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(Last Updated On: July 9, 2020)

Bolivia seems to be one of those countries that doesn’t top many people’s travel bucket lists. Maybe it’s the annoying and documentation intense visa process for US citizens. Or maybe it’s that people just don’t know enough about the country. Which was the camp I belonged to, until I found out about the Uyuni salt flats tour with Tupiza Tours.

UPDATE
As of January 2020, the visa process for US citizens is no longer annoying and document intense! We can now get a visa on arrival (for free) by only showing passport, hotel accommodation and proof of onward travel.

And boy am I glad that I did! Because without discovering that tour, I may not have found a reason to visit Bolivia. We spent almost three weeks in Bolivia, and I can’t wait to get back for more.

Since it’s a country that’s less visited, it feels more pure and not touristy at all. You can really dig in and get a feel for the country’s culture and yet-to-be spoiled attractions. Plus it’s incredibly affordable (my fave).

If that’s enough to have you at least considering Bolivia for an upcoming trip, please read on! Hopefully by the end of it you will be ready to pull the trigger on your own Uyuni salt flats tour.


Uyuni Salt Flats Tour with Tupiza Tours

Best time to visit Bolivia salt flats

A flock of pink flamingos in the water with red mountains behind them
Swarms of pink flamingos at Laguna Colorada
Photo by Kara Patterson

Realistically there isn’t a BAD time to do your Uyuni salt flats tour. It all depends on what your interests are.

Some things to keep in mind when figuring out your timing:
– January, February and March is peak summer time in Bolivia (i.e., HOT)
– June, July and August is winter time (i.e., COLD, especially at night)
– Dry season runs from April to November (i.e., dry, hexagonal salt flats)
– Wet season runs from December to March, (i.e., wet, mirror-like salt flats)

We went in June, so the temperatures were on the colder end. At night, temps could drop to zero degrees! Early morning was cold as well, so we layered up before heading out each morning. Then by afternoon it warmed up into the 60s/70s and we were down to the lightest layers we had on.

And since it was dry season, we didn’t have any issues getting to any of the sites. Which can be an issue in wet season due to flooded roads or precarious conditions.

So considering all that, really the best time to visit the Bolivia salt flats is whenever you can make the trip there. But no matter when you visit, it’s sure to be a highlight of your Bolivian trip!

PRO TIP
If you wind up visiting in winter, make sure and secure a sleeping bag! I would have froze to death at night without it. You can rent one through Tupiza Tours inexpensively, so you don’t have to pack your own or buy one in Bolivia.

Picking the best company for your Uyuni Salt Flats tour

Uyuni salt flats tour Jeep on a dirt road heading towards the mountains
Our Jeep heading into the amazing landscapes
Photo by Kara Patterson

When it comes to enjoying an Uyuni 3 day tour, who you choose as your tour operator has a lot to do with it! A bad company can literally make or break your experience.

Determining the best company for you will depend on a variety of factors:
– How long of a tour do you want, or have time for?
– Do you want to start from Uyuni, or somewhere else?
– Would you like a private, or group tour?
– How much are you willing to spend?
– Do you need an English speaking guide, or can you get by with Spanish? etc.

Factors to Consider

Red mountains behind a lake with a frozen white edge
We saw so many amazing lagunas, I can’t even remember the name of this one
Photo by Kara Patterson

When considering the questions above, I did A LOT of research first. Like, a lot a lot. I scoured the internet, reading reviews and considering all options. I contacted companies directly for quotes. You name it, I did.

From the time I made my first contact to the time I finally booked my Uyuni salt flats tour was probably seven months later. No joke. Granted some of that was due to pinning down a date that would work with my other travels. But it still took some time to get worked out.

However, I’m so glad that I took the time and did all that work. Because after having the most amazing experience possible, I can’t imagine how I would feel if it didn’t turn out that way.

For me, I wanted to ensure the company I chose was 1) safe 2) reasonably priced and 3) had lots of good reviews. Additionally, I decided starting outside of Uyuni was the best option.

Why, you might ask?

