Yes-yes, all these cool pictures you saw of dinosaur hunting your friend or a girl holding her boyfriend between her fingers – this is Uyuni salt flats. Besides the salt flats, there are other things to see in Uyuni. Salt hotels, lagoons, train cemetery – not too many things, but enough to fill a day or three. So, what to choose – one or three? What are the best ways to experience one of the world’s largest salt flats? Here’s what the most popular options are:
3-4 day tour between San Pedro de Atacama and Uyuni
Those who start in San Pedro de Atacama or Uyuni can book a 3-day tour. The direction can be either a one-way trip from Chile to Bolivia and vice versa, or a return trip to your departure point. During this tour you explore coloured lagoons, geysers, different parts of the desert and mountains. If you have more time and wish to do more hiking, you can arrange a longer tour with more hiking. Everyone we met who has done a 3 day trip, was very happy about it. The only thing to consider is that it involves a lot of driving, so you will spend plenty of time in the car. Make sure you are careful choosing your tour operator, so you don’t get stuck with a bad quality company for 3 days. Also, pack accordingly since desert IS cold at night.
1 day tour from Uyuni
This is the most popular option. Just like in Atacama desert, all the tour operators will offer you more or less the same. Again, you will end up travelling in a jeep with 6-7 other people, but there will be many jeeps following the same path. Most companies will offer you a tour for 150 BOB, but some will be more expensive. Red Planet, who has quite good reviews on TripAdvisor, offered us their tour for 490 BOB. It included the same locations, and the difference was in the accident insurance and English-speaking guide. 150 BOB tours might come with a guide who doesn’t speak much English and actually isn’t much of a guide. They will drive you, wait for you to look around and help you take funny photos, but there won’t be much information. On the other hand, I can’t really justify such a big price difference.
To be honest, we haven’t taken either of these tours, but what we heard from other travellers is that they all end up in the same places anyway. We took one full day tour, but chose a company that does something very different and had a fantastic trip with guys from Extreme Fun Travel. We definitely recommend them, they made our day unforgettable. They also arrange 3-4 day tours. Right now they’re working on their website, but you can contact them through their Facebook page.
Explore it by yourself
You can rent a car or a motorbike and travel through on your own. Be careful, because not all roads in Bolivia are of good quality, phone signal might be lost at some places and weather might surprise you. However, it’s totally worth it, especially because you can choose different times and places to visit. That means you won’t get caught with all the tour groups taking their photos at the exact same spot.
Which option is the best?
Of course, all depends on your personal preferences and expectations, but here’s what we suggest. If you are moving between Uyuni and San Pedro, take 3 day tours instead of taking a bus on your own. The trip is beautiful, but buses are not as good as they are in Argentina and Chile, so maybe it’s better to split up a journey in 3 days instead. We took a bus, and honestly that was our small regret after hearing what an amazing time everybody had on their 3 day tours. If you start in Uyuni, especially doing one day tour, consider contacting Extreme Fun Travel. Their itineraries are different from other places and they are super knowledgeable about everything Bolivia-related. Their prices are higher than 150 BOB, but in the end of the day we thought it was all worth it.
You can visit train cemetery on your own, again, ANY time. We walked there from our hostel in the morning of our departure. Train cemetery is quite an important place for the history of Uyuni. There you can see the first steam locomotives that were brought into Bolivia. The place isn’t extremely big, but it’s a nice stop for people who like trains or creative photography.
Besides all the attractions, there is not much to do in Uyuni. The town has slightly lively center, but the moment you walk further, it looks a little abandoned. Many buildings are only half-finished, and the town looks like a good place to shoot a horror movie (remember Silent Hill?). The cuisine is not particularly interesting either, in comparison to the other cities in Bolivia. However, Salt Flats are a must see, and will definitely stay one of the highlights of our trip. Beware of the altitude sickness and take your time (and some coca candy).