Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats

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Salar De Uyuni Bolivia

There are few places on earth that make you wonder if you’ve somehow been abducted by aliens and transported to a far off planet.

The Salar de Uyuni is one of these otherworldly places.

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia

At one point in history, this region was a massive saltwater lake. The water eventually evaporated, leaving a thick layer of salt that stretches as far as the eye can see. Commonly known as the “Salt Flats”, this area is one of the most visited places in Bolivia.

There are two seasons in the Salar de Uyuni – wet and dry. Each year during the wet season, water covers the earth, turning the land into an all-encompassing, dreamlike mirror.

We were there during dry season, when you are able to venture into the middle of this strange, salty land.

City of Uyuni

Our journey to the Salt Flats started with a night bus that brought us to the sleepy little town of Uyuni. Situated on the corner of nothingness and oblivion, there really isn’t anything to do in this town… well, besides drinking wine, of course.

The only other thing to do in Uyuni besides drinking wine? Playing with Tonio, the adorable little boy who was the son of our hotel’s cleaning lady.

The only other thing to do in Uyuni besides drinking wine? Playing with Tonio, the adorable little boy who was the son of our hotel’s cleaning lady.

After getting situated in our hostel, we made a trip to the market to get some snacks. We ended up with a bag of oranges, cookies, four bottles of wine, and a plastic Godzilla figurine. 

You will understand why in a moment.

After drinking two of our four bottles of wine, we ventured to town where we ran into some friends from earlier in our travels. We went to dinner at one of the thousand pizzerias in Uyuni. The pizza was actually shockingly good for Bolivia, and the specialty quinoa beer was quite tasty too!

After demolishing our food, we stuck around to play cards until we were encouraged to leave because the owners wanted to close. 

I guess the fact that the only other people in the restaurant was a table of three sleeping Bolivian men, made them eager to close up shop.

I guess the fact that the only other people in the restaurant was a table of three sleeping Bolivian men, made them eager to close up shop.

Salar de Uyuni Tour

Our ride for three days

Our ride for three days

The next morning, we embarked on our three-day, two-night tour.

There are somewhere around 80 companies in Uyuni that provide tours of the Salt Flats. Some of the companies are legit, and others… well, not so much.

We did our research and talked to other travelers, and the company name we kept hearing was Red Planet. At just $20 more than the cheapest of the companies, it was an easy choice.

And again, we were not disappointed with our decision to go with one of the “nicer” companies. While some of the other tour guides we saw along the way didn’t talk to their groups at all, our guide was incredible. He shared a lot of history and gave us insight on what it is like to live in this region.

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet

Train Graveyard

Our first stop was at the famous train graveyard.

Years ago, Britain sent trains to Bolivia so they could export all the silver they were mining. What they didn’t realize though, was that the altitude of Bolivia is much, much higher than that of England, and eventually the trains all died – leaving them useless.

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet
Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet
Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet
Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet

It was a surprisingly cool place to take photos and climb around on the trains.

Salt Flats

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet Wine dancer

Next, was what we were all waiting for: We made several stops in the Salt Flats, and took more pictures than I would like to admit. Our guides pulled out the floor mats from the Jeeps so we could lay on our bellies to get the obligatory perspective photos – which, as we found out is kind of an art.

This is where Godzilla comes in.

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet

Because the salty earth stretches to the horizon in all directions, you can take photographs with a distorted perspective. We were able to take pictures with this tiny toy figurine towering over us, which made for a fun little photo shoot!

We shared him with the rest of our group so everyone could get a picture running from the “giant” beast!

Classic evolution pose

Classic evolution pose

This bottle of wine served two purposes: 1. Kickass prop. 2. And well, the second purpose should be obvious...

This bottle of wine served two purposes: 1. Kickass prop. 2. And well, the second purpose should be obvious…

Insider Tip: Be sure to pick up some props to bring because they make the photos so much more fun. And share with your fellow tour mates to make quick friends!

Learning about salt mining

These mounds of salt are a result of the mining process.

These mounds of salt are a result of the mining process.

Just before lunchtime, we visited a salt processing factory – which ironically, is made entirely of salt. Our guide explained how the salt comes to the workshop in bricks that have been extracted from the earth, and is processed into what we use in our kitchens.

Though the process is long and strenuous, they make just two US dollars for an amount of salt so large, no human being could consume it in a lifetime.

