The Salar de Uyuni is a natural wonder that should be at the top of your bucket list. But it can be hard to know when the best time to visit the Bolivia salt flats is. We’ve put together this handy guide to help you plan your trip.
By Jack Clarke
- Why Should I Visit the Salar de Uyuni at all?
- Wow, I’m Sold! So When is the Best Time to Visit the Bolivia Salt Flats?
- Without the Mirror Effect, is the Salar de Uyuni Still Worth the Trip?
- Where Can I Stay During my Visit to the Bolivian Salt Flats?
- Which Tour Should I go to the Salar de Uyuni With?
- Once I’ve Visited the Salt Flats, What Else Should I See in Bolivia?
- Key Things to Remember When Visiting the Bolivian Salt Flats
Why Should I Visit the Salar de Uyuni at all?
Well, if the photograph above alone isn’t enough to get you reaching for your passport, listen to this. At 4,086 square miles, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat on the planet and as you can see, it’s fairly spectacular. Situated in southwestern Bolivia not far from the crest of the Andes, the mountains that surround the salt flat provide truly staggering beauty.
You needn’t worry about sweltering in the South American sun either, as Salar de Uyuni is actually over 3,600 metres above sea level, meaning the air temperature peaks at around 21°C between November and January and doesn’t often get any lower than 13°C in June. Always be aware that altitude sickness at this height can be an issue, so you’d be wise to spend a few days acclimatising in the surrounding area beforehand.
Plus, there are a whole range of natural treats to be discovered such as towering volcanoes, lakes, scalding geysers, relaxing hot-springs, giant cacti. Although the salt flat may not be teeming with animals there is some unique wildlife to be found including the Andean fox and around 80 different species of bird.
Wow, I’m Sold! So When is the Best Time to Visit the Bolivia Salt Flats?
That’s a very good question, and the answer depends entirely on what kind of trip you’re looking for. The rainy season falls between January and April and the salt flat floods during this period. However, with the water comes beauty. The kind of beauty that makes you wonder if what you’re looking at is even real. The flooding produces a natural phenomena – the largest mirror on earth and your chances of seeing it increase drastically if you go at this time of year. Many people would say that this is the best time to visit the Bolivia salt flats because the mirror effect is so striking.
A possible downside of visiting in the wet season is that the conditions may mean it’s impossible to visit Isla Incahuasi or Fish Island as it has become known to some. Don’t be fooled, there aren’t any fish. Its name comes from its fish-like shape and it isn’t actually even an island. It’s the top of the remains of an ancient volcano which was submerged by a huge prehistoric lake some 40,000 years ago. The 61 acres of rocky outcrop is home to giant cacti and a tourist centre, and Rhea, an Ostrich-like bird that roams the island.
Not a fan of the wet? Then head to the Salar de Uyuni between July and October when you’ll experience wall to wall sunshine.
With rainfall averaging just 1mm per month in this period, you’d have to be mightily unlucky to experience any pesky showers. Be prepared to wrap up at night though, as temperatures can plunge to a bone-chilling -9°C. Brrrr!
So really the best time to visit the Bolivia salt flats will depend on whether you want to see the flats during the rainy season or in their uncovered state during the dry season.
Without the Mirror Effect, is the Salar de Uyuni Still Worth the Trip?
Ultimately, with or without the famed mirror effect, there are very few places on earth like it. An enormous white mass of salt as far as the eye can see really is something to behold. A big part of its beauty is simply the vast emptiness of it, so it is still definitely worth a visit even in the dry season.
Where Can I Stay During my Visit to the Bolivian Salt Flats?
May we introduce the first salt hotel in the world: Palacio de Sal. Translation = Palace of Salt. Predictably this unique structure has become a tourist attraction in itself. Located on the banks of Salar de Uyuni, it is built entirely from salt blocks. From the walls and the floors to the ceilings and even the beds! With nightly rates of around £100 it’s not the cheapest, but worth a look if you’re nearby. Don’t even think about licking the walls though, there’s an official rule preventing it.
