Uyuni, a remote part of Bolivia, draws tourists into Salar de Uyuni to take all manner of creative, perspective-bending photos of its seemingly never-ending horizon. Whether in the dry season, when the salt flats crack and splinter, or the wet season, when reflections make it difficult to tell land from sky, there’s much more to this region than we initially realised. Find out how we spent our days with Jukil de los Andes on our Salar de Uyuni tour…
For those looking to explore the salt flats, a range of tours are offered from Uyuni, with something to fit all timeframes and budgets. The most popular tour from this desert town covers off the major sights over the course of three days/two nights, but everything from a single day trip to four days plus are available.
Though we were initially booked on a three day tour, we added another day at the last minute and couldn’t have been happier with our decision; it resulted in a lot of additional time on the salt flats, an opportunity to snap some gorgeous reflection shots and gave us a birds-eye view our over the expansive Salar de Uyuni after climbing one of the local volcanoes…
More on that later though – first up, let’s take a look at our first day on the salt.
Salar de Uyuni Itinerary – Day 1
Though trains once used to run between inland Bolivia and their port town, the country’s rocky history with Chile rendered the railway all but useless many years ago. With their seaside land commandeered, Bolivia unwillingly become a landlocked country and their trains that once lead to the ocean, now lead nowhere.
This is where those trains came to die.
Fortunately though, the Uyuni tours have brought these old locomotives back to life (so to speak) and if you’re lucky like us, you’ll find yourself there with the majority of the tourists gone and the place practically to yourselves.
Last Minute Supplies
Before stopping off for lunch, we had time for a spot of shopping; everything from souviner salt and plastic dinosaurs (for that perfect salt flat photo) to lama jumpers and knock-off sunnies was available at surprisingly reasonable prices.
If you’re looking for a little llama or Godzilla prop for your photos, it’s certainly not worth dragging your own around from home when you can pick one up on the spot for BOB15-20 (approx USD2.20).
Entering the Salt Flats
Once you’ve put a fair bit of salt-laden ground behind you, you’ll come across the two first major Salar de Uyuni attractions; the Dakar Rally monument and the infamous international collection of flags.
I must admit, I wasn’t expecting to be particularly blown away by either of these sights but when you’re standing in the middle of what feels like an ever-reaching salt flat, it’s hard not to pinch yourself.
Yes, they’re touristy but they’re also pretty amazing to see!
Salt Flats – The Main Attraction
The crowning glory of these tours, who hasn’t seen a creative salt flat photo online by now?
Salar de Uyuni seems to stretch on endlessly and, thanks to its incredibly flat surface, provides great opportunities to take mind-bending perspective photos. Be warned though, its bumpy, cracking surface is like sandpaper to the skin and whoever is photographing your group is likely to spend a large amount of time laying flat against the salt – we suggest you wear jeans and a fleece to offer your skin some protection.
Stay tuned for our photography guide to the salt flats so you too can take perfectly focused perspective photos!
Pink Skies and Pink Birds – Sunset Magic
One of the main highlights of extending our Salar de Uyuni tour to four days was to be found as the sun started going down.
The three-day tours gap it from the salt flats pretty quickly, not only limiting your time to take the perfect perspective photos but robbing visitors of the opportunity to take beautiful reflective photos by the lagoon bordering the salt flats.
In the rainy season, the salt flats become an incredible expanse where it’s hard to tell what’s ground and what’s sky. Clouds reflect in the water, with colours as vivid as the real things. Unfortunately though, not everybody gets to experience this amazing phenomena… unless of course you book a four-night trip to get a sneak peek of it!
With the city lights a distant memory, we made our way back onto the salt flats and soon found ourselves enveloped in absolute darkness.
I thought I’d seen stars clearly before in the past – I was wrong.
The Milky Way instantly popped out in front of us, as clear as day. Countless stars twinkled away above us in a moment of pure magic.
Between the stars and the sunset, you have reason enough to ensure a stay out on Salar de Uyuni – believe me, racing off after you take your daytime salt flat photos will mean doing yourself out of an amazing experience.
Reviewing the Finer Details
Though the accommodation provided on our tour was basic, it was adequate. It certainly didn’t rival some of the amazing places we’ve stayed in the past but the beds surprisingly comfortable and the rooms warm. As we selected the entry-level tour, we weren’t expecting 5-star accommodation (and nor did we get it) but we were fairly comfortable.
Our first hostel was well located right on the side of Salar de Uyuni so we could make our own way down to take beautiful sunset photos.
The trade-off though? We were left without any showers and bathrooms that couldn’t exactly be described as clean – especially in the morning when we awoke to find the water had been shut off (to prevent pipes from freezing) all sorts of interesting remnants in the toilets. Eeeek!
Having expected a packed lunch of sandwiches on the road we were pleasantly surprised when we were dished up quinoa, beef, roasted potatoes and steamed veggies for lunch, along with Coke and water. The fact that we all went back for seconds (and thirds and fourths in Nathan’s case) speaks for itself!
With our standards raised from lunch, dinner wasn’t quite as memorable.
Perfectly cooked pasta was accompanied by an onion-heavy vegetarian bolognese sauce and parmesan cheese.
Anyone that knows me well knows that onion and I aren’t the best of friends (that’s the understatement of the year!) so I ended up eating cheesy pasta (which was actually better than it sounds).
Fortunately for us the group next to us couldn’t eat all of their sausages and very kindly offered us some.
Pro Tip: If you’re headed out on this tour and meat is a substantial part of your diet, we’d recommend asking if it will be provided or if it’s possible to supply your own to be cooked.
Driver & Car
Having heard horror stories about unsafe driving and cars breaking down left, right and centre, we knew that choosing a company with reliable cars was essential. We certainly weren’t interested in wasting half a day waiting for our 4WD to be repaired.
It was with caution then, that we checked the Land Cruiser over trying to find fault. We couldn’t though!
For the duration of the tour, Ivan, our lovely Bolivian guide, drove with caution and care. He didn’t speak a great deal of English but with our friend Becky on hand to relay what she could and Google Translate filling in the gaps, we made it by just fine.
It would have been great to have had a better idea of exactly what was coming up the next day so we could have dressed appropriately but with our gear on the roof, it was never far away.
Though we thought we knew what to expect from our Salar de Uyuni tour, we were pleasantly surprised by just how diverse and stunning all of the sights were.
There’s no doubt in our mind that booking the four-day itinerary was the right decision for us.
Keep your eyes peeled for the highlights from the following days on the salt flats!
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