Uyuni Salt Flats – All you need to know in 2022
With an area of 10,000 sq kilometers, two times larger than the Great Salt Lake in the US, Uyuni is the highlight of every trip to Bolivia. The reactivation of tourism has already begun for this never-ending and world-famous salt flats.
Although not all the flights to reach Uyuni have resumed operations, we have put together the most relevant information for you based on our inspection trip.
In this article
- How to get to Uyuni (from La Paz. Bolivia)
- How to get to Uyuni (from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)
- What To See?
- When to visit
- Where to stay in Uyuni?
- What to bring
How to get to Uyuni (from La Paz, Bolivia)
The La Paz – Uyuni route is currently only operated 3 times a week by the local carrier BoA. Unfortunately, there are no direct flights as in the past. A stopover in Cochabamba is required.
Hopefully now with the reactivation of tourism, the direct and daily flights will once again resume, including not only the flights from BoA but also from Amaszonas. It is also expected that Amaszonas resumes its direct flights to/from Cusco – La Paz in the coming months.
The bus from La Paz is the cheapest option and covers a distance of around 550km over a period of 9 hours. While this option may be tempting for those who are traveling to Uyuni on a budget, we recommend opting for a trip by plane as you will be spending almost a full day on the bus. While the buses have reclining seats and can be ‘comfortable’, due to the altitude and time spent in the vehicle, you will arrive at your destination extremely tired and won’t be able to truly enjoy the sites.
Before Covid hit, trains to Uyuni were rarely used as they require a longer travel time and are not very reliable. Sometimes the heating in the carriages did not function, and when you are at altitude, heating makes a BIG difference to your comfort. This mode of transport is also slightly slower than taking the bus.
Note: The trains are currently not operating and as a temporary solution for the time being there is a 2-wagon railbus service once a week on Mondays.
You will need to first catch a bus to the Oruro station from La Paz. This is a 4-hour journey, before you can board your train for a further 7-hour trip down to Uyuni. There are two train options on offer:
- The more comfortable train, ‘Expreso Del Sur’, departs from Oruro on Tuesdays and Fridays at 2:30 pm.
- The cheaper ‘Wara Wara’ departs Oruro at 7:00 pm on Wednesdays and Sundays.
How to get to Uyuni (from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)
This is a private service, as there are no tourist/public buses available along this route. You will need to also change vehicles at the Hito Cajon border post to continue your onward journey. This is perhaps the most expensive option, the reason why can be seen below.
- You can expect a 1-hour travel time from San Pedro to Hito Cajon (paved road).
- And then cover a distance of 416 km from Hito Cajon to Colchani in Uyuni (gravel road)
The entire trip will be done in a 4×4 vehicle as there are only uneven gravel roads along the way, so be prepared for dust and bumps. Your driver will travel from Uyuni to the border post to collect you as there are no transportation companies in or around Hito Cajon.
The route from Hito Cajon to Uyuni boasts surreal and pristine landscapes untouched by mass tourism. Our tip is to spend a night halfway, at Ojo de Perdiz close to the Siloli Desert. Then, there is enough time to make stops en route when entering from Hito Cajon.
Below are the ‘Highlights of the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve’ and our pictures of when we visited the area.
What To See?
If you’re looking at only visiting the highlights in Uyuni, one full day will be perfect. Depending on what you would like to see, selecting the right season/time to go is important. Regardless of the season that you choose to travel there are a number of exciting highlights that are available year-round:
- Fish Island (if you travel in the dry season)
- Train cemetery
- Artisanal salt production
- A clear sky with an abundance of never-seen-before stars
Spending 3 days in Uyuni
If you have a little more time in your schedule and are looking to explore the salt flats as well as its surrounds, then we recommend a 3-day stay. This will allow you to include some of the awe-inspiring highlights in the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve, situated south of the Uyuni salt flats (see our map above). The landscapes can be also seen when coming from Chile en-route to Uyuni.
Highlights in the National Park Eduardo Avaroa
- The Red, Green, White and Hedionda lagoons – The salt flat area is rich in minerals and mineral deposits and algae which give these closely situated lagoons their distinct and stunning colors.
- Tree Stone – The 5-meter-tall ‘Arbol de Piedra’, as it’s otherwise known, was formed by wind erosion over millions of years. It has been aptly named after its unique appearance, which resembles a surrealist vision of a tree.
