I have no doubts that if any of your friends have ever visited South America and the salt flats, then you would’ve seen the classic perspective shots that are characteristic of this barren, flat, endless landscape. But believe it or not theres more to this unique wonder then just getting the right giant beer drinking shot.
The Uyuni salt flats or Salar de Uyuni are the world’s biggest salt flats, spanning an impressive 10582 square kilometres. Just like a lot of Bolivia altitude is hard to avoid with the salt flats sitting at a measly 3656 meters above sea level. They are located in the southwest of Bolivia and are normally accessed by Uyuni, in Bolivia, or, San Pedro, in Chile. It’s also common for travellers to use the multi day tours as a way to cross from Bolivia to Chile or visa versa.
Personally I chose to do a 3 nights, 4 day tour and continued south onwards to Chile on the final day. Now is probably worth mentioning that when they say 4 days, it’s really 2 full days and two half days, making it more of a 3 day tour. However if you return back to Uyuni, which is where we left from, then the last day is a full day, because there’s an 8 hour return drive to get back.
How and when to book
It will work out cheapest and probably easiest if you book your tour on the day you arrive in Uyuni or if you plan to actually stay a night there, then the day you plan to leave for the tour. All the tours leave at around 10am and they want their cars to be full. There are about 300 odd tour companies and if they have spare seats in the car it will be much easier to barter with them, on the day they are leaving! This worked perfectly for us, as coming from Sucre on an overnight bus; we arrived at the ridiculous time of 3 am. Why this is allowed to be an overnight bus I am not quite sure! After wandering around trying to find any signs of life in the tiny town, we found one café that opened its door to us, heaters and all! As soon as the agencies opened at around 7:30am we shopped around. Originally we had only wanted 3 days, but when we were offered an extra night for only 200 BOB more, we couldn’t turn it down.
- Total cost of our tour: 1200 Bolivianos (including our bus onwards to Chile)
What’s the difference between 3 days and 4 days?
Well on the 4 day tour…
- You get to spend a night on the salt flats; therefore you get to see the AMAZING sunset
- You get to climb a volcano and admire the vastness of the flats from the top (this was cool but nothing spectacular)
That’s really it. I would only do the 4 days again for the amazing sunset we had, but wouldn’t have paid what they wanted for the 4 day tour which I think was around 1700.
What company to go with:
To be honest the answer is whichever is the cheapest! You see the thing is you could book with one company which is charging say 1500 for the 4 days, but they might join you up with another company where everyone else paid 1200. Although they all have different shop fronts, there are so many tour agencies in town that they would never be able to fill up their tours without joining with others and working together. This certainly happened on our tour. We all booked with different agencies, all paid vastly different prices and all got the exact SAME service. So do yourself a favor and just book the cheapest tour.
What about a day trip?
I think if you just did a day trip you would miss out on the most beautiful parts of the salt flats because day one is really the least impressive. You will spend your whole day trying to get the right perspective shot (they literally leave you there for three hours to take photos, yes, fun), miss the amazing sun rises and sun sets, plus loose the opportunity to experience the truly out-of-this-world landscapes that come on days 3 and 4. But if you only have time to do a day trip then I defiantly would still recommend seeing them!
Did I rate the tour?
To be honest, while the landscape was amazing, the tour itself was very much padded out, the food was terrible and sitting in a cramped car for 4 days is neither comfortable, nor enjoyable for the most part. To top it off we had a group we really didn’t gel with; a Bolivian family that didn’t speak English and a Russian who just didn’t speak much. The first day we didn’t get to the salt flats till around 1pm because you first stop at a train grave yard for the better part of 2 hours, before being forced to spend one hour at this tourist road, with literally nothing but souvenir shops. Then all the cars stop at the SAME place to take perspective shots for 3 hours, which makes no sense when there is literally 10000km of salt flats to explore. The other days weren’t as bad as the first, but despite these annoying issues, I would still do the tour again in a heartbeat. But if you have a car of your own and you feel comfortable driving on such a isolated landscape then I would 100% recommend that (we met many families doing this and they said it was amazing).
Info at a glance
- Cost: 1200 BOB
- Duration: 3 nights, 4 days
- Physical exertion: 2/10