Three Days on the Bolivian Salt Flats

You'll experience an otherworldly universe on the world's largest salt flat, teeming with lakes, alpine peaks, cacti and even pink flamingos

Credit: Natalie Walters

Bolivia’s natural wonder, the largest salt flats in the world, are best experienced on a three-day 4×4 adventure. Here’s a taste of what you’ll see and do

High alpine peaks, multi-coloured lagoons teeming with pink flamingoes, ancient cacti and miles of pure white salt await the adventurous traveller on Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni. Strap in and hold on as you board a rugged 4 x 4 and barrel out onto this diverse stretch of terrain on a three-day salt flat excursion.

This natural wonder in the Altiplano of southwestern Bolivia is the result of the drying of various prehistoric lakes that left a 10,500 sq km crust of pure salt in their wake – making for a unique and breathtaking landscape.

The best way to access the Salar de Uyuni is on a three-day, two-night jeep tour that takes travellers across the flats and through the surrounding mountain peaks of the Andes to see alpine lakes, geysers, hot springs and some unexpected wildlife.

Credit: Natalie Walters

Day 1

Uyuni Train Cemetery

Start your tour from the dusty town of Uyuni, where after breakfast you’ll board your jeep, and with all your food and gear strapped safely to the roof, you’ll head out onto the flats for the first day. Along for the ride are a maximum of six passengers and one driver.

The first stop on the itinerary is the train cemetery, an abandoned heap of old steam locomotives which, since the collapse of the mining industry, have been laid to rest on the outskirts of Uyuni. These relics of an industrial past stand in stark contrast to the natural beauty of the surrounding mountain range and make for some interesting photos.

From there you’ll visit the salt museum, the obligatory souvenir stop where you can pick up some crafts made entirely of salt to support the local community before finally reaching the flats themselves.

Salt Flats

You’ll spend the remainder of the day exploring the salt flats, from visiting the salt-mining area where you can observe how the salt is dried from its natural brine in pyramid-style piles, to the Isla del Pescado, a fossilized coral island covered in clusters of 900-year-old cacti, some of which reach up to 10 meters tall!

From the top you’ll get a breathtaking view of the salt flats and the distant mountains, ending finally on a deserted stretch of salty terrain where you can take your own classic depth perception photos (as above).

You’ll finish the day with a warm meal at one of the salt hotels. Accommodations are basic but beds are comfy and large duvets are provided so you are well rested for the next day of adventure.

Credit: Natalie Walters

Day 2

Mountain Exploration

Up by six and out of the door by seven, today you’ll leave the salt flats themselves and journey into the surrounding mountain range. Start the morning at Laguna Hedionda, an indigo lake encircled by frosty alpine peaks, where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the Andean Flamingo.

While often associated with tropical destinations, these bright birds favor these frigid watering holes and can been seen in huge flocks. This will be a similar sight throughout the day as you stop by Laguna Blanca, Laguna Celeste and Laguna Colorada, each colored its own brilliant shade of white, turquoise and red respectively. This pigmentation is due to the minerals and algae present in each lake.

Rock Formations

You’ll also get the chance to explore natural rock formations, such as the Arbol de Piedra or stone tree, which has been carved into shape by years of fierce winds. After a long day you’ll retire to another simple hotel and a warm blanket.

Credit: Natalie Walters

Day 3

Hot Springs Visit

It’s an early start again today and you’ll be on the road before breakfast to visit the Solar de Manana geyser basin. You’ll arrive at this group of bubbling sulfur pools before the sun has even risen. Basked in the blue light of the moon, the landscape takes on an otherworldly feel as you roam between these gassy craters.

At 4,800 meters, this is the highest and also coldest stop of the trip, but to make up for this chilly wake up you’ll next visit the Thermas de Polques hot springs. After you’ve warmed yourself in these natural waters breakfast is served.

One Last Alpine Lake

One last alpine lake, Laguna Verde, which picturesquely reflects the snow-capped Lincacabur Volcano that sits behind it, finishes off the three-day itinerary. Then it’s a long but scenic drive back to Uyuni and the real world.

There are many tour companies operating out of Uyuni but Red Planet Expeditions has a great reputation and comes highly recommended.

Credit: Natalie Walters

Tips for the Trip

  • Sunglasses and sunscreen are essential for the first day. The dazzling brightness of the salt flats can cause a nasty sunburn.
  • Bring flip flops and a bathing suit. You don’t want to miss out on the hot springs.
  • Layers, layers, layers. It may be warm when the sun is out but the altitude can make the evenings pretty chilly.
  • Bring extra cash. The Cactus Island and national park fees are not included in the price of the trip.
  • A camera is a must. With such stunning scenery you’ll hardly be able to put it down!