Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia: A 3 day tour (Part 1)

Salar de Uyuni is the biggest salt flat in the world and sits at an altitude of 3656m. Where there used to be lakes and volcanoes, now lies miles of crusted salt and hot springs. It’s an essential part of any visit to Bolivia. 

“You must go to the salt flats!” said the email from a traveller friend when announcing that Bolivia was going to be part of my round the world adventure. I didn’t know what she meant but I dutifully put it on my list, wondering what could really be so exciting about salt. Bolivia seemed a long way away at that point and I couldn’t really think past the rabies jabs I was having to accommodate my plans to be a ‘monkey mother’ at a Bolivian animal rescue.

When I finally found myself there, I still wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t getting on with my latest travel buddy (it happens sometime),  had a slight case of traveller fatigue and was feeling impatient with the idea of having to negotiate with Bolivian travel agents. I was unexcited about what lay ahead at that point…  but little did I know my tired mind was about to be blown.

If you’re trying to decide whether to include Salar de Uyuni on your itinerary, here’s a taster of what to expect…*

*Warning: If you’re literally just about to embark on a 3-day trip, this post does contain a few spoilers… so although I want you to read it, maybe it’s best to read something else for now, like this post on cycling Bolivia’s death road perhaps… Part of the joy of a trip to the Salar de Uyuni is it’s surprises. However, if you’re just planning an itinerary or doing some general wanderlusting today – read on! I hope you enjoy!


Arriving at Uyuni often happens through sleepy eyes, just after sunrise on a bus from La Paz. After a long stretch of empty land, you pull up suddenly on a dusty road on the outskirts of town. But it’s a small place and easy to walk around from here to find a hostel.

You can hop straight in a jeep from the bus if you prefer to start the 3-day trip straight away – but this would give you less time to be sure you’re taking the ‘best’ tour.

This is a tourist town. There’s not a huge amount to do except shop at travel agencies and eat… so that’s what I did.

Uyuni clock
The central clock at Uyuni, the most popular town to start a Salar de Uyuni tour.
Map Salar de Uyuni
It’s notoriously hard to get a good deal at a booking agency – so shop around. I spent a day looking at maps like this and feeling confused! But it was worth it in the end.
Agua is vida Water is life Bolivia
Water is life

Getting a good tour is hard to do…

Perhaps I was a savvy traveller, or lucky in my choice, but my 3 days in a jeep exploring Salar de Uyuni were some of the most memorable of my life. I will share my tips of getting a good tour soon, but it wasn’t nearly as tricky as the guidebooks and online chat made me think it would be…

The tour

It all begins at 7am on a clear day in Bolivia…

Cemeterio de trenes

After packing up the jeep we drive a short distance to the first stop: a wasteland area. My lack of preparation coupled with my imperfect Spanish means I have some awareness of the basics of what I’m going to be doing over the next 3 days, but I’m not expecting trains… regardless, like every good tour-goer, I dutifully leap out of the jeep and run around trying to see as much as I can.

These are antiques from the late 19th Century, when mining companies were busy trying to transport their goods. The tracks were built by British engineers and the remains are considered museum-worthy for one day in the future… for now it’s an intriguing, slightly mad selfie/ instagram rush.

Cementario de trenes Train cemetery Bolivia
It’s a surreal experience to visit dead trains in the middle of the desert.
Dead train grafitti
The trains are covered in grafitti; names and jokes from the previous visitors.
Train portrait Bolivia Wandering Feline
There’s a tourist frenzy on arrival. It’s obligatory to have your photo posing with a train. This is a one off shot with almost just me in the picture.

Salt Glorious Salt…

Forget ice sculptures – salt sculptures are far more likely to last! The salt from the Salar de Uyuni is not just for eating… it’s also for carving. A salt museum and shops are the next stop on the tour, where I was tempted by many a handmade craft.

Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Llama salt sculpture
Perhaps a giant llama for the hallway?
Salar de Uyuni salt museum figures
Figurines in the salt museum
Salar de Uyuni Bolivia salt museum town clock
You may recognise this from town…

Getting things into perspective

By this point on the tour, I’m still questioning what this is all about. Dead trains, touts trying to sell me dice made of salt, and carved llamas. But after this initial tourist madness, I reach a point on the journey that literally makes me take a breath and I realise why this place is unmissable. The salt flats of Uyuni.

Salar de Uyuni salt flats
The patterns of the salt flats look as if they go on and on forever
Patterns of salt Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Patterns of salt
Natural salt
A chunk of salt cut from below. The layer of salt is so deep and strong, we can walk and drive on top of it.

