Salar De Uyuni Tips For a Picture Perfect Visit
For well over a decade I’d been looking at photos of Salar De Uyuni with it placed high on my travel wishlist. In fact, it was the #1 destination I wanted to visit in South America. At the end of May 2016 I finally traveled to Bolivia with my best friend Tay and finally had my chance to visit. I feel like we nailed our trip to the Salar, even though it was a bit miserable, not due to anything to do with Bolivia itself (having a sinus infection, and a toothache). After having visited I wanted to share my Salar De Uyuni tips with all of you! We ultimately chose to book a tour about 4 weeks in advance with Red Planet Expeditions, as Tay had a limited schedule due to her university classes and Red Planet appeared very reputable upon our research.
Research Tour Companies
There’s a few reputable companies offering tours of Salar De Uyuni. There are many fly-by-night open one day and disappeared forever companies the next. Plus there have been horrible accidents out there in the past. Make sure who you book with is legit.
That’s why we chose to give our monies to Red Planet. Their prices tend to run a little higher than other companies, but they have a long standing good reputation. We didn’t have the best guide out there, but we still had a great time and were comfortable and safe, and we just adored our driver Efrané.
Do Be Prepared For The Altitude
Bolivia is really high, and I’m not just referencing the blow. The Salar is pretty high in altitude. If you do the typical 3 day tour some of your other stops are even higher! Altitude sickness is very real and can be dangerous. It effects everyone differently. You can be the most physically fit person out there and still have it kick your ass. Take the usual precautions and check out this guide for tips to help prevent and combat altitude sickness. Some swear by chewing Coca leaves or drinking Coca tea to help deal with the effects of altitude sickness, although it has been studied little and findings are inconclusive. Of course we tried it, I mean When in Bolivia, right? Your best bet to stop altitude sickness is to get a prescription for Diamox before leaving home, or go into a pharmacy in Bolivia and ask for Soroche Medicine.
How many days?
The most common tours are a 3 day tour that take you to a number of spots in addition to the Salar. There are other options. If you have very limited time it is possible to take just a day trip out to the Salar. There are a number of operators offering 2 and 4 day tours as well. Longer tours from La Paz are on offer by some companies. Red Planet Expeditions even offers a star-gazing tour- personally whenever I make it back to Bolivia it will be in wet season, and I will most definitely go on a star-gazing trip.
Splurge For The Sunset
Many tour companies add an additional fee to stay on the Salar for sunset. Do it! The Salar is pretty during the day, but at sunset it’s straight up magic.
The sun is intense and the altitude amplifies it out there. Even though temperatures can be chilly you can get pretty fried out here.
Bring Warm Enough Clothing and also bring some clothing for warm temperatures
Don’t let Bolivia’s location just a hair south of the equator fool you, the Bolivian Altiplano can be a harsh environment. The high Andean-like altitudes can make the Salar downright freezing, even in their summer months. Of course I visited at the tail end of Bolivian fall, and it was cold.
But during the day it can get pretty warm. It’s best to dress in layers. In the summer expect warm days and cold nights.
Book In Advance in The High Season (if you don’t wanna wait around in Uyuni)
Visiting in the Bolivian winter is most popular as skies tend to be clearer. Tours with well established companies can book up well in advance making a hop onto a last minute trip a little more difficult and possibly a little more time consuming, especially if you’re traveling as a group.
However, sometimes you can score a deal on a discounted Salar Tour by hopping on a last minute departure. If that’s your plan, know that it could be immediate or it could take a few days before an availability opens up.
If you have dietary restrictions, advise your tour company in advance
If you vegetarian or vegan or have food allergies they can and will cater meals to your needs, just make sure they know. In Tay and I’s group we had 3 lovely Irish ladies, all three went vegetarian for their South America trip because they had heard that they shouldn’t eat meat in several of the countries because of illnesses that can be acquired. They had vegetarian dishes for every meal with no issues.
If Spanish isn’t your language, pay the extra bit for an English (or other language) speaking guide.
