What I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Salar de Uyuni
While there’s not much I would change about my trip to Salar de Uyuni – I really think Lavi and I nailed this trip, it was an absolute blast and I got a ton of great photos – it never hurts to be a little more prepared.
I visited Bolivia in March 2016. I traveled from Uyuni, Bolivia to Salar de Uyuni and on to San Pedro de Atacama on a 3 Day, 2 Night trip with Quechua Connection, but these tips are also applicable if you’re coming from Tupiza or San Pedro de Atacama as well.
Choose your direction wisely
While I started my trip from Uyuni, which is most typical and probably most convenient, I don’t think it was the best option. There were jeeploads of people at most of the stops (though our guide did an awesome job of getting us away from the crowd for the most part). Still, if I had to do it again, I’d likely go Tupiza => Salar de Uyuni => Uyuni, just to have fewer people at each stop and a more unique perspective.
Behind the scenes: the train graveyard was covered with tourists, it took a while to find an empty space
Research tour providers
All tour companies are NOT equal. There are a wide range of prices for the exact same tour, but also many different tours on offer. Decide what is important to you (staying in the salt hotel, not staying in the salt hotel, having electricity, or safe Jepps), and go from there.
I chose Quechua Connections and paid $190. The first night we stayed in a very comfortable guesthouse (two people per room) with private bathrooms, hot water, and electricity. The next night we stayed in a very basic dorm without hot water and very disgusting shared bathrooms (and pay-per-use showers). Our guide spoke English, the drivers seemed safe, the Jeep was in good condition, and the food was really delicious. I think the higher price for comfort, safety, and an English-speaking guide was totally worth it.
in our comfortable, safe, and not overloaded Jeep
Sign up in advance
Especially if you don’t want to waste a day or night in Uyuni (which is a total pass, in my opinion) or a few days in Tupiza (the wait is longer since fewer people go that direction), you should do your research and sign up for a group in advance of your arrival. That way you can show up and get the heck out of there.
Lavi and I were able to step off the night bus, and head right into our tour, bringing us all the way HERE less than 24 hours after leaving La Paz
Spring for an English speaking guide
Even if you’re fluent in Spanish, it seems that the tours with English-speaking guides tend to be of a higher quality. And if you AREN’T fluent in Spanish – even more reason to choose an English-speaking guide. A visit to Salar de Uyuni is likely a once-in-a-lifetime trip that very much warrants an extra $5-10 when it helps you have a better understood and more enjoyable trip. I found that my guide’s explanations, knowledge of history, and even just the cultural tidbits he shared really added to my understanding and enhanced my experience.
our guide helped us set up photos like this
Inform of dietary restrictions
Before you sign up for a tour, be sure that any dietary restrictions can be accommodated by that tour BEFORE paying (get it in writing if necessary). My vegetarian meals for Salar de Uyuni were surprisingly easy to arrange, and the food I received was just as tasty and delicious as my group members’.
ASK ASK ASK ASK ASK. ASK!!!
BEFORE paying anything, clarify accommodation types, amount of food and example meals, how many people ride per jeep, what happens if the jeep breaks down (are there backups or partner vehicles), what costs are not included, and how many years have they been in business.
our second night accommodation was THIS. I knew it in advance though and was prepared.
Pack your bags strategically
Your “big bag” will go on top of the van, and can only be accessed night – not during the tour. Bring a small bag to bring in the Jeep containing all your daily essentials including cameras, extra batteries, warm clothes, and any snacks and water.
you don’t want to run out of batteries while shooting this place
Be sure to pack the following essentials:
toilet paper (preferably natural/biodegradable) – you will be using “natural toilets” for the majority of the trip (aka going outside)
sunscreen – because there aren’t any trees to block the sun, and the sky is mostly clear, you’ll be catching a lot of rays
clothes for hot temperatures – the day of the trip nearest to Uyuni town is quite warm (shorts and a tank top style)
clothes for cold temperatures – the day of the trip nearest to the Chilean border is FREEZING (winter jacket-style)
swimsuit – there will be an opportunity for you to take a dip in the hot springs
towel – for after showers and if you go for a dip in the hot springs
camera – you’ll see some of the most stunning scenery of your life and will definitely want to capture it
extra batteries – for your camera, and also a battery pack if you want to keep your phone charged
wine-bottle-sized props for forced-perspective photos – any smaller, and it won’t look right
shoes that are okay to get wet and that dry quickly – you’ll be getting saltwater on them if there’s any water on the flats
shoes that are comfortable for light hiking – you’ll be scrambling around rocks at some points (especially if you need the natural toilet)
flashlight or an iPhone with light – some of the accommodation choices do not have electricity
lightweight hiking shoes CHECK, camera CHECK, clothes for cold temps CHECK
Dress in layers
From day to day, the weather changed drastically in Salar de Uyuni. But even throughout the day, the temperature varied widely. Mornings and evenings were absolutely frigid, though the days tended to warm up quite a bit. The location seemed to make a big difference too, as we neared Chile I felt a lot colder. Because you only have access to your bag while at your accommodation for the night, it is really important to dress in layers. A cold weather coat and a scarf made a huge difference in my comfort, though I really wish I had an extra pair of leggings to layer over, as my poor legs felt quite cold on the more chilly outings.
we’re huddled together for warmth
You likely won’t have internet, at all, not even once, for the entire trip unless you buy a sim card (and even then it is unlikely that you’ll be able to catch service).
Take the time to disconnect from the web, and reconnect with yourself.
loads of llamas (or is it alpaca?), very little internet
Pin it for Later!
(all photos of me taken by the amazing Lavi)
That photo of you jumping is one of my faves! Wish we knew these things BEFORE the trip – but it was still one of the biggest highlights of my entire 9 months in Latin America!
Definitely did NOT need so much water hahahaha… but so glad it worked out for us to be able to do this together (even if I would change a few teeny tiny things like bringing more leggings)!
so very helpful! thank you!
Really glad I could help! I hope you have a great trip and feel free to email me if you have any questions 🙂
Hi steph. Thanks for your posts.
O am going there on january. Is it a good month To go?
Is there any place with nice beaches nearby?
Thanks so much for writing. I haven’t been in January, so I really can’t say from personal experience.
Bolivia is landlocked, so it doesn’t touch any ocean or sea. The only beach I know of in the entire country is on Lake Titicaca, in Copacabana, but the water is quite cold, the elevation is very high.
Brazil and Ecuador are better options for beautiful beaches.