It is not surprising that many people consider Bolivia as one of their top countries in Latin America. One reason is the photogenic landscape in the southern part of the country with Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flat) as the major attraction. Salar de Uyuni, with an area of over 10,000 square kilometers, is the world’s largest salt flat. It’s like a giant artist’s canvas. With a bit of water the scenery can be really dramatic – it becomes a giant mirror that reflects the sky. We visited during the drier months and witnessed the serenity of the seemingly endless salt flat – the place was like a winter wonderland where the snow (salt) never melts. Whatever the season, tourists visit Salar de Uyuni to capture its magnificence and of course to create the best perspective photos!
Salar de Uyuni can be visited as part of a tour which ranges from 1 to 3 days from Uyuni and 4 days from Tupiza. It is also possible to do a tour from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
After some research and recommendations from other travellers, we decided to do the 3 day salt flat tour from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama across the border in Chile (this is an alternative option as the complete tour goes back to Uyuni). The 3 day salt flat tour includes one day in the Salar de Uyuni and the other two days in the surrounding landscape including the colourful lakes of Bolivia. Here are the highlights:
Just outside of Uyuni, the 3 day salt falt tour starts with a visit to the train cemetery. Here lies all the old rusty trains that are no longer in use. It’s an interesting stop and it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s a struggle to capture this deserted atmosphere though with many other tourists also taking their photos. We waited for a bit until the crowds thinned and finally had the chance to take a photo of the old trains.
Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flat)
After a quick stop in the small town of Colchani, where they process the salt and make salt souvenirs, we were finally at the Uyuni Salt Flat. All the tour groups stopped for lunch at one of the very first salt hotels, which now only serves as a tourist attraction – the walls, columns, tables and chairs are all made of salt!
After lunch our driver said we would go to where the salt is whiter. Good thing some of the people in our tour had better Spanish than me (the English tour is more expensive, more on that later). Our 4WD raced through the “tracks” along the salt desert. The unique scenery just went on and on. At last, a blinding white landscape, we were finally in the whiter part of Salar de Uyuni. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was magnificent! We all went down to have a closer look – the ground was like a mosaic of white hexagons. A perfect work of nature. The salt formed tiny crystals, like miniature diamonds.
At this point, we finally had our own space. Cameras, mini dinosaurs and other props in hand we were off to do some perspective photography. We probably should have studied more on how to do it. Taking perspective photos on the Uyuni salt flat wasn’t easy but it was fun!
The best spot to see the great expanse of Salar de Uyuni is on top of the Isla Incahuasi (Fish Island) where we found many giant cacti and some coral remains. The island is said to be the remains of an ancient volcano which was submerged in a prehistoric lake 40,000 years ago. When this huge lake dried, the Uyuni salt flat was created.
It’s an hour’s walk (round trip) to the viewpoint on Isla Incahuasi. The views at the top of Isla Incahuasi are amazing! The 4WDs looked so tiny compared to the white backdrop.
Flamingos in the Colourful Lagoons
After spending the night in one of the salt hotels, we were ready to continue our adventure. The drive was long, bumpy and unfortunately George Michael was the music of choice. Finally, we reached the first of many interesting colourful lakes of Bolivia. The pink and white flamingos dominated the black coloured water. The reflections were beautiful! I have always loved the sight of flamingos and to see them in the wild was just extraordinary.
The last stop for the second day was Laguna Colorada. We struggled to get out of the 4WD as the cold strong winds howled. We put on our thick jackets and faced the cold to witness the giant natural wonder – Laguna Colorada. Stunning colours of red, pink and white with flamingoes scattered everywhere – what a scene! We even saw some llamas.
Snow in Bolivia: My First Snow Experience!
Rain, hail and finally, snow. Later in the afternoon when we finally reached our guesthouse for the second night, it snowed! Although I had seen glaciers, I had never seen snow fall (I am from the Philippines) so I was really excited! The other people from our tour group insisted I go out and enjoy the snow fall. I rushed out, with jandals on, forgetting about the cold.
The third and final day started early so we could catch a geyser eruption during sunrise. The snow had completely changed the landscape – it was stunning. We had to ask the driver to stop a few times along the way so we could take a photo. We saw the geysers but the real highlight was the beautiful scenery surrounding them. (We already saw geysers in New Zealand before).
Salvador Dali Desert
After eating breakfast near some mud pools and a chance to soak up in a hot spring (we didn’t as we chose to take photos of the surrounding scenery instead), we drove to the Salvador Dali Desert. The barren landscape was dramatic. I loved how the colours of the earth – rust orange, yellow, brown and the white snow on the mountains contrasted the clear blue sky. Picture perfect!
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Finally, we reached Laguna Verde – a greenish lagoon with the Licancabur Volcano in the background. The snow had made everything look out of this world! This was one of my favourite parts of the 3 day salt flat tour. It is in my opinion, the most beautiful among the colourful lakes of Bolivia.
Laguna Blanca was our last stop before we went to the border between Bolivia and Chile. This is very close to Laguna Verde and the colour is a perfect white! The driver wanted to rush to the border but we insisted to stop for a few minutes to see the white lake.
Tips for the 3 Day Salt Flat Tour
Booking the 3 day salt flat tour was not an easy feat. We knew prices were more expensive online and the best place to book was in the town of Uyuni. The problem was what tour company should we go with? Safety, food options, accommodation and price were the factors we considered. There have been some bad reviews for certain tour companies and even a few accidents during the tour (because of drunk drivers).
We arrived at Uyuni early from La Paz. There were many tour companies which even offer a free night in a hostel in Uyuni but we decided to do things on our own. We booked a night in one of the hostels at the southern end of town and had a look around for a tour. Many of the tour companies closed in the afternoon (perhaps after they have booked the slots for the next day) and it was hard to find ones with good reviews. Finally we decided to book the 3 day salt with World White Travel, which had pretty decent reviews. Our 3 Day Salt Flat Tour in Spanish (because it was cheaper) was 800 Bolivianos each or $115 USD. The price was reasonable which included all the meals and accommodation. They even included the sleeping bags for the second night (we didn’t really need them). The driver wasn’t really a tour guide too so if you are looking for an in depth tour of the area find a company with a proper tour guide.
Other tips for the tour:
- Be prepared for the elevation. The Uyuni Salt Flat and other attractions are at an elevation of 3000 masl to 4000 masl. Acclimatization is important so you can enjoy the tour better.
- Bring some warm clothes too, it gets really cold, especially at night.
- Bring some snacks and enough water as the food portions are quite small and drinks are not provided except during meals.
- You may get sick like Jon so bring some pills along with you.
- Carry some small change, the use of toilets is not always free.
The 3 Day Salt Flat Tour was one of the highlights of our trip around the world. The stunning scenery of the Salar de Uyuni and the colourful lakes of Bolivia are truly awe-inspiring – definitely some of the most unique landscapes in South America! Make sure you do the 3 Day Salt Flat Tour next time you visit South America, you won’t regret it!
Have you done the 3 Day Salt Flat Tour in Bolivia? Do you have plans to visit Salar de Uyuni? Let us know.