Bolivia, South America, Travel

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia

March 12, 2015

Salar de Uyuni. It’s one of those places that is always making an appearance on the “Most Beautiful Places To See Before You Die” lists. So of course, when booking our trip across the world to South America, there was no way that we would pass up the opportunity to see this incredible natural place. Like many tour companies in the area, our G Adventures tour included a 3 day + 2 night trip across the Salt Flats and surrounding deserts. Here’s how we spent 3 days crossing the Salar de Uyuni!

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of BoliviaDay 1: Crossing the Salt Flats

We spent the morning running around the dusty little town of Uyuni, gathering our supplies before setting off on our tour through the most famous attraction in Bolivia. Lined up along the road outside our hotel were three land cruisers and drivers – our transport for the next few days. We teamed up with our driver Pancho and piled into our car, ready and curious about what the next few days would bring.

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia

→ Train Cemetery

Our first stop was a mere 3 kilometres outside of Uyuni at the train cemetery. In front of us lie a collection of old and graffitied train carriages surrounded by nothing but barren land. These trains were once used by a large mining company to transport minerals, however when the industry collapsed, the train carriages were left abandoned in the same places that they are found today. We unleashed the inner child during our time there – climbing along the different carriages and taking many amusing photographs.

→ Colchani Community

Next we travelled to a small town at the edge of the salt flats, Colchani. This one-street town, with a population of around 800, has the only salt production facilities for Salar de Uyuni. We were given a demonstration by one of the locals about the salt production process, which happens to be produced and packaged all by hand. About 5000kg of salt per day is produced by 8 people, which they sell at only $1 Boliviano per 1/4kg.

→ Salar de Uyuni Salt Flat

We continued onto the main destination of the tour, Salar de Uyuni. Covering over 10,582 square kilometres, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. Located in Southwest Bolivia, the salt flats are the result of a large dried out prehistoric lake which left behind an endless amount of salt.

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia

We had finally made it to Salar de Uyuni. I had pictured never-ending beauty and glimmers of wet salt reflecting the sky above. I was expecting to take the token perspective shot and the spectacular photo of the clouds mirrored across the salt floor. There I was, standing there in an endless space of white land stretching across the Earths floor for miles and miles. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed at first. I had looked forward to seeing mesmerising reflective surfaces, but as a result of my own error and lack of research – there were no reflections in sight. It turns out that you’re more likely to get those dreamy reflective surfaces during the months of March and April.

However, there’s no denying that Salar de Uyuni is a spectacular place, and I did very much enjoy my time there. It just wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it was still incredibly awe-inspiring! We spent our time there taking hilarious perspective shots and although we didn’t quite master them –  we gave it a good shot. The whole place was quite impressive. I had never seen such unusual surroundings before – there was salt as far as the eye could see!

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia
→ Tambo Coquesa

As the sun began to set over the salt flats, we made our way back to our cars and buckled up for the final journey of the day. We arrived at Tambo Coquesa; an eco-lodge at the foot of Tunupa volcano that was entirely built out of salt bricks and rocks. After settling in and eating dinner, we spent the night playing card games with our tour group before crashing for the night.

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia

Day 2: Exploring Nature

→ Incahuasi Island

After a freezing night in the Bolivian winter weather, we were off by 7:30am the next morning. We were on our way to Incahuasi Island; a unique island in the middle of the enormous salt flats. The island is known for the giant cacti and coral that cover the island from head to toe. In fact, some of the cacti were so tall that they had to be over a hundred years old – crazy right?! We spent some time hiking along the various routes across the small island before arriving at the top lookout point, which gave 360 views across the salt flats and the Andes in the distance. We stopped via San Juan for lunch.

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia

→ Ollagüe Volcano

We continued on driving through the desert areas of Bolivia. With the music pumping in our car, we covered heaps of ground and stopped for the occasional photo opp. One of these stops was at the viewpoint of Ollagüe – a volcano that lies within the Andes on the border of Bolivia and Chile.

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia

→ Stinky (Hedionda) Lagoon

Our final stop of the day was at the Hedionda Lagoon, otherwise known as the ‘stinky lagoon’. This particular lagoon is famous for the pink flamingos that flock the shores. When we pulled up to the edge of the lagoon, we could see why it was so well-known for this reason. There were plenty of flamingos surrounding the edges of the lake and we were able to sneak up quite close to them without them noticing in order to capture the moment. From here, our hotel for the night was only a short drive away.

Day 3: Lagoons, Deserts & Geysers

→ Árbol de Piedra

We began the morning crossing the Siloli desert before entering the Eduardo Abaroa National Reserve. It was here that we stopped at the famous rock formation, the Stone Tree. It’s unreal to think that just sand and wind can sculpt this shape out of the Earth. The morning wind was absolutely freezing and despite being ridiculously rugged up in our alpaca jumpers and socks, we could only bare to be outside for about 15 minutes before we jumped back into the warmth of our four-wheel drive.

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia

→ Laguna Colorada

Next up was the Red Lagoon – one of my personal favourite spots from the tour. The incredible deep red colour of the lagoon is caused from pigments of algae in the water. I had never seen anything like this before, so this was such an astonishing sight for me.

