I first set eyes on the Heaven-like Uyuni Salt flats back in 2008. My soul never forgot, and it had forever and always been on the top of my bucket list since then. We missed out on the opportunity to catch a bus from Arequipa Peru to La Paz back in 2018. And we praise Jesus for that, because that would have been a complete nightmare.
That brings me to the NEED TO KNOW section of visiting Uyuni.
U.S. citizens need a visa to get into Bolivia…and THAT, that is a task. Let me tell you. Also, it is the most expensive Visa we’ve ever paid for. At the time we applied, the process required sending $360 cash in the mail with our actual passports and other important documents to the Bolivian Consulate. The website is atrocious and you’ll read about horror stories. BUT, it will probably be fine. If you’ve done any amount of traveling in South America, you won’t be surprised by the extremely outdated systems and process. It can be…a bit inefficient and difficult.
Nate spent quite a bit of time trying to call, and finally got an answer one day. At first they couldn’t find our documents, but then they did (who knows), we were approved and they sent back our documents, with the visa in our passports. So, our experience turned out fine. #winning
Thus, we can move on to the Uyuni experience!
WHEN TO GO: There is a wet and dry season in Uyuni. If you’re wanting the “mirror” effect that we got, YOU NEED TO GO DURING THE WET SEASON. We were there in February and it was more perfect than I could have ever imagined. Nate had super low expectations, wasn’t excited at all, and it blew his damn mind.
GETTING THERE: You will likely need to go through La Paz in order to reach Uyuni. We opted to stay in La Paz for two full days before making the 30 minute flight to Uyuni. La Paz is a large city (2.7 million people), and much more accommodating that Uyuni.
Knowing that La Paz is not the most westernized city, we wanted to be in the city center, at a higher end hotel. So we booked with the Ritz hotel. HI, WORTH IT. The Ritz is in a great central location (see photo above), and the airport pick up and drop off was arranged for us. It made for an amazing place to adjust to the high altitude in comfort. AND YOU WILL NEED TO ADJUST TO THE ALTITUDE.
You can get high altitude medication at any pharmacy. We just walked to the closest one and used Google translator to ask for it. It can have a few names, so we looked those up, and made sure we got the right medication. They asked how many days we were going to be in Bolivia for, and gave us enough for two pills per day.
For breakfast or lunch, hit up Typica Cafe (see photo below). We ate here several times. It was just a few blocks from the Ritz.
I do suggest going to the square if you have energy to walk, or you can get a cab. If you stay at the Ritz they will arrange a cab for you. We didn’t do any exploring because our strategy was to rest, drink water, work and not get altitude sickness.
Account for mad traffic during the day. We got in at 4am and it took 23 minutes to get to our hotel. Yet it took us a full hour to get to the airport from our hotel. Which was fine for us, but I’d rather you be safe than sorry. The trip from the hotel to the airport would have only taken 45 minutes if a massive tour bus wasn’t blocking three lanes of traffic trying to take a left hand turn.
Flying into Uyuni is a cool experience in and of itself. For one, you are closer the ground than usual because of the land elevation (12,000 ft); and you get to see the salt flats as you descend into Uyuni.
Upon arriving, you’ll need to get a taxi at the airport. We stayed at a decent hotel in Uyuni, and had requested transportation ahead of time. It was still a normal taxi, but it’s always nice to have someone there to meet you when you land.
Uyuni is a tiny, impoverished town. It feels as though it only exists so that tourists can come see the salt flats. There are not many mid range accommodations to choose from. Or there weren’t in early 2020. You will have mostly hostels and 5 star eco domes in the actual salt flats to choose from.
We stayed at Cristales Joyas De Sal. They arranged a taxi to pick us up from the airport and had a nice little work area downstairs (which we spent four hours in because the WiFi didn’t reach our room upstairs). The rooms were very clean, with a king size bed, some traditional Bolivian decor, and it was plenty spacious. Hotel Boutique Atipax may be comparable, slightly nicer.
You come to the salt flats to do salt flat tours. You can do night tours, multi-day tours, and one day tours. We opted for a one day tour.
ONE DAY, TWO NIGHTS – that’s how long we stayed in Uyuni and it was definitely all that is needed (for us). Maaayyyybe if we did it again, we would have stayed another day in order to do a starlight tour (night tour). I didn’t even realize these were a thing until we heard about it during our single day tour.
We ate dinner at Lliphi. It wasn’t bad, but it was certainly not good. We didn’t get sick, so that’s a plus. Stay at a hotel with a good restaurant or prepare yourself for some sparse pickin’s when it comes to meals.
We booked our tour ahead of time online. There are DOZENS of tour agencies and you don’t need to do this before you arrive. There is not much else in Uyuni other than tour agencies. Find one you like, compare prices, and book the one that suits you. You will pay 3X more for an English speaking guide.
The TOUR – why we came:
The tour started at 9am. We were picked up at our hotel.
You’ll see – at about 8-8:30am everyday, Uyuni streets fill up with four runners. And the tours begin.
We were in a tour with two other couples – whom we throughly enjoyed getting to know.
First stop was the rain boot fitting. We tried on rain boots, found a pair that fit, and put them in our team trash bag. Then it was on to the Train Graveyard...this is where having an English guide would have been beneficial. Because we have no idea, to this day, the significance of this site.
You’ll see from the photos below, that it is the Bolivian version of an Instagram-able site. The main purpose of coming here is for a photo op.
After the train graveyard its onto a small gift shop area. This was our last chance to use the toilet.
We spent about 30 minutes at the gift stop.
Then the real fun began…we hit the salt flats.
Honestly…I think I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves. You will now see why I was so adamant about visiting in the wet season.
We spent a decent amount of time in the wet area. I want to say two hours or so. Then we headed back toward the entrance to visit the tiny salt museum. This was a straight up time suck. We spent 45 minutes here and could have been done in ten. BUT, they do this in order to kill time before the sunset.
You can look in the museum, use the toilet (costs money), see the flags, and a salt monument. Fun fact, there was no American Flag to take a picture with. But it was super fun to see people from all over the world find their country’s flag.
Between visiting the salt museum and watching the sunset over the wet area, we made a pit stop in the dry salt flat area for the perception photos. I am sure you’ve seen these somewhere on the internet. They are rather popular. We took A TON, but Godzilla was my favorite.
We ended the tour back in the wet area.
You can see the drastic transition in the photos below. We were so blessed to have witnessed such aggressive but safe weather that day. We had gorgeous blue skies and sun during the day and then a thunderstorm and rainbow rolled in just before the sun set. It was truly majestic.
Obviously as the wind picked up, we lost the “mirror” effect from the wet flats, but it was still breath taking.
We ended our tour after sun set, and drove back in the darkness. The weather and skies changed so quickly over the salt flats. With the elevation being close to 12,000 feet, and being surrounded by mountains, it makes for a very dramatic situation. But as you can see, I think it’s safe to say the Millers scored with the weather during our tour.
Uyuni was everything I imagined and more. It is so vast. While there were tons of tours going on, we felt like we had it to ourselves.
I believe there are few things that compare to this site. And I certainly hope many more humans get to experience the epic-ness that is the Uyuni Salt Flats.
Have I convinced you to add the Uyuni Salt Flats to your bucket list? If so, pin this post for later!
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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