Uyuni Hotels, Bolivia. Hotels Uyuni and Hostels Uyuni, Uyuni, Bolivia
Hotels Uyuni and Hostels Uyuni, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni is the worlds largest salt flat, located in Bolivia. Photographers flock here to capture the unique landscape. It is often visited as part of a 3 or 4 day tour of South West Bolivia, described below.

Salar de Uyuni Background Salar de Uyuni comprises over 12,000 sq km in the Potosi region. The salt is over 10 meters thick in the center. In the dry season, the salt planes are a completely flat expanse of dry salt, but in the wet season, it is covered with a thin sheet of water that is still drivable.

The standard tour heads south toward the southwest corner of Bolivia, by many fluorescent-colored lakes that are created from a collection of different minerals from runoff from the surrounding mountains.

Tour Background This article outlines the standard tour. The tour is conducted in 4x4 vehicles (usually Toyota Landcruisers) with 6 or 7 people, with the driver often times cooking. Most 3- and 4- day tours have the same itinerary for the first 2 1/2 days, a day on the salt planes, then heading south to the southwest corner of Bolivia, and then splitting off from there. The specific sites that are seen can be dependent on the tour, but group input can define which sites are visited and how much time will be spent at each.

Accommodation is usually provided in basic refuges and the weather can be very cold, but it is well worth it for the amazing scenery. Avoid tours that offer a night in one of the salt hotels - they are illegal as, not being part of the water grid, they polute the environment.

What to Bring

  • Flashlight (torch) - the lights go out when the generator runs dry.
  • Coins and small bills - The bathrooms arent free.
  • Sunglasses - the salt planes are blinding.
  • Camera and loads of film - There are no better pictures than here.
  • Extra Water - The tour usually provides an inadequate supply.
  • Sunblock - there is no atmosphere to block ths rays of the sun up here.
  • Sleeping Bag - You can rent one with the tour. Down is best, and check to see that the zipper works.
  • Warm Clothes - Layered is best.
  • Hot Water Bottle - The nights are freezing & you will be so happy to have it.

Get In The main starting point of tours to the Salar de Uyuni is Uyuni.
  • Uyuni The options include rail from Avaroa on the Chilean border (unreliable departure times), rail from Oruro, Bolivia, bus (including a tourist bus) from Oruro, Potosi, or La Paz, Bolivia.
  • Tupiza
  • San Pedro de Atacama The itineraries from here are virtually identical to those from Uyuni, only reversed, and about 40% more expensive.
Finding an Agency When choosing a tour operator it is important to check with other travelers to understand the type of experience they have had and the vehicles, drivers and food they had on their trip. Trips will arrive in all of the departure cities coming in the opposite direction and this is a good opportunity to ask other travelers their impressions. Common complaints include vehicles in extremely poor repair, a lack of emergency supplies, intoxicated drivers and limited food and water.
  • Uyuni There are dozens of tour agents offering this trip. Most are situated around the main square, where every other shop is a tourist agency. It is also advisable to find a group of people who are going on the tour who share your interests, and/or language and work with their agency. Minuteman Pizza in the evenings, or the main square is a great place to meet such people. See Uyuni for a complete list.
  • Tupiza You can also set off from Tupiza and end in Uyuni or vice versa. If setting off from Tupiza there are good agencys and give you the option of finishing in Uyuni or Tupiza. (Cost 145 USD for the 4 day trip July 2008)
  • Ending on the Chilean Border Another alternative is to do the three day tour and be dropped at the Chilean border before taking at connection to San Pedro de Atacama, or do the entire tour from there.
  • From San Pedro de Atacama There is also the opportunity to do this tour starting in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile and ending in Uyuni on the third day or returning to San Pedro the following day. The advantage is that you get to see the Salar on the final morning, getting to see the sunrise over the Salar. There are several tour operators along the main street in San Pedro.

Choosing a Tour Package.. Go/Walk/Drive/...
First Day - The Worlds Largest Salt Flat On the first day you will visit the salt flats. In the dry season this will be a hallucinogenic white landscape. In the rain it is mostly submerged and will show a perfect reflection of the sky.
  • Uyuni Plaza Arce (3669m, 20.463 S, 66.823 W) - Most trips start here next to the train station at 10:30am, although hotel pickup is usually available.
  • Train Graveyard (3669m, 20.479 S, 66.834 W) - Usually the first thing of the tour, but some operators prefer to finish the tour with it. A place with a lot of wrecked old steam locomotives.
  • Colchani, Bloques de Sal (3653m, 20.301 S, 66.938 W) - a village 7 kilometers north of Uyuni that survives off of the processing of salt. salt souvenirs are available, a salt museum that has carvings of animals created with salt (they make you pay the fee upon exit), some examples of furniture and home-building techniques using salt. Bathrooms available for 1B.
  • Salt-Mining Area (3653m, 20.321 S, 66.994 W) - an area where salt is dug from the plane into piles weighing a ton each, and left to dry in the sun before transport to a refinery then to your table.
  • Salt Hotels (3653m, 20.331 S, 67.047 W)- Several hotels made completely out of salt. It is necessary to purchase a candy-bar to go inside.
  • Isla de los Pescados, or Isla Incawasi (3653m, 20.243 S, 67.625 W) - The name originates from the fishlike appearance of the reflection of the island in the wet season. In July 2006 it was still possible to visit this island, which is an island of fossilised coral covered in 1000-year-old cacti in the middle of the Salar. These cacti grow at a rate of 1cm per year, so you can easily calculate their age. Most tour groups eat lunch on the western "shore" of this island. Bathrooms available for 1B.
  • Accommodation can be found at San Juan (3660m, 20.983 S, 67.767 W), though for a real treat try to get the agency to use to accommodation closer to the Salar: you will then be able to get up before dawn and reach the flats by 4x4 to see the most spectacular sunrise of your life.

