The best known salt flat on the planet, the Salar de Uyuni should be high on your list for a visit. A landscape dotted with billions hexagons of salt. After driving endless kilometers, all of the sudden an island rises up out of the salt. As it is probably Bolivia’s number one tourist attraction, there are a lot of companies that offer a tour to witness the beauty of this natural wonder. Unfortunately, a lot of these tours restrict themselves to some obvious tourist spots. There is so much more to do on the salt flats, especially, when you have your own car. In this guide, we give an overview on more alternative things to do on the Salar de Uyuni.
Some salty background
The Salar de Uyuni measures 10.582 square kilometer and is the largest salt flat in the world. The 90 kms long and 130 kms wide salt flat is located in the southwest corner of Bolivia. It is estimated that the salt flat contains 11 billions ton of salt. It also contains a lot of chemical metals like sodium, magnesium, potassium and lithium.
“Did you know? Approximately 70% of the world’s lithium reserves are found in the Salar de Uyuni.”
When the Salar is covered with water (during the rainy season), it becomes the largest mirror in the world. It was formed by prehistoric lakes and the surface is now covered with a few meters of salt crust. The place is extraordinary flat, with a difference in elevation of one meter for the total area. Because it is that large and that flat, the NASA uses the Salar for positioning their satellites.
Top (alternative) things to do on the Salar de Uyuni
Admire the beauty of this place
Admitted, this is not exactly an alternative thing to do. But the place is truly spectacular, so take a lot of pictures and absorb the breathtaking landscape fully. During sunrise and sunset, this place becomes even more spectacular. So take plenty of time on the Salar, so you have witnessed it during every moment of the day. And don’t forget to look up when it’s dark, because the sky is full of stars during the night.
Visit Isla del Pescado
Most tour companies take the tourists to Isla Incahuasi, where you have to pay an entrance fee to climb up the mountain. Don’t waste your time here and head further to Isla del Pescado. It is another rocky mountain in the middle of the salt flat, full of cacti that are more than 12 meters high. When you climb to the top (there is not exactly a road, but it’s hard to get lost here) you get a magnificent view over the salt flat and the occasional islands it’s dotted with. Although you might not expect it, but there is wildlife on the island. If you are lucky, you might be able to spot a Northern Viscacha, which looks a bit like a rabbit.
Take plenty of time to make perspective photos
It takes some practice, but it is really fun to do: playing with your camera and the perspective on the Salar. Be sure to take some materials like a dinosaur, cooking pot, … with you, so you can use these things to create some funny photos. And take a bottle of wine as well! In our photo album of Bolivia, you can find some more inspiration!
Some tips to make fun perspective photos:
- Keep in mind that the photographer needs to be as close as possible to the smaller objects. The problem here is that your camera will have a narrow field of focus, making the background (and the second object/ person) blurry.
- To overcome this problem, you have to use the manual function on your camera. By making the f-stop as high as possible, you tell your camera that it should focus on everything in its field.
- Sometimes, you’re images still will be blurry, so then you can play with the shutter speed. Try to compensate for the brightly light and adjust the exposure compensation to -3 or -4.
- If you don’t have a camera that you can put on manual, no worries. Then use objects that are larger. That way, the photographer don’t need to be extremely close to the object, so the problem of a blurry background mainly disappears. Another thing that might do the trick is when the object in the distance appears to not be touching the ground and is instead on-top of the object in the foreground (like a person standing on a bottle).
Take a hike to Volcan Tunupa
On the Northern side of the Salar de Uyuni, there stands a huge volcano, Volcan Tunupa with an elevation of 5.321 meter above sea level. So if you ever wanted to climb a + 5000 m high mountain, this is your chance. At the little village Coqueza you can drive up the mountain until approximately 4000 meters. Be careful, you need a 4 x 4 WD to take this road. There is a small parking, and from the parking, a trail heads to the top of the volcano. You can hike until 5200 meters without the need of a guide. The volcano is very colorful, but don’t forget to take a look behind you. The salt flats underneath you start looking like a huge ocean of salt.
However, some good advice! Take plenty of time. You start at an elevation of 4000 meter, so breathing is harder at this altitude. Keep in mind you need a good level of fitness to climb up the mountain and if you start suffering from a headache, return immediately.
Visit the mummy cave
Near the parking lot for the hike to Volcan Tunupa, there is an ancient cave with some mummies that are buried there. Entrance fee is 30 BOB per person. Together with a local guide, you visit the cave where four men, two women and two children died and transformed into mummies. The local guide explains you how the people died in a detailed manner. A mystique place and certainly something different!
Some practical advice and tips
When you choose a tour company for a visit to the Salar de Uyuni
- You can find a lot of tour companies in Uyuni, so start your search there. Go visit different tour companies and ask them what they are offering.
- Safety can be an issue here! In the last years, a lot of accidents happened on the Salar, and people even got killed. Often, drivers and guides are speeding or are under influence. Make sure you meet the guide upfront, and ask them to slow down when you are not feeling safe. You don’t want to die here, even though it is a beautiful place.
When you travel by car
- When driving on the Salar, try to follow the tracks. Sometimes, the underground is not always solid, so you want to choose a road that has already been driven. Maps.me shows the main tracks on the Salar.
- Don’t park too close to the islands. Sometimes there is mud, and you want to prevent your car from sinking in it.
- If you overnight on the Salar, choose a safe spot. Don’t park in the middle of the Salar. You would be surprised how many cars are driving there during the night, even without their headlights on.
- Take enough food and water with you. There are no shops on the Salar. And remember that it gets cold during the night, so make sure you take enough warm clothes/ a warm sleeping bag with you.
- When you go and return from the salt flats, visit a car wash in Uyuni. The undercarriage and engine will be sprayed with a mixture of diesel and oil, which will prevent salt from sticking.
Have you been to the Salar yet? Let us know in the comments below. If you have any thoughts, comments or remarks, leave a message in the comment box.
Thanks for reading
Matthias & Mieke