- Salvador Dali Desert – As its name suggests, the landscape in this area of the National Park resembles the surrealist paintings by Salvador Dalí, specifically his ‘Naked Woman in The Desert’ art piece.
- Flamingoes – These docile pink creatures can be seen feeding on the algae in the lagoons that surround the area, so keep an eye out for them and bring some binoculars with to get a closer view.
- Tunupa Volcano – Situated at 5 321m above sea level, a hike up this dormant volcano will afford you some of the most spectacular views over the salt flats, complete with a visit to some skeletal remains and mummies in the caves on the northern slopes.
When to visit
Rainy season (December – March)
This is the season that is most preferred by photographers (and Instagrammers alike). During the rainy season, the salt pans will flood and create the well-known ‘mirror effect’. An illusionary place on earth where the ground and the sky become one.
During this time it is not possible to travel far on the salt pans. Fish Island, with its giant cacti and stunning panoramic views over the endless salt-scape, is unreachable.
Dry season (April – November)
Fish Island – This island is home to scores of 8 -12 meter high cacti, some of them over 200 years old. It is a unique destination in the midst of the snow-white salt with 360-degree views over the salt flats.
This is the season preferred by most travelers and where all of the viral videos and pictures with illusionary effects on the dry salt flats are created.
Where to stay in Uyuni?
The salar is famous for its salt hotels, and yes, they are really made out of compressed bricks of salt! Two of the most well-known salt hotels are Palacio de Sal and Luna Salada.
These hotels are not actually on the Salar itself but rather situated along its shores in Colchani, a 25-minute drive from Uyuni town.
Perched atop a hill with stunning views over the Salar is where you can find the Luna Salada hotel, our recommended option for those looking for some panoramic views over the salar below.
22 of the available 49 rooms at Luna Salada come with these stunning views over the salar and there are different room categories to choose from including twin, deluxe and matrimonial.
Another option is to stay in retro Airstream campers on the actual Salar. An unforgettable experience where you feel like you are surrounded by absolute nothingness.
There is also the option to stay in a geodesic dome that has been erected on the Salar, a similar experience to that of the Airstream option above only you have a better view of the forever expanse of the salt flats and the beauty of the night sky.
Inns in Uyuni Town
If you are on a budget there are a considerable number of basic inns in the town of Uyuni (~ population 30,000) which you can stay in.
Uyuni town isn’t really a beautiful place to stay in. The best option is to stay in Colchani (22km from Uyuni town) on the shores of the salt flats (where you feel like you are completely removed from civilization).
Why is visiting Uyuni expensive?
Contrary to popular belief, the salt flats are relatively difficult to get to and it is not as simple as catching a flight directly there and visiting the site.
Distances covered in the area are long and there are no highways connecting anything, only bumpy gravel roads and trails that experienced drivers are trained to recognize can be used.
Tours can be only done with 4×4 and costs are not able to be split among a larger number of passengers as it is with regular tours in bigger cities. Everything you need during your trip as food for your picnic lunch, water, gas, etc, is packed on the 4×4.
The conditions are harsh and the salt damages 4x4s which increases the running cost of these vehicles vs those you will find in the larger cities.
Before Covid, especially in the rainy months when many Asian travelers visited Uyuni during their Chinese New Year, there were not enough guides in the town of Uyuni. English-speaking guides travel in from La Paz when required which increases the price of the tours substantially.
Uyuni is a tiny town that doesn’t have much infrastructure. Guides in German, French, and Italian are rather scarce and most of the time have to travel to Uyuni from La Paz and are only available for the groups that have prearranged them before arriving in Uyuni.
Our tip: be sure to pick your provider carefully. There are many informal drivers that attempt to service this route which very often leads to accidents.
Because of the lack of infrastructure along the way you will not have immediate access to first aid or hospital services if you run into any issues with the vehicle that you are traveling in.
What to bring
- Sunscreen and a hat
- Sunglasses. Not for looking trendy in your photos, but they will definitely help keep the salt out of your eyes.
- Warm clothes for the cold/windy days/nights
- Flip flops, especially if visiting during the rainy season. Trying to get the dry salt off of your hiking boots can be a real pain.
- Bring along some easy to roll up pants, especially for the rainy season
- Rain jacket/poncho
- Water. It helps if you are feeling a bit off due to the altitude.
Take a look at our Salar de Uyuni, Peru & Chile in Style itinerary that includes a visit to Uyuni.