Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and the surrounding area are one of the true wonders of the world. Salt flats, high altitude red lakes, green lakes and flamingos are all memorable sights. This is not a luxury trip, so don’t expect fancy accommodation and comforts. The air is thin and it is hard to breath: temperatures fall below freezing at night and sitting long hours in a Land Cruiser truck can be tiring. For those willing to brave the elements and experience this wondrous place, it is possible today to access the area even during a short vacation.
You will not see sights like this anywhere: Laguna Colorada is red and full of flamingos. Volcanoes, rock formations and hot springs give one the impression of being on another planet and the Uyuni salt flats make you feel like you’re on the moon. The flats make you lose your sense of distance and perspective.
How to get there
From Santiago Chile, it is a one hour flight to Calama and from there a van will take you to San Pedro de Atacama (see our San Pedro guide). It is also possible to fly to La Paz, Bolivia and from there to take a bus or train to Uyuni. A 3-day circular route starting in San Pedro reduces the crowds as most backpackers prefer starting in Uyuni which is a cheaper option.
I recommend Cordillera traveller which offers “basic” group trips as well as “luxury” private trips which can work well for two couples. Check several agencies before making a decision.
When to go
I went in July when it is dry but cold. During the wet season (December-March) a thin layer of water covers the Salar, which is beautiful, but may limit the ability to drive on the salt.
Because US citizens need visas to Bolivia, which is an expensive and lengthy procedure, one does not encounter many Americas these days in the country. Most other nationalities do not need any visa.
Where to stay
Tayka hotels are by no means luxurious, but they are clean, have hot water, electricity and will protect you from the night chill.
What to do
Enjoy the vistas! Visit the Bolivian highland that includes Laguna Verde, Laguna Blanca and Laguna Colorada, as well as close-up views of Licancabur Volcano. These places are located at an average height of 14,764 feet above the sea level and one can see flamingos, vicunas and other animals. Once you are at the Salar, visit Pescado Island and the salt hotel. When you return to San Pedro, enjoy a good meal and a Spa at one of the luxurious hotels.