Salt desert of dreams

Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni


Imagine a vast, impossibly flat landscape of hard, white salt, pockmarked by islands of rock and cradled by active volcanoes. Pools of water coloured blue or red with an intensity of minerals reflect an enormous sky. Crossing the Salar de Uyuni by 4×4 is one of Bolivia’s must-do activities – a photographer’s dream, and a traveller’s adventure. Tour operators gather up to eight travellers into each Land Rover, gear tied up on the roof, backup gas tanks on the rear. Discover the mineral lakes, flamingos, volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, a salt hotel, unusual formations and giant cacti on an island of rock. There’s nowhere else on Earth like it.

Length of Trip : 4 days

Cost :
A typical 3/4 day costs about $US150 per person, and includes meals, accommodation and transportation. As with everything, the costs depends on the quality of the operator you go with.

Best time to go : July and October for climate, March and April for reflections in pools of rainwater

Wheelchair friendly : Contact a local operator to make arrangements if possible.

Family friendly : Yes

Where to eat :
Your trip includes a cook who prepares meals on the trip. Chances are you'll only be in Uyuni for a day or two before your journey across the desert. If you eat anywhere other than Minuteman Pizza you'll be doing your gut a disservice. Attached to the side of the Tonito Hotel, Minuteman flip up some of the best pizza on the continent, with home-made desert sun-ripened tomatoes. Owner/chef Chris (originally from Boston) is just the nicest guy in town. Great breakfasts, fresh salads and chocolate chip cookies too.

Official Site :
There are dozens of Salar tour operators in Uyuni, and your success generally depends on your driver, your jeep, and your group (ie the people who will shape the experience you will have). You may be bundled up with travellers who booked through other agencies. Red Planet is a recommended local tour operator.

Where to Stay :
For a bucket list stay, consider spending a night in the Luna Salada Salt Hotel, located in the Salar about 50 minutes from Uyuni (and a stop on all the tours). The 49 rooms are constructed with salt bricks, some with views over the adjacent salt lake.

Hotel Palacio de Sal
Hotel La Petite Porte
Tonito Hotel

Getting There : From La Paz, there are regular tourist buses to Oruro, where you catch a train or bus to Uyuni. The train is quite spectacular as sometimes it feels like you're railing on a sea of salt water! You can also do the tour in reverse from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, although it is considerably more expensive.

Note from Robin :
Bring an extra memory card and battery for your camera. You’re going to take a lot of photos, and electricity is hard to come by. It is possible to rent your own 4x4, although most travellers sign up with a tour operator in Uyuni that provides a driver, cook, and rustic village accommodation. Since this is likely a one-way trip on your way to Chile's San Pedro de Atacama, bring everything with you.