Well when tours start from Uyuni, you begin at the salt flats, work your way out, and then backtrack back to Uyuni. And that just doesn’t make sense to me. I didn’t want to spend any of my precious time backtracking.

And, I didn’t want to start my tour with the grande finale. Would you watch the Super Bowl first, and then be as excited to see the regular season games afterwards? My guess is no.

Uyuni 3 day tour with Tupiza Tours

A curious fox in the foreground on a dirt path with snowy red mountains in the background
The tour comes with plenty of curious animals – like our little fox friend
Photo by Kara Patterson

Considering all of the above is what ultimately led us to picking Tupiza Tours for our Uyuni salt flats tour. They had everything we needed and wanted. Great reviews, a reasonable price, safety standards, and a starting point from Tupiza vs. Uyuni.

We worked with the office to finalize our details, and pick our tour date. A $50 deposit is required (via PayPal) to hold the date, with the remaining balance being due the day of departure.


Getting to Tupiza for your Bolivia Salt Flats tour

Desert sand in front of snowy red mountains with a bright daytime sky and the moon
Desert, mountains, snow, and the moon (during the day)?? Only in Bolivia!
Photo by Kara Patterson

This will largely depend on your overall trip itinerary. Including what other plans you have in Bolivia, or beyond in other countries.

We saved and skimped for a year-long, world-wide trip. So, that meant we were spending almost three weeks total in Bolivia, including the Uyuni salt flats tour. And that meant La Paz was our main jumping off point.

Most will find the same is true for their plans. La Paz is the main international airport hub for Bolivia. You can then catch a flight from La Paz to Uyuni, but it can be quite expensive. Plus you would still have to figure out an additional transfer from Uyuni to Tupiza anyway.

Therefore, the easiest way is to take a bus (approx. four hours) from La Paz to Oruro. And then catch the train (approx. 12 hours) from Oruro to Tupiza.

It’s a long trip, I won’t lie to you. We broke our trip into two days (staying one night in Oruro) to make it more manageable. However, we met a girl on the train who did it all the same day, so that’s an option as well.

And ultimately we found the train ride quite enjoyable! There was a meal/bar car on the train where we could read, work, and socialize. And we got to see a lot of the Bolivian countryside (until it got dark, anyway).

PRO TIP
Be sure to leave room for unexpected delays! Our train getting into Tupiza was over three hours late. We also wound up having to bump our tour with Tupiza Tours to one day later than originally planned. Luckily we had some flexibility in our schedule to accommodate.

What to Expect on your Uyuni Salt Flats tour with Tupiza Tours

Uyuni salt flats tour Jeep facing a field of sagebrush
Stopping to enjoy the view and a walk
Photo by Kara Patterson

When you take an Uyuni salt flats tour with Tupiza Tours, you can expect to sit back and let your tour team handle everything. Your tour team consists of a dedicated driver/guide, and a concinera (cook).

This dynamic duo will take care of your every need during the tour. The driver/guide will get you from point A to point B each day, while providing additional details and information about the locations you visit. He will also maintain the vehicle, make accommodation arrangements, handle packing up the Jeep, and ensuring a safe journey along the way.

Your cocinera will ensure you are never left hungry from all that walking! She will handle all meals and food preparation, set-up, clean-up, and everything else required to keep you full and happy.

PRO TIP
True with a lot of Bolivia, make sure you bring plenty of cash! Most anything you need to buy along the way on your tour will require cash. And if you have an amazing tour experience (like we did), you’ll want to tip your tour staff accordingly.

Tour Logistics

A smiling girl sitting at a wooden table with two cans of beer and a roll of toilet paper on top
Pretty happy for someone who hasn’t showered in three days
Photo by Joseph Garfi

Unless you book a private tour (quite expensive), you will have at least two others joining your adventure. We were lucky to be paired with the best couple ever who totally enhanced our overall trip!

Each day will vary slightly, but we typically were up and at ’em between 6:00 and 7:00 am. Breakfast would be waiting for us, and we would eat while our driver loaded up the Jeep.

