The four days I spent in the Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flats) is the end of my three weeks backpacking through Peru and Bolivia. Check out my posts on Lima, Cusco, Lake Titicaca, La Paz, Sucre, and Potosi to read about the other places I went on my solo trip through these two countries.
I arrived by bus in Uyuni after several hours of loud ranchero music, frequent stops to pick people up alongside the road, people trying to loudly sell stuff on the bus, and people piling whatever they could fit onto the bus. I’m not sure if this is the only option for people, or if this is just the cheapest one that our hostel in Potosi hooked us up with, but if I were you, I would do whatever you could to ensure that you were on a tourist class bus with a direct route (without ANY stops) to Uyuni to avoid the worst bus experience I’ve ever had.
We arrived in a dusty barren looking town in the middle of the desert. People seemingly only come to Uyuni to find a tour company to take them to the Salt Flats. It is super dry and at a high altitude so make sure to stay hydrated (the kid next to me got a bloody nose as we were pulling into town because of this).
My friends and I from the hostel in Potosi were dropped off on a side street without any clear indicator of where we should go next. We just followed the crowd of other tourist looking people and made it to the center of the town. Two of my new Brazilian friends already had reservations for Hostal Oro Blanco (which they highly recommended since it had private bathrooms and breakfast included for a decent price).
My friend from the Netherlands and I were not so lucky. We went to Oro Blanco as well as three other place before we found a place with available beds/rooms. We ended up staying at Hotel Avenida which I found thanks to my guidebook. They had individual rooms for us (no dorm beds available, but my room was only $8 for the ngiht). After I switched out of a room filled with the stench of recent cigarettes I was placed in a very comfortable room with a shared bath (hot water only for certain hours). Toilet paper was not included and neither was breakfast, but the room was warm in the cold desert night.
This part of the trip must have been fated to happen:
My three new friends that I was randomly placed in a taxi with at the hostel in Potosi all got back on the street after dropping off our stuff in our rooms. We decided to go looking for a tour agency together. A lady came to us after we went to two places without any free spots. It turns out that all of us wanted to do the three day, two night tour of the Salt Flats! Sadly, my flight was due to leave from Uyuni an hour before we were due to arrive back from the three day tour.
As I was dejectedly leaving the tour agency to search for another tour company a truck blocked the road. I crossed the street, only to find myself in front of the Amazonas airline office. I went inside with the off chance that I might be able to pay to change my flight to a later one. It turns out that Amazonas had moved my original flight so it would leave even earlier than the one I had booked. Due to this, the lady was willing to change me to a flight leaving two hours after my friends and I were due to return from our three day, two night tour of the Salt Flats FREE OF CHARGE!!
I immediately ran back to tell my friends the good news! I put my name down for the tour, ran back to the main street to exchange some money (make sure you have crisp, unbent USD to exchange!), and paid the lady right away. Now we just needed to find two more people before our tour could leave!
The next morning we picked up two Korean ladies (a mother and daughter). It turned out to be a tour of teachers because the Korean mom taught history in Korea, the Brazilian girl was a math teacher in Brazil, and then there was myself who teaches third grade at an international school! It made for some interesting discussions along the way.
So the six of us were all crammed into this SUV and were on our way!
First we stopped at the Train Cemetery.
Then we went to a little town where they gather, dry, and add iodine to the salt from the Salt Flats.
Next up was the Isla de Pescado. It is not really an island because there is no water around… and therefore no fish either. An additional ticket was required to explore this island, but the 30b cost was totally worth it (and included a helpful bathroom stop)!
Then we arrived at the actual Salt Flat where we saw the little mountains of salt.
After that we went a little further and had lunch at the “Salt Hotel”.
Finally, we arrived at the little town of San Juan. Our guide had to search for a hotel that had space for us (one would think that the tour agency would already have this arranged ahead of time…). We were brought to a place that seemed nice enough until I went to get into bed only to find boogers wiped on my supposedly “clean sheets”. We had to pay 10bs for a hot shower too.
This was a looooonnnnggg day of driving. We saw four lagoons. It was really bumpy, sandy, and hot in the SUV. My father would have LOVED this part of the trip. I really wish I could go on a one day trip of the Salar so I could see the sun set on the Salt Flat, but I REALLY want to send my parents on the same 3 Day, 2 Night trip that I went on!
We also saw the Arbol de Piedra (Tree of Rock) on this day.
We had to pay 150 bs to get into the national park on this day, but we were able to see the Laguna Colorada which was pretty awesome so that made up for the additional cost. There were flamingos at all of the lagoons too!
The “hotel” we stayed at the second night was even more basic (but cleaner!) than the first night on the salt flats. All six of us were in the same room. There were two other groups in similar dormitory style rooms. All of us had to share two toilets and one cold-water-only shower (unless you are very brave you probably don’t want to take a nighttime shower, in the middle of a high altitude desert, without hot water). Two of the people in our group paid the 20 bs to go to another “hotel” that had hot water, but the rest of us skipped it thinking that we would have time to clean off at the hot springs the next morning….
We woke up at 4AM, had breakfast at 4:30, and then went to some hot springs at 5:30 (but our guide only wanted to stop for 15 minutes because three people in our group needed to get to the Chilean boarder to catch a bus so we didn’t get into the hot springs).
Next we stopped at some geysers which were nice because they helped warm us up!
Then we dropped the three people from the group at the Chilean boarder (and picked up two new people on the way).
We had lunch at a lovely little clearing.
Next, we quickly took a rest stop at some big rocks so our guide could stretch and we could go to the bathroom.
Then we booked it back to Uyuni!
We got back at 5PM just as planned!
Uyuni and the Salt Flats are definitely not to be missed. The group of people you go with and your tour guide can make or break the trip. Just keep an open mind and know that even if you pay extra for a fancy hotel, private tour, or top of the line SUV you will most likely just get the same stuff as everyone else. I mention this because we met people who paid significantly more than the $150 US I paid (this included an extra 50bs I paid to rent a sleeping bag) and they were right there alongside us in the same accommodation, eating the same food, and going on the same routes.
Some of my favorite pics from my three days in Uyuni:
Have you been to Uyuni? Did you love the Salt Flats? Do you have any tips I forgot to mention? Share your thoughts below!