during the rainy season. My driver, Willy, drove cautiously minus the one time he drove us into a ditch in the pouring rain. Willy told us the Land Cruiser we were in hadn’t had any maintenance for months. The window couldn’t roll down, and the heating came and went. But it was all part of the experience, right?
Food-wise, I ate very well throughout the trip. I got plenty of salads, biscuits, and mains. I picked the vegetarian option only to discover that I was given eggs for every meal. Gross… The only thing each location was stingy with was hot water. Gas is very difficult to come by in the middle of nowhere, so it’s a bit understandable.
2. Pack light and wrap everything in plastic
Obviously, if you’re going to transfer to a bus to Chile, this isn’t possible. But if you’re going back to Uyuni, pack a small bag with plenty of warm clothes, a towel, and a bathing suit for the thermal bath. I was in the area during the summer season, and it was snowing when we got higher up in elevation.
Also, I highly recommend putting your clothes in plastic bags. All the luggage is stored on the roof of the vehicle and wrapped in tarp. But after driving through a snowstorm, my clothes were soaking wet. And considering the last accommodation had no heating, it did not make for a good situation.
3. Expect basic accommodations
Considering that you’re going to the middle of nowhere, don’t expect too much from the accommodations.
I spent the first night at a hotel made of salt blocks. I got my own room. The bed was comfortable, and I was warm. All the electrical sockets were in the dining room, so there were just piles of smartphones sitting on the shelf waiting to be charged. I also paid Bs. 10 for a hot shower, but it was worth every Boliviano.
The second night, I spent in a dorm room with my group. The only problem was there were only four twin beds for the six of us. The roof collapsed and soaked two of the beds. The room had a private toilet (no toilet paper) but no shower. The closest thing to a shower was the thermal baths located down the hill. Luckily, there were two couples in the group.
4. Taking a picture at Salar de Uyuni is not easy!
My Czech friend, Hendrick, and I spent a great deal of time trying to get the perfect yet cheesy picture. We tried different phones and cameras, and still, it didn’t come out the way we wanted it. Even though I read these tips from Bolivia Hop, taking pictures at Salar de Uyuni requires patience and a steady hand.
5. Bring lots of change
Bathrooms are a rare commodity in and around Uyuni. Pretty much every single place charged me to use the bathroom. Of course, they only wanted small change. While most provided toilet paper, I still recommend bringing a roll with you. In total, I spent Bs. 24.50 ($3.54) to go to the bathroom.
6. Expect lots of rain (and snow) during the rainy season
I’m very good at picking the wrong season to travel. I guess that’s why I named my blog “Erainey Days”. There were many sights I couldn’t go to because of the rain like Incawasi Island. The colors of the Laguna Colorada were not as vibrant because there was no sun to reflect the water. Even though the weather wasn’t great, I still saw a lot of amazing scenery.
7. Beware of the altitude
Salar de Uyuni is 3,600 m (11,800 ft) above sea level. At certain parts of the trip, we got up to 5,000 m (16,400 ft). I spent a few days in La Paz getting used to the altitude. Bring a bag of coca leaves to chew on and drink plenty of water.
8. Be prepared to sit in a car for a long while
Two out of the three days on the tour, we stopped for photo opportunities and did a bit of exploring. On the last day, I sat in the car for 8 hours with a lunch break and two bathroom stops. Bring something to make the trip not as painful. Of course, I left my headphones in my other bag in Uyuni.
Now that you know what to expect, read about what you’ll see during this trip.