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Guide to Salt Pan and Altiplano

bolivia salt flats


Salar de Uyuni is of the true natural wonders of the world, the locals rightfully call it a border between heaven and earth. The salt pan of Bolivia is the highest standing at 12,000 ft., and the largest, covering a staggering area of 4,600 square miles. The salt flats in Bolivia were formed after a prehistoric lake dried up and left behind 10 billion tons of salt, constituting of more than 50% of lithium reserves.

Witnessing the endless white glistening speck of the salt pan that dominates the horizon is an evocative and eerie sight. You might feel like you are the only person on a foreign planet- just you and the large expanse of white ground and the blue sky above you. The stillness and calmness of the salt pan is therapeutic.

Even in the wet season, Salar de Uyuni is a special place to visit. The endless white spec gives way to waterbodies that reflect the sky above, creating the world’s largest mirror. The reflections are perfect so much so that you truly feel like you are walking on the clouds.

No matter what the season is you can enjoy some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets in the world. The beautiful shades of orange, red & pink complimented by the jet blue sky and starting/ending on the white ground is a sight to behold.

You can bring out the true photographer in you as well when visiting the salt flats in Bolivia. Salar de Uyuni is certainly a paradise for photographers, not just for the landscapes but also the amazing things you can try out with the perspective photos. In fact, the perspective photos are so popular that there is a whole market dedicated in selling things like toys that can be used for the photos.

You can check below for some ideas we tried!

Things to See in Salar De Uyuni

Visit the Train Graveyard  

Located only 3 km away from the Bolivia salt flats are trains and tracks left to the elements, rusting and hallowed by the winds in the middle of a sprawling desert at a height of 12,000 ft.

The government had decided to expand the railway system, however technical issues and conflicts with neighboring countries led to its demise.

Today the train cemetery is a big tourist attraction and yet another place perfect for photographers. You can climb inside or above the train and enjoy the views of the beautiful desert. One thing you won’t feel is the abandoned ambiance, because of the large number of tourists that frequent this place.

Incahuasi Island

This is literally an island in the middle of a sea of salt. This hilly outpost is covered in trichocereus cactus and surrounded by a flat white sea of hexagonal salt tiles. You can hike up to the top to get a stunning view of the island’s many cacti that beautiful compliment the immensity of the salt pan in the background. 

I found this island to be truly mind-blowing and is definitely a place you must visit!


The Salt Flat Eyes

The eyes of the salt flat are the outlets for subterranean rivers flowing under the Uyuni Salt Flat.

The waters flowing from inside the salt flat have particularly acidic concentrations and are considered medicinal waters by the locals. This place is definitely a must see when visiting the salt flats in Bolivia.



It takes something truly special to be considered more beautiful than the salt pans. Yet within Bolivia there is an area that is even more remarkable and amazing to experience than the bolivia salt flats. A 3-day tour of South Bolivia leaves you questioning whether what you are seeing is actually real. The tour takes you across a high-altitude desert. At first look, the desert seems remote, eerie and devoid of much life. But as you continue on the journey you come across the incredible wonders and dramatic landscapes of this place.

The Bolivian Altiplano is a colorful, dramatic world full of rugged horizons and unforgettable scenery. This remote piece of the country is difficult to reach, but worth the journey. The combination of beautiful nature and amazing wildlife will simply take your breath away. The sunsets will leave you speechless. The horizons seem never ending and ever-changing, framed by the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. All in one place you can see volcanoes, sulfuric lakes, iridescent lagoons, impressive geysers, multihued deserts, and rare species only to be found here. All here in the Altiplano.

Top Sights of the Bolivian Altiplano

Visiting the Altiplano is an experience you will never forget. It will take you back in time and freeze you in the present moment. These are just a few of the breathtaking locations you can visit to get the most of your trip to the Altiplano.

  • Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde: These two lakes are absolutely beautiful. Laguna Verde is known for its green color and is located at the feet of two volcanoes. In contrast, Laguna Colorada is known for its beautiful red colors. Both are must see portions of your journey to the Altiplano.
  • Catal Canyon: The Catal Canyon is a rare piece of greenery in the midst of a rather red and brown portion of the country. Here you can find llamas, and the lovely rivers that bring them water. 
  • Sol de Mañana Geyser: This area is out of this world. It is surrounded by heavy volcanic activity and you can find mud lakes and steam pools with boiling mud here within the sulphur springs field. 
  • Hot Springs: There is nothing like jumping into a warm, thermal bath while surrounded by the other-worldly expanse of Bolivia’s landscape. Truly. Don’t forget to see the hot springs before you go


The best option to see Salar de Uyuni is on a 3-day tour. The tour takes you to the stunning Altiplano; you can read more about it below. Staying overnight at Salar De Uyuni is highly recommended so that you can enjoy the sunset and sunrise. The other two days take you to some of most stunning sights you will likely ever see. The tour starts in Uyuni and does a loop around South Bolivia eventually ending at Uyuni. If you are going to Chile, the tour operators can arrange for transportation to San Pedro De Attacama.

The tours generally cost about $200-250 and include a 4×4 vehicle, an English-speaking guide, meals and an oxygen tank (remember, you will go as high at 5000 m).

Entrance fees (up to $30 for various parks), water (at least 2 liters per day because of the high altitude), and the transport to Uyuni are not included.

Provided accommodations are of bare minimum quality without proper heating…sleeping can be quite the struggle with so many layers on. But you have to remember that this is essentially in the middle of nowhere and this is as good as it gets in such places. Additionally, nice hotels would take away some of the beautify of this incredible place.

Even though it is a high-altitude desert, the recommended time to visit the Altiplano is between May and November because of the dry season that tends to more stunning blue skies and the opportunity to see some of the best sunsets and night skies for stargazing. Heavy rain is known to block various routes making it harder to visit the Altiplano. That being said, when I travelled in the winter, the desert faced a snowstorm causing many problems which you can read about here in my Altiplano road trip guide . You never know about the weather in this extreme place. Although most times you would not face such a problem if you are travelling in the winter.

But all of this comes at a cost and going in the winter means the day temperatures can also go down to zero. In the nights the temperature can plummet to -20. Fighting the bitter cold is just something you have to face to enjoy this spectacular place. 

How to Get to Uyuni

The journey from La Paz to Uyuni lasts approximately 10 hours. Between Sucre and Uyuni, it lasts about 8 hours. In general, the trips are made at night, so they can be quite comfortable for travelers with low budget.

Flights from La Paz arrive regularly to this airport, usually early in the morning. It is close to the town, so you can take any transport (well negotiated) at the airport to your accommodation.


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