A top highlight for any trip to South America tends to be a Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Salt Flats tour. After exploring the continent for more than a year of adventures, the standard 3-day Bolivia Salts Flats Tour remains one of our absolute favorite experiences. The landscapes crossed during this off-road journey must be some of the most surreal terrain found anywhere in the world.
When visiting the Bolivia Salt Flats, a dramatic vastness is encountered that is unlike anywhere else in the world. In the middle of Salar de Uyuni, visitors are surrounded by 360-degrees of nothingness. There is flat white ground and blue skies in all directions, while a fierce sun beats down onto this high-altitude salt desert. It all makes for an environment that is so serene yet very intense all at the same time.
Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is like nowhere else on planet earth.
Yet it’s not only the Bolivia salt flats themselves that make this adventure so astonishing. The Salar de Uyuni is just the opening act for several otherworldly landscapes that follow during 3-day Salar de Uyuni tours. While traversing the rugged terrain of Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in a 4×4, there is jaw-dropping scenery around every corner.
You may have some idea of what to expect with Bolivia’s salt flats themselves. But there are many more surprises to be experienced beyond the vast white plains. Tucked into this corner of Bolivia are also red lakes, Dali-like deserts, volcanic backdrops, and unique Andean wildlife. It’s completely awe-inspiring.
It’s these unreal sights that turned this 3-day Bolivia salt flats tour into the most epic off-road trip we could have ever dreamed up!
But the surprises don’t stop with these mind-blowing sights.
Another pleasant revelation is the price of these Bolivia salt flats tours. This must be one of the best value adventures in all of South America. For a price of roughly $50 per day, it includes the 4×4 tour, unique lodging, and even home-cooked Bolivian meals. It all adds up to an incredible travel bargain to match all this incredible natural beauty.
In this article, we want to attempt to show just how special a Bolivia salt flats tour can be. But words and photos don’t do it justice. The Salar de Uyuni salt flats are one of those places that have to be experienced in person. So this post goes further to dish out all the info, detailing how to plan your own Bolivia Salt Flats tour.
The first part of this post reviews our journey. But if you came to this webpage looking for more logistical info on how to visit the Bolivia salt flats, you can skip to any of the info-packed sections that follow:
Background About the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia
The Bolivia Salt Flats, known as “Salar de Uyuni,” is the largest salt flats in the world! These Uyuni salt flats measure a massive 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). For perspective, that’s roughly the same size as the entire country of Lebanon (4,036 sq mi) or Jamaica (4,243 sq mi)!
The Salar de Uyuni is so enormous that it can be seen from space and on satellite maps.
The huge salt deposit of Salar de Uyuni covers much of Southwestern Bolivia, high in the Altiplano of the Andes Mountains. At an elevation of 3,656 meters (or 2.27 miles high), Salar de Uyuni boasts some serious altitude. Despite being high in the rugged Andes, the Salar de Uyuni is one of the most consistently flat places in the world.
The Salar de Uyuni is a remnant of a giant prehistoric lake that once covered this area some tens of thousands of years ago. Once that ancient saltwater lake dried up, it left the thick salt crust that remains here today.
Yet the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats still become lake-like throughout the year during seasonal rainfalls that flood the salt flats. It adds a completely different dynamic to the stark landscape. Under calm wind conditions, a thin sheet of water then forms on the Bolivia salt flats which acts as a giant reflective mirror that is a lot of fun for photos!
Today the salt is mined and harvested from the salt flats, not only for consumption but also to be used as a building material. Yet tourism is becoming another major draw for the Salar de Uyuni salt flats. And rightfully so – it’s an incredible place to visit!
There are now daily tours that set off to explore not only the Salar de Uyuni but also the high Andes in the surrounding area. We took one of the 3-day Bolivia salt flats tours ourselves to see what it’s all about. Below gives our detailed review of what that experience is like.
The 3-Day Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Salt Flats Tour Review
Our 3-Day Bolivia salt flats tour began in the dusty streets of Uyuni, located down in the southwestern reaches of Bolivia. This is the closest hub to Salar de Uyuni and is the most common place in the country to begin a Bolivia salt flats tour.
Really, we had no idea what was in store for us over the following three days. Before reading the details, be sure to check out our video below to better grasp what this experience is like in motion:
The Bolivia Salt Flats Tour Adventure Begins: Day 1
By mid-morning, our bags were packed and thrown on top of the 4×4 taking us across the rugged terrain over the next three days. We met our travel mates, now rolling six-deep in the Land Rover. It was time to begin this epic adventure! But we wouldn’t be traveling too far.
The first stop was only a few minutes outside of Uyuni. And what a bizarre place it was!