Salt bricks up close. You can tell how many years it took to form each brick by looking at the stripes. The brown lines are from dust collected each dry season.

Salt bricks up close. You can tell how many years it took to form each brick by looking at the stripes. The brown lines are from dust collected each dry season.

Fish Island

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia

Fish Island is covered in cacti and has some of the most stunning views of the Salt Flats.

When this area was a lake, you can almost imagine what it would be like to be on this island and look out into the water surrounding it.

Exploring Fish Island is pretty spectacular, but watch out for all the cacti. We got pricked one too many times!

Salt Hotel

That night we stayed in nothing other than a salt hotel. Everything – from the bricks to the beds – was made of salt. The only things that weren’t salt were salt were the toilet and sink (for obvious reasons!) and mattress, thank goodness.

Salar De Uyuni Salt Hotel Bolivia
Salar De Uyuni Salt Hotel Bolivia

In the Salar, these hotels are not uncommon. We learned that they have to be rebuilt every 15 years, as the rainwater erodes the bricks over time.

While it wasn’t the most comfortable hotel we’ve ever stayed in (umm, what are you to expect when it’s made of salt?!), it was a pretty unique experience!

Atacama Desert

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia The Atacama Desert

The next day we made our way through the Atacama Desert, the highest desert in the world.


Related reading: If you love deserts, check out this list of the most beautiful deserts in the world and find out how to visit them!


Colored Lagoons

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet Blue Lagoon
Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet

We made several stops along the way at unique rock formations and different colored lagoons – red, blue and green – where flamingos gathered.

I don’t know about you, but I always picture flamingos in the tropics, so seeing them in this cold climate was a bit strange.

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet

In all our travels, we haven’t see another landscape quite like this one, with its colorful lagoons, odd rock formations and salt flats that stretch on as far as the eye can see.

Rock Formations

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Tree Rock Formation

Throughout the desert, there are some incredible rock formations. The most famous of them all is a precariously delicate formation known as the “Tree” rock. 

Just take one look at it and you’ll understand how it got its name! 

While we were there, we saw a park ranger yell at a tourist who was attempting to climb the “tree” despite signs warning people not to even touch the formation. 

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet
Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet

Responsible travel tip: Please respect signs that say no climbing or touching. They are often in place to preserve vulnerable and delicate places so they can be enjoyed for years to come.

Salar de Uyuni Ben with sunglasses
Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet

And if you like climbing, don’t worry. There are plenty of places to explore and climb and get lost amongst the boulders!

Geysers 

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet

Okay, now that we’ve seen colored lagoons, crazy rock formations and salt flats, we’ve seen it all, right?!

Wrong! 

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Geysers

The other bizarre feature of this landscape is the prevalence of geysers and hot springs along the way.

Don’t let the chilly temperatures tempt you into jumping in. The geysers are far too hot for that. But don’t worry, there is a way to warm up in this surprisingly cold desert…

Hot Springs in the moonlight

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet

Our hotel for the second night was dorm style, with 6 beds in each room. Five women and Ben.

Lucky guy!

The biggest perk of this hotel (other than the communal sleeping arrangement!) was that it was situated just meters from a beautiful natural hot spring.

Red Planet is the only company that stays near the springs, so we were able to spend the night soaking, sharing stories, and passing around bottles of wine with our group.

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia
Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet
Underwater, cartoon-y selfie!

Underwater, cartoon-y selfie!

As we were leaving the next morning, we saw all the other tour companies arriving and crowding the springs. We felt lucky to have it all to ourselves the night before. It was definitely a highlight of our time in the Salt Flats.

Salar De Uyuni Bolivia Red Planet

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Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats
Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats

We want to hear from you!

Have you been to Salar de Uyuni? What was your favorite part?

Comments (11) on “Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Hey Kate, that’s a great question! Just looked up our records and we paid $175USD each for the 3day/2night tour. That was back in 2014 so they may have raised the prices a bit. I know there were cheaper tour companies as well, but we heard that some of the cheap ones weren’t great quality. You kind of get what you pay for I guess!

      Hope that helps! Happy travels 🙂

  1. juyoungkim.k@gmail.com says:

    Hi Katie!