After taking off, it’s a jam packed day full of sights. We probably saw anywhere from eight to 10 different locations each day.

Everything from lagunas, deserts, geysers, ancient ruins, lakes, mountains, volcanoes, and more. Each providing plenty of time to walk or hike to stretch our legs. Lunch was fit in where it made sense and picnic-style along the way.

Then, typically around 5:00 or 6:00 pm, we would arrive to our overnight accommodation to turn in and relax for the evening.

PRO TIP
Bring some sort of non-electronic entertainment (cards, games) for your evening free time! We did not even think of this, but luckily our tour mates had. Thanks to them, we played a super fun domino version of rummy each night before bed.

Accommodations

Uyuni salt flats tour Jeep sits in front of a modest brick and stone building
One of our local home stays in a small pueblo
Photo by Kara Patterson

This is the part of the tour that will likely separate out the people who are simply not cut out for this. Because this tour is FAR from luxury.

You’re out in the middle of nowhere in Southern Bolivia, so the accommodations certainly reflect that. We stayed in very small pueblos in local “hostels” that were set up specifically for this purpose.

At one of them, this meant sleeping on mattresses placed on top of cement bases (to elevate the mattress off the ground). Where they had no hot water, and only turned the generator on for electricity a few hours at night.

They also had no heat. Which made for some very cold nights considering we did our tour in winter, where it can get down to zero degrees at night!

But you know what, I loved it that way! It felt more real. Plus, without the light pollution from electricity and street lights, we were able to see the stars like I’ve never seen them before in my life. No exaggeration, it was insane. Like they were painted in the sky.

A great room in a hotel where the walls, floor, and tables are all made of salt
The “great room” at our amazing salt hotel
Photo by Kara Patterson

The one exception to the rough and tumble accommodations would be our last night, when we stayed at a salt hotel. When told we would be staying at a salt hotel, I assumed maybe a few elements were made of salt. But nothing too crazy.

However, I was very wrong.

The ENTIRE hotel is made of salt. Bricks that lined the walls were completely made out of salt. Most of the tables, seats, headboards, nightstands, etc. were all made of salt. Even the floor you walked upon was course salt.

And they had a hot shower! So beyond being an amazingly unique hotel, being able to shower after three days made it feel like pure luxury.

PRO TIP
Be sure and pack your own toilet paper! Many bathrooms throughout Bolivia do not provide this consistently, including some of our accommodations. And along your tour you will almost certainly find yourself needing to pop-a-squat in nature.

Food and Drinks

I will admit, this is one aspect of the tour I really wasn’t sure of. Not many of the reviews I had read addressed the food situation, which is usually a bad sign.

I was especially worried for my boyfriend, as he’s a big eater and needs frequent snacks and hearty meals to stay full (and happy).

But boy, was I pleasantly surprised! As mentioned above, part of the tour staff is a cocinera (cook) who handles all the meal prep for the group. And our little Fabi was absolutely amazing at it.

A typical day included:
– A small breakfast of a carb (bread, pancakes), variety of fruit (apple, banana, orange), and drinks (coffee, tea, juice)
– A mid-morning snack like a yogurt, crackers, or cookies
– A hearty lunch of chicken (cutlets, or pulled), a carb (potatoes, rice), a veggie salad, and drinks (water, soda)
– Afternoon coffee/tea with crackers, and cookies
– A multi-course dinner including an amazing soup (broth based), a main course (spaghetti or stew), veggies, fruit for dessert, and drinks (water, soda)

I mean, come on! Was it the healthiest? Definitely not. But were we full and fueled for our adventures? Absolutely. So much so, I can overlook trying to pass off fruit as a proper dessert.

PRO TIP
Bring a refillable water bottle and refill with the water provided at mealtimes. Then ensure you stay hydrated while on the go in the Jeep and nighttime.

What You’ll See on Your Uyuni 3 day Tour

A mother llama and her baby eating grass with large boulders in the background
Animals (especially llamas) were a daily sighting during our tour
Photo by Kara Patterson

The varying amount of landscapes and geographies we covered in our 3 day Uyuni tour was crazy! Everything from frozen lakes and snow capped mountain tops, too hot and dusty deserts, and everything in between.

