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The Salt Flats in Bolivia (or Salar de Uyuni) is one of the coolest places to visit in Bolivia and one of the most unforgettable destinations in all of South America. During my adventure there, I was blown away by the sheer size and beauty of the Bolivian Salt Flats.
Imagine salt as far as the eye can see, reflections like you wouldn’t believe, and a landscape that was unworldly. The salt flats in Bolivia is one place I’ll never forget!
My experience was awesome, but much of that came down to chance. With little research, I happened to visit during the best time of year, get a great tour company, and bring everything I needed to have a fun and SAFE time exploring this desert of salt.
However, many people don’t have that same experience. In fact, I have heard absolute horror stories about tours gone wrong and even people who ended up in the hospital.
Of course, I don’t want this to happen to others. So in this guide, I’ll tell you 15 things you NEED to know before visiting the Salt Flats in Bolivia. After reading this blog, you’ll have some background info and also be prepared to have the best possible time touring the salt flats!
About the Salt Flats in Bolivia
The Salt Flats in Bolivia are just as the name suggests, a huge area where the ground is entirely salt! By “huge”, I mean HUGE! The area of the Salt Flats is a whopping 10,000 square kilometers or 3,900 sq miles, making it the largest Salt Flats in the whole world (more on that below.)
Because of the size, the best way to visit the Salt Flats in Bolivia is on a tour. Most tours depart from the city of Uyuni and tour around the Salt Flats for 3 days (2 nights) before returning to Uyuni. With that said there are some variations to this classic 3-day tour, and I’ll tell you all about the different options further in this blog.
The Salt Flats were created by prehistoric lakes that evaporated, leaving behind the salt. The salt is a couple of meters thick, and pretty much completely flat across the entire Salt Flats area. In fact, the Bolivia Salt Flats are said to be the flattest place on earth! This large flat surface gives you the opportunity to take those funny dinosaur photos you see everywhere, and during the right time of year, the chance to take beautiful reflection photos when water covers the Salt Flats.
It’s safe to say the Bolivia Salt Flats is an incredible phenomenon, and well worth visiting. Once you explore the Salt Flats for yourself, I’m sure you’ll understand why they are the single most popular tourist attraction in Bolivia.
15 Things to Know About the Salt Flats in Bolivia
1. The best time to visit the Salt Flats is late March to early May
You can visit the salt flats in Bolivia all year round. But depending on when you go, you’ll get a different experience.
If you visit between January and March, much of the salt flats are closed due to flooding. Of course, there are exceptions especially if you go in early January but for the most part, this is the worst time to visit.
If you visit during the driest months from June to December you won’t have to worry about rain. However, this is also winter, and temperatures at night can get to -15 C (5 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s pretty cold and it can make exploring the salt flats uncomfortable.
That leads us to the question, when is the best time to visit the salt flats?
Well, April and May are the best months. The reason?
The weather during this time is dry, but water from the rain season will still be around in some parts of the salt flats (so you can still enjoy the stunning reflections.) You’ll also experience all-around warmer weather and avoid any closures.
This is when I visited and based on what our guide said, this is the best time to explore the salt flats in Bolivia!
2. You’ll need a few days to appreciate the Salt Flats
You can choose to either visit the Salt Flats on a day trip or on a multi-day tour.
Although a day trip to the Salt Flats is convenient and great for a quick visit, you’ll miss out on so much! Yes, you’ll get to take the funny and creative photos on the salt, but the multi-day tours of the Salt Flats are so much more than that.
From exploring geysers to colorful lagoons to visiting a desert valley at over 5000 meters (16,000 feet) above sea level, there is a ton to see and do! The best advice I can give you is to join a 1 or 2-night tour as a minimum. This way you can experience Bolivia’s salt flats and nearby landscapes in detail.
The most common tour (and the one we did) was this 3-day 2-night tour from Uyuni with an English guide. If you want to see all that the Salt Flats has to offer I can’t recommend it enough! It only costs $250 USD and makes at least 14 different stops over the course of 3 days and we left feeling completely satisfied with our experience.
