Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia Part 2: The world as a painting

A 3 day Salar de Uyuni tour in Bolivia has more to offer than merely salt flats. The area around it is has landscapes filled with wildlife and so much colour you will feel as if you’ve accidentally walked into a painting. Its an unmissable experience on any visit to Bolivia. 

Part 1 of a 3 day tour exploring the area around Uyuni, Bolivia is all about salt: the classic perspective altering salt flat photos, an island of enormous cacti in a salt lake and sleeping in a hotel made of salt! In part 1 of my Salar de Uyuni experience, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but by day 2 my eyes were watering from so many incredible views. The jeep doesn’t stop – there’s a lot more to see.

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

*This is the 2nd part of my 3 day journey and it comes with the same warning as the first… If you’re literally just about to embark on a 3-day trip, this post contains 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!

Icicles for breakfast

It’s not easy getting out of a salt bed, when the you’re in a place that has an average minimum temperature of -12°C (in August). especially when you’ve been up the night before star gazing until the early hours. This is a lesson I learnt quickly in the morning of the 2nd day at Salar de Uyuni as I quickly haul on my thermal leggings and llama hat. But it very quickly gets easier when I get outside and begin to look around.

Lagunas of Colour

Day 2’s journey takes in landscapes like nowhere else I’ve visited in the world. The many colours in the lakes here are due to minerals and/ or algae (depending on the colour) that thrive in the salt water.

This may be the ‘scientific’ reason for this, but I’m convinced someone, somewhere – probably a giant – has taken a large brush and splashed their most vibrant watercolour paints across the land, using the earth and sky as a canvas. Accidentally they splash a bit of red here and there, where it should maybe be blue but this is art so they just leave it that way. And without realising, they create a masterpiece.

Laguna colorada The red lagoon of Bolivia
Laguna Colorada. The red lake. The water here is tinted red because algae live in the salty water.
Salar de uyuni The red lake
The white colour is borax – a mineral and salt of boric acid that is used in many detergents.
Borax Salar de Uyuni Bolivia
Borax up close and personal.
Borax Salar de Uyuni Bolivia
Borax is sticky stuff!
Laguna Colorada and colourful mountains Salar de Uyuni Bolivia
The lake is laced with colourful mountains
Travel thinking about life. Salar de Uyuni
Time to contemplate. The vast nature of the landscape highlights how small we really are, and what an incredible planet we live on. We should take care of it more.

Who could live here? 

Despite it’s seemingly uninhabitable landscape there are lots of creatures who love to live in this area. Flamingoes thrive here due to all the tasty algae in the water that help them get their vibrant pink colour. There are six species of flamingo that visit the lakes, including the endangered ‘James’ flamingos.

Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Flamingos
The lakes are a 5* flamingo floating restaurant

Other flamingos that can be seen include the Chilean flamingo and the Andean flamingo. As an amateur, it’s hard to tell the difference. It’s all to do with the shape of the beak and the black part of the beak. The national park has information around to help you spot what you’re seeing.

flamingo on one leg Salar de Uyuni
Vibrant pinks and yellows as far as the eye can see.
Me and flamingos Salar de Uyuni
The flamingos are far to busy munching and sleeping to be bothered by my watching from the side of the lake
baby flamingo Salar de Uyuni bolivia
Young flamingoes are grey with soft downy feathers. They enjoy snuffling through the mud for food.
Flamingo taking flight bolivia Salar de Uyuni
Get ready for take off…!
Flamingo salar de uyuni bolivia
A flamingo mirror

Other Wildlife of the Salar Wilderness

Flamingos aren’t the only creatures that live out here in the wilderness. Andean foxes, vicunas, reptiles and even some people actually live this far out… with people of course you will also see llamas. Everyone loves a llama. 

llamas bolivia
Bird on a cactus Salar de Uyuni bolivia
The nectar in this cactus must be sweet as this guy has travelled a long way to get it.