We made friends with llamas and a curious fox. And we soaked our sore muscles in the most amazing natural hot springs I’ve ever seen.

It was really incredible. In fact, we saw so many things each day that’s it’s even hard now to remember them all. But below are some of the key highlights you can look forward to exploring.

PRO TIP
Make sure you charge up your electronics whenever possible, and bring additional batteries and/or external chargers as well. You would hate to miss out on any of the amazing photo ops because you didn’t prepare enough juice.

Salvador Dali Desert

Girl in left foreground looking out at the desert with a large red mountain and smaller rocks
Salvador Dali desert in Southern Bolivia
Photo by Joseph Garfi

It’s unknown if the landscapes of Bolivia actually inspired Dali’s work. But there are many who see an uncanny resemblance between the two.

I’m not much into art, so I will take their word for it.

But what I do know, is it was beautiful nonetheless!

Laguna Colorada

A red lake with a mirror-like reflection of the mountain behind it
Just look at that amazing reflection!
Photo by Joseph Garfi

Another amazing stop on this tour is a visit to Laguna Colorada, or Red Lagoon. This is a massive (nearly 15,000 acres big) lake, yet it never gets deeper than three feet.

And pointing out the obvious, you’ll see this lake is not the normal blue to blue-green most are used to seeing. Laguna Colorada has a large variety of algae that give it the blood red hue which inspired its name.

We were surprised to also learn that because of the high plankton concentration in this lake, you can find 50% of the world’s flamingo species inhabiting the waters here.

Bolivia hot springs

A large hot springs pool in the foreground with lakes and mountains in the background
Can you imagine a better spot for a hot spring dip? I sure can’t.
Photo by Kara Patterson

After a couple long days, stopping at this hot springs was a god send. We pulled off and were given as much time as we wanted, while our cocinera prepared lunch. And we took full advantage!

We were lucky that the springs weren’t too terribly crowded. So we thoroughly enjoyed our time taking in the relaxing waters with the amazing view of mountains and lakes behind us.

PRO TIP
Be careful stepping into the hot springs! The rocks are slippery and I slipped and cut my heel getting in. Which made walking around the next few days suuuuuuuuper fun.

Train Graveyard

Old rusty train cars with a painting of a man with mustache and beard in the foreground
Train graveyard outside of Uyuni, Bolivia
Photo by Kara Patterson

I have to be honest. This was a stop that I was excited for, but unfortunately left unimpressed.

I had read about the train graveyard, and seen prior pictures, which is what had gotten me excited. People had reported that the graveyard included swings strung up in between the cars. And a seesaw made out of the old train materials. So insta-worthy.

But unfortunately, that is no more. It would appear, at some point before I arrived, those elements have been removed. So now it’s just…a train graveyard.

Which was still fine to visit, and snap some cool pictures of. But after 10 minutes, there was nothing more to do or see there.

Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flats)

Uyuni salt flats tour Jeep sits on a sprawling salt flat with hexagon shapes dried into it
Salt stretching for miles and miles and miles
Photo by Kara Patterson

This is it. The creme de la creme. The amazing Uyuni salt flats, also known as the Salar de Uyuni, and the world’s largest largest salt flat.

Of the many attractions here, you can (and should) plan to arrive early AF to watch the sunrise over Isla Incahuasi. Which is another benefit of beginning your tour somewhere other than Uyuni. Many of the tours beginning in Uyuni start their first day around 10 am, long after the sun has risen.

You’ll also have the opportunity to visit the first ever salt hotel, as well as the Colchani artisan market where you can buy your souvenirs.

Playing with perspective - a seemingly giant man moves to cook two tiny people in a soup pot
Fabi’s soup pot became our prop in our favorite perspective photo of the day!
Photo by Kara Patterson

However, the most fun draw for this part of the trip is spending some time setting up and taking funny perspective photos.

These work exceptionally well here because of the vast white space that almost blends in with the horizon. Which allows you to play with positioning and props to take some truly one-of-a-kind photos.


