With its never-ending sparkling horizon, the mesmerising Uyuni Salt Flats are one of South America’s most astonishing sites. Remote, breathtaking and unique, Salar Uyuni – as Bolivia’s salt plains are known – are the world’s most extensive salt flats and by far one of the most revered Latin American destinations of all.
Many say the Uyuni Salt Flats are a photographer’s dream, but we say that it’s the Salt Flats which brings out the avid photographer in us all. Playing with light, reflections and the kind of optical illusion only found in superbly endless horizons, Salar Uyuni is a dream subject to photograph ad infinitum, and a visual feast like no other.
A visit to Uyuni, and an adventurous jaunt across the spellbinding Bolivian Salt Flats, is often quoted as the epitome ‘incentive’ for first-time travels through South America. And only once you’ve experienced this most ethereal landscape, can you really appreciate their immense appeal. The Uyuni Salt Flats aren’t just one of the many highlights of South America: this is one of the most magnificent places on earth.
What Are the Best Salt Flats Highlights?
No matter what time of year you visit, you will find an incredibly enthralling sight. The Salt Flats are blindingly glistening at any time of year, either resplendent in their arid whiteness at dry season, or breathtaking under a layer of water in rain season. Either way, you’ll no doubt cherish the visual spectacle they offer. Photographic outings are the order of the day here, with stop overs on cactus-filled islets and salt-made hotels also included in all explorations. The best highlight for many, however, is overnighting on the Salt Flats, enjoying a spectacular sunset and, if at all fathomable, an even more impressive sunrise. The stillness and remoteness of the Uyuni Salt Flats is soul-reviving, so try not to rush your experience if you can. Once here, we can guarantee, you’ll never want to leave.
One of the great things about a trip to the Uyuni Salt Flats is that it grants you the chance to explore the areas of southern Bolivia and northern Chile, both fantastic and rewarding destinations in their own right. Combine a visit with further exploration of Chile’s Atacama Desert, or Bolivia’s southern highlands, and you can enjoy a rather unforgettable tour-de-force.
What’s the Best Way to Visit the Uyuni Salt Flats?
Bolivia is one of South America’s best destinations, offering an immense array of attractions within relatively short distances. When visiting the Salt Flats of Uyuni, you could take a flight to Sucre, one of the country’s most charming cities and a UNESCO-listed architectural gem. Spend a day meandering through the cobbled streets before driving on to the Salt Flats, which are only a 6-hour drive away. Half way, make a stopover in Potosi, a very interesting high-altitude mining town which you can explore for the afternoon. Next day, drive for a couple of hours to reach Uyuni, making sure your itinerary includes at least 2-3 nights.
Uyuni is the base town for Salt Flats explorations from the Bolivian side and is one of the most distinctive towns you could visit in the whole continent. There’s a certain quirkiness to Uyuni that makes it exceptionally endearing, even though the town – in general – doesn’t look like much at first glance. Visit the Train Cemetery at sunset to hone in on your photographic skills, and indulge in some of the most delicious food you could ever hope to find in the middle of nowhere!
How Long Should You Spend in the Uyuni Salt Flats?
Once in Uyuni, you have two options: you can explore the Salt Flats on return day trips or, if you have more time, set off on a multi-day journey to cross them entirely. On the other side, you’ll come up to the border of Chile, where you can include a few days in splendid San Pedro de Atacama. The trip can be done in reverse too, naturally.
The Uyuni Salt Flats offer quite a few accommodation choices: from the luxurious Uyuni Airstream Camper to amazing hotels made entirely of salt (which should be experienced for novelty-value alone!) and a number of more basic overnight lodges. Whatever your budget and comfort desires, we’ll find a suitable option that ticks all your boxes, if your priority is to spend a night (or 3) on Salar Uyuni.
What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit the Uyuni Salt Flats
Any time of year, of course!
Every season offers a different perspective of Salar Uyuni, so it’s more of a personal matter of time (as in, when can YOU visit?) rather than any ‘ideal’ Salt Flat period. The two iconic pictures you probably have in mind are the endless white plains coupled with crystal clear blue skies, or the astounding reflections of a flooded salt plains with overcast skies. The most important thing to keep in mind is that, unless you travel for an extended period of time, you won’t experience both on the one trip. So choose you must…
Travel between May and November for bright blue skies and arid plains
Or between January and March, the rainy months, for that ultimate flooded spectacle…
What to Pack When Visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats
The unique landscape of the Uyuni Salt Flats require a bit of astute packing. Here are our top packing tips for hassle-free days of explorations:
– Sunglasses & cap – you will be amazed at the kind of glare these salt flats can emanate. Protect your eyes from UV radiation and pack dark sunnies as well as a cap and plenty of sunscreen.
– Backpacks – infinitely easier to transport than rigid suitcases, especially on 4WD adventures, where bags are usually stacked on the roof of vehicles.
– Windbreaker & thermals – temperatures can plummet dramatically out here, so be prepared with warm clothing, and include a cap and scarf. You’ll find beautiful woven alpaca-wool items for sale in Bolivia, so buy them before heading out to explore the Salt Flats.
– Extra memory cards – don’t get caught out with a full SD card! Plan ahead and bring plenty of spares, you’ll be surprised at just how many photos you are likely to take.
These are the absolutely essential items to bring along from home. A more detailed packing list will be supplied once you’ve decided on your trip, and will be determined by all the other destinations you include as well.
At Chimu, we pride ourselves in offering the very best tours to Uyuni and the Bolivian Salt Flats. We can play cupid and match you with a pre-planned tour that’s right for you, or devise a cunning bespoke itinerary to suit your individual wishes and likes. Want to fall in love with Bolivia? We can make it happen! Contact us for more details.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”