A three-day tour of the Bolivia Salt Flats is an unforgettable experience. Starting in Uyuni, Bolivia, the tour includes the surreal expanse of the Bolivia salt flats. Beyond the Salar de Uyuni are colorful lakes, steaming geysers on the Siloli Desert, and plenty of flamingos all viewed with the stellar backdrop of the Andes. The unique natural spectacles witnessed on a three-day tour through this remote region of Bolivia make a vivid and lasting impression.
Read More: New to the Bolivia Salt Flats? Consider our article to find out everything you need to know about How to Visit the Bolivia Salt Flats before you consider planning your three-day trip, then consider these nine fantastic experiences that are included on most three-day tours of the flats.
Know Before You Go
There are plenty of tour operators in Uyuni. It is important to know your non-negotiables before booking. How many people are you comfortable traveling with in the jeep? Are you set on having a double room each night?
In my experience, you have to be willing to go with the flow, but it is important to be clear about your needs when booking. Asking questions about the age of the vehicle you will be traveling in and hotel specifications may help you get a more customized tour. My jeep had seven passengers and one driver/mechanic who spoke no English.
As stated in this article, even if you book with one agency, you may end up traveling with another. It is worth doing some research and reading reviews before booking your tour. Full disclosure: I can’t personally recommend my tour agency as there were many things that went askew but this agency, Late Bolivia, gets strong reviews. So yes, it takes a bit of gumption to head out on this tour as there are some long hours in the 4x4 jeep bouncing along dirt tracks through deserts and the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, past landscapes that are stark and unique. Don’t expect luxury on this tour but the trip of a lifetime that you will be telling tales of for years to come.
Please note that this trip is not wheelchair accessible, and keep in mind that the rainy season on the Salar de Uyuni is from January through April.
1. Play With Perspective On The Bolivia Salt Flats
The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world at 4,086 square miles. Imagine an endless expanse of blinding whiteness, with hexagonal shapes designed on the salt. This vast whiteness leads to a total lack of perspective that offers photographic opportunities galore! Bring your imagination and a few props such as a plastic dinosaur or a Pringles can, and create some astonishing photos. There are few places in the world to have this much fun playing with perspective!
Pro Tip: In the rainy season, the reflections of the sky and clouds on the flooded salt flats make for another unique way to photograph the Salar de Uyuni.
2. Climb Isla Incahuasi, Fish Island
As the 4x4 jeep zooms along the expansive white flat floor of the ancient sea, an island comes into view. This island, Isla Incahuasi, is a rocky outcrop covered in giant cacti and rock formations made of petrified coral. Pay a small fee to climb the steep path to the top of the island. Make sure you are wearing running shoes or hiking boots as the path is narrow and rocky. The path leading to the summit of Isla Incahuasi is full of ideal nooks and crannies to take marvelous photographs across the Salar de Uyuni. Not surprisingly, the sweeping views in all directions from the peak are spectacular.
Pro Tip: During the rainy season (January through April), the Salt Flat is flooded and Isla Incahuasi is inaccessible. Organized tours often replace this stop on the tour with a night of stargazing.
3. Photograph The Stone Tree, Arbol De Piedra
The Siloli Desert at 14,927 feet is the highest and driest desert on the planet. It is known for its unique rock formations, and unbelievably and strangely rising from the shifting sand below is the Stone Tree, or Arbol de Piedra. The stone tree is impressive for both its size, at just over 16 feet tall, and its shape. Erosion and wind, over millions of years, have sculpted this lava rock formation into an unforgettable tree shape with its thin “trunk.” Stand beside one of the most iconic locations in Bolivia and snap away.
4. Observe Flamingos And Other Desert Wildlife
Seeing hundreds of flamingos in their natural habitat is a highlight on this three-day tour through remote Bolivia. Three species of flamingos can be spotted: the Chilean, Andean, and James. The flamingos are seen feeding at the lakes on the algae. Flamingos are born with white and grey feathers which turn pink from a natural pink dye in the food that they eat. No wonder they love the Red Lake, Laguna Colorada!
In the Siloli Desert, the viscacha is another species to be on the lookout for. Its appearance is rather adorable -- like a cross between a chinchilla and a rabbit. How on earth do these animals survive in a landscape so dry and stark? Viscachas survive on the water contained in their food and eat lichen, moss, and grass. They are well camouflaged, but if you happen to have a picnic on the Siloli Desert, I bet a viscacha will be curiously peering at you from behind a rock!
