Salar de Uyuni tour | Important things to know
Every trip gives a traveler not only travel experiences but also invaluable connections and knowledge. The description of the “Salar de Uyuni” in Bolivia and the diverse and beautiful landscape of that country was first received from our South African friends who met us during one of our trips two years ago. The moment I saw their travel pictures, this trip came to my mind. On that very day, I asked and understood the essential things about this journey from them.
Where do you fly into for Salar de Uyuni?
South America is a continent blessed with the world’s most diverse history, cultures and diverse mountains, valleys and lagoons, natural beauty, and rare fauna. We can still see that culture and beauty in almost the same form because no one has reached there. Since it was our second South American trip, we decided to see as much as possible and started planning. Planning is of the utmost importance when it comes to trips outside India, especially those involving multiple countries. It can be said that half of the tension of the trip is removed after accurate and clear planning.
Planning a trip to bolivia
Along with Bolivia, the goal is to make a big trip that includes the United States, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico. It was a bit difficult to get the information and instructions as they are places that are not visited by many people, but it took almost two months to prepare a very detailed plan.
The first is to travel to Bolivia by road from Chile. It is a four-day itinerary that takes you through some of South America’s most beautiful and scenic lagoons, deserts, and volcanoes. But from investigations, information was received that a Bolivian visa stamped in the passport is required to cross the Chile-Bolivia road. When I contacted the Delhi embassy to get the visa (as the Bolivian embassy is not in UAE), they told me to go to Iran and get the visa. Since the trip was with family, it was impractical to go to Iran or Delhi to get a visa, so we made some changes to the itinerary, skipping Chile and instead rescheduling the trip by air from Colombia to Bolivia.
What is the closest airport to Uyuni Salt Flats?
There are two airports in Bolivia where Indians can get an On Arrival Visa. La Paz and Santa Cruz. La Paz itself was chosen because it was the closest and most convenient place for us to go.
On March 19, we landed at La Paz Air Base in Bolivia from Bogota Airport in Colombia. We got a 30-day Bolivian visa stamped within 5 minutes from the Visa On Arrival counter at the airport. El Alto Airport in La Paz is the highest international airport in the world. It is located at an altitude of 13,320 feet. From here the next flight is to ‘Uyuni’, for which we have to wait for another 6 hours.
As soon as I took the luggage and sat down, I started feeling a very strong headache and dizziness. The symptom of “Altitude Sickness” is due to the lack of oxygen at such a high altitude. When I went to the pharmacy at the airport, I was given “Sorochi” capsules. But if you take it at least 24 hours before, you will get the results. Therefore, he said that if you go to the nearby cafeteria and drink cocoa water, you will get a little relief. Went straight and bought it and drank it …. (cocoa drink is made by boiling the leaves of the cacao plant in water… the drug cocaine is also made from the same leaves). There was no big change but I felt a little relief. In the evening we returned to “Uyuni” in a small flight that could hold 40 people. Arrived at “Uyuni” in about an hour and headed straight back to the hotel. “Cocoa water” is kept at the reception of the hotel itself. It is available in all shops and hotels here.
“Uyuni” is a small village with very little and only basic facilities. The main business here is trading and salt harvesting based on tourists coming to the “Salar”. After checking in, went out looking for a place to eat. Small narrow roads like in the country. Small shops and houses on both sides. The walls on both sides of the road are full of various paintings of the Argentine communist legend “Che Guevara” who gave his life for Bolivia. The wall of the nearby school also has beautiful “Che Guevara” pictures inscribed on it. 10 minute’s walk to the main intersection, no big food options here. Kerry finds a hotel that makes pizza and eats it. The owner of the shop makes the pizza himself. After ordering vegetarian pizza, when I asked the shop owner to inquire about Che Guevara. But unfortunately, he did not know the English language. Finally gave up that effort and went back to the hotel after eating.
By 9 am the driver reached the hotel with his car that we had booked. We have booked the vehicle for 3 days. There is no requirement to book in advance. Almost everyone in “Uyunni” has a tour company and a vehicle. You can also book anytime. But most of it will be a typical “Salar” trip for a day. No guarantees are made regarding the condition of the vehicle, the experience of the driver, or the time spent in Salar. Since ours is a 3-day trip and we have to travel on roads at an altitude of more than 15800 feet, I first selected a company that has essential reviews like an oxygen tank and satellite phone in the vehicle. I made an agreement with them about the places I wanted to go and booked them.