    My group of friends are going to Bolivia in May and are deciding whether we should camp on the salt flats or go to a salt hotel. The one that is pretty well-known seems to be the Luna Salada Hotel however, very expensive.
    Do you remember the name of the hotel you stayed at? the hot spring option also seemed very cool!
    I was also looking at Red Planet’s revamped website for their 2-day tour and indicates that they stay at the village of ATULCHA. My goal at the salt flat is to watch the sunrise and the sunset, so I was hoping you could let me know if the hotel you stayed at was at a location that could be done so.

    All your help would be much appreciated! Thank you! 🙂

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hi JuYoung, great question. When we did the tour with Salar de Uyuni tour with Red Planet, we booked their two-night tour, were able to see sunrise and sunset and stayed in a salt hotel. I would highly recommend the tour if you are able. Camping might get really cold at night, but the salt hotels were warm enough. I can’t remember the name of the hotel, because it was all arranged through the jeep tour. Hope this helps, let me know if you have any more questions.

  2. kela.grace@hotmail.com says:

    I was never heard of Salar de Uyuni 2 years ago until I saw an image online and was shocked, since then I added this place in my must-go list. I like your post and your picture are really beautiful and amazing. Since you have been there, so I would like to ask two questions. 🙂

    Is the place safe to travel? I travelled a lot, and safety is always my biggest concern when planning the trip, so what do you think of travel alone to Salar de Uyuni? I may or may not travel with my friend or just by myself.
    Another thing is I have seen people were talking about the train cemetery. I have found several posts talked about this place(for example, https://www.43km.co/published_trips/2139151d-9abb-4266-8498-9bddf1f52b9e), have you been to this place? is it worth going?

    Thanks!

    • ktdieder@gmail.com says:

      Hi Kala. Yes, Salar de Uyuni is a perfectly safe place to travel to. There are many other travelers going to Uyuni too so you’ll be among friends.

      The train cemetery is typically included in the Salar de Uyuni trip. If you look above on this post you can see our pictures from it. Pretty cool place to see!

  3. ana.merkana@gmail.com says:

    It must have been real fun to visit this beautiful place. I hope that I am also able to visit it some day.

    My name is Ana Merka and I am a content writer with Travel Tourist Information Guide website. I manage the pages for Latin America. Link to the referenced pages is: <a href="http://travel-tourist-information-guide.com/latin-america"></a&gt;.

    I have worked on most of the pages for Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru and would be working on other locations in Latin America as we go along. I would like to request your valuable inputs on any of these locations that you have visited during the course of your travel as it would be very helpful to improve the quality of information that we can provide on the website for travelers (especially for backpackers).

    Best wishes,

    Ana

  4. tim.schreiter@mtbonline.de says:

    Hello traveling friens,
    first of all thanks for the detailed report! We are also planning to go to Uyuni and of course the salt flats as well as the hot springs. Unfortunately the Red Planet website is, frankly spoken, a pain in the a**, as it is almost not working at all. Therefore, I was wondering if you could kindly provide an email address of them? Cheers and all the best, sincerely, Tim

    • ktdieder@gmail.com says:

      Hey Tim, Great question. As we read your comment we remembered that we had some issues with booking as well. Come to think of it, many of the things we booked in Bolivia were a little tricky to book haha!

      It’s been a couple years so logistics are a little fuzzy, but if I remember correctly, we took the overnight bus to Uyuni and when we got there tried to book our trip at the office for that day. They were full, so we had to make the booking for the next day instead. If your timing is flexible, I would think it would be okay to book when you get there. You probably wouldn’t be able to leave until the next day though since the night bus arrives in the AM.

      You could try one of these 2 email addresses, but I can’t guarantee that they’ll get back to you any time soon! haha

      info@redplanetexpedition.com
      redplanet_expedition@hotmail.com

      Best of luck!

  5. Victoria says:

    Hi! I am going to be in Bolivia in a couple of months and wanted to know: did you booked the tour with Red Planet in advance or when you arrived in Uyuni? I read a lot of great reviews about that company and it seems like I can book Red Planet through Kanoo Tours in advance, so I’m just wondering which you think is better! Thank you!

    • ktdieder@gmail.com says:

      Hi Victoria! We were very happy with Red Planet, and we did book them in advance just to be sure they’d have a spot for us. Also, that way when we arrived in the morning via night bus, we didn’t have to scramble around to find just any company who would take us (we heard some bad things about a few companies and didn’t want to get stuck!). I believe we just booked on the Red Planet website, but that was 2 year ago, so maybe they’ve changed the process. Have a blast in Salar de Uyuni! It’s such a unique place 🙂

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