It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...maybe that's a tad dramatic. However, before you begin your journey to Salar de Uyuni, it's good to know what COULD happen throughout the duration of your trip. Let me start by saying, this isn't going to be the most reliable or luxurious excursion, so once you've come to terms with that, you'll have a much more enjoyable trip.
- Accommodation is going to be basic meaning no wifi, heat or hot water. Look at it as a camping trip where you're being chauffeured around to the most beautiful landscapes you can imagine. Also, try to keep in mind you're going to an extremely remote area in a developing country, so just be thankful for the roof over your head.
- Your driver probably won't speak English. Guess what? You're in a Spanish speaking country so it's not his job to speak your mother tongue. Learn some basic Spanish so you aren't in shock, especially in Bolivia.
- The terrain is pretty harsh so you may experience a breakdown. Luckily, most of the drivers operate these tours once a week and will know exactly what to do. All you'll need is a bit of patience and you're good to go. Side note: I would make sure to go with a driver who own's his vehicle, that way he is more likely to take better care of it, and you.
- Not all tours will follow the same itinerary. Some sights may be added or skipped depending upon your driver, but the most popular attractions are always included.
- You may not get rain. The mirrored effect you may see in photos is created by rainfall. To increase your chances, plan your trip in March or April.
- Altitude sickness. Either set aside a few days to acclimate to the altitude in Chile or Bolivia AND bring a lot of water along to make sure you stay hydrated.
Ultimately, you will get to where you need to go, regardless of the situations mentioned above, and it'll be one of the most memorable adventures of your life.
Trips depart from Uyuni, Bolivia or San Pedro, Chile almost daily, with no shortage of 4x4's that will take you across the desert. You can choose to take a day trip to Salar de Uyuni, but I would recommend going on the 3 day/2 night tour. Have a wander and explore your options so you can compare the prices of different companies. It should be around $120-$135+ USD/person for a 3 DAY TOUR.
DAY 1 (SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA - LAGUNA BLANCA- LAGUNA VERDE- LAGUNA COLORADA - SOL DE MAÑANA)
Six of us were picked up at our hostel and brought to the 4x4 that would practically be our home for the next 3 days. Our first stop was Hito Cajon, where you'll experience probably the most isolated and bare border crossing you've ever seen. ***AMERICANS*** you'll need $135 USD cash for your visa to enter Bolivia.
About 30 minutes passed the border are the neighbouring lakes Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde. Laguna Verde is normally brown, unless wind is present to stir up the sediments in the water causing it to turn bright green. There was no sign of wind when we arrived, so we made a pitstop at Laguna Blanca to pass some time. Luckily, our guide seemed to be very knowledgable of the area and we got to Laguna Verde just in time to see this miraculous change of colour.
Our next stops consisted of Laguna Colorada (a pink lake where you'll have the chance to see wild flamingos), a thermal bath, and the geysers of Sol de Mañana.
DAY 2 (LAGUNA COLORADA - SILOLI DESERT - LAGUNA HONDA)
We got an early start and passed by Laguna Colorada once more before making our way to the Siloli Desert. Árbol de Piedra is the main attraction here, along with some other cool rock formations. We were able to see one more pink lake called Laguna Honda before reaching our salt hotel in Atulcha, where we'd be spending the night. EVERYTHING was made of salt and we had llama for dinner. Interesting combo for sure.
DAY 3 (SALAR DE UYUNI - TRAIN CEMETERY - UYUNI)
Waking up at 4am was not ideal, and neither was sleeping on a block of salt; however, sunrise at Salar de Uyuni is a must. Even though there was no rain the night before, the vastness and simplicity of the bright white salt alone was remarkable. Walk to the top of Isla Incahausi where you'll find giant cacti, and have amazing panoramic views of the salt flat.
Our last stop before we arrived in Uyuni was the train cemetery just outside of the 'city.' Rusty remains of abandoned trains from the 1940's were left here after the collapse of the mining industry, creating the graveyard. It was the perfect end to a long but beautiful journey.
SOME MORE HELPFUL TIPS
- 4x4 transportation from San Pedro to Uyuni
- 2 nights accomodation
- 6 meals
- WATER as it will NOT be provided. Bring about 6 liters or more (2L/day)
- 180BS for park entries and attractions.
- Toilet paper
- Bathing suit for thermal baths.
- LOTS OF LAYERS! Temperatures drop fast at night. Even a sleeping bag would be useful.
- Snacks, especially if you have any food allergies or hate bland food.