We started our journey in a 4×4 Nissan Patrol. It is about 45 minute drive from “Uyunni” town to “Salar”. Our driver Silvio only knows Spanish. I only know three words of Spanish. Communication is by Google Translate. Silvio was very friendly and firstly gave me the troubling news, it has been raining continuously for the last two or three days and the Salar is flooded and there is still a chance of rain today so I can’t be sure if I will be able to go to all the places on my list. However, he also assured me that he will be able to reach wherever he can go.
Starting the journey, the first journey is to a place known as “Train Cemetery”. The vehicle entered the main road, the main roads are all well-tarred. The fields on both sides of the road are the main crop of the crop known as quinoa. It is their main food which is used instead of rice/wheat. Apart from this, maize and potatoes are also cultivated. Animals called ‘llamas’ belonging to the category of goats/sheep in our country can be seen grazing in abundance. They were beautiful to see and once or twice they crossed the road in front of our vehicle.
Reached “Train Cemetery” in about 30 minutes. The place is a graveyard of old trains. The Chinese themselves are more there, though generally less. Break up the dance and take pictures by climbing on top of the broken and rusted train bogies. Engines, tires, bogies and other parts of about 10-12 trains are scattered in many places. This view shows the railway and trains built by the British in the 1800s. These trains were used to transport minerals and ores that were mined and connected to present-day Chile. But with the war of the 1890s, Bolivia became isolated from Chile, the mining industry collapsed, trains and tracks were damaged due to lack of maintenance, and the place fell into disrepair. After spending about half an hour there, we started again.
Are the Bolivia salt flats worth it? What is Salar De Uyunni ?
In the distance, “Salar” started to be visible… The salt flat of “Uyuni” known as “Salar De Uyuni” is the largest salt flat in the world. It has an area of about 10,500 Square kilometers. 11 billion tons of salt is accumulated here. The Salar is not only a salt field but more than half of the world’s lithium deposits to meet the energy needs of the next generation are hidden at the base of the Salar. Almost all current batteries are made from lithium, which can be described as the crude oil of the future. With the advent of electric cars, there has been a huge increase in the demand for lithium. Expect an explosive change in the price of lithium over the next 10 years. Realizing the future value of Bolivia’s lithium deposits in the impoverished South American country, countries including the United States are now behind Bolivia to help extract lithium. China has already set up one of their plants there and started operations.
The US space agency uses Salar as a reference to calibrate satellites. The size of the Salar and the surface level and reflectivity help with this. Our vehicle went off the tar road and onto a dirt and mud road. Silvio was struggling to control the vehicle. A number of broken-down and mud-covered vehicles can also be seen on the road. After about ten minutes, the vehicle completely went down into the water and started traveling. Only around 7-8 inches deep yellow and red water. We have no idea where to go. But Silvio is sure. If we go too fast, the salt water will get into the vehicle and the parts of the vehicle will be damaged, so our journey is very slow. After another 10 minutes, we entered the “Salar”. Below about 2 inches of clear water, you can see the white salt flat. We continued our journey over it. These salt layers are about 10 meters thick. So there is no need to be afraid. There are many vehicles lined up like us all around. I asked Sylvia to go to the middle of the salt field. Silvio said that it will take another 2 to 3 hours to reach the middle, and if there is a waterlogged area in between or if it rains and the Salar becomes waterlogged, the journey will be interrupted. I decided to take the risk. The sky above was cloudy and it had rained the night before. If you get stuck on the road, the rest of the day’s journey and the next day’s journey will be canceled.
Silvio called the office and gave me the phone. I made my request known. I was informed that they are not responsible if the rest of the journey is delayed. I agreed. That got Silvio on my way. Straight into the middle of the salt field.
After about three hours, we reached the endless salt flats. Silvio stopped the vehicle at a place in a beautiful salt field and we got out. The sky was clear with only the sun and a few clouds. The reflection of the sky in the water is very low in the water below. It seems as if the sky has come down to earth. No matter which direction you look, the same view is the endless sky and its reflection below.
There is no one in the sight of Salar except us. The feeling of reaching another world. I turned on the camera and took pictures. Silvio advised putting sun cream on the face and using sun glass as the sun damage is more. This place is known as photographer’s paradise. Those who are artistic can capture very beautiful pictures. By the time we got back to take some pictures, Silvio had already prepared lunch. The beauty of our lunch spot under the sky in the loneliest place in the world is indescribable. (On the way back, I happened to see a Chinese wedding going on in the Salar. They were accompanied by a huge line of photographers and videographers.)
