Put simply, Salar De Uyuni is remarkable. I try to avoid using cliches in my articles but seriously, I was completely mesmerised by this place. During rainy season the salt flats flood creating the largest mirror on earth. The reflection of the water results in the stunning illusion of ‘walking in the sky’. It was an absolute highlight of the months I spent in South America and a day I will never forget.
So, how can you get to Salar De Uyuni?
You can get to Uyuni (the town near Salar De Uyuni) by plane, bus or train.
Getting to Salar De Uyuni by plane
If your budget allows for it you can fly directly to Uyuni from popular departure points like La Paz. A flight from La Paz will typically cost between $90 USD and $130 USD. Also take into account that a taxi into town will be around $10 USD.
Getting to Salar De Uyuni by bus
The most common overland route to get to Uyuni is from La Paz. There are several companies that do an overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni. The most popular and reliable companies are Trans Omar, Panasur and Todo Turismo. The journey will take approximately 10 hours. While I usually avoid overnight buses I had nothing but great experiences on night buses in South America. The bus company I booked was Panasur. I did not buy my ticket online in advance. Instead, I bought my ticket for $23 USD on the day I was departing from Terminal de Buses La Paz (the huge yellow building in La Paz). The bus had recliner seats, blankets to keep warm and free wifi. I slept the entire night and did not even feel dreary the next day! I would suggest wearing layers if you are prone to the cold. An eye mask and headphones are also good if you are a light sleeper.
Is bus travel safe in South America?
I get a lot of questions when I recommend bus travel in South America about things like safety and theft. So for those of you who are weary, while I personally did not have any bad experiences I am also quite vigilant. Here are a few things I do on buses no matter where I am:
- Keep all of your valuable items in your carry on bag with you on the bus.
- Do not put this carry on bag in the area above the seats, place it on your lap or between your feet where you can feel it.
- Valuables kept in any bag should not be in outer pockets or near the top. I also have a lock on my backpack.
Getting to Salar De Uyuni by train
I decided against traveling by train between La Paz and Uyuni because it requires taking a bus to Oruro first. There are frequent daily buses traveling between La Paz and Oruro. The bus journey takes 3-4 hours and costs around $7 US. From Oruro you can catch a train with Expreso del Sur (the faster option) and Wara Wara del Sur (the cheaper option) to Uyuni (7 hours). So for me it was more efficient and economical (saving money on accommodation) to do an overnight bus.
What is the best tour to visit Salar De Uyuni?
Firstly, it depends on what you want to see. There are a lot of companies based in Uyuni that offer the classic day trip to view the flats and nearby attractions (e.g. the train cemetery and Fish Island/Isla Incahuasi). I booked my tour in advance through Bolivia Travel Site because it was ‘english user friendly.’ The lady I was in contact with (Vivianne) was extremely helpful and the process was smooth sailing. Now that I have done the tour however, I would recommend booking directly though Empexa (the company Bolivia Travel Site uses) as you may get the tour for a better price than I did. I will be doing an article specifically on this tour so stay tuned for all the details and more photos.
While a day trip is sufficient to see Salar De Uyuni, I would really recommend using your journey to the salt flats to then travel on to Chile. The tour I booked was a three days and included Salar De Uyuni as well as the amazing Desert of Colors, Stone Tree, Laguna Colorada, Sol de Mañana geysers and Green Lagoon. The tour finished in San Pedro De Atacama, Chile. I have included a few photos below that will hopefully sway you to consider this option 😛 (Article reviewing this three day tour to come, it will be linked here!)
If you book through Empexa make sure to say hi to the guide Dennis for me! He’s awesome 🙂
What to expect at Salar De Uyuni
The first day of my tour with Empexa included the classic day trip itinerary you can expect if you book a tour in Uyuni. We arrived on the overnight bus at 5am and used the public bathrooms to shower. We then waited at the Empexa office until 10am for departure. After meeting our tour guide and fellow passengers we made our way to the “train cemetery”.
Stop 1 – The Train Cemetery
The train cemetery is an area outside of Uyuni scattered with abandoned early 19th century trains from an abandoned major rail project. The project is said to have failed due to high tensions with neighbour countries at the time.
Stop 2 – Salt Flats (not flooded)
Our second stop was on the actual salt flats. Here we took advantage of the endless white plains to create illusions using small toys. Our guide Dennis gave us all his tips for the best angles and shots to take.
Stop 3 – The largest mirror on earth!
The highlight of the day was visiting the flooded area of the salt flats. The tour companies are very respectful of each other and make sure to distance themselves from one another so that everyone gets clear shots without other tourists in the pictures.
Stop 4 – ‘International Flags of Salar De Uyuni’
Finally, we headed to the ‘International Flags of Salar De Uyuni’. It was so cool to see how many people from all around the world had visited here, left flags and signed mementos. Here we signed the Aussie flag and took some photos.
As the day came to an end we watched the sunset over the flats as we made our way to our accommodation. If you are doing a day trip you will head back to Uyuni at this point. What I love most about this destination is how unique it is. I had never seen anything like it before and it was an absolute dream to photograph.
When should I visit Salar De Uyuni?
Unfortunately, the mirror reflection can only be seen during rainy season. Rainy season spans from December to April but recently rains have been starting later. I personally visited in February and was stoked with the results. If you have to visit during dry season do not be disheartened though. As shown in some of the pictures above, the white plains are still stunning. You can also only visit Isla Incahuasi (Fish Island) in dry season because the water is too deep for 4×4 to reach.
Tips for visiting Salar De Uyuni
- Bring a big bottle of water and sunscreen! Keep in mind you are on an open flat all day with the sun beating down on you.
- The bright white ground will also reflect the sunlight back up – so some sunnies are a great idea 😎
- I wore boots but having a pair of flip flops would have been better. The water can reach ankle depth and everything that gets water on it will be covered in salt (which is difficult to remove).
After years of dreaming of visiting this destination I had high expectations that were completely exceeded. I still pinch myself going through the photos. If you have the opportunity to add Bolivia to your South America itinerary and visit Salar De Uyuni I urge you to go for it. It’s something you will never forget!
If you have any questions feel free to comment below, I would love to help make your trip here a reality 🙂
Suitcase And I was not sponsored to write this article. As always, the views expressed in this article are my own.