Isla Incahuasi (pictured above) was one of my favorite stops! This small rocky island is covered with Trichocereus cacti and the stark contrast with the white salt flats was mind-blowing! It was only around a 15-minute walk to reach the top part of the island for the best views. There was even a small cafe out here that serves up llama steaks if you want to try something new.
With that said, it was basic and the accommodations and food were not “luxurious”. There are more upper-market tours like this 3-day tour that includes 3 or 4-star hotels, but they are a lot more expensive priced around $1,000 USD so it will really come down to your travel style and budget if you find this option worth it!
If the only option you have is to do a day trip, then make sure you stay at the salt flats until sunset (the best time of day to see reflections!) and many tours head back to Uyuni before this time. This specific tour from Uyuni guarantees a sunset on the salt flats and is highly reviewed by other travelers!
3. You can visit the salt flats from a few different cities and towns
The salt flats are huge and because of this, you can visit them from many different places in Bolivia and even Chile. Of course, the most popular place to leave for the salt flats is the town of Uyuni, and this is what I did.
These are the most popular places you can visit the Salt Flats in Bolivia from:
Uyuni is a small town in Bolivia right on the edge of the salt flats. In Uyuni, there are lots of tour agencies selling all sorts of tours with the most popular being the 3-day 2-night tour. These tours typically start and end in Uyuni, or, start in Uyuni and end in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Uyuni is also the cheapest place to do salt flat tours from.
The 3-day tour we did from Uyuni was great, and it returned back to Uyuni. Our guide was so informative and easy-going, and the hotels that we stayed in were nice enough. The price, $250 USD is super reasonable too.
If you want to book a tour that departs from Uyuni and brings you to San Pedro, you can book this specific tour. The tour is slightly more money but it takes all of your luggage with you and includes a border crossing.
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
San Pedro is actually in Chile in the Atacama Desert. From here you can cross the border on a tour and explore the Salt Flats in Bolivia. On these tours, you can end the tour either in Uyuni or return back to San Pedro. Tours from here are the most expensive though because they leave from Chile (it’s a more expensive country with a stronger currency).
This specific tour is actually 4 days long and departs from San Pedro and returns to San Pedro. For only $249 USD it is actually a great deal (cheaper than most tours from Chile to the Salt Flats) and it even includes your meals!
Tupiza is another popular place to visit the Salt Flats from in Bolivia. This town is a convenient place to visit the Salt Flats for those crossing from Argentina into Bolivia (or vice versa.) Tours departing from Tupiza are said to be great since the areas of the Salt Flats they explore are less busy, it’s known as the “back door” to the Salt Flats.
This specific tour is 4-days long and departs from Tupiza and returns back to Tupiza. Although a little pricey at $700 USD it includes your accommodation for 3 nights and all of your meals. You should note that the guide is Spanish-speaking though.
Despite being really quite far from the Salt Flats, you can do tours departing from La Paz. This makes for a very long journey to and from the Salt Flats and day trips involve an 8-hour overnight bus before and after your tour. I personally couldn’t recommend doing that.
Instead, if you must visit from La Paz, do this specific tour that flies to and from Uyuni. This way you’ll save yourself the very long bus ride and have a much more enjoyable time. Less time on the bus means more time on the Salt Flats!
4. Tours are about more than just the Salt Flats
If you think the only thing you’ll see on a Salt Flats tour in Bolivia is salt, you are mistaken. On the most popular 3-day tours, you’ll visit several deserts, a few different lakes, a train graveyard, geysers spewing steam, hot springs, flamingos, and more!
On our particular tour, there was even a nice element of culture included when we visited the tiny salt-processing village of Colchani on our way to the flats. Only 600 people are permanent residents here but their salt factory is actually the largest one in Bolivia!
At the factory, we learned how salt is extracted and refined to be edible. While we were in town we got to see all kinds of goods being sold that were made out of salt.
A Salt Flats tour is about touring the entire area and visiting the different climates and landscapes. It’s so much more than just salt. So, get ready for a crazy adventure!
