SALAR DE UYUNI: THE TOUR IN BOLIVIA YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS
Not many Americans would ever dream of visiting Bolivia on vacation, but honestly, it's a traveler’s heaven! The prices throughout the country are the most affordable in South America. Accommodation for a private room ranges from $15 - $25 per night, lunch options can be found at $3 - $5, and transportation averages about $1 an hour on the bus. Also, the geography is so different, ranging from snow capped Andes peaks to the Amazon jungle to the vast desert landscapes.
The Most Popular Tour in Bolivia: Uyuni Salt Flats
I had the incredible opportunity to ramble the Bolivian desert for four days and experience the largest salt flats on the planet! While most people start their three day/two night tour in Uyuni, I would highly suggest starting in quant desert town called Tupiza. Why? First, because Tupiza is such a picturesque little town! Imagine your favorite Wild Wild West classic with stunning scenes highlighting massive red desert mountains, galloping horses, and massive cactus sprawled throughout the landscape. Also, there's hardly any tourism there and you’ll be wandering the streets among only locals.
Second, there are only six tour companies in town compared to 100+ companies in Uyuni. Because of this, the prices are slightly higher with little competition, but every company is 100% top notch and they don't cut any corners on safety or overall experience. The number one reason why you should start from Tupiza is because you'll see all of the main landscapes without 20+ jeeps surrounding you! You'll be arriving to all of the locations at completely different times than all the jeeps starting from Uyuni. This is so important if you’re not a fan of crowds snapping photos around you.
Which Tour Company is Best?
My company was called El Torre Tours, which was the cheapest in town, but also surprisingly the number one rated on TripAdvisor. Our jeep had three other backpackers from New Zealand, Scotland, and the UK. The other jeep in our same tour was a group of five from France. All of us had a blast with each other acting like elementary school kids telling jokes and playing card games every night.
Something important to keep in mind before going on your tour. You will be in a jeep for nearly ten hours a day, and I didn’t actually realize this when I was reading about the tour. So keep this in mind before booking the tour. Also, there's limited hiking throughout the entire four day tour. The landscape is so vast that there’s not enough time to see everything, so you’ll only have the opportunity to walk around and take a few photos at each location.
The first day was actually one of my favorites on the tour. (People who start in Uyuni do not even get to see any these locations on this day). The mountains and rock formations throughout the drive are out of this world. It was incredible to eat lunch beside these jagged, sandy mountains!
After our lunch break, we continued driving up the mountains until we reached an old, Spanish city that was in complete ruins. In the 1500s, this city was a wealthy mining town that was extremely rich in minerals. Currently, there are only only collapsed walls and an abandoned stone church. We spent about an hour exploring these ruins, and then hopped in the car to get to our small accommodation before sunset.
The following day, we started our adventure early cruising across the desolate desert to view some of the most incredible lagoons that I had seen in my life. We first stopped at a bright green lagoon at the base of a massive volcano. It was absolutely stunning! We were able to spend a good amount of time here soaking up the peaceful surroundings and walk along the water's edge. Once we captured photos of this beautiful landscape, we jumped in the jeep and headed for the hot springs!
I’ll admit, it was a bit touristy. Tour groups from Uyuni were also there enjoying the springs, but it was still a surreal experience to be lounging in natural hot tubs at 13,000 feet elevation surrounded by massive mountains. It was the perfect amount of time to relax before filling our bellies for lunch. This experience is definitely a must if you’re tour visits this location!
After eating a delicious lunch, we were onto the next destination to check out the volcanic geysers tucked away in the mountainside. I thought it was pretty neat to see the silver, bubbling liquid splattering up from the depths of the earth, but others in the group weren’t too impressed. I guess they had already seen something similar on their travels. I was pretty stoked at the huge steam vent pummeling smoke from below.
The final destination and one of my favorite locations of our entire tour was a massive red lagoon filled with thousands of giant flamingos. Due to certain minerals in the water, it created a bright red color that was unlike anything that I had ever seen. We were able to spend a long time there exploring by ourselves and truly experience this breathtaking scenery. I enjoyed walking along the path to the other side of the lagoon and have my time for quiet reflection. Having my alone time is much needed while traveling with other all day. It was the perfect end to an incredible second day on the tour.
This third day we nicknamed "Day of 1,000 lagoons". Not really, but it seemed as if we pulled over about every fifteen minutes to see another lagoon. We made jokes because many of the lagoons were very similar, and after a while, no one wanted to get out of the car anymore. Don’t get me wrong, the landscapes were amazing, but it got so repetitive to constantly hop out of the car just to snap a few photos. Unfortunately, I had a stomach bug in my system during most of the day and was just trying to not feel nauseous. Most of the day, I laid down on the ground beside the lagoon and took in the fresh mountain air.
The best part of the day was staying in an actually salt hotel! Everything from the tables, to the bed frames, to the seats to the walls were all made out of actual salt. I also scored my own room which was a huge blessing! I don't think that I'll ever stay in a hotel like this again, but it was definitely a neat experience.
The whole crew woke up at 4am to book it across the salt flat desert for sunrise! This was the grand finale and highlight of the entire trip. Another reason why starting the tour from Tupiza is so important because you'll save the best sight for last!
We drove for an hour to the center of the largest salt flats in the world and arrived at a rock island. Thousands of huge, white cactus were growing from the rocks and there was a small path leading up to the summit of the island. While the group headed to the mirador to see the sunrise beside all of the other groups, I found my own private nook to capture photos and pleasantly take it all in. Gazing out across the purl white ocean was truly a sight that I will never forget.
After spending a decent two hours on the island, we drove to a deserted location in the middle of the flats. Here is where the classic salt flat photos are all captured. This is the highlight for many of the tourists that travel across the world to see this surreal destination. Everyone brings their own props to capture creative photos of themselves. We used the Hulk action figure, boots, and selfie stick. What do you think!?
Overall, I really enjoyed this four day tour and would highly recommend it to everyone that visits Bolivia. Another bit of advice is to try and find other people that speak your language so that you can actually communicate with the group and not sit in silence for four days. My crew really bonded well with each other the entire time and had such a blast!