The site of the Salt Flats genuinely leaves you speechless. Salar de Uyuni is a truly stunning natural wonder of the world. Bolivia is a beautiful country, with so much varied beauty in terms of natural landscape – and the Salt Flats top it all! Definitely a bucket list must do and one of the highlights of my recent trip in South America!
Travel – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.Ibn Battuta
Salar de Uyuni is the worlds largest salt flat at over 10,000 square metres, located in the province of Potosi in South West Bolivia; amid the Andes with elevation of c. 3,600 metres above sea level. It was formed by a prehistoric lake that went dry thousands of years ago and the result is something otherworldly.
When its dry the surface is a pure white expanse, just blue sky, white ground, and you, as far as the eye can see. When there’s a little water on the surface its turns into the worlds greatest mirror! With a prefect reflection of the clouds and the sky, and the horizon disappears. Its surreal and hard to believe what you’re seeing. Its a stunning, beautiful site either way!
After travelling from a Potosí we spent a night in Uyuni before starting the desert crossing. It’s a small town that has everything you need including ATM’s, and South America’s best pizza place! You can also pick up snacks and last minute bits for the desert crossing and the salt flats – including dinosaurs if you need one for photos!
Minute man has a lot to live up to – known as the best pizza place in South America, and I concur with the reputation that precedes it – delicious, fresh, great quality and good value!
Minute man pizza place is in Hostel Tonito. It offers vegan cheese and gluten free bases if required. There are two sizes of pizza – most of us went for large – enormous would have been more appropriate! Fortunately you can get takeaway bags. Good wine and a good choice of beers is also on offer. I can’t recommend it highly enough while in Uyuni.
The landscapes in Bolivia are stunning and varied. The desert crossing was long, you spend hours in the car and get to know your travelling buddies well! It’s one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The memories of the outstanding views and scenes I saw will stay with me forever.
I admire the drivers who looked after us so well, cooking our lunch and dealing with our luggage as well as driving for hours day in day out for 3 days.
Valley of the rocks was one of the first highlights of the desert crossing on day 1.
We also stopped at Laguna Catal – The Black Lagoon. Mirror lake which was a short hike from the stop – very welcome to get out of the car and stretch your legs!
Little Italy – names as such because it was discovered by an Italian! We stopped in a little village called mallcu villa mar for lunch. The drivers cooked it from food they’d been carrying in the cars, along with us and all our luggage!
In the afternoon we headed to some amazing natural hot springs. We soon learnt that approximately a 2 hour drive across desert is more like 3.5 hours! The conditions are ever changing and you often have to drive around things to get there, the surfaces can be poor.
It was worth the long journey once we arrived at the natural springs. 6 Bolivianos entrance – try to have the correct change. Changing rooms are provided, though we’d been sat in our swimwear all day so were ready to go! The changing rooms were small so afterwards I changed inside my towel behind the car door on the road – traffic is few and far between!
The scenery is beautiful, and you can bathe in natural mountain spring water. With the mountains and flamingoes around you.
It was then further 2 hours drive to our home stay for the night! We stayed in a family home with 3-4 people in a bedroom. The family cooked us dinner, and we played Uno. Turns out The Southern Hemisphere has different rules! Disappointingly there was no wine or alcohol on offer! We’d all been thinking about a nice glass of wine for the final 2 hours in the long car journey!
On Day 2 we headed to the Red lagoon – Laguna Colorada – and this was well worth the long journey and time in the car! The lagoon contains algae with caratene creating the red colour of the water. It’s also known as The Nest of The Andes and has some 30,000 flamingos! This was one of the highlights of my trip and is another amazing memory I’ll recall forever!
There are several different species of flamingo, Andean and Chilean both have pink feathers. It’s breathtaking seeing so many beautiful creatures! And its so quiet and peaceful.
We also visited The Stone Tree which is a National monument, located in one Of Driest deserts in world. We stopped a few times to take in the stunning views of the mountains.