An optical illusion

It’s good to come prepared for taking your versions of the well-known perspective photos as you don’t have a lot of time! Again, I am not prepared. The flat, unbroken landscape creates an optical illusion in our mind because it’s so vast. The brain doesn’t have a point of reference to put into perspective. It’s this lack of perspective that makes things look either really big, or really small in the pictures.

Perspective photos salar de uyuni bolivia
Illustrating the sense of perspective given by the salar landscape
Salar de uyuni perspective photography
I’m always the little one in a group!
Perpective photo Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Trying to squash a tiny human? … or being held up by an incredibly strong tiny human?

Dakar Rally

While it’s going through South America, the Dakar rally passes by Salar de Uyuni. A tribute has been left for fans… made of salt of course!

Dakar Bolivia

Dakar Bolivia
The other side has an ode to an important part of the history in this area: trains

Incahuasi island

In the middle of what used to be a lake, there is an island of cacti. Some of the plants here are over 100 years old.

Incahuasi island Salar de Uyuni
Incahuasi island in the middle of the salt flats
Cactus Bolivia
Giant cacti reach for the sky
Cacti hand shape Bolivia
The cacti form many familiar shapes in different sizes
Cactus salar de uyuni Bolivia
A children’s story book cacti monster perhaps?

Accommodation in Salar de Uyuni

Where you sleep will vary depending on your tour, but one thing is guaranteed and that is that at least some of it will be built with salt! The salt hotel may not be well-insulated, but it’s fun and outside the stars are vivid in the sky. My only question is: what happens when it rains?

salt hotel salar de uyuni bolivia
A salty corridor
bricks at the salt hotel bolivia
Walls of salt.
salt hotel salar de uyuni
Dining at the salt hotel. Tables, chairs, walls and even the decorations are all made of salt
salt hotel bolivia
Don’t forget the chandeliers – made of salt of course!
Salt hotel salar de uyuni, Bolivia
Finally, the bedroom. Walls and of course the bed are also made of salt. There is a normal mattress!


In part 2 of the Salar de Uyuni journey, life begins to feel like I’ve walked into a painting and I get a wildlife spotting fix.


Have you been to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia? Share your experiences in the comments below. 


This post is part of the Wanderful Wednesday blog hop!

Meet the hosts: Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel ofThe Sunny Side of This and me, Marcella of What a Wonderful World.



  1. I absolutely loved Salar de Uyuni, such a raw, magical place. Looks like we did the same tour, so much fun. Great photos and can’t wait for part 2 🙂

    1. Me too – it’s such an awe-inspiring place isn’t it. I think part two is even more magical so watch this space 😉 Thanks for your comment and for stopping by my blog.

    1. Mine too – and I really didn’t expect it to be so great. One of those nice travelling surprises when I haven’t done much enough research! If I ever get the chance I’d like to try it in a different direction. It was just a touch chilly though… more on that in part two!

  2. Wow, this is incredible. I’ve heard of the bolivian salt flats and have seen a couple of other posts on it, but I loved how you wrote it like you’re taking us along for a day. I’m not much for silly touristy photos, but the optical illusion photos look so fun! I love the one with the giant shoe! And sleeping in a salt hotel sounds like fun. 🙂

    1. Thanks Anna – I’m glad you liked it 🙂 The salt hotels are definitely a novelty tourist thing, but our little group of 6 were the only people there so it felt special, like we’d been transported to another world.

  3. That salt hotel!!! I’m seriously so amazed, I had obviously seen pictures of this place before but I had no idea that hotel existed! Also, your perspective photos are great haha

    1. Ha ha – thank you. I didn’t really realise what we were doing at the time, but they were really fun to take. And the salt hotel – I don’t understand how it exists – but it’s magical! 😀

    1. Thank you – and that’s great to hear. I hope you can make it there one day. It just looks vast when you are there, but then the photos come out with that crazy effect – if you go when it’s wet, there is also reflection and the photos I’ve seen online with that are incredible!

  4. I’ve heard such good things about the tours to these salt flats!! A lot of people do it leaving from San Pedro in Chile. Unfortunately when I was in San Pedro, I didn’t have the time to venture all the way there, but it’s definitely something on my bucket list. Your pictures with the optical illusions are amazing! You really nailed it haha So fun! 😀

    1. Ha ha – thank you 😀 It’s definitely worth it one day if you get the chance – I will go back and do it in the other direction from San Pedro if I can!! You’ll need 4 or 5 days as the tour will be quite full on for the 3 days. It was a highlight of my year away for sure.

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