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia

→ Geysers & Laguna Chalviri

We continued on, stopping at the geysers and Laguna Chalviri for lunch – which to our surprise had it’s own hot springs built into the edge of the lagoon. This was our final meal together with our drivers and guides, and we used this time to thank and tip them for their great work. From here we made our way through the Salvador Dalí Desert to our next and final location.

→ Laguna Verde

Along the border of Chile and the base on a volcano lies the impressive Laguna Verde. As with Laguna Colorada, this lagoon gave another splash of colour within the barren desert surroundings. The minerals of the water give this lagoon a brilliant, turquoise green appearance. This was our final stop along the tour before making our way across the Chilean border to San Pedro de Atacama.

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia

I will definitely remember those three days crossing the salt flats and surrounding deserts. It’s crazy to think that the world can be full of so many incredible yet completely different natural formations.

Have you visited Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia? Is it on your bucket list? 

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  • Reply Sarah March 12, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    We Loved it too! We took a quite different route. Check it out!

    • Reply Kelly Ross March 17, 2015 at 2:03 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it too! Love your photos Sarah! 🙂

  • Reply V March 13, 2015 at 12:50 am

    I had no idea there was so much to do and see at the salt flats! I adore all of those fun scale photos. What a fun idea!

    Feeling really inspired to visit South America now… Loving your blog Kelly. :o)


    • Reply Kelly Ross March 17, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      Yes, I was amazed by all of the things to do too! Glad to know you’re enjoying reading my blog! Thank you!! 🙂

  • Reply Polly March 13, 2015 at 5:00 am

    Wow, even without the ‘classic’ shot, you still got a great view and some really excellent photos!

    • Reply Kelly Ross March 17, 2015 at 2:14 pm

      Thanks Polly! I think it was hard not to get a good photo in such an incredible place! 🙂

  • Reply Ashlea Wheeler March 13, 2015 at 10:22 am

    So excited to do this when I head to Bolivia in June! Thanks for sharing your photos Kelly 😀

    • Reply Kelly Ross March 17, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      You’re going to have an awesome time Ashlea! 😀

  • Reply Leesa & Kate March 13, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    These shots are too cool!!!

    xx Leesa & Kate

    Travel inspiration?

    • Reply Kelly Ross March 17, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      Thank you Leesa and Kate! 🙂

  • Reply Leah March 14, 2015 at 4:08 am

    Wow, such stunning photos! You had amazing weather! I went during rainy season which was great for photos on the salt flats, but the first day when we went to the train cemetary I hardly took ANY photos because it was raining on us and I didn’t want to end up soaked and freezing!

    • Reply Kelly Ross March 17, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      Thank you Leah! Yes, we were lucky to have the sun out every day. That’s such a pity about the train cemetery though. The rainy season really does have it’s pros and cons. I’ve been told that often in the wet season that you can’t actually visit the salt flats because it floods. Lucky that wasn’t the case for you 🙂

  • Reply Isabel March 15, 2015 at 5:29 am

    The place looks amazing! Also, the pictures you took are great 🙂

    • Reply Kelly Ross March 17, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      Thank you Isabel! 🙂

  • Reply De'Jav March 16, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Hands down one of the best places in South America. You have some amazing pics.

    • Reply Kelly Ross March 17, 2015 at 2:42 pm

      Absolutely! Thank you De’Jav 🙂

  • Reply Robyn March 19, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Those perspective photos are brilliant! I haven’t made it to South America yet, but it looks SO AMAZING! I love how detailed your blog posts are, truly helpful!

    Robyn x

    • Reply Kelly Ross March 24, 2015 at 11:17 pm

      Thanks for your kind words Robyn! Those perspective photos were definitely a lot of fun to take! 😛 x

  • Reply Karisa @ Flirting with the Globe March 19, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    Great tips about when to go to the salt flats to get that reflective surface. And, wow- the red lagoon looks beautiful!

    • Reply Kelly Ross March 24, 2015 at 11:18 pm

      Thanks Karisa! I’m glad this post will come in handy! 🙂

  • Reply Stephen Jones - A Thousand Miles March 19, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    What amazing photos! This place is so on my list (must add it to the bucket list page!). The locomotive graveyard is a little sad, though. Such a shame to see wonderful machines rust away like that.

    • Reply Kelly Ross March 24, 2015 at 11:21 pm

      Thank you Stephen! Yes, you must! 🙂 That is very true. I do remember reading something about plans to turn the train cemetery into a proper museum, which should mean that they will be better preserved in the future!

  • Reply 6 Things You Must Do In Bolivia, South America • Endlessly Exploring March 24, 2015 at 11:25 am

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  • Reply Raphael Alexander Zoren March 26, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    Great photos!!! I was there back in 2013 and I cannot wait to come back to the salt desert, Bolivia is such a fascinating place!

    • Reply Kelly Ross April 17, 2015 at 11:46 am

      Thank you Raphael! Isn’t it just?! I would love to go back in a different season and explore! 🙂

  • Reply My 1st Blogiversary: One Year of Travel Blogging • Endlessly Exploring May 12, 2015 at 1:35 am

    […] Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia […]

  • Reply Monique December 8, 2016 at 1:46 am

    Wow, your pictures are incredible.
    Such a beautiful landscape:)
    Greetings, Monique

  • Reply Therie April 10, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Looks like you had a blast in Bolivia! It’s so high (no pun intended) on my travel wish list, but I’m not sure if I can handle the altitude.

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