My second language is Russian. I always try to learn some basics in the local language everywhere I go to not look like a tool that expects everyone on god’s green earth to speak English. While I do know some Spanish, it isn’t my strong point. We ultimately decided to go with a company that offered tours in our language to get the most (information wise) out of it. I was glad we opted for it as my Spanish comphrehension is not good enough to have had a clue of what was being explained to us.
Know when to go
Depending on the state you wanna see the Salar in, you should try to plan accordingly. For clearer skies visit in late April through late October. If you want to see the Salar when it looks like a glorious mirror, plan to go December through mid March to mid April. Of course weather can have a mind of it’s own and dry spells can happen in wet season and rains can occur in the dry. Know that sometimes tours are impossible during the wet season due to heavy rains making areas inaccessible.
Which direction works best for you?
It is possible to do the tour in reverse from San Pedro De Atacama, Chile and end in Uyuni. Figure out which direction will work best for your travel plans. Another thing to note is that from the Bolivian side you can start or end from either Uyuni (most common), or from Tupiza. We did the Uyuni to Uyuni loop.
Pack Well, pack strategically
You’re big pack will be bungeed to the roof of your vehicle, so have all your items you plan to use throughout the day inside your day pack in the car with you. Think cameras, batteries, water snacks, sunscreen, layers of clothing…
Altitude has a bad drying effect on your body and skin. Staying hydrated can help combat the effects of altitude sickness. The 3 day Salar tours will take you out into the desert and maybe beyond to San Pedro De Atacama in Chile which is one of the driest places on Earth. It is possible to purchase water in a few shops while on your Salar Tour, but it’s recommended to bring 1-2L per day per person. Personally I have a water filter so I just refilled my water bottle as needed each night at our accommodations, plus I drink a lot of water to begin with.
While most tours are mostly all-inclusive there are a few additional fees for entrance into certain spots, for use of some toilets, and some accommodations do charge for a warm shower. You also may want to purchase a few souvenirs. There are no ATMs once you leave Uyuni. A fee of 30 Bolivanos is collected for entrance to Incahuasi. 150 Bolivanos fee will be collected for foreigners and 30 Bolivanos for Bolivians is charged for entrance to Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa- the park that houses Laguna Colorada, Laguna Verde, Arbol De Piedra and more. 15 Bolivanos is usually charged for use of the hot spring. Toilets at certain sites typically charge 1 Boliviano for use.
What to pack:
Aside from the sunscreen, water and layers of clothing mentioned above.
Swimsuit: There’s a hot spring you’ll have the chance to take a dip in.
Towel: For showering or to dry off after the hot spring.
Shoes: Your tour will include some light hiking. I recommend something comfortable.
Flip flops: Or some other kind of easily washable and easily dried shoe. I personally brought my Crocs. When you’re on the Salar plan for salt to get everywhere.
Toilet Paper: Avoid having to find someone to spare a square and bring some TP with you when traveling. Plan for some bush wees, and if you’ve traveled much you probably know that it’s fairly common for public toilets to not have any toilet paper.
Sleeping Bag: Depending on accommodation types, or if you get cold easily bringing a sleeping bag is a good idea.
Camera + Batteries: Of course you’ll want to snap some photos to take home of your trip. Extra batteries are a good idea as well as some accommodations do not have electricity.
Torch/Flashlight/Headlamp: Like mentioned above some accommodations do not have electricity, and some just don’t have it at night.
Props: Okay, this is where I messed up, we forgot the props. You’ve seen the forced perspective shots if you’ve been researching coming here. There’s a reason why I’m using a boot so squash Tay in the photo below. Also note that if you look real close she in fact only has on one boot.
Where does a typical three day Salar De Uyuni tour go?
Of course attractions and order of stops can differ from company to company, be dependent on weather and may be done in reverse if coming from Chile.
- The Train Graveyard
- The Salt Mining Area
- Salar De Uyuni
- Salt Hotel
- Valles De Rocas
- Laguna Hedionda
- Arbol De Piedra
- Laguna Colorada
- Solar De Mañana Geyser Basin
- Termas De Polques Hot Springs
- Salvador Dali Desert
- Laguna Verde
- Either transfer to San Pedro Atacama, Chile or continue back to Uyuni, Bolivia
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