Second Day - Heading South Past Colorful Lakes to Laguna Colorada
  • Laguna Hedionda (4186m, 21.568 S, 68.05 W) - a lagoon full of flamingos and a popular spot for lunch. Bathrooms available for 1B.
  • Viscacha Area - A short stop at a rocky outcropping reveals a colony of Viscachas. The tour guides feed them carrots to train them to come out for food.
  • Arbol de Piedra (4412m) - a stone tree that has been carved out of the howling, sandy winds.
  • Laguna Colorada (4278m, 22.2 S, 67.8 W) - a lake coloured red by the algae that live in it. Also you will see lots of flamingos. A 30Bs fee to enter the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa is required to go any further.
  • Accommodation - Laguna Colorada area has many basic accommodations in adobe shacks without heating. Cots and blankets are provided. Cold showers available in most places. Outside Temperature can be below -20°C at night in July.

Third Morning - Geysers and Hot Springs down to Laguna Verde and Back It will begin at an ungodly hour to visit some of the following:
  • Sol de Manaņa geyser basin (4850m) - a collection of bubbling sulfur pools and a geyser, normally visited just as the sun is rising. There are no railings here, the ground can be slippery and cave in, and that water looks hot.
  • Termas de Polques hot spings (4400m, 22.536 S, 67.649 W) - adjacent to Salar de Chalviri - bring something to swim in if you want to enjoy the hot springs. A popular spot for Breakfast. Bathrooms available for 1B.
  • Laguna Verde (4400m, 22.795 S, 67.84 W) - (coloured green by Arsenic, Lead, Copper and other heavy metals) with a perfect reflection of Vulcán Lincacabur (5960m).

  • Next will be a long drive back to Uyuni, or you can also branch off here to San Pedro de Atacama.
  • Laguna Blanca - A white lake filled with Borax.
  • Lunch - Laguna Colorada is a popular place to eat lunch. Restrooms may or may not be provided.

Third Afternoon - Eastward Toward Tupiza If you opt for the four day tour to Tupiza, then you will go off the beaten track, and visit some small communities. You will see the previous and some of the following:
  • Laguna Celeste - A clear-blue lake colored by magnesium and manganese.
  • Laguna Amarilla - A yellow sulfur lake, some old cave paintings nearby.
  • Ruinas de San Antonio - an abandoned 16th century mining town where prospectors used slave labour. Depending on who you talk to the town was abandoned because either, there was a slave rebellion or, men started to go blind / missing. Regardless an attempt in the 70s to repopulate the town failed and people now live in a town of the same name thats close by but not overlooked by the ominous Volcano Uturuncu (6020m).

Third Afternoon - Northward Toward Uyuni The road back to Uyuni is very bumpy. You will stop in various small communities on the way.
  • Valles de Rocas - many strange valleys of rocks popping up out of the altiplano. The guide will point out patterns in the rocks that resemble familiar objects.
  • Accommodation - Tours stay at various small towns on route to their final destination. Heating and showers are dependent upon where the driver decides to stop. The small town of Alota is relatively popular with tours.

Fourth Day - ending in Tupiza tour will be a long ride through beautiful landscape. The last attraction before arriving in Tupiza is:
  • Sillar (21.44 S, 65.8 W) - which are giant columns of clay formed by erosion.

Fourth Day - ending in Uyuni
  • San Cristobal (21.095 S, 67.21 W) - a town with a 350-year-old church containing a silver altar.
  • Train Graveyard (20.479 S, 66.834 W) - a collection of many old trains 3km southwest of Uyuni.

Stay safe Some advise to bring emergency supplies (including up to several extra days of food and water) in case the truck breaks down in a remote place.

Altitude sickness is a real possibility here. If you are arriving directly from the coast, you may need up to a couple days to acclimatize. Dizziness, shortness of breath and headaches are common symptoms. The locals swear by chewing coca leaves to help, but be advised that you may fail a drug test.

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