We stopped at the Stinky lagoon – Lake Hedionda – luckily the sulphur smell wasn’t too strong when we stopped! We had lunch at an Eco hotel. We then headed to a Volcano but unfortunately it was heavy rain and the volcano was covered in cloud.
Instead we headed to The Quinoa museum. I tried some delicious dark chocolate with salt! They showed us how they produce darker quinoa for chocolate or beer. The Salt flats were too soft to cross so we had to border round a lot of it which takes longer.
Our second night we stayed in a Gadventures community lodge. Made from salt bricks and sleeping on a bed made from salt. We drank a lot of wine before and after dinner and played Uno and Mafia. The lady who cooked us dinner had the most beautiful baby!
Salar de Uyuni
Day 3 and we finally head to The Salt Flats! Its actually only half an hours drive from Uyuni the town we started in, but the desert crossing is worth it if you have the time!
Overall I’d say we were lucky with the weather. We had some parts of the salt flats that were dry. Some that had a small amount of water to create the reflection where your photos looks amazing. We also had some rain but fortunately we made it work with timings.
The flats are completely stunning, the photos speak for themselves and they also as ever don’t to it justice. I shall treasure the memories forever.
Bring props, I’d recommend a bottle of wine or beer bottle, and a dinosaur! The dinosaur needs to be as big as a beer bottle for it to work in photos with the perspective. You can buy them in Uyuni but they aren’t cheap. Some of the drivers have them in the car if you’re on an organised tour.
Sunset and The Salt Flats by Night
I also cant recommend highly enough and evening tour of The Salt Flats with Extreme Fun Travel! This involved heading out to watch the sunset on the flats, with an optional extra of wine and snacks! The white table cloth was the finishing touch. https://www.extremefuntravelbolivia.com/en/
Roberto is such a character and his photography skills are amazing! As it started to get dark we experimented with photos and light.
Unfortunately an almighty storm cut our evening short so we weren’t able to get as many pictures but it was one hell of an experience and well worth the money. Apparently there are only about 6 storms a year so we were just unlucky, but the lightening was also impressive!
Take layers and wrap up warm!
The Train Graveyard
The Train graveyard is a strange yet impressive site. We went in the morning and having not seen many people for days it was unbelievably busy and full of instagrammers climbing all over the trains trying to get the perfect photo, but ultimately just all getting in each others shots!
We came back later on in the day and it was much quieter but unfortunately raining so it can be worth a second go, though I stuck with the photo I managed to get earlier in the day!
The Practical Stuff
The best time of year to visit, for the best climate is September – November. For the wet salt flats December – April. The great mirror, December – February. Also worth noting that during the rainy season some tours are limited, so worth looking into what your priorities are to see during your visit. Anytime of year is good though, and you’ll see different features and highlights. Each visit is unique and you’ll be awestruck no matter when you go!
You most definitely need sun cream, and a good lip balm for both the Desert crossing and the Salt Flats. You need decent sunglasses too for the reflection against the white of the flats. For the desert I recommend a bandana for the dust, also can be used to cover your head to stop it burning! For the desert crossing take baby wipes, tissues and hand sanitizer too. If you can get hold of any with the current coronavirus situation! Small change is needed for most of the toilets too.
Days in the car are long if you do the desert crossing so take snacks.
Do some research so you have an idea of what type of photos you’d like to try and get while you’re in The Salt Flats. Your guide and drivers will help, for some of them you need a lot of patience.
Make a decision over whether you want clothes where you’ll look nice in the photos or old clothes you don’t mind getting ruined by the salt. It wasn’t too bad when I was there so the salt washed out. But some people have had to throw clothes away after as they can’t get the salt out.
Flip flops is a good idea if there’s some water. Or you can rent boots.
I visited in early February before The Coronavirus had such a sad impact on travel and everyone’s lives. I’m grateful I was able to complete my trip and wish everyone and their families well.
After Uyuni I headed to La Paz by night bus. Next post to follow shortly!