Some people need to sow their wild oats before they ‘settle down’. This idiom typically applies to fast romances with people; I feel the same way about places.
One such place I was holding hostage from adult life was Bolivia. What can I say? I had been charmed by photographs of jeeps on flooded salt flats. Absent a horizon, they seemed to float, suspended in the heavens.
“Greg, I’m sorry…this is a place I need to go before family life…”
Of course that was last year when we were discussing our honeymoon. One year has come and gone, and I’ve got a new fixation. (India in case you were wondering; the list never seems to end.) But back to Bolivia.
It’s dangerous business wanderlusting over a beautiful Pinterest photo or dreamy Instagram post. Were the salt flats everything I hoped they would be?
You bet they were.
I wrote about the first half of our Bolivia experience here – We are the crazy Canadians who honeymooned in Bolivia – and I encourage you to read it. In this post I want to turn you on to the flats, and offer some practical advice.
First off, how about a little travel porn?
Salar de Uyuni Traveller FAQ
How do I get to Salar de Uyuni?
From La Paz, drive south to Uyuni, the gateway town to the salt flats where 4×4 jeep tours depart. The drive takes the greater part of a day, barring any road blocks, traffic or inclement weather.
Uyuni has a small airport, which according to Skyscanner.com, is serviced by direct flights from La Paz. It’s just 50-minutes each way but it’ll cost you about $450 CAD round-trip. (Ouch!)
Alternatively, you can depart via northern Chile (San Pedro de Atacama) and overland to the salt flats.
What do Salar de Uyuni tours include?
To my knowledge, travellers must travel with an organized tour. Salt flat tours typically run 3-day, 2-nights.
Day one brings travellers first to the Train Cemetery and then to a salt packaging village. This is your last opportunity to pick up snacks and provisions. You’ll spend six to eight hours on the salt flats, stopping at some of the ‘islands’, eating a tailgate lunch and taking perspective-defying photos. You’ll exit the Salar and then be taken to your minimalist lodgings. Shower up (warning, no hot water!), eat dinner and sleep off the long day.
On day two you’ll overland into what feels like Mars. Washboard tracks lead into the unmarked Altiplano. Out here you’ll encounter few other vehicles, save for a caravan of llama. Admire milky blue and rusty red lakes, and meet the flamingos that call them home. On this day, you’ll probably cross into Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve. Day two wraps up in the late afternoon when you dine with your fellow guests at an off-grid, very basic ‘hotel’.
Day three starts with a 5 a.m. wake-up call. Look up for a dazzling star-filled night’s sky, unlike any you’ve seen before. After departing, you will reach some ‘fragrant’ geothermal vents for sunrise, a hotspring for breakfast, and Laguna Verde, which sits at the foot of Licancabur, a cinder cone volcano. At this point, you’ll start the very long drive back to Uyuni, arriving around dinner time.
How much does a Salar de Uyuni tour cost?
My Salar experience was part of Intrepid’s 12-day Bolivia Highlights tour, which starts at $1,768 CAD. They’re a reputable company that I’m quick to recommend. They have a 6-day option that departs La Paz (it includes that coveted direct flight) for $1,192. This trip follows the itinerary described above.
A quick Google search tells me that some travellers are paying $170-$270 for 3-day, 2-night tours departing Uyuni. I would caution against going with the low-cost leader. You want an operator with a reliable vehicle (this tour will literally take you to The Middle of Freaking Nowhere, not a place you want to break down), a dependable driver (8+ hours of driving each day over varied terrain demands a lot of concentration), and a proven record of safety (because of this horror-story).
What do Salar de Uyuni tours include?
They’re ‘all-inclusive’ in the sense that they include food, lodging and transport, but be warned, the digs are pretty spartan. As in, we needed to bring our own drinking water, and enough of it to last three days.
When should I visit Salar de Uyuni?
If your heart yearns for a Salar dreamscape you will want to go during wet season. The wet season runs December through March.
Have you been to Salar de Uyuni? Tell me about your visit; comment below!