Rolling Out with A Bang: The Strange Uyuni Train Cemetery
Uyuni’s train cemetery is where trains have come to die. In the 1940’s when Bolivia’s mining industry collapsed, old steamers began to pile up just outside of this trading post town, where they still remain today.
Now this train cemetery has become a bizarre attraction in this vast desert in Southern Bolivia. It feels like some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland as you can climb atop and crawl through these old abandoned train cars. It’s both strange and fascinating!
A Llama & Salt Museum?
Next on the agenda of a 3-day Bolivia salt flats tour from Uyuni is a brief stop in the tiny town of Cochani. It’s here that you can shop for handicrafts or last-minute supplies. Cochani is also where you can pop into the Museo de la Llama y la Sal.
Yes, it’s a museum dedicated to salt and llamas. How could you not go in?
The museum isn’t much. The “exhibits” amount to Bolivian Barbie dolls recreating salt mining scenes, which is worth a good laugh. But there is actually some good information too and it’s presented in multiple languages.
Plus the modest 5 BOB (~$0.70) entrance fee includes use of the toilets. So go check out some salt & llamas before relieving your bladder!
Driving Into the Bolivia Salt Flats of Salar de Uyuni!
Now the journey into the Uyuni salt flats begins!
Excitement grows as the Land Rover starts to plow over the thick white crust. It wasn’t long until we were able to stretch our legs at the Ojos de Agua. That’s the “eyes of the water,” which is a bubbling spring in the middle of the salt flats.
Next, it’s off to the original Salt Hotel for lunch. The hotel is constructed entirely of salt. Sure, it’s impressive, but it’s the barren surroundings of the salt flats themselves that really wows.
Our chicken, veggie, and pasta lunch was decent, albeit a little bland. Surprisingly, it needed… salt.
We asked our guide for some “sal” and he just pointed to the ground. So we scraped up some salt off the floor and that did the trick. I guess it doesn’t get much fresher than that!
Back in the Land Rover, it’s a long journey out into the wide expanse of the Salar de Uyuni. There’s nothing but blue and white in every direction. It’s disorienting at times and makes you wonder how the drivers are able to navigate this massive stretch of nothingness.
Eventually, we stopped at a point where we literally felt like we were in the middle nowhere. The stark landscape was void of anything as far as the eye could see. The tall Andes peaks that were once looming in the distance had vanished.
This is the point during the Bolivia Salt Flats tour where you have an opportunity to stop and take funny photos using forced perspective.
Given the flat expanse of vast whiteness that meets the horizon here in the world's largest salt flats, you can have…
Then the journey continues across the plains until you reach …an island?
Incahuasi: The “Fish Island” in a Salt Desert
The next stop on this Bolivia Salt Flats tour of Salar de Uyuni was indeed an island!
Incahuasi, or Fish Island, is named as such because of its shape. We were traveling firmly on land the entire time, yet this hill sprouting out from the Uyuni salt flats, still very much felt like a true island in this sea of salt. After nothing but white ground, it’s a strange sight to see emerge from nowhere.
The “island” is formed from petrified coral. After all, this area had been the top of an ancient volcano sitting in a prehistoric lake. Today huge cactuses have taken over the rocky terrain. As we hiked all around the island admiring the cacti, our lungs were soon reminded about the high altitude amidst the otherwise flat expanse of nothingness.
Sunset on the Bolivia Salt Flats of Salar de Uyuni
The final stop before nightfall on this Bolivia Salt Flats tour, it’s off to see the sunset. If you happen to be traveling through the Salar de Uyuni during the wet season, you may be in for a particularly incredible display. If the winds are calm, the thin sheet of water covering the Bolivia Salt Flats can act as a giant mirror. This can produce a sunset above and below!
As darkness takes over the night sky and the air chills, the driver turns on the high beams. It was then he managed to navigate to yet another one-of-a-kind experience during a 3-day Bolivia salt flat tour: sleeping in a salt hotel in the middle of Salar de Uyuni!
What It’s Like To Sleep in a Salt Hotel in the Bolivia Salt Flats
Aside from some doors and wooden beams, the entire hotel is made from salt! The walls are salt. The chairs and table in the dining hall are salt. Everything is salt!
It is a different grade of salt that is used for construction than what you’re accustomed to shaking from a salt shaker. The building is a very solid structure. It’s not crumbling at all, and rather more like hardened cement.
The salt hotel rooms are completely barren, but the beds are comfortable enough. It certainly wasn’t our best night sleep, but we were able to doze off just fine. And this salt hotel has gone down as one of the most unique and interesting places we’ve ever slept!
Day 2 of Bolivia Salt Flats Tour: Off-Roading Into the Andes
The second day of this grand adventure leaves the salt flats entirely and travels high into the Andes of Southern Bolivia. For most people, the Salar de Uyuni itself is the highlight of a 3-day Bolivia salt flats tour.