My luckiest photo

Possibly the luckiest wildlife spotting of all my travels is that of the Bolivian Vizcacha – a kind of rabbit of the Salar. It survives fox predators purely through incredible camouflage against the rocks plus speed at getting away. I caught a glimpse of one through my obsession of taking pictures of rock formations while here – I didn’t even know he was there:

Bolivian Vizcach. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
Bolivian Vizcacha having a nap. Possibly one of the luckiest photos I have ever taken.

Don’t forget your hat

It’s not long since I mentioned it can get a little bit nippy in this part of the world.  On the tour I’m fairly sure I’m experiencing one of the occasions it’s reaching a record low. The second hotel isn’t made of salt, or ice – disappointingly, as this may be warmer. With several jeep groups staying in the same place over night, travellers bond over trying to avoid frost-bite in their finger tips. No one necessarily speaks the same language but we communicate through the commonly known sign language of cold, hunger and a desire to win at cards.

Our hosts, the drivers, are busy fighting over the small space to create the best meal for their group. Our keen, new driver, emerges triumphantly first out of the kitchen door with a delicious, warming feast and we buy a beer to celebrate his victory. It’s basic accommodation. Cold, lacking in light and a dorm room with shared bathroom. You’re unlikely to want to shower at that temperature though. Better to spend the time you can stand being out of your warm(er) bed star gazing as you’re in for another awe-inspiring night sky.

Whatever you do, don’t forget your hat. (And gloves, scarves, thermals etc.)

Sunrise at the Sol de Manana

Our driver was applaudably competitive again for the next morning’s adventure. I wasn’t celebrating as we tried to get dressed under the covers in our dorm room, while we could still hear our neighbours snoring. But we were first on the road and this was an excellent idea for seeing the next place.

Sol de Manana is a geothermal field. Just after sunrise, it gets busy with tourist groups taking group photos by the smouldering, volcanic puddles. We are there on time for sunrise due to our heroic winner of a driver meaning we have the whole landscape to ourselves for at least 30 minutes.

Sol de Manana, Bolivia
Sunrise surrounded by volcanic, boiling mud pits.
Boiling mud, Sol de Manana, Bolivia
Mud smoulders below and the steam pours out across the landscape
Sol de manana, Bolivia
Warm your icy cold feet up on the warm steam
Geyser Sol de Manana, Bolivia
Or why not have a whole body steam heat shower?

Chile, hot pools, rocks and home

Sadly, the next part involves driving through the deserted landscape to drop 2 of our party off at the Chilean border. You have the choice on this tour of going on to Chile, or heading back to Uyuni.

Chilean border, Bolivia
The Chilean border is a mere shack in the middle of nowhere. Literally nothing around for miles. I’m standing in Chile here, with no stamp! What a rebel.
Dead bus at the Chilean border… a chilling site for those waiting for their next lift (that hasn’t arrived) in this deserted border crossing.

It would be a fantastic way to start your journey into Chile. But I’m still hooked on Bolivia at this point so opt to stay. Thank goodness I did. Going back into Bolivia at this point means going to a stinking, sulphuric hot spring and by this point I’ve been ice-cold for more than 12 hours. This is a perfect way to avoid losing my feet in an emergency operation in La Paz and get my bones warmed up again.

Hot springs, bolivia
Bye bye border, hello deliciously hot water in the middle of nowhere. The smell doesn’t even matter – it makes it authentic.

The end

I’ve seen so much in 3 days and don’t want it to stop, but at some point I’ve got to get back to Uyuni for the next leg of my journey. I am taken via enormous and stunning rock formations, as if to remind me what an unusual and magical place this is one last time.

It seems that artistic giant had a go at sculpture as well.

Rock formations salar de uyuni Bolivia
Rock formations on the way home


Have you been to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia? Share your experiences in the comments below (I’m still yet to hear from anyone who had a bad one…!)


(This was part 2, read part 1 of my journey around Salar de Uyuni here)


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