By the time we finished our lunch, the sky was overcast. It started raining lightly. Silvio warned that if he did not go back, he would get a job. My next objective is to watch the sunset. But if he saw the sunset from there, he was sure that he would be trapped for the night, so he started his journey back as Silvio said. Halfway back I pestered Silvio again. He expressed his desire to see the sunset. We were dropped off at the hotel opposite “Salaar” at 5 pm and returned back at 5 am the next day. Silvio said that it was not practical to stay till 7pm to watch the sunset as it was a long 2 hour journey from the hotel to the town. I decided to change the plan for the next day as I was sure that the beauty seen in the afternoon would be doubled by the sunset. Silvio agreed. Again the journey began, towards the western direction of the salt flats. The rain just stopped, and by 6 o’clock we reached a place where we could see the sunset. But the clouds came more and more, dashing our hopes. The sun was completely hidden. We waited till dark and started our journey back to the hotel disappointed to not be able to see the sun.
The next day’s plan was discussed with Silvio on the way. Silvio said that since it is late today, we can only leave by 8 am the next day. Since I can’t see the sunset, I’m wondering if there is a way to go to see the sunrise in the morning. Finally, the next day’s journey was made in the afternoon. Silvio agreed to go back to the Salar to watch the sunrise at 3 in the morning. By 8pm we reached the hotel opposite the Salar.
Salar de uyuni, hotel interior
The hotel is completely made of salt except for the roof but has good facilities. Not to mention the floor, pillars, walls, seat, even the bed is made of salt. Everything is made with a very beautiful design. From searching, I realized that almost all the hotels there are built in the same way. Because all there is in common is saline soil and salt.
Silvio arrived at 3 in the morning as told. I was happy as soon as I stepped out of the hotel. Very clear sky. There are no clouds and the stars and our galaxy can be seen very clearly with the naked eye. We started our journey back to Salar. As before, Salar can be reached only through swamps and water. Due to the rain of the previous day, Silvio overcame the situation and brought the car to Salar once or twice. Unlike the previous day, there were no other vehicles around. Only our chariot and the stars are moving in the middle of the Salar. About an hour drive and Silvio took us to the perfect spot to watch the sunrise. Despite the unbearably cold and windy weather outside, I ventured outside. I am alone in the middle of the earth and there is nothing around except our car. The sky is full of stars. Took pictures of the galaxy and waited for the sunrise. Around 6 o’clock the sky started changing color beyond belief. In the direction of the rising sun, a small reddish-yellow color surrounds the dark blue sky with stars twinkling in it. Above all this is the reflection of this beautiful scene in the Salar just below. The beauty of the colors changing with each passing moment is indescribable. The sun has fully risen. He spent time there until the stars disappeared from sight.
Some scenes and experiences cannot be conveyed through words, writing or pictures. I can say without a doubt that all the pictures below that I have captured will not give you even 50% of the enjoyment of what we experienced there in person. We returned to the hotel at 7 o’clock in the morning. At 12 noon we begin our next two-day journey through the Bolivian heartland, crossing multicolored lagoons, volcanoes, and deserts.
Bolivia travel requirements
Bolivia is one of the least expensive countries in South America. Food and accommodation are all very cheap. The air ticket to reach here from the country is a little more. Indians can get visas on arrival at La Paz and Santa Cruz airports. A passport is valid for at least six months from the date of departure from Bolivia. Copy thereof. Booking of the hotel where we will be staying in Bolivia / or booking of the tour operator. Return flight ticket from Bolivia. Bank statement showing financial position or cash on hand. And yellow fever vaccination certificate. are the documents required to obtain the visa Visa fee for an Indian passport holder is Bolivian currency equivalent to 60 US dollars. (There is no visa fee for Indians if the visa is obtained before departure through the embassy in the country. It is free – saving 60 US dollars).
From La Paz, you can go to “Uyuni” by bus and flight. The bus is very cheap with tickets starting at 15 USD. Depart in the evening and arrive at “Uyuni” in the morning. Air travel is expensive. There are only two companies operating the service, “Amazonas” and “Bolivianos”.
Salar de Uyuni best time to visit | Salar de Uyuni salt flats
Salar can be visited any time of the year except the rainy season. Salar offers a completely different view in summer. The famous Mirror Reflection in Salar is seen in the months of March and April. Climate is an important factor in this. If the rain is too much, the water in the Salar will increase and the mirror effect will disappear. Moreover, if the water rises, it will be difficult to enter the Salar. It didn’t rain much on the first day of our trip, but two days before it rained, the Salar had plenty of water, so we could see the mirror effect. In the next few days of the trip, it rained and we had to drop three or four important places from the trip due to high water.