The salts flats themselves are indeed spectacular. Yet we would argue that some of the surreal landscapes that followed were equally as impressive. There is much more to a Bolivia salt flats tour than the salt flats themselves.
We soon learned this first hand, as the high Andes peaks began to come into view as the morning drive commenced. This is where we visited a local town seemingly in the middle of nowhere, then stretched our legs at some train tracks leading into Chile.
As the journey continued, we began to understand how Day #2 of this Bolivia salt flats tour would flow. We would drive around gawking at the scenery and then come to sudden stops to get out and explore the amazing landscapes. It was a pattern that repeated itself time and time again.
Our next chance to explore was around Mars-like rock formations that littered the ground.
Wildlife Spotted during a 3-Day Bolivia Salt Flats Tour
Throughout the drive across southern Bolivia, herds of llamas would come and go, as would the occasional alpaca.
But llamas aren’t the only animals you can find here.
We were a bit shocked to see flamingos – yes, flamingos – way up here among snow-covered mountaintops. The last time we saw flamingos was while roaming around the Galapagos, in a characteristically tropical environment.
Had these tropical birds lost their way? Apparently, there is a rare breed of Andean flamingos that flock to these lakes in Southern Bolivia!
After lunch with our flamingo friends, we began to see more wildlife than we hadn’t expected. We almost couldn’t believe our eyes when we quickly passed what looked like an ostrich on the side of the road. Were we having flashbacks to our game drives during the prior year’s big African safari?
Turns out this wasn’t an ostrich, but close. We had spotted a rhea, which is another big flightless bird related to the ostrich and emu, but rheas are native to South America.
We also came across a charming Andean fox, who approached our Land Rover. Given the fox’s strange behavior, we fear that other drivers may be feeding him. Not good!
Here sure was a handsome fox though.
Yet perhaps the cutest animal we spotted during the entire 3-day Bolivia salt flats tour was a little viscancha that looks like a giant rabbit with a longer tail. Apparently, it is a type of chinchilla.
After visiting one of the most barren landscapes in the world, it was a bit surprising to see this land thriving with so much wildlife.
Bolivia May Hold the Most Surreal Landscapes in the World
The Bolivia salt flats tour continued into Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve as the mountains surrounding us seemed to grow higher and higher. This is when things really began to take a turn for the otherworldly, as Bolivia served us up a 3-course afternoon of surrealism.
The appetizer course began with a green-ish lake, appropriately named “Laguna Verde” or “Green Lagoon.” Arsenic and other minerals give the lake its green appearance, which changes colors based upon winds and sediment levels. And while the lake is pretty, you can’t help but also admire the looming volcanoes that act as a backdrop.
The main course was a stone forest that appeared to be something right out of a Dali painting.
The Arbol de Piedra or “Stone Tree” makes for some great photo ops. Years of erosion from sand and wind have created its peculiar shape that stands 7 meters (23 feet) tall.
For dessert, Bolivia treated us to a red lake!
Laguna Colorada has reddish hues due to algae pigmentations mixing with natural sediments. It makes for an incredible sight if you’re lucky enough to catch the lake when the red colors are showing heavily. We were fortunate to arrive to Laguna Colorada on what was apparently a great day. The lake was not only in full display, but even more flamingos were wading in the waters and flying above!
Winding Down the Adventure of the Uyuni Salt Flats Tour
The second day of this Bolivia salt flats tour ended in a tiny little village in the middle of nowhere that seems to cater to the few carloads of people that turn up here each night. And by that, I mean every building was either a hostel or a beer store. Even in the middle of nowhere, there was certainly no shortage of places to find booze.
We almost couldn’t believe it when we even found a billiard with a super friendly owner who was rocking out to 60’s music. It was irresistible to wander onto his gravel floor to kick back a few cervezas while the moon rose and dinner was prepared.
Day 3: Intrigue Off-Roading Across Southern Bolivia
The last day of the 3-day Bolivia salt flats tour is long on driving but still packs a few surprises.
A Mini-Yellowstone in Southern Bolivia
It was a pre-dawn start to the day in the freezing early morning hours. With the skies still pitch black, we arrived at a geyser field. Vents in the ground sprayed steam and hot water into the air. It’s a mystical sight under the moonlight, although it left us yearning for what it looks like during the day.
Not far from all the geyser action is a hot pool. Temperatures at this high altitude are below the freezing mark.
Disrobing in such a frigid environment is unnerving. But taking off those warm outer layers is inevitable if you want to take a dip in the natural hot waters.
It was worth it to be able to have a nice soak after a few salty and dusty days on the road.