5. Not all tours are created equal
Not every tour of the Salt Flats is the same. Although they almost all follow the same route, what’s missing from some is the attention to detail and the activities they do. There are literally hundreds of tours to choose from.
So, how do you pick the right Bolivia Salt Flats tour?
Well, you could just wing it and hope for the best when you arrive, but in my experience, the easiest way is to choose a good company such as Viator.com and book the tour online in advance.
We personally love and have used Viator.com for many years at this point! They’re great because customers can leave reviews so the tours with positive reviews are more likely to follow through with what they promise.
Whereas when you book in person last minute at a small local “travel agency” or from a local off the street, they are generally less accountable.
Of course, this usually means paying a little more, but for a 3-day 2-night tour that is a big time commitment, what’s an extra $50 USD to guarantee a good time?
Another reason Viator is great is that you can cancel for a full refund on almost all of the tours on their website if done at least 24 hours in advance. No more being hesitant to book a tour in case travel plans change!
Note: All the tours inside this guide are through Viator.
Things to look for when booking a tour
- English-speaking guide – if you don’t speak Spanish, this is super important
- Accommodation and meal inclusions – make sure all of your meals and hotels are included
- Is the accommodation shared? – some budget tours will have travelers (particularly solo travelers) sharing rooms
- What activities are included and where do you go – visiting the Lagoons is super cool and you will want to ensure that you go here as well as the train wreck. We also enjoyed relaxing in the hot springs!
- Will you stay in a Salt Hotel? – Some tours include a stay in a “Salt Hotel”, which is a hotel made completely from salt! A super cool experience.
The Best Salt Flats Tours
This 3-day (2 night) tour is the one we did. It departs from Uyuni and returns to Uyuni and is super budget-friendly at only $250 USD. It includes an English-speaking guide, meals, and accommodation. You’ll get to visit geysers, lakes, as well as hot springs. You’ll also spend your first night in a Salt Hotel which is really neat. One thing to note is that it is a “budget” tour, so rooms are shared and hotels are about 2-3 stars. With that said, we loved every minute of the tour!
If you want a more luxurious 3-day (2 night) tour then this specific tour is a clear winner! It is a private tour, so you won’t have to share with any other groups. It also includes all of your meals but you’ll stay at one 5 star hotel and one 3-star hotel. A minimum of 2 people is required to book and it costs about $1000 USD per person.
For a shorter tour, this 2-day (1 night) tour comes highly rated. It is also super reasonably priced at only $180 USD and you’ll spend the night in a salt hostel.
For only a day trip, this particular tour is highly reviewed. It includes lunch as well as an English-speaking guide.
6. You’ll see lots of wildlife on the Salt Flats
If you do decide to do a multi-day tour then you’re actually going to see some cool wildlife. Despite being such a harsh environment, some animals actually thrive in the region. These include:
Andean Flamingos: You’ll see these guys hanging out in the colorful lakes outside the salt flats. Andean flamingos are also one of the rarest in the world.
Culpeo Fox: The Culpeo fox is not rare at all in this region. The Culpeo fox doesn’t pose a danger to humans and eats mainly rabbits and lizards. They’re also the second-largest fox on the continent of South America.
James Flamingo: It can be hard to tell the difference between James flamingos and Andean flamingos. However, James flamingos are much taller. These guys were actually thought to be extinct until a colony was found in 1956!
Vicuñas: Vicuñas are very similar to Llamas and are closely related to Guanacos (which are very common in Patagonia.) They are believed to be the wild ancestor of Alpacas and Llamas which were domesticated for their coats and ability to transport goods. Vicuñas have historically been protected by law even when the Incas ruled. However, due to hunting, only 6,000 Vicuñas were left by 1974, but numbers are now over 350,000!
Bolivian Vizcacha: Vizcachas are rodents that look very similar to rabbits but the two are not closely related. Unfortunately for these guys, they are often food from the Culpeo fox.