There are of course more inviting options for those on a budget, including many hostels where you can stay in a mixed dorm for under £10 per night. You’re looking at anywhere between £20-£35 if you’d rather relax in a private room.
Where you stay will depend entirely on the tour you decide to go with. Although the sleepy town of Uyuni is the most popular starting point, you can also start in Tupiza or for those in Chile heading North, you can catch the salt flat tours leaving from San Pedro de Atacama. If you decide on the latter, bear in mind you’ll be paying more money for the same experience as those beginning closer to Salar de Uyuni.
Which Tour Should I go to the Salar de Uyuni With?
With over 75 tour agencies hounding you for your custom on arrival, it can be difficult to know who to trust and which one to go with. There are a few factors to consider, the main one being whether you’re willing to spend a bit more to ensure a safe, reliable and comfortable experience. You’re going to get what you pay for, so don’t expect a first class tour if you only part company with a few peanuts. We’d recommend spending some alone time with TripAdvisor before you commit, to see what others who have gone before you have to say.
Tours vary drastically in length, from single day trips to Jeep tours lasting a few weeks, but the most popular last between one and four days. You don’t have to squeeze into a Jeep with six or seven others though, as there are specialist hiking tours and you can even choose to experience the salt flat on horseback!
What Should I Consider When Choosing a Tour to the Salar de Uyuni?
The key is to make sure you do your research. It’s just like the old saying, if you fail to prepare then be prepared to fail! It’s much better to go with a company who are stricter with their drivers, it seems obvious to say that they shouldn’t be drinking but many drivers will relax or party with their tour groups at night and this will usually involve alcohol.
All of the tours should stop at the most popular sights and attractions, but it’s still worth checking the route before you commit so that you don’t end up missing anything you’re desperate to see.
One of the absolute must-see attractions is the train cemetery, located less than two miles outside Uyuni. Trains were once used by mining companies but the industry collapsed in the 1940s, leaving many trains abandoned. It’s a curious and eerie sight and likely one of the first stops on most tours. There are talks about building a museum out of it.
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Once I’ve Visited the Salt Flats, What Else Should I See in Bolivia?
Okay, so you’ve spent four days touring Salar de Uyuni and now you want to move on? Well, you’re definitely in an amazing part of the world, surrounded by all sorts of natural beauties and historic towns and cities. We’ve chosen the top things to do in Bolivia to get you started.
You can’t visit Bolivia without checking out La Paz, about 330 miles North of Uyuni. Contrary to popular belief, it is not Bolivia’s capital but it still has the hustle and bustle of a modern city, while also full of tradition and South American culture. Feel free to drive the near eight hours, but you might want to choose the more comfortable 45-minute flight from Joya Andina Airport to El Alto International Airport.
The Altiplano region covers sections of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Spend some time in all three exploring the otherworldly sights and amazing landscapes. The Atacama Desert is not far from the Salar de Uyuni and we’d recommend making this your next stop.
Key Things to Remember When Visiting the Bolivian Salt Flats
So that pretty much covers everything, and you should be all set for an unforgettable experience in one of the most naturally beautiful places on the planet. We’ve given you a lot of information though, so let’s just remind ourselves of the most important things you should keep in mind.
Salar de Uyuni: Best Time to Visit
Salar de Uyuni is spectacular all year round, but if you want any chance of seeing the famous mirror phenomena, where heaven meets earth, then go between January and April when the salt flat will flood. Even then there is no guarantee you’ll see it, but you’re giving yourself the best chance.
Salar de Uyuni: How to Get There
It’s really important to spend a bit of time planning and researching, especially when it comes to choosing your tour guide. Shop around, don’t jump on the first one you see, and use common sense.
Remember to give yourself time to acclimatise to the altitude, and don’t forget essentials like a hat, suncream and sunglasses! The air is clear at this height, and the UV can be high. Plus the intense glare from the salt can cause some nasty burns so be prepared.
Other than that, the most important thing is to soak up every last bit of it! It’s a truly unique place and you should relish every moment. Happy travelling!
Been to the Salar de Uyuni? We’d love to hear about your own experiences.
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