Some Final Surreal Scenes on the Way Back to Uyuni
Upon drying off, we set off on the long drive back to Uyuni as the final portion of the 3-day Bolivia salt flats tour. But not before stopping at what is known as the Salvador Dali Desert.
It’s named as such since the valley resembles works from the famous surreal artist.
Then it’s a 6-hour drive from the southern reaches of Bolivia back up to Uyuni. The day winds down by stopping at a few peculiar towns while passing many llamas & alpacas.
A final unexpected stunner of this salt flats tour was the steep edges of the Alota Canyon. Standing atop the vertigo-inducing cliffs was a perfect sendoff from this astounding three-day adventure.
How to Visit the Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Salt Flats
There are lots of logistics involved when planning a trip to Bolivia’s Salt Flats. There are multiple places to start such a tour and different tour lengths. There are also different comfort levels, prices, and dozens of different companies to consider when choosing a tour of Salar de Uyuni. This remainder of this post will help to break that all down so you know what to budget for, how to get a good price, and a review of some of the more trustworthy tour companies.
Yet there are so many other tips that travelers need to be prepared with. You should know some key items to pack for this adventure into the remote landscapes of Bolivia. Clothing packed for this trip may greatly depend on the season that you visit the Uyuni Salt Flats, so this is covered too among loads of important travel tips for this unique adventure.
Where To Start a Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Salt Flats Tour?
Most people tend to visit Bolivia’s Salt Flats as part of a tour. And these tours depart from three different locations. Bolivia salt flats tours usually span 1, 3, or 4 days, depending on where you start your tour and what you prefer.
Where to start a Bolivia salt flats tour is the most often asked Uyuni-related question we see come up in travel forums. We’re always surprised to see this topic constantly being debated in travel groups and message boards with every traveler claiming their starting point is the best place to start.
Everyone who went from Tupiza will claim that’s the best way to go. Those who departed from San Pedro de Atacama will profess that’s the best place to begin a salt flats tour.
Really, they’re all wrong.
The truth is that the best location to start a Bolivia salt flats tour is entirely dependent on where you’re coming from and where you’re traveling to.
Understand, there are three main locations in which you can arrange and begin a Salar de Uyuni salt flats tour:
- Uyuni, Bolivia
- or La Paz
- Tupiza, Bolivia
- San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
1) Depart from Uyuni if Coming from the North
From almost everywhere in Bolivia to the salt flats, it’s best to begin in Uyuni. If you are coming from Sucre, Potosi, Ororu, or nearly anywhere else in Bolivia, it is best to catch a bus (or train from Ororu) to Uyuni and begin the Bolivia salt flats tour there. It only makes practical sense to do so. Otherwise, you’ll spend additional time and money backtracking.
When departing from Uyuni, it is possible to make a roundtrip tour, as described in this post or continue onward into Chile. Taking the roundtrip tour is best for those returning back to La Paz or anywhere north. Yet it is also practical for those who may be continuing south into Argentina. Yet anyone on a southbound track into Chile will certainly want to take the one-way option that ends in San Pedro de Atacama.
It is easily possible to continue south by transferring to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, instead of returning to Uyuni. While this does incur an addest cost, it will save you from a lengthy drive back to Uyuni and travel expenses to Chile from there. Plus it’s a fun way to cross a rural border.
Or Consider Departing from La Paz to Uyuni
If coming from La Paz, Bolivia: You may want to consider a Bolivia Salt Flats tour originating from La Paz. Those who are comfortable with independent travel can get from La Paz to Uyuni by bus, or even plane, on their own. Yet a more seamless approach is to book a Bolivia salt flats tour directly from La Paz. This is a particularly attractive option for those needing to return to La Paz after touring the Bolivia salt flats.
- For example, this 4-day Tour from La Paz is a good and economical option that includes an English-speaking guide: Check prices and availability.
2) Depart from Tupiza if Coming from Argentina 🇦🇷
If coming from Argentina to the Bolivia salt flats, it’s best to begin in Tupiza, Bolivia. Tupiza is within easy reach of the Bolivia-Argentina border. From Tupiza you can find 4-day Bolivia salt flat tours that end in Uyuni. This is a great route if you are heading on a northbound trajectory from Argentina into Bolivia.
The tour from Tupiza to Uyuni has an extra day that includes some additional sites near Tupiza. It then continues on to include most of the natural attractions mentioned throughout this post, culminating in the salt flats, which are visited on the fourth and final day. Expect to pay a per-person cost of roughly $200 for this 4-day salt flats tour from Tupiza.
For anyone searching for a Bolivia salt flats tour that goes in the reserve route, from Uyuni to Tupiza, this is only possible for a more costly custom tour. For those traveling from Uyuni onward to Argentina, a Uyuni-to-Tupiza route across the salt flats would seem to be a logical track. Unfortunately, this is not a standard tour offering. So a Uyuni to Tupiza route is only available for very high prices, as a private tour. Prices for Uyuni to Tupiza depends on the number of people and the agency. Expect anywhere from about $350-$750 USD per person.
