I’ve never seen such incredible amazing scenery as I did in Southern Bolivia and I think many travelers of the area will agree with me. Plenty of people head to Buenos Aires and Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands but far fewer travelers make it to the Southwestern region of Bolivia or to the Uyuni Salt Flat. That is a true shame. Imagine being on another planet… it’s kind of like that. Located high up in the mountains, with lakes that come in hundreds of colors, flamingos, rock formations that just pop up out of the dessert landscape randomly, and a huge salt flat, this area of Bolivia definitely makes for a great trip.
Most travelers to this region visit as part of a tour. It is very hard to travel in the National Park without a guide, with no set roads and hundreds of miles of open, empty landscape. The tour of the area is often called an Uynui Tour because of the highlight of the tour – the Uyuni Salt Flat (Salar de Uyuni). There are actually a dozen or so other “sites” on the tour and many are just as incredible as the salt flat. The name also leads many travelers into believing that in order to take an Uynui Tour, you must go to the small desert town of Uyuni. Actually, you can visit the region from a number of different starting points, the town of Uyuni being only one of them.
If you are looking to explore the Uyuni Salt Flat and the rest of this region, check out these three starting points.
By far the most popular starting point, Uyuni lies just about in the middle of Bolivia and is a very small, dusty town. Most of the economy of Uyuni comes from tourism and you can definitely see that by just looking around. There are dozens of tour companies offering what turns out to basically be the same 3 day tour of the salt flat and the other sites further south. You usually leave Uynui and return to Uyuni on the 3 day tours, making basically a loop around the major sites.
The good part about booking your tour in Uyuni is that you will have plenty of choices and the competition drives the price down. That being said, the tours coming out of Uyuni are known for being some of the worst – with unsafe, dirty, and unhelpful guides and vehicles. Defintily ask around and make sure you are booking with a good company.
Tupiza is located further south, near the border with Argentina. Another small town, Tupiza has much less of a tourism economy though more tour companies are popping up every year. The tours from Tupiza are usually 4-5 days rather than 3. The reason for this is that the town is further south and rather than doing a loop, the tours hit a few extra sites on the first day and end on the 4th day in Uyuni. If you need to return to Tupiza, you can often ride back from Uyuni to Tupiza (on the main highway) with your guide after the tour ends in Uyuni for no extra price.
Because of the extra day of travel and the extra sites you will see, the Tupiza tours are almost always more expensive than those coming out of Uyuni. That being said, Tupiza tours are also known for being safer overall.
San Pedro de Atacama
Probably the least common way to tour the region is by coming from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. This is a great option for anyone already in Chile and you still get to see all the major sites as the Uyuni tours. The prices are a little higher, do to it being a bit less popular but still reasonable. Nearly all of the San Pedro de Atacama tour end in Uyuni and if you need to return to Chile, you might end up having to book the same 3-4 day tour, seeing the same sites, to go back to where you started.
Couple Travel Tips
- The tour companies go out of business, switch owners, hire new drivers, and replace vehicles so often that online reviews of the different companies can be outdated. A better way to feel out the best company is to just ask a few travelers returning from tours who they went with and what their experience was.
- You can book 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 person tours with the price going down depending on how many people you put in each car. Trust me, don’t book a 6 person tour; you’ll be crowded and it wont be worth it.
- Looking for the best price? Find another couple looking to book a tour and book all 4 people at once. If you play your cards right, you might be able to get a 4 person tour but the cheaper 5 person tour price.