Salar de Uyuni, salt desert in Bolivia: how to get there, prices and advice

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Joel Fulleda
@joelfulleda
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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The Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia) is the largest salt flat in the world, a huge salt desert approximately the size of Abruzzo: in its 10.582 km² it contains approx 10 billion tons of salt, and represents a third of the planet's lithium reserves, and creates the largest mirror in the world, as well as one of the most beautiful places in the world for the particularity of its landscape.
It seems to be made up of 11 layers, with the surface 10 meters thick, which creates one expanse of white salt so sparkling that it is the envy of a Cartier window!



Index

  1. Where is it and how to get there
  2. How much does it cost to visit the Salar de Uyuni? Prices, offers and advice
  3. When to go? Info on climate and best time
  4. What to bring: recommended clothing and equipment
  5. What to see and how to visit Uyuni and the salt desert
  6. Useful tips for visiting the attraction
  7. Historical notes and curiosities: what to know in brief
  8. Perspective images and games
  9. User questions and comments

Where is it and how to get there

  • From La Paz: Uyuni is well connected to the capital of Bolivia by internal flights of the company Amaszonas. Other cheaper means are also available such as bus (journey time 12 hours) or train. Alternatively you can land in San Pedro de Atacama (in neighboring Chile) and reach Uyuni by land with a 3-day trip

How to reach the Salar de Uyuni

The Salar de Uyuni cannot be visited independently but it is necessary to take part in organized 4 × 4 tours lasting one or more days, depending on the starting point. These usually depart from the town of Uyuni or San Pedro de Atacama, in neighboring Chile.

Who lands in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, you can get to Uyuni by plane with a domestic flight of the Amaszonas company (flights 3 times a week), or by land with night buses that make the La Paz-Uyuni route (between 10 and 12 h). Another alternative is the train that passes through Oruro, but places are few and must be booked in time. Those arriving from Chile can join tours that depart from San Pedro de Atacama and arrive in Uyun after three days.



How much does it cost to visit the Salar de Uyuni? Prices, offers and advice

You cannot enter this immense expanse of salt alone.
Usually 4x4 jeep tours last 3 days, but prices vary based on the length and customization of the itinerary. A standard jeep excursion to share with other travelers (each car carries 4/5 people) costs approximately $ 180,00 (€ 150,00) departing from Uyuni, while $ 230,00 (€ 193,00) departing from Tupiza, on the border with Argentina. There are several multi-day tour departing from Atacama, but if you are staying in Uyuni you can also opt for a one day tour with lunch included. Alternatively, if you are staying in La Paz you can choose the 3 days airplane tour!

Packages include breakfast, lunch, dinner, overnight stay in local houses with bathroom and cold water, transport by 4x4. The entrances to the reserve, to the Incahuasi island, the border taxes, the extra water and anything not expressly indicated must be paid in Bolivianos (300,00 BOBO, approximately € 36,00).

Hours and prices

Prices and timetables usually refer to guided tours, as it is not recommended to visit the reserve independently. In fact, you could easily get lost and in addition suitable 4x4 vehicles are needed. Make sure the tours you book include the following costs:

  • Visit to the Pueblo Phantom: 15 BOB / € 2,00
  • Entrance to the Eduardo Avaroa Natural Reserve of Andean Fauna: 150 BOB / € 20,00
  • Visit to the Incahuasi Island, in the salar de Uyuni: 30 BOB / € 4,00
  • Bath at the spa (optional): 6 BOB / € 0,80
  • Shower at the salt hotel (optional): 10 BOB / € 1,30

Tours, guided tours and tickets online

  • 1 day tour from Uyuni: 4x4 excursion, city tour, salt desert, Tunupa Volcano, craft museums with salt relics - from around € 60,00 per person, book online
  • 3-4 day tour: excursion with overnight stay in small shelters, visit to Isla Incahuasi and Isla de Pescado, Laguna Colorada, Terme del Sol de Mañana, etc. - from € 150,00 per person, book online

When to go? Info on climate and best time

  • Weather: the southwest of Bolivia, where the Uyuni desert is located, has a desert climate despite being at altitude. The tropical sun being at a considerable height increases the effects due to the white surface. Here there is only one season with temperatures that drop below zero from May to October (-5 / 15 °), but this is also the period where the risk of showers is zero. From November to April it can happen to encounter some rain but the showers never exceed 150 mm per year
  • Best time: The salar is dry in the winter months (May-Sep) and flooded with water in the summer (Nov-Mar). Although it can be visited all year round, we generally recommend the passing months (September, October and November), when the light rains make the Salar a real mirror, totally eliminating the boundaries between heaven and earth.
  • Period to avoid: In the height of the austral summer (from November to March), which coincides with the rainy season, some areas become inaccessible

What to bring: recommended clothing and equipment

  • Clothing: warm and warm clothing for the evening and night, warm jacket, demi-season clothes for the day, comfortable shoes, wool cap, scarf, gloves
  • Equipment: hot drink thermos, hiking backpack, camera, sunglasses, sunscreen, heavy sleeping bag, thermal warmers