3) Depart from San Pedro de Atacama if Coming from Chile 🇨🇱
If coming from Chile to the Bolivia salt flats, it’s best to begin in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. You can organize a 3-day Bolivia salt flats tour in San Pedro de Atacama which ends in Uyuni. This is a great route for anyone traveling northbound in Chile into Bolivia.
Salar de Uyuni salt flats tours departing from San Pedro de Atacama are typically one-way tours, which ultimately end in Uyuni. During this San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni route, the salt flats are toured on the final day.
When coming from San Pedro de Atacama, prices do tend to be much higher than tours from Uyuni. However, the costs and travel time involved in traveling from Chile to Uyuni on your own would far outweigh any cost savings incurred from booking the cheaper tour there once you arrive.
One-Day Bolivia Salt Flats Tours Are Only from Uyuni
Of those three starting points, the Bolivia salt flats themselves are closest to the town of Uyuni. As such, Uyuni is the only place possible to embark on a one-day tour of the actual Salar de Uyuni. A one-day Uyuni salt flats tour follows closely to our first-day itinerary but then returns to the town of Uyuni rather than staying in a salt hotel and continuing southbound through the Andes.
Although it is possible to tour the salt flats from Uyuni in a single day, we instead recommend the 3-day Bolivia salt flats tour. We think it is so worth it to experience the incredible landscapes all throughout the Andes of Southern Bolivia, making for what we now believe to be one of the best off-road adventures in the world!
How Much Does the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats Tour Cost?
The price of a three-day Salar de Uyuni Bolivia salt flats tour can be as little as 600 BOB (~$87 USD) for a really good deal or well into the several hundreds of dollars for a premium tour booked in advance. Most 3-day salt flats tours from Uyuni are priced between $100-$200 USD. (Note: These Bolivia Salt Flat tour prices are up-to-date as of July 2019.)
Prices for Salar de Uyuni tours do tend to vary based on factors such as the exact tour company, the quality of the guide (and language), your starting location, and whether booking in advance or showing up in Uyuni to get a last-minute rate.
How To Book the Cheapest Bolivia Salt Flats Tour
The cheapest Bolivia salt flats tours are Spanish-speaking drivers only and can be found last-minute in Uyuni. That’s what we were after and we secured our Bolivia salt flats tour in Uyuni for 700 BOB.
To book the cheapest Salar de Uyuni salt flats tour, just show up to Uyuni. Bolivia salt flats tours are almost always available in Uyuni departing every day. You may want to book your tour the day before, but it is even possible to take an overnight bus into Uyuni and depart the very same day. In fact, we saw many people who came directly from the bus station and joined a tour the same day, with no advanced reservations.
Why Consider Paying More for a Guide and Booking in Advance
Having an English-speaking guide will cost nearly double the amount of touring the Bolivia Salt Flats with a Spanish-speaking driver. Yet that can often be worth the cost so you can actually learn about all these amazing places that you’re visiting. If you don’t speak any Spanish at all, you should definitely consider this. But even if you do speak some Spanish, we found that the Spanish-speaking drivers tend not to offer much info, even in Spanish.
Another factor that will help drive costs up is booking in advance through an agency or simply showing up in Uyuni to book at a last-minute rate directly with the tour company. If you have time, have flexible travel plans, and are on a budget, booking last minute in Uyuni can be great way to get a cheap price on the Bolivia Salt Flats tour.
Yet if you have a fixed itinerary and not much time, it is advisable to secure a Bolivia salt flats tour in advance. This 3-day tour is the cheapest we’ve seen among the major reliable online tour booking sites. It also has options to choose between a Spanish-speaking driver or an English-speaking guide:
Total Costs of Bolivia Salt Flats Tour
In addition to the tour cost itself, there is another 200 BOB worth of entrance fees and other expenses to budget for (detailed in the section below). Once factoring in extra costs like bottled waters, pay toilets and perhaps a few beers, you can realistically plan to budget for a grand total of about 1,000 BOB for a cheap 3-day Bolivia salt flats tour if booked in Uyuni at last-minute with a Spanish-speaking driver.
Example costs and budget for a Bolivia Salt Flats tour (3-day):
700 BOB (Bolivia salt flats tour price at a last-minute rate in Uyuni)
+ 200 BOB (various entrance fees)
+ 100 BOB (incidentals like toilets, showers, water, snacks)
= 1,000 BOB
At a price that amounts to less than $50 USD per person, per day, we find this to be amazing value for what is one of the best road trips on the planet.
