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Salar de Uyuni Tours (Salt Flats Tours)

Salar de Uyuni is a huge expanse of salt flats covering more than 12,000 square kilometers. At an altitude of 3653 meters, this is one of the most striking landscapes in the world. Here you'll find lakes of an astonishing variety of colors, an endless stretch of salt as far as the eye can see, Dali-esque rock formations, flamingoes, vicuñas, chinchillas and steaming geysers, back dropped with Andean mountains. All-in-all, the Salt Flats are not to be missed. Unsurprisingly, the main economic activity here, aside from tourism, is salt extraction and processing. There is thought to be 10 billion tons of salt here, and 25,000 tons are extracted yearly.

Salar de Uyuni Geology

The Salar de Uyuni was formed from a former lake, known as Lake MinchĂ­n. This lake covered a large expanse of Southern Bolivia. The climate got drier and the lake began to evaporate, from around 40,000 years ago. About 10,000 years ago the evaporation process ended and the Salar de Uyuni in its current state was formed. At the end of this process, the Lakes PoopĂł and Uru Uru were left behind, along with Salar de Uyuni, and the smaller Salar de Coipasa.

Salar de Uyuni Tours

Salt Flat tours are a truly remarkable experience. The scenery is jaw-dropping and even the most amateur photographer will take great pictures of this place. Most travelers won't want to skip the chance to experience this unique landscape. There are many Salar de Uyuni highlights that you won't want to miss. This said, the Salar is getting ever-busier as a stop-off point on the well-beaten gringo trail, and you'll usually find you're enjoying the Flats with crowds of other tourists. Often you'll be traveling a well-trodden path, with several other vehicles, all at the same time. This can break up the serenity and beauty of the experience somewhat.

Salt Flat Tour Length

Trips most commonly run for either three or four days. Shorter trips for one or two days are possible, but don't expect to see a whole lot in that time. It is common to start and end in Uyuni. Other regular possibilities are starting in Uyuni and ending in Tupiza, or, for those on a longer multi-country trip, starting in Uyuni and ending in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile or vice-versa.

Salt Flats Tour Costs

Costs vary from $80 to $130 for a three or four day trip, depending on how hard you negotiate. Remember, you get what you pay for, so if you drive too hard a bargain, your tour will be very basic. When picking an operator to do this trip with, as well as asking about the route taken, you should also check up on the condition of the vehicle that you'll be traveling in—breaking down on the Salt Flats is not much fun. Try to find out a bit about the food and accommodation. Trips vary considerably in quality.

Salt Flat Tours - Group Size

Your tour will usually be with a total of six travelers. Sometimes the agency will try to squeeze a seventh person in on your trip. This is not recommended as it will not be very comfortable. You will have a driver and a cook with you on your trip and everyone travels together in a 4x4. The driver also serves as a “guide” though the quality of the guiding varies considerably—there often won't be much in the way of explanations, if that's what you're looking for. In many cases neither the guide nor the cook will speak English.

Salt Flats Tours - food

The cooking won't be gourmet, though the food has improved on these trips recently. How much you pay for your trip will usually determine the quality and quantity of food that you get. If you are vegetarian, be sure to mention this before the trip, so that this can be catered for.

Salt Flats Tours - weather

Don't underestimate how cold it can get on the Salt Flats, especially at night. Take lots of warm clothes, and layer up. Be aware that accommodation is very basic. You need to make sure that you take a good sleeping bag with you. Rent one if you don't have your own. If you go in the winter months of May, June and July, the weather can be beautifully clear, but it can also get bitterly cold, so be prepared for this or it could ruin your trip. Check out VIVA's Salt Flat Tours Packing List for help on what to take.

Getting from La Paz to Uyuni on the tourist bus

It is possible to get an overnight “tourist bus” direct from La Paz to Uyuni and return, for those who don't want to spend time going through Oruro. The bus costs approximately $32—a little pricier than the regular bus, but good for those who are short on time.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Uyuni: Safety, Uyuni Services, Border Crossing with Chile, Salar de Uyuni Highlights (Salt Flats Tour Highlights) and Salar de Uyuni Packing List (Salt Flats Packing List).

By Paula Newton
I am V!VA's operations expert. With an MBA and a background in the Interactive Television industry in the U.K. I am the organizing force behind the...
18 Mar 2011

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