Llamas: You’ll see lots of llamas on your trip to the salt flats in Bolivia, but mainly only in small villages. Llamas are domestic animals and you may even eat Llama on your tour.
On our tour, we saw most of the animals above and this was a huge surprise to me. It’s quite impressive that animals can live in such harsh conditions!
7. The Bolivian Salt Flats are part of the Dakar Rally
The Dakar Rally is known as the hardest race in the world. It involves tackling a huge course on either a motorbike, quad, car, UTV, or truck.
The race spans several thousand kilometers and is between 10 to 15 days long. Around day 7 of the rally, participants will hit the salt flats and complete the 200-kilometer (124 miles) journey across this flat plain in around an hour! For racing lovers, this will be music to your ears.
On any salt flats overnight tour you’ll visit the flag pit of all the racer’s home countries and get to see the Salt Flat Dakar Rally sign. This isn’t a huge deal to most, but for some, you’ll be glad I mentioned it.
Related Read: Before you go, read these South America safety tips!
8. Bolivia’s Salt Flats are the largest in the world
The Salt Flats in Bolivia is the largest salt flat in the world. It covers an area of 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq miles) and sits at 3,656 meters (11,995 feet) above sea level. What’s even cooler is that over this ancient Bolivian salt lake there is only an elevation change of 1 meter (3 feet) – meaning they are almost completely flat!
When summer rain floods the salt flats, they become the world’s largest mirror lake at over 129 kilometers (80 miles) across. The Bolivia Salt Flats’ mirror has become famous and a bucket-list experience for many!
The salt flats are also meters thick. In fact, in some places, the salt layer is over 10 meters (32.8 feet) thick! That’s estimated to be a whopping total of 10 billion tons of salt!
Regardless of what way you look at it, the salt flats in Bolivia are extremely impressive and you shouldn’t miss them!
9. You’ll need warm clothes
During the day, the salt flats can actually get hot and you may strip down to one layer of clothing. But no matter what temperature it is during the day, the minute the sun sets it gets bitterly cold.
Even in the warmest months, temperatures can drop below zero and with the harsh winds, it’s freezing! If you’re visiting in winter (June to August) expect temperatures well below zero.
Unfortunately, I didn’t bring enough warm clothes. I wanted to spend time watching the stars at night but with only one sweater it was nearly impossible to stay warm.
Bring layers…and lots of them! I would also suggest a hat (beanie) as well as gloves.
10. Despite the cold, you’ll need sun protection
Don’t be fooled by the cold temperatures, the Salt Flats sits at over 4,000 meters (1,300 ft) above sea level and reflect the sun worse than snow. Also because the air is thinner, you get burnt more quickly and this can lead to serious injuries.
Remember what I mentioned above about people being hospitalized? Well, not bringing sunglasses put a traveler I met in the hospital without eyesight for 2 weeks!
Another story was from a guy who wore no sunscreen with shorts and a t-shirt for the entire 3 days. He ended up with a severe sunburn that almost ended his holiday.
The sun at the Salt Flats is harsh so you need to wear sunscreen, bring a hat, and good sunglasses. It pays to also wear long pants and a long shirt.
Oh, and I almost forgot, bring lip balm! The dry air and sun will have your lips chapped within a matter of hours. There is nowhere to buy these goods either (that I saw anyway), so be sure to pack them!
11. A driving tour isn’t the only way to experience the Bolivia Salt Flats
Almost all tours to the Salt Flats are in a 4×4 vehicle driven by your guide. But did you know there are a couple of even more unique tours available too?!
Instead, you can choose this motorcycle tour! Although only 1-day, it includes your bike and all of your gear as well as a guide and lunch. It’s a unique tour that offers unmatched freedom.
12. An English-speaking guide will cost you more… but it’s worth it!
One of the best things about a Bolivia Salt Flats tour is learning about the area. Tour companies know this so they charge more for an English-speaking guide. I didn’t know this and booked the cheapest tour I could. Luckily my guide was an English-speaking guide even though our entire group only paid for a Spanish tour – but this was rare and I was just lucky.
