If you know anything about Bolivia it is probably because you’ve seen a photo of the amazing Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni), the largest salt flat in the world. The most popular way to see them is with a 3 day/2 night Jeep tour into the desert of Bolivia.
If you go to Uyuni there are numerous companies that offer this tour and you can easily book one when you arrive. A friend of a friend recommended a company she had used to visit the flats and I ended up booking for myself and a friend with them a few weeks ahead of time via email. Even if you do book ahead it’s good to stop by the tour office the day before if you can or check in via email to confirm.
I am not going to lie, this is not a luxury tour. You are going to the desert where there are limited resources so you have to be willing to take what comes and go without. It was very cold (in May), there is no heat in the hostels (thus the extra sleeping bags) and the second night the hostel only runs the generator for water and electricity for 3 hours in the evening. But you are always fed with decent food, I always felt safe, the hostels are clean and you will spend most of your time in the Jeep. If you can look past all that, it is definitely something I would recommend doing.
The tours leave from Uyuni and you can get there by bus or plane. It is pretty cheap to fly from La Paz to Uyuni. There is also a bus La Paz to Uyuni (it is on an older rocky road so it keep that in mind). I took a bus from Calama, Chile. There is not an official bus station, it’s more of a street where all the bus companies and buses park. The airport is very small and close to town. If you pre book your tour you can arrange for your tour company to pick you up from the airport (but confirm a few days before that they will be picking you up).
ABOUT THE TOUR
You are always with at least one other Jeep at a time. The tour guide drove one of the cars and the other one had just a driver. They always watch out for each other the entire time (which is good because I have no idea how they know which direction to drive when all you see the same view 360 degrees). The cars are filled with 5 or 6 people (plus the driver) in each one. When we stayed at the hostels it was only with other Red Planet Expeditions groups. My friend and I each paid $195 (including sleeping bag) for the tour but we heard that others paid up to $250 and some were charged for their sleeping bags.
*ALTITUDE: This tour is at very high altitude going over 4,000 meters at times. Make sure you leave time to acclimate or are prepared for altitude sickness with medicine beforehand.
WHAT TO PACK
Unless you are being dropped off at the border to Chile at the end of your tour, you will only be bringing a small bag and/or backpack with you and leaving your larger bag at the tour office. Make sure you have everything you need out of your backpack during the day as the bags are tied up on top of the Jeeps and you cannot get to it until the evening.
• One change of clothes
• Warm clothes
• Water (you will get water/soda/tea at your meals but any water you want in between during the day you have to bring with you)
• Toilet paper
• Bolivian money
• Props for the Salt Flats!
We started the day around 11am at Train Cemetery right outside of town. The abandoned antique trains have created a great photo opportunity for tourists. We then drove to Colchani Village to learn about salt processing, pick up souvenirs and have lunch.
Then it was on to the Salt Flat! In the middle of the flat there is a Salt Hostal built completely with salt bricks and a world flags display flying outside. After stopping quickly we drove into the flat more to find a good photo spot. The flats create a cool perspective to take some funny photos.
After photos we drove to Isla Incahuasi, an island in the middle of the flat with some really unique cactuses. The entrance was 30 Bs ($4.35 USD) and you can hike to the top. The contrast between the salt and cactus is pretty cool to see. We then drove out of the flat stopping to watch the sunset and see some salt bricks harvested before heading to our Salt Hostal for dinner (we had hot showers this night!).
DAY 2 (this might be slightly out of order, there were a lot of stops this day!)
Starting with breakfast at the Salt Hostal, day two was a very long day with lots of driving and lots of stops. First up, llamas! After attempting to capture the perfect llama photo we stopped in small town for drinks and snacks before heading out deep into the desert. Next on to the Andean Lagoons for flamingos. We went to visit Red Planet Rock (which our tour company was named after), saw the Rock Tree (stone formation shaped like a tree) and stopped for lunch on the side of the road in the middle of the desert.
Then it was off to the Red Lagoon which unfortunately wasn’t very red this time of year. We got our flamingo passport stamp at the Flamingo Reserve (150Bs/$21.75) before heading to our last and coldest stop of the day to see the Geysers.
Our hostel that evening was much more basic then the previous night with shared bathrooms and only electricity for the evening. If you could brave the cold you could go down to the Hot Springs (6Bs/less than $1USD) after dinner.
The last day was mostly a long drive back to Uyuni. We stopped quickly at the Salvador Dali Desert and the Green Lagoon bordering Argentina & Chile in the morning before spending the rest of the morning driving. In the afternoon we stopped for lunch, a quick Canyon Lookout, some more llamas before returning to Uyuni around 4pm.