🇨🇱 Note for San Pedro de Atacama Chile: a Bolivia salt flats tour beginning in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, will be higher as you’ll be paying in Chilean agencies in Chilean pesos. Also if you are traveling from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama, this will also incur an additional transfer fee to get to Chile.
Tours from Tupiza are also slightly higher in price compared to salt flats tours from Uyuni. But tours starting in Tupiza do include an extra day.
What’s Included in the Bolivia Salt Flats Tours Price?
Transport, driver/guide, accommodation, and all meals should be included in the price of the tour with most Bolivia salt flats tour companies. But be sure to verify this with the tour companies before departure.
Admissions fees typically are NOT included and you must budget extra for them. You can expect to pay nearly 200 BOB (~$29) for entrance fees in total. Here is the budget breakdown on how much that costs:
- Museum of salt and llamas entrance fee: 5 BOB
- Fish Island entrance fee: 30 BOB
- Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve entrance fee: 150 BOB
- Hot Springs entrance: 6 BOB
Here are some additional expenses you may encounter with most Bolivia salt flats tour companies during a Salar de Uyuni tour:
- Use of toilets: free at hotels, 5-10 BOB elsewhere
- Hot shower at hotel: 15 BOB
- Snacks and drinks: prices vary; a 1-liter beers cost 30 BOB each
- Souvenirs: Prices vary
- Godzilla for perspective photos: 15 BOB
- Tips for the driver: at your discretion
Choosing a Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats Tour Company
You can find horror stories online about deadly accidents during Bolivia salt flats tours and careless drivers. While traveling through Bolivia, we spoke to other travelers who told us firsthand accounts of their driver getting drunk and leaving them without dinner, only to reemerge midday the next day. This actually happens and your safety is at risk. As such, it is important to use a trusted Bolivia salt flats tour company. Don’t necessarily go with the guy who offers you the best deal here.
Whoever you book with, be certain to vet them out. Read their latest TripAdvisor reviews to check for any accidents reported. Ensure the vehicle is in good condition. Ask (and insist) that the vehicle has seat belts for everyone. Before booking a Salar de Uyuni tour, ask the salt flats tour company review the itinerary to confirm the exact locations that will be visited.
3 Best Rated Bolivia Salt Flats Tour Companies with Prices
To save you some researching, we examined the best salt flats tours from Uyuni, rated on TripAdvisor. Then we spent a day walking around Uyuni to get price quotes and itineraries from each of the three top-rated Uyuni tour operators. The route and itinerary reviewed by each of the Bolivia salt flat tour companies went to all the same highlights, with only some very minor differences.
Here are the Bolivia Salt Flats tour prices that we found in April 2017, per person:
- Salty Desert Aventours price: 700 BOB (~$101 USD)
- Andes Salt Express price: 800 BOB (~$116 USD)
- Quechua Connection price: 1,250 BOB (~$181 USD)
Update 2019: Reports from other travelers going to the Bolivia Salts Flats in 2019 have indicated prices are the same.
Quechua Connection has a significantly higher price, so we asked them what makes it worth it. They claim that they use newer vehicles, provide better meals, a guaranteed-English speaking guide, 20-minutes of mountain biking around the salt flats, private hotels, and “little extras.” For us, it didn’t seem worth the added expense. But Quechua Connection does receive rave reviews, so you may want to consider the splurge if you’re looking for a more premium experience and an English-speaking guide.
Based on the low price and a track record of good reviews, we chose to go with Salty Desert Aventours and booked it the same morning that we departed.
Review of Salty Desert Aventours Bolivia Salt Flats Tour
So how was it?
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed the 3-day salt flats tour with Salty Desert Aventours. But it was not without its shortcomings.
+ On the positive side:
- We visited all the locations that were promised, which were incredible.
- Our driver was safe and handled the vehicle well – very important!
- Aside from some small cracks in the windshield, the Land Rover was in good condition and had working seat belts for all passengers.
- Our driver was timely, yet we never felt rushed.
- The meals were basic but good, and we never went hungry. There was even wine provided with dinner one night.
- The rustic accommodation was very basic. But it was adequate and as we expected. The Salt Hotel was a fun novelty.
- At 700 BOB (~$100 USD) for the entire 3-day tour, it was fantastic value!
– Yet there was some room for improvement. The biggest way our tour could have been better was our driver. He was just that: a “driver,” and not much of a “guide.” He was your classic C-student. He did just enough to pass (drove safe, was timely) but never went above & beyond like some of the other great guides we had been spoiled with during other tours throughout South America. (Our guides during our Death Road tour and the Machu Picchu Inca Jungle Trek were excellent!)
