After our superb getaway on the Isla del sol at Lake Titicaca we made a short short trip to La Paz before setting off for one of the most incredible wonders of nature: the impressive Salar de Uyuni and the South Lipez region!
We had been warned, we were going to be amazed… But honestly, we had already seen so many incredible landscapes during our world tour that we wondered if the show would live up to what we were told.
So how can I say…. We were literally captivated by these landscapes, and it’s not too much to say that I can tell you that they are part of the most beautiful things we’ve ever seen in our lives!!!
We’ll start the article with the pictures, because for the moment the pictures speak much more than words!
At the end of the article you will find all the practical information you need if you want to make this tour, choose an agency or for example join Uyuni from La Paz.
Tour in the Salar: 4-day program
- Uyuni: departure for the salar with a visit to the train cemetery
- Day in the salar of Uyuni
- Visit of the incredible lagoons of the South lipez
- Tour to the Geysers and the green lagoon before returning to Uyuni
Getting from La Paz to Uyuni
To begin with we had to get to Uyuni…. Hmm we were travelling with Benoit’s parents in Bolivia and knew that the bus ride wasn’t going to be very comfortable. Indeed, the road between La Paz and Uyuni, as improbable as it may seem given the tourist traffic on this section, is not paved!
In short, the bus ride promised to be a hectic one on a dirt track…
Update 2019: The road is now much better!
So we tried to find an alternative, in vain!
Alternative 1: Fly
It is the fastest and most comfortable option. Daily flights are provided by Amazonas, and you will need to count about 110€ per flight (200€ per round trip). This option was clearly out of budget for us as small backpackers…. See Prices on Skyscanner
Alternative 2: Combination of bus and train
This is an option that seemed interesting on paper: take a bus to the city of Oruro (about 4 hours’ journey) and then take the train. The train is comfortable, that’s for sure, and it’s barely more expensive than the bus.
The problem is that there are not trains every day, and when there is one it is always the same time: arrival in Uyuni is scheduled for 2am…
Not really motivated by the idea of arriving in the middle of the night in the very cold of Uyuni, we fell back on the most common option: the bus from La Paz to Uyuni.
Bus trip between La Paz and Uyuni
The bus journey takes 12 hours and costs between 120 and 250 bolivanos per person.
For 120 bolivanos it is in semi-cama (seat inclined at 140°) that the trip is made. For 250 bolivanos it is with the todo turismo buses, the tourist buses reputed to be more comfortable, but also in semi cama.
We have opted for a compromise, the company called Omar offers the trip in cama class (seat reclines at 160°) for 180 bolivanos. Departure at 7pm for a nice night on the bus…. Then we don’t hide from you that we left with a little apprehension, because the day before our trip, a bus of this company had a tragic accident causing 9 victims (including 3 Swiss, we might as well explain to you that our relatives had a little fright when they thought we were on the bus…)
In the end the bus ride was very good, it shakes a little bit but the driver (probably calmed by the sad incident of the day before) has driven quietly.
NB: If you plan to visit Sucre or Potosi you are advised to take a bus from La Paz to Potosi (or Sucre), then reach Uyuni from there. Because by making the journey in this direction the road is paved.
Uyuni; practical information and how to choose your agency
Let’s say it right away: Uyuni is ugly and it really has no charm!!!! It is a simple mandatory passage before leaving to visit the Salar (unless you are on a tour from Tupiza or San Pedro de Attacama in Chile, which are the other 2 options to start the tour).
In terms of housing, the choice is vast… We landed in a hotel whose name we don’t know (we stayed one night), but which fit well with our budget and which was fine for the parents too.
The double room with shared bathroom cost 100 bolivanos, while the “a little better” rooms with private bathroom cost 140 bolivanos. Well after the “hall” still reminded us of a prison, but let’s move on!
Uyuni salt flats: Choosing your agency
After we settled in, we started looking for an agency. Well, you might as well tell you right away that the agencies find you long before you start looking for them.
At the bus exit, at 6:30 in the morning, fifteen ladies had already come to bother us to sell us a ride!
So honestly, throw out your guide books and their agency recommendations because we have a scoop (or not): The agencies are all the same!
You are sold a tour at a price X, then placed in a jeep with people from the same agency. If the lady did not succeed in bringing together 6 people (the standard number of people in the jeep), then they mix two agencies… And don’t worry, at meal level all the tours seem equivalent…
Besides we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the menus! 😉
In short, paying more will not guarantee you a better deal!
Discuss with the agency and make sure you check some details:
How are the hotels on the Uyuni salt flats tour?
The last night is quickly seen there is no choice, they are dormitories with 6 people for everyone…. But on the nights before there are double rooms, and the price doesn’t change, so ask!
How many people in the jeep?
Normally it’s 6, but sometimes agencies are pushing it and pile up 7 tourists in a jeep! So unless you have 3 liliputians in the team, 7 is just too many! We’re not very tall (well yes, little Swiss), but with our 1m73 it was already pretty “cosy” to be sitting in the back the two of us… I can’t imagine fitting 3 people in this space!
Is water included in the tour?
Usually it is, but only for meals! The agencies provide 2 litres per meal (for 6 people) and nothing more. In short, think about buying a 5-litre canister in Uyuni and take it with you.
Otherwise you will be forced to invest a fortune for a small bottle of water sold in the shops of the Salar!
A tip if you are a group of 6 (we didn’t do it, but we regret it a little): ask to go around in the other direction! The agencies all go around in the same direction and of course all leave at the same time, so there are some places where there are still a lot of people… By going around in the other direction you will be much quieter!
