4 Nights in Uyuni, Bolivia (Salt Flats) - All You Need to Know
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Bucket List #1
Visit the salt flats in Uyuni, Bolivia to see the mirror effect.
These salt flats are the reason why I created a bucket list. For those of you who don’t know, I work in the luxury travel industry. 3 years ago, one of my clients contacted me because they wanted to book a trip to Uyuni, Bolivia. My geography is pretty good, but I had no idea where or what Uyuni was. I took a look online and couldn’t believe what I was seeing through other people’s pictures of the salt flats in Uyuni.
I also learned why my client was traveling there in March. Now, a salt flat is what it sounds like - a flat ground made of salt. Salt is not porous and doesn’t absorb as easily as soil. The rainy season usually ends by mid-March and if you’re lucky enough, there will be water left over on top of the salt which can remain for up to a month. For a tourist, this means you have one month each year to see the incredible mirror effect. There are other factors involved to witness prime conditions such as wind, water depth, and natural light. During the day, the wind and water depth were not in my favor at all, so I was a bit worried I wasn’t going to see what I saw online. My client, a man in extremely poor respiratory condition, decided that he wanted to see the mirror effect before he dies. The elevation (12,000 feet) is very high for anyone, especially a man in poor health, so oxygen was need 100% of the time. I was able to help him complete this and one other item on his bucket list before his passing last year. In short, my client gave me the inspiration to start a bucket list with my first entry.
Visa: As of December 2019, you no longer need a visa if traveling from the USA!
Currency: Bolivian Boliviano (BOB) is the native currency and credit/debit cards are accepted in cities, but you need cash for cabs and rural areas. Carry cash when walking about the shops.
Language: Spanish, and don't expect English fluency.
Population Density: 26.9 people per square mile.
Fun Fact #1: Bolivia once had access to the pacific ocean. In the "War of the Pacific" back in the late 1800s, Chile defeated Bolivia in a war for their coastal territory. Chile also defeated Peru (an ally of Bolivia) in a naval battle.
Fun Fact #2: Bolivia is one of a few countries in the world with two capital cities. In fact, their administrative capital, La Paz, is the highest in the world at 11,975 feet in elevation.
Based on my personal experience, here are my recommendations if you have 4 nights in Uyuni:
This is an unfortunate situation and I'm glad I went there when I did. There was only one option, which is sadly going to be defunct as of November 28, 2019. It was American Airlines direct to Santa Cruz (VVI) from MIA. For the time being (September 2019), there are no plans to connect the USA and VVI, or any Bolivian airport for the time being. The good news is that you can still get to Bolivia with a nice layover in Peru, Colombia, or Panama.
I came across this hotel on a list of the 10 most unique hotels in the world. I instantly added it to my list of places to stay. It was the first hotel in the world made of salt. It's literally a palace of salt with WiFi availability everywhere. Enjoy the breakfast!
This hotel is also made of salt! I stayed here for two nights and the rooms were a bit nicer than Palacio. One drawback was that WiFi is only accessible in common areas. Normally, I'm happy to disconnect from the world, but I needed a slight connection in order to upload and edit some pictures I'd taken. WiFi aside, my experience here was better than Palacio and the food is nothing short of spectacular. Go get a massage and enjoy a pisco sour at the bar!
This was included with my tour. It's relatively difficult to book on your own as it's geared towards tour groups. The hotel is insanely successful because it's the only place to stay en route to Chile without having to camp in the middle of a desert at 16,000 feet. It is a very quaint hotel with excellent customer service and food. Don't expect to use your cell phones. WiFi is available until 10pm and electricity shuts off at midnight. The hotel has plenty of solar panels, but they do their best to conserve. At least they keep the heat on all night!
I researched tour companies quite extensively and based a lot of my decision on the itineraries I came across. Their reviews were also up to speed with what I would expect and this is an area of the world where you don't want to cut corners on quality service. Pay a bit more for better service.
I chose this tour because it fit perfectly in my complex itinerary. I based my trip around this tour booking (yes, I booked it before my flights). I chose to up the ante and take the solo tour, which meant I had a private driver and private tour guide. It was not cheap, but 100% worth it. My tour guide was knowledgeable, spoke good English, and was a former professional photographer in Germany. This meant that the Bolivian anecdotes were endless and the quality of my pictures were among the best. My driver knew southwestern Bolivia like the back of his hand. Bear in mind there are no actual roads between San Cristobal and the Chilean border, so it's highly recommend you hire an experienced driver to point you in the right direction.
To Do in/around Uyuni