Bolivian Salt Flats Tour – The Lowdown on What to Expect

A few weeks ago our Photo Friday post focused on the Uyuni Salt Flats.  One of the highlights of any trip to Bolivia is seeing and experiencing this bleached white expanse. “But what else does a four day Bolivian Salt Flats tour involve?”, we hear you asking. “What do you eat? Where do you stay? How much will it cost?”

To help you decide if this is something you would like to do (or if you’re just curious), we have tried to answer these and other questions based on our experience of the tour – starting in Tupiza and finishing in Uyuni. Note that you can do an Uyuni-Uyuni circular trip which will be entirely different, as you miss out the cool stuff we saw on the first couple of days!

Bolivian Salt Flats tour - view over sillar

The Route

The Bolivian Slat Flats tour begins in central Tupiza at around 8am in the morning and immediately sets off into the mountains.  You head south-west through San Pablo de Lipez, a town that was abandoned when loads of the residents mysteriously died, and down towards the border with Chile. You drive into and through the National Park, Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avarroa, before heading north. On the final day, you drive east across the salt flats and arrive in Uyuni.

The Accommodation

If there is one thing you need to know, it’s that the accommodations are far from glorious. The actual buildings are little more than stone huts and the beds are concrete blocks with mattresses on. But they do provide plenty of blankets to keep you warm and the mattresses are comfy enough. There is no WiFi, electrical sockets or hot water for a shower in the first two “hostels” and there may only be running water for a limited time meaning toilets are flushed with water from a bucket.

The final hostel is made out of salt which is pretty neat and does have a hot shower. But you do have to pay for it. The biggest thing to notice is that as of April 2016 none of the buildings seem to be finished. Walls are not yet cemented in, wires haven’t been connected and the roofs are partially plastic sheeting held down by tyres. If you are used to five star hotels, you may get a shock.

Bolivian Salt Flats tour - accommodation

The Food

With each group of jeeps, there will be at least one cook. Included in the tour are ten meals starting and ending with lunch on the first and last day respectively. Breakfast is a mix of bread, pancakes, cake, hot drinks and yoghurt and apart from the final day, when it is served next to Island Incahuasi on the salt flats, breakfast is eaten at the accommodation.

Lunch is normally a meat and vegetable based dish served with salad, rice and some fruit. Soft drinks are also served.

Dinner, also eaten at the accommodation is soup, followed by a hot meal such as spaghetti bolognese. You also get a small snack each day around 10am to keep you going! All meals are self-service and are a great way to chat to other guests on the tour.

The Sights

So it’s called a Salt Flats Tour, but the Salt Flats are far from the only thing you see. In fact, you only spend around an hour on them on the last day! There is so much else to see including, but not limited to; flamingo filled lagoons of various colours, rock formations created through volcanic eruption and wind erosion, glorious landscape vistas, llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, ostriches, natural hot springs, geysers, a train cemetery and a ghost town! Phew!

Bolivian Salt Flats tour - the sights

the piece de resistance

Bolivian Salt Flats tour - The salt flats at sunrise

The final day will begin early! In order to be out on the salt flats for the sun rise, you will likely be leaving the salt hotel around 5am. Warning: it will be freezing, so layer up! As the sun rises the vast white expanse will be revealed. As the morning progresses things can get pretty warm as the sunlight is reflected back off the ground. Sun burn from both angles! However, now it’s time for those famous perspective photos!

As you can see from the photo at the time of our Bolivian salt flats tour, the flats were completely dry. However, at other times of the year there will be a small layer of water, resulting in spectacular reflections.

The Price

In Tupiza, nearly all the hostels have a tour agency and there are a few independent ones. The trips they run are almost identical and cost very much the same. You can expect to pay in region of Bs1,200 each (about £120), although there maybe slight variances depending on the tour company.

Bolivian Salt Flats Tour - Multi coloured view over a lake

However this isn’t everything.

There are additional costs, some mandatory (Ghost town entry Bs15, National Park entry Bs150) and some optional Hot Springs Bs6, Galaxios cave Bs20, Hot shower in last hostel Bs10, Isla Incahuasi Bs30. So assuming you did everything the total would be in the region of Bs1,431, or just over £140. A bargain in our book!

So now you’ve had the lowdown, when do you go on your Bolivian salt flats tour?! If you have already been, or are planning on going please drop us a line with a picture. If you have any questions please get in touch!

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