However, the agencies will probably try to discourage you by telling you that it’s the same with the people who come from Tupiza and San Pedro… But it’s NOT TRUE!
Tour of the Salar de Uyuni: the options
There are several options to visit the Salar from 1 day to 4 days. We opted for the 4-day tour and frankly we are delighted with our choice!
1 or 2 days in the Uyuni salar
In concrete terms, you make a simple return trip to the Salar. It may be an option if you’re really in a hurry, but honestly it would be a real shame to miss the south lipez!
Uyuni: The 3-day/2-night tour, the most common option!
This tour typically costs 750 bolivanos per person, although it is possible to pay 650 bolivanos per person by booking in the morning. By choosing this tour you spend your first day in the Salar, sleep the first night just outside the Salar and leave the next day for South Lipez.
The 4-day option we chose allowed us to spend 2 days in the Salar. This tour generally costs 1000 bolivanos per person, but it is very easy to negotiate it at 900 bolivanos per person.
The first day you only cross the Salar and go to join the Thunupa volcano at the end of the day. From the village you have a nice view of the Salar, with a lagoon in the foreground filled with pink flamingos and of course hundreds of llamas that graze quietly by the water’s edge. A dream landscape to admire the sunset!
Oh and if you come, don’t miss the sunrise under any circumstances, it’s a magical (and cold) moment. The second day we spend the morning in Thunupa; those who wish to do so have time to climb to the first viewpoint and thus have a breathtaking view of the Salar. Allow 1h30-2h of climbing to reach the viewpoint.
After lunch we leave for the cactus island and join the people who are touring over 3 days.
Advice to book your tour to the Uyuni salt flats:
Do not book your tour in advance unless you absolutely want to pay more… 🙂 The agencies of La Paz all have subcontracts with those of Uyuni, so the proposed tours are identical, with their margin in addition! If you take the night bus from La Paz you will arrive around 6:00am to Uyuni, and since the tours all leave at 10:30am or 11am you will have ample time to find a tour to leave the same day if you wish!
Oh yes, last thing! But not the least….
The Salar is located at more than 4000m, and in the south lipez we can even climb to 5000m! So it’s cold, even very VERY cold!
The third night (2nd if you do the 3-day tour) is really cold, a small additional sleeping bag is not a luxury to complete the blankets provided….
At night the thermometer comes without concern to touch the -10°C, and without heating and insulation I let you imagine the temperatures of the rooms…. In other words, cover up or you’ll freeze like our Brazilian companion with his little jeans jacket… The poor man finally had to buy a coat on the way… 😉 (it’s crazy, it’s always Brazilians who have problems in our groups… like during the Santa Cruz trek we did a couple weeks back)
Updated in 2019
We received a great message from Claire and Rémi, two readers who spontaneously sent us an update and a suggestion for an alternative. We thank them warmly and hope that this great information will be useful to you!
You can also leave from Tupiza for a 4-day, 3-night tour through the landscapes of southern Lipez and the salar of Uyuni. The advantage is that there are far fewer people than in Uyuni and the route is a little different. It is also possible to do a 5-day tour with the ascent of a summit in addition.
We left with the natural adventure agency, for 1050 bolivianos per person. There were 5 of us in the car with our driver-guide on top of that. There was a stove in the agency’s other SUV. The food was very good, the guide was very friendly, accommodating and he always gave us time to stop and walk around the place. We did not need to bring extra water and food was provided in large enough quantities.
Some information about the program:
- Day 1: in the mountains, on the altiplano. Departure from Tupiza, passing by el sillar (rocky formation); Pueblo fantasma (village built by the Spanish and deserted by miners); Night in Quetena chico.
- Day 2 :park of the south lipez: lagoons and geysers Laguna hedionda and kolipa, with many pink flamingos to meet; Desert of dali; Laguna verde and laguna blanca with view on Licancabur; thermal waters of Polques; Geysers ground of mañana; Laguna colorada; Night in Villa mar.
- Day 3 : dry lava and canyon Italia perdida and canyon del anaconda; Laguna negra; village of San Cristobal. Arrival at the uyuni salar, sunset on the salar. Night in Colchani in a salt refuge.
- Day 4 : salar Sunrise; salt museum and Dakar monument; photo session on the salar; meal in colchani and end of the tour in Uyuni.
It is possible to return to Tupiza if you wish. The program changes a little according to the season. In our case the salar was flooded, so we didn’t go to the Incahuasi island for example. There are several agencies in Tupiza, we compared the routes and prices. Globally all pass through the same places, only on the 3rd day, some the road on the right (laguna vinto, laguna negra, canyon del anaconda…) and others got to the left (árbol de Piedra, laguna kara, laguna Cachi…).
Prices varied between 1050 and 1250 Bolivianos per person depending on the agencies we visited. Then you have to add the park entrances and various attractions: 15 bol for the village of pueblo fantasma, 150 bol for the entrance to the southern park of Lipez, 6 bol if you want to swim in the hot springs of Polques, 10 bolivianos for a shower on the second night, 30 bolivianos for the island in the uyuni salar.
Bus Potosi – Tupiza : 30 bolivianos + 2 bolivianos for the bus station fee, travel time = 4 hours
Hotel in Tupiza : many hostels, we slept at the hostal valle hermoso. Overnight in dormitory or double room for 50 bolivianos (45 bolivianos if you have the international hostel card).
On this, we leave you with a small compilation of our dumbest pictures “made in salar” as it should be!
See you soon for the rest of our adventures in Bolivia!
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