What to see and how to visit Uyuni and the salt desert

Despite the altitude and the somewhat unstable climate, it is a sensational tourist attraction because of its uniqueness.
There are different types of tours, from the quick visit of 1-2 days departing from the city of Uyuni to the trekking routes of 3-4 days.
Here is all the information you need to organize your excursion.
Inside the Salar it is possible to visit:



  1. Sol de Mañan: a geothermal area of ​​10 sq km between 4.800 and 5.000 meters characterized by intense volcanic activity that forms lakes of boiling mud, pools of steam where you can bathe and geysers with sulphurous fumaroles; a little further down, at about 4.200 meters, there are the Termas de Polques, thermal springs for a bath in sulphurous waters at a temperature of about 30 °
  2. Tunupa volcano: it is a dormant volcano for a long time, is located on the northern side of the Salar de Uyuni at a height of 5321 m, and dominates the whole immense salt desert. It offers a rich diversity of flora and fauna, the most trained appreciate the climb but it is certainly not an excursion for everyone
  3. Coquesa mummies: inside a cavern on the edge of the desert you can admire the Mummies of Coquesa, inhabitants of the homonymous village, which date back to about 3000 years ago and were found within this borderless desert
  4. Laguna colorada: at 4.278 meters above sea level. It is an amaranth colored lake due to the presence of algae and plankton. The banks are instead edged with brilliant white deposits of magnesium, borax, gypsum and sodium. Here it is easy to spot pink flamingos
  5. Hotel Luna Salada or Hostal di Sal: a construction of rooms where inside there are tables and toilet facilities always built with salt: here we often stop for a break before entering the immense saline desert. Not really an attraction but it may still be of interest to some
  6. Locomotive Cemetery: one of the places not to be missed inside the Salar, here you can admire the remains of old trains that traveled the Andean route
  7. Isla Incahuasi: the largest island of the Salar, also called the cactus island, and is a rocky outcrop whose top is formed by the remains of an ancient volcano. Don't miss the sunrise, when the cacti slowly ignite as the sun rises. Possibility to participate in special observation tours of the night sky and sunrise at the Salar
  8. Zone of hexagons: a part of the Salar de Uyuni where the expanse of salt appears infinite. In the driest months you are surrounded only by salt, while when it rains you can admire the splendid mirror effect
  9. Anaconda Canyon: a desert area characterized by rock formations that were formed from petrified lava and which gave rise to particular shapes such as the world cup, the tree, the sleeping camel and lost Italy
  10. Isla de Pescado: another island in the middle of the Salar, so called because when you admire the profile looking from east to west during the rains, you can see the profile of a fish. On its surface there are numerous cacti, some even 10 m high

Useful tips for visiting the attraction

  • Choose only 4x4 jeep tours: it is the best way to avoid problems in the salt flats of Uyuni. It is categorically not recommended to venture alone and on foot, the desert is so large and uniform that it would be all too easy to get lost.
  • Adaptability: don't expect 4-star hotels or accommodations, they don't exist. The accommodations are spartan, dinner is early (around 19:00) because after 21:00 there is not even electricity.
  • Bring your own toilet paper: yes, the bathrooms are shared and have neither hot water nor ... toilet paper!

Historical notes and curiosities: what to know in brief

According to a Aymara legend the protagonists of the desert formation were the giants Kusina, Kusku and Tunupa, which are actually the surrounding mountains. Tunupa and Kusku were married, but the second betrayed his wife with Kusina: Tunupa wept so much that he filled the whole expanse with his salty tears, giving rise to the desert of salt.

A slight variant of the legend claims that instead the Tunupa's tears they gushed out after being abandoned by her husband Kusku with her newborn son; during each breastfeeding, Tunupa despaired in tears which, mixed with mother's milk, formed the Salar.

But to find out the real motivation you have to go back about 40.000 years. The plateau on which the desert is located had no outlets, so all the water from the surrounding mountains was channeled here, creating the Minchin lake, a huge prehistoric lake. Due to the high salinity, all the water hit by the strong rays of the Andean sun evaporated, leaving this massive crust of salt.
In the deepest and most central part, the lake reaches a depth of 120 meters.



Perspective images and games

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Travel informed: useful information Bolivia

  • Inhabitants: 11.428.245
  • Capital: legislative capital Sucre, government capital La Paz
  • Languages: Spanish, Aymara, Quechua
  • Local currency: Boliviano (BOB) / exchange rate: € 1,00 = 8,23 ​​BOB
  • Weather: varies according to the area. In winter, from May to October, the climate is dry on the Andean plateau, while in summer, from November to April, there is the rainy season. In the Amazonian areas, humid heat is constant all year round, while in desert areas it is dry all year round, a bit colder during the winter - find out more
  • vaccinations: Yellow fever vaccine strongly recommended to all travelers traveling to Bolivia. Mandatory for those who come or have transited from countries at risk of transmitting the disease
  • Entry requirements: passport with residual validity of at least 6 months at the time of entry; Round trip ticket. Health insurance recommended
  • Travel / health insurance: recommended.


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