The Bolivia salt flats tour driver only spoke Spanish, which we knew in advance, and that was fine (particularly for the price paid). But he didn’t speak much at all. Typically when we would arrive somewhere, he would tell us the name of the place and how much time we would spend there. And that was it. We didn’t learn anything. And some places, we would just wander around on our own, not really knowing where to go.
Meanwhile, we overheard other guides, even from this very same company – Salty Desert Aventours, who filled their passengers with interesting facts and were energetic. They helped to take fun photos of their passengers and always had smiles on their faces. Our driver not only lacked information but he also completely lacked even the tiniest ounce of enthusiasm. But mostly we were disappointed that we didn’t learn much during this otherwise incredible adventure.
That said, with horror stories of skipping sites, a dire lack of safety, and even drunken drivers – we never had any concerns at all with our driver on those fronts. He met all of those expectations.
Things could have been much worse, but they also could have been better. If you really want a great guide, you need to pay more than the meager 700 BOB that we spent on this Bolivia salt flats tour.
We got a great deal, which got us a good driver who wasn’t really a “guide.” Ultimately, we’re okay with that.
So overall we still wholeheartedly recommend Salty Desert Aventours, and particularly so for the price of 700 BOB. If you want an enthusiastic English-speaking guide, simply expect to pay more, whether booking through Salty Desert Aventours or elsewhere. For us, we felt it was worth the cost savings to have a good & safe driver who didn’t provide any guide services. You’ll have to decide whether it is worth paying more for a great guide.
Tips for the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats Tour
When Is the Best Time to Go to Bolivia Salt Flats?
An experience at the Bolivia salt flats can be quite different based on the season: wet season vs dry season. Here’s the weather you can expect at the Boliva salt flats throughout the year:
- January to March is the wet season in Bolivia salt flats and the best bet to see the mirror effect on the salt flats. However, the Salar de Uyuni may be too flooded during this time to be able to visit Isla Incahuasi (AKA Fish Island).
- March and early April may have a thin layer of water left on the salt flats, yet tends to be dry enough to get to the Fish Island.
- End of April and May brings the potential for snow, which is rare but has been known to alter travel plans and even close the border between Bolivia and Chile.
- June through September are the coldest months and also the driest. Expect below-freezing temperatures at night. Pack warmly!
- October through December begins to warm-up. November to December tends to be warmest (although still quite chilly at night, given the high altitude). November is also when the rains begin, which comes to an apex in January.
If you are taking a roundtrip tour, returning to Uyuni, you can store your bags with the tour operator or your hotel/hostel. If so, only pack the essentials.
👕 Clothes for 3 days – Temperatures change vastly, as it is very hot during the day and freezing at night. Have clothing for both extremes.
👙 Bathing suit: You’ll need something to wear into the hot springs.
💧 Bottled water: Some drinking water is included when served with meals. Otherwise, you need to bring your own. There are opportunities to purchase bottled water along the way, but you’ll pay about double the price for it in these remote locations compared to in Uyuni. So we recommend picking up a few bottles before the tour departs. Plan for a minimum of a 1.5-liter bottle of water each day.
😎 Sun protection: It is easy to get fried in the high altitude under the beaming sun. While you can find it in Uyini, it’s best to stock up on sunscreen and lip balm before your adventure. Don’t forget to pack a good hat and sunglasses.
📷 Camera: There are plenty of Instagramable moments to capture throughout the journey into the Boliva salt flats, so don’t forget your camera or phone, and keep it charged.
🔋 Backup battery: We found it tough to keep our devices charged during the 3-day tour due to a lack of electricity and power outlets. But we use this powerful yet small backup battery which recharges our phone and camera many times over.
🔦 Flashlight (torch): You need a flashlight in the mornings to be able to see. Electricity isn’t running during this time, so you’ll need to pack up in the dark with the aid of a flashlight. It’s also nice to have for any wandering around outside at night for stargazing and during the predawn visit to the geyser field. We like this strong little travel flashlight.
♨️ Towel: You’ll need a towel to dry off from any showers and after a dip in the hot springs. We love this lightweight, quick-drying, travel towel.
🚽 Toilet paper: Some of the toilets are BYO-TP. Be prepared.
🚼 Baby wipes: In the realistic instance that you’re not able to shower, baby wipes can be an invaluable luxury to help freshen up after a dusty day on the road.
🏜️ Lotion: As you might imagine, it’s very dry out in the Bolivia salt flats.
🚻 Toiletries: You know what you need, so just don’t forget to pack it. Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, medicine, tampons, etc.
🃏 Deck of cards: You may have some downtime at the end of each day. We had fun playing card games with our travel mates, so you may want to bring a deck too. These non-tear cards are perfect for travel.
🦎 Props for funny photos: Think about packing a small prop or two. Godzilla is a popular option and can be purchased along the way. Or just use whatever happens to be lying around. Wine bottles and Pringles canisters work well.