5. Stand In Awe By Laguna Colorada, The Red Lake
The most stunning sight on this tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats, besides the salt flats themselves, is the Laguna Colorada. It’s absolutely jaw-dropping. The expanse of colored water reflecting the sky and the Andes is a photographer’s dream. The Laguna Colorada attracts the three types of flamingos mentioned above, which love to feed on its algae. The water, flamingos, and mountains make for a hypnotic sight that is hard to pull yourself away from, despite the howling winds.
The water in the Laguna Colorada changes color between deep blue and dark red. Legend has it that the water is the blood of the Gods, even though scientifically the color is known to be caused by sediments and algae. It is hard not to pause and ponder this legend standing before blood-red water in this isolated location in southwestern Bolivia.
Pro Tip: Protect your camera and cover your legs and arms, as the blasting winds will cover you in a layer of sand.
6. Stay Overnight In A Salt Hotel
Imagine staying in a hotel made of salt blocks where the furniture, walls, and floors are all created from the local environment. The most luxurious of the Salt Hotels, Palacio de Sal, is on the edge of the Bolivia Salt Flats, not too far from Uyuni.
On the three-day Salar de Uyuni tour, the accommodation each of the two nights is in a salt hotel. The floors are made of loose salt, which is reminiscent of walking through sand, and the walls are clearly made of solid blocks of salt. It is quite the experience and one not to be missed in this part of the world.
When booking your tour, inquire about the quality or set up of the salt hotels where you will be staying. The more remote the town, the less luxurious the salt hotel. The sleeping arrangements, ranging from double rooms to dorm rooms shared with other jeep0loads of travelers, make for part of the adventure. Each stay in a salt hotel contributes to the livelihood of the locals in these remote communities.
Pro Tip: Upon arrival each evening, there is a welcome snack, tea, and coffee. Dinners at the hotel are included in the price of the tour.
7. Marvel At Shooting Geysers At Sol De Manana
Named after the morning sun, these geysers are best viewed as the sun rises. Be prepared to rise very early in the morning to arrive just in time to marvel at this geyser and geothermal area at 16,145 feet. The spectacle and sound of hissing steam shooting up from the ground to 50 feet high are remarkable. Bubbling mud pots and the smell of sulfur complete this otherworldly experience.
Pro Tip: There are no boardwalks at Sol de Manana, thus it is up to the visitor to carefully navigate walking past the mud pools and fumaroles.
8. Be Amazed By Laguna Verde, The Green Lake
Laguna Verde, a striking emerald green lake, is in the extreme southwest corner of Bolivia close to Chile and is the last stop before the jeep drops travelers off at the Chilean border and heads back to Uyuni.
This glistening emerald lake is yet another picturesque landscape on the trip made even more remarkable by the massive Volcano Licancabur looming behind. The color of the water is once again created by a concoction of minerals it contains. One of those elements is in fact arsenic which is the reason you won’t find any flamingos at Laguna Verde.
Marvel at Volcano Licancabur, which soars skyward and reaches a peak of 19,409 feet. NASA experiments have been carried out on its peaks, as scientists believe that the atmosphere and temperatures here are similar to those on Mars.
9. Get Surreal In The Salvador Dali Desert
It’s the colors. Gorgeous ridges along the mountains with shades of gold, purple, and rust. The Salvador Dali Desert is found within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve and is just like a Dalí painting. Surreal. Stand in the barren wind-swept desert and marvel at the shades of color.
- Water: Bring water and a water bottle. Water is available at mealtime, but it is a good idea to bring a 5-liter bottle from Uyuni so that you can replenish your water bottle as needed.
- Language: Make sure that your guide speaks some English.
- Return Trip: Some travelers make the long, bouncy journey directly back to Uyuni while others cross into Chile. Entering Chile is an option that is prearranged when booking the tour.
- Border Crossing And Leaving Bolivia: Make sure you have the piece of paper from Immigration that you received on entering Bolivia and a small amount of Bolivian money left to exit the country. At this remote border crossing, all the travelers exiting Bolivia were asked to pay 15 BOB ($2 USD).
- Entering Chile: The Chilean driver will meet you, guide you through the border crossing, and drive you to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.