At first, he only spoke Spanish, and the two Colombians on our tour translated for us. However, we ended up tipping him and he did the 3-day tour in English, and I can’t recommend it enough.
This region of Bolivia is so interesting! So, if you don’t speak Spanish, pay for the English guide, you won’t regret it!
13. You’ll want to bring snacks and cash!
On any overnight or multi-day tour, your food is generally included. Now there is more than enough food to go around, but you do have to eat at certain times and with so much adventure to be had, you can get hungry.
My recommendation is to bring some snacks with you so you can get through the day. If not, at least bring some cash. Obviously, no cards are accepted out on the Salt Flats but some of the hotels sell things like wine, beer, and snacks.
Also, you may want to tip your guide so having a little cash is a great idea.
14. There’s no wi-fi at all and limited power
Because the Salt Flats are so remote, you won’t have wifi at all and very limited power. What does this mean? Well, be sure to tell your loved ones back home that you’ll be MIA for a few days, and also be prepared to fight (not literally) over power outlets if you need to charge your phone or camera.
For me, this wasn’t a problem as I brought along with me a battery pack and had a few extra batteries for my camera.
My best tip is to bring your own battery pack. Also, a charging adaptor with multiple USB plugs is great for sharing with others who also want to top up their phone batteries.
15. Expect to share a room if you’re a solo traveler
Accommodations out on the salt flats aren’t fancy. On most tours, rooms are suited to sleep 2 people. While this is fine for couples, solo travelers will often have to share a room with another person in their group.
Although this isn’t a huge deal, it’s definitely something to be aware of. In fact, even as a couple you still may have to share with one other person as we did on night two. This is because the hotel we stayed at slept 3 people per room. Luckily, we were with our friend Liam so it didn’t bother us at all!
If you really don’t want to share a room, then booking a more luxurious private tour is your best option! It is much more expensive priced at around $1,050 USD per person which breaks down to roughly $350 USD per day.
Related Read: While in Bolivia, be sure to visit Potosi and experience all of the fun activities there!
Where to Stay in Uyuni (before and after the Salt Falts Tour)
Let’s face it, tours to the Salt Flats are long and tiring, so you’re going to need somewhere to stay before and after your tour. Since most tours depart from the small city of Uyuni, I thought that it would be helpful to recommend some of the best hotels and hostels in Uyuni, Bolivia:
Piedra Blanca Backpackers Hostel – For those traveling on a tight budget, this is your best option. Here, you’ll get a clean and comfortable hostel located right close to the center of town. The hostel features both dorm rooms as well as privates. Breakfast is included in the room rate and dorms go for as little as $10 USD per night.
Casa de Sal – For something a little nicer this highly-rated option is a winner! It is a salt hotel, made of salt bricks which adds to your overall experience. The staff is super accommodating and the location is central. Breakfast is included in the room rate and you can expect to pay around $130 USD per night for a double room. Family rooms are also available and there are also discounted rates for solo travelers.
You can book Casa de Sal on Booking.com.
Hotel Palacio de Sal– For those looking for a luxurious stay in Uyuni, you really don’t have any options. Instead, head to Hotel Palacio de Sal located a 30-minute drive outside of Uyuni. Believe me, this hotel is worth it though. It is a salt hotel that takes luxury to the next level with its classy and modern decor, pool and hot tub, onsite restaurant, and large rooftop patio. There is also an onsite restaurant and bar so you don’t even need to leave the hotel. Arrange for a massage in your room after your Salt Flats tour to relax – pure luxury! Rooms starts at $258 USD.
You can book Hotel Palacio de Sal on Booking.com.
You can browse all hotels in Uyuni here!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
Thanks so much for reading our guide to Bolivia’s salt flats. We really hope this travel guide has helped prepare you for what is one of the best experiences in Bolivia and South America.
If you have any questions about your upcoming visit to the Uyuni Salt Flats, please leave them below and we will get back to you!
Also, if you liked this travel guide then be sure to check out all our Bolivia travel guides or these related articles below!