The Salar de Uyuni – a four day tour in and around the world’s largest salt desert

A vast sea of hardened salt, blood red lakes, lava-spewing geysers, islands of cacti, freezing windy deserts, volcanoes, flamingos, alpaca, thermal waters, and fields of red and yellow Quinoa.

My 4-day tour leading to and finishing on the Salar de Uyuni remains the most geographically diverse experience I’ve had in my 15 months of travel, making it a perfect conclusion to the seven weeks I spent in Bolivia.

This blog post is my longest yet (29 pages double-spaced in MSWord) so you may need to break up the reading if you intend to read the whole thing.  If you just want to read about the the Salar de Uyuni itself you can scroll to the bottom of this page and click yourself to the last page but trust me, there is lots of equally good stuff before it.

Lagauna Colorada, one of the many bizarre stops on the way to the Salt Flats.  The flamingo feed on the lake’s micro algae living in the water, which gives the lake its red color.

Lagauna Colorada, one of the many bizarre stops on the way to the Salt Flats. The flamingo feed on the lake’s red micro algae living in the water, which gives the lake its color.

The Salar de Uyuni itself (the “Salar”, ie, the salt flats) is undeniably Bolivia’s most incredible geographical phenomenon.

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And that’s saying a lot, considering some of the incredible peaks (Illimani), lakes (Titicaca), and rainforest jungles (Amazon near Rurrenabaque) in Bolivia.

An island of cacti in the middle of the Salar

An island of cacti in the middle of the Salar

Bolivia has turned the Salar into an industry in and of itself.

Geysers bubbling lava at 90 degrees Celsius

Geysers bubbling lava at 90 degrees Celsius

Surprisingly they have done it without ruining the ecological areas people come to see, which is a sustainable plus.

The Polques Thermals with the Dali Desert in the background

The Polques Thermals with the Dalí Desert in the background

Tours can last between one and four days and launch from Tupiza or the small town of Uyuni.

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Huge caravans of jeeps load up with backpackers and cart them over the wilderness leading to the Salar.

Jeep caravan

John (California), Matan (Israel) and I were in Tupiza so we elected to do a four day tour with Valle Hermoso Tours, the same company we had done the Tupiza horse ride with.

The caravan driving through a thin later of water on the Salar

Our jeep caravan driving through a thin later of water on the Salar

We were joined by two other Israeli guys, Itamar Marle and Shaked Peretz, to round out our five-passenger jeep (plus the Bolivian driver) for our four day tour.

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Each day we would spend 6-8 hours in a cramped Jeep and see 7-9 fantastic geographical sites, while covering lots of sand, rivers, and salt in the process.

plains

The salt flats are typically visited on the last day, the proverbial cherry on top of an exceptional tour.

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The terrain leading to the Salar is the most diverse I’ve seen anywhere in the world.  Before we even arrived to the salt flats we had been through plains, mountains, lagoons, volcanos, marshes, geysers, and deserts.

Tree Stone

La Piedra de Arbol

Below, I will provide a chronological log of our many and varied stops, starting with Day 1….

Day 1 – Valle Sillar, Nazarenito, Awanapampa, Cerrillos, San Pablo de Lipez

At an elevation of 3,650 meters, our first stop of the first day was a valley called El Sillar, just 13 kilometers north of Tupiza.

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In El Sillar, natural erosion over the course of millions of years has led to the formation of colorful rock formations that resembled the “Moon Valley” I had seen near La Paz.

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Locals in the area harvest cacti to make handicrafts and furniture, such as ashtrays, photo frames, and wall paper.

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Shaked took an awesome panoramic shot with his iPhone.

The Sillar

In fact, credit for the all the panoramic shots in this blog post must go to him.  Those iPhones have an app that can make some pretty cool panoramic pictures.

6 thoughts on “The Salar de Uyuni – a four day tour in and around the world’s largest salt desert

  1. Matt Tiger Brown,

    As you may know I slept it Juan Bottias bed bud infested be for about 2 months. I feel your pain. This is such an incredible post. What a great tour, I hope to make it to Bolivia some day.

    Hope you are doing well!

    • Haha, bed bugs are the WORST! I remember they were back at that old place and juan got the bugs…..that dirty colombian :)…glad you enjoyed the post – i’m doing well, hanging out in ubud, bali, indonesia right now! i would love to see you next time I’m in Chicago – I usually just see your man but it would be good for all of us to get together, if possible. another one of your famous dinners would be great! 🙂

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