💵 Cash money: You’ll need a minimum of 200 BOB for entrance fees alone, but we suggest bringing at least 400 BOB (or more) for toilets, showers, beers, snacks, tips, or any unexpected expenses that may arise. You won’t find any ATMs outside of Uyuni.
Important Bolivia Salt Flats Tour packing tip:
When packing, keep a small bag in the car with you that includes things you’ll be using throughout the day like your camera, drinking water, and sunscreen. It is difficult to access bags that are thrown on top of the vehicle. So it’s important to bring two bags:
- your main pack that goes atop the 4×4, and
- a small day pack to bring inside the vehicle
For more packing tips and a complete pack list of what we used throughout our entire South America trip, check out our Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist.
Where to Stay in Uyuni Before & After the Tour
There are plenty of places in Uyuni to plunk down for a night, either before or after the Salt Flats tour while awaiting transportation connections. Solo travelers will find no shortage of hostels. And there are also some decent budget hotels for added comfort and privacy.
We stayed at and recommend Hotel Salcay, as what we think to be the best value option in Uyuni. It’s only about $20 USD per night, which includes a good breakfast with made-to-order eggs. Rooms were fairly basic but clean & comfy. The bathroom had a consistently great hot shower. The wifi worked well too. Check recent reviews and search your dates here.
More Bolivia Salt Flats Travel Tips:
Here is some additional advice on things to know before you take a Bolivia salt flats tour:
📱 Charge: Fully charge your camera/phone and bring a backup battery. There was electricity at the hostels we stayed in but it was on for only limited hours and all the outlets became full with everybody wanting to charge their devices at the same time. To be able to capture the awesome scenery during the tour, be sure to have a full charge and a bring a portable charger, like this one, to keep your battery life at 100%.
💻 Disconnect: Expect to go on a digital detox during the Bolivia salt flats tour. We never encountered wifi nor had data on our phone throughout the entire three days. Be prepared to log off.
🚿 Showering: There are showers at the hotels but they are not reliable and may be cold. Mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of not showering for 3 days. That way if you come across a good shower, it will be a pleasant surprise. We got lucky with a great hot shower during our second night, but not the first night.
🚙 Choose tour company wisely: While this has already been mentioned, we can’t reiterate the importance of thoroughly vetting out the salt flat tour companies that you may be considering going with. Doing so will not only ensure you see these amazing sights but will also keep you safe on this tour route that has become notorious for bad operators.
⛰️ Acclimate: After leaving the salt flats you climb to elevations of about 4,500 meters. We had been at high altitude for the past several weeks, so we only felt a shortness of breath while walking around. But we saw a few others suffering severely from altitude sickness. We actually saw one girl collapse and the guides had to scramble to find oxygen tanks. It was scary! So be sure to give yourself a few days to acclimatize to the high elevation. Take it easy. Drink the coca tea – it really helps. If you are particularly prone to altitude sickness, consider taking this natural medication. It’s a bit pricey but the many favorable reviews note that it’s well worth it. Consider grabbing it to avoid that throbbing headache so you can instead enjoy your trip.
⚠️ Travel insurance: This is one of those activities in which you definitely need to have travel insurance. There have been horrific accidents on the Bolivia salt flats involving vehicles overturning. There are regular accidents, injuries, and even deaths. Most recently (June 2019), two British backpackers and their driver were killed when their vehicle overturned on the Bolivia Salt Flats.
Whatever travel insurance you have, be absolutely certain that your policy includes emergency medical evacuation in case any serious mishaps arise. We use World Nomads which does carry this evac coverage and much more. You’ll want a travel insurance policy for any trip to South America that will further protect you from theft, lost luggage, sickness, trip cancelation, natural disasters, and much more. And if you’re reading this from South America and your trip has already started, World Nomads is one of the few travel insurance agencies that will allow you to begin a policy after your trip has begun. So it’s not too late. Enter your travel dates here to get a quick quote.
The Bolivia Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats Tour
We hope this post and travel video have given you a glimpse of what this awesome trip is like!
Hopefully, this Bolivia Salt Flats travel guide and tips have proven helpful to plan your own Salar de Uyuni tour.
It makes for an adventure of a lifetime! Feel free to chime in below in the comments to let us know if you have any questions and we’ll try to answer as best as we can. And if you’ve recently been on a Bolivia salt flats tour, stop back by here and let us know how your experience was.
And we’d love to continue helping fellow travelers find the correct and most up-to-date info about touring the Bolivia salt flats, so we continue to update this post as info changes. If you’ve found prices or logistical info to has changed, please drop a comment to let us know so we can keep this page up-t0-date.
Buen viaje amigos!
Publishing note: This post was originally written in June 2017 and updated in July 2019 to reflect the most recent info.