What to do After Your Bolivia Salt Flats Tour

The sun rising over the white salt flats with cactus covered rocks in the foreground
Isla Incahuasi during sunrise
Photo by Joseph Garfi

The Uyuni salt flats tour naturally ends and drops you off in Uyuni, Bolivia around midday.

We had initially planned to stay one night in Uyuni at the end of our tour to relax before hitting the road again. But due to unforeseen circumstances we had to adjust our plans and head right out.

And honestly, I’m glad it worked out that way. We had spoken to other travelers who indicated Uyuni wasn’t worth spending too much time in. And in the 8ish hours we had to kill before our night bus, we weren’t that impressed either.

Bus from Uyuni to La Paz

People sitting on a bus in large leather seats
Overnight bus with Todo Tourismo
Photo by Kara Patterson

We wound up taking an overnight bus from Uyuni to La Paz. When you’re in Uyuni, you will be completely overrun by various companies running the same route. And they try HARD to get you to choose their company over the next.

But just ignore all those street bus hustlers and go with Todo Turismo. It was by far the best bus experience we had in South America. And that’s saying something, as we’ve had great luck taking buses to Huacachina, Peru and into Bolivia from Peru.

We got the slightly more expensive VIP tickets, which were still quite reasonable (for our budget) at $47 per person. The seats were large, leather and quite comfortable – very important after a long tour when you need to sleep in a bus seat!

Additionally, the on board services were fantastic. A clean bathroom, food and wine included, and entertainment on board.

And probably most importantly, the bus took off and arrived on time!

PRO TIP
When arriving in La Paz, be wary of the hoards of taxis at the bus station. They WAY overcharged us for the 1.5 mile ride to our hostel. If you can, use an app like Uber, which is incredibly inexpensive in Bolivia. Or if you have no choice, haggle a driver way down before getting into the cab.

Final Thoughts

Steam rises from volcanic geysers against a blue sky
Volcanic geysers
Photo by Kara Patterson

When I say this was the best tour I have EVER taken, I’m really not exaggerating. It was that amazing.

Bolivia is a place that many (including myself) may have low expectations for. Then you go, and its raw beauty smacks you right in the face.

The tour took us so many places I would have simply never thought to go to otherwise. We met amazing people along the way, both local and otherwise. Plus we got to experience real Bolivian hospitality.

So, add Bolivia to your travel bucket list. And be sure to make room in your itinerary for this tour. You 100% won’t regret it!


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10 Comments

  1. Merrie Rodriguez September 17, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    The salt flats in Bolivia look amazing! I’m glad to hear this exceeded your expectations!! Maybe one day I’ll be able to go there!

    1. Kara September 19, 2019 at 2:01 am

      It far exceeded them, it was amazing!

  2. Candy September 18, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    Bolivia has been on my radar for a while now! Looks like I need to bump it to the must-visit list!

    1. Kara September 19, 2019 at 2:00 am

      Absolutely!

  3. Natasha L September 18, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    This looks like such a fun tour – I have to say I’m blown away by the diversity of the tour. I just assumed the salt flats were the only thing to see but the Salvador Dali Desert and Laguna Colorada are also beautiful. Thanks for the tips regarding carrying extra cash and budgeting time for delayed buses. Super helpful when planning!

    1. Kara September 19, 2019 at 1:59 am

      Of course, you’re welcome. It was THE best!

  4. Lerato September 18, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    What an AWESOME post!! Reading this just reaffirmed my decision to visit Bolivia in 2020!

    1. Kara September 19, 2019 at 2:00 am

      Yessss, do it! 🙂

  5. Corritta September 18, 2019 at 10:33 pm

    Bolivia was on our list to travel but I didn’t realize the visa was so expensive. I may reconsider after looking more into it but it looks amazing. I am so glad I read your post so informative.

    1. Kara September 19, 2019 at 1:59 am

      It is expensive, but SO worth it. Plus the visa is good for 90 days over 10 years, so you can fit multiple trips in for that price.