Standing on the vast nothingness of Salar de Uyuni is a realm that is simultaneously confusing and peaceful. Often dubbed “heaven on earth,” the moist salt flat mirrors the swirling white clouds and the skies, interrupted only by hues of blue. There are no boundaries or edges, just white shimmering flat crystal. Definitely, this is a destination a traveler must visit even once in his lifetime. Enigmatic and pure, Salar de Uyuni is truly a rare sight to behold. If you are eyeing on a trip to this majestic salt flat, be sure to check out the following guide.
Salar de Uyuni in a Nutshell
Salar de Uyuni is the biggest concentration of salt in the world and is located in Potosi City in Bolivia. The salt pans are found at an elevation of over 10,000 feet and stretch a span of 6,500 miles. Seventy percent of the world’s lithium needs is being supplied by the Salar de Uyuni.
The best time to see this outstanding South American wonder is between the months of May and November. This season is slightly dryer, and the lack of rain is highly beneficial for those looking forward to an expedition to the world-famous salt flat, especially considering that the rain in this area results in several transportation limitations.
Getting around Potosi is fairly easy. You can rent a car, ride a bicycle, or even walk around. Potosi city and the nearby villages are small and easy to navigate. To reach the outstanding salt flat, all you need to do is grab one of the many buses heading there in the morning. There are many options concerning buses. You could even join a tour if you enjoy exploring with a group and having someone guide you to the best features of the site.
The most important holiday of the year in the area is Uyuni’s Anniversary, taking place on the 11th of July. While Salar de Uyuni is a natural landmark, it is also relevant in cultural activities. A great example is Oruro Carnival taking place during early March. In fact, the event is considered as a World Cultural Heritage event.
What to Do
Salar de Uyuni, or Uyuni Salt Flat, offers to its visitors a number of fun activities to engage in– things that are sure to leave lasting memories and photos that you can boast to friends and loved ones. Here are some things that can be done over the Salar.
1) Have a picnic
The perfect place to have a picnic by Salar de Uyuni is “Laguna Hedionda” where you’ll find massive flocks of flamingos enjoying the lagoon. There are outdoor picnic shelters where you can relax and take your meal.
2) Explore a Salt Village
Near the salt flat, you will encounter the village of Colchani. The entire village is sustained by the abundance of salt, from processing to manufacturing salt souvenirs. Colchani has its own Salt Museum which exhibits many interesting items. The village stands on the edge of the salt flat and is a great point of access. In the area you’ll find several buildings built almost entirely out of salt blocks.
3) Visit the Incahuasi Island
Also known as Isla Incahuasi, Incahuasi Island is a hilly and rocky outcrop of land and former island in the middle of Salar. The total area is 61 acres. The island has gigantic cacti (Trichocereus pasacana) and a tourist center. There are unusual and fragile coral-like structures and deposits that often consist of fossils and algae. The island is actually the top of the remains of an ancient volcano, which was submerged when the area was part of a giant prehistoric lake, roughly 40,000 years ago.
4) Traverse the Salar
Depending on what part you start and what part you’ll finish, that walk can be over 137 kms (85 miles). A long traverse which can be done in around 5 days. This is activity is similar to a glacier traverse since it is cold and white.
1) Isla de los Pescados
This fish-shaped rocky island is located in the middle of the Bolivian salt flat. This cacti-covered island is a great spot to have a quick picnic or snack. To gain access to the island there is a small fee of USD5 to pay.
2) Uyuni Plaza Arce
Plaza Arce in Uyuni connects the train station and a local church. It is one of the most vividly colorful areas near Salar de Uyuni. The plaza is great for taking a walk in the morning or late in the afternoon. Restaurants, a museum and numerous tourist agencies are located within the plaza.
3) Termas de Polques Hot Springs
Located by the blue lagoon and lost in the wilderness, Termas de Polques attracts tourists from all around the world. The hot spring’s inviting steamy water seems to be what most luxury spas try to mimic, yet there is no doubt that nature has the edge when one takes a dip. Arrive early and watch the sun rise.
4) Laguna Colorada
This unique lake is known for its pinkish red tint. Its red color originates from the red algae growing abundantly in its warm waters. The resident flamingos captivate the many tourists who explore the lake and admire its scenic beauty. From the lake, one can access a national natural reserve. There is an entry fee of USD20.
Where to Eat
For the trip to the salt flat, be sure to take food with you, since eating facilities are scarce. While in Uyuni or Potosi, there will be several places to choose from. Don’t miss the Bolivian saltena empanada and lomo montado from the local food stalls. Fill your gastronomic appetites with traditional and international cuisine from several restaurants listed below.
1) Café de La Plata
Café de la Plata is an iced coffee oasis in the middle of this minuscule Bolivian town. This friendly cafe is located right in the center of picturesque Potosi and serves delicious snack and light lunch options in addition to spectacular coffee. Expect to wait longer than usual, though, because the cafe is always busy. There are better things to do than tap your fingers and worry; gaze at the intricate décor and stylish interiors, those should keep you entertained until food is served.
Address: Plaza 10 de Noviembre, Potosi
4060 has a European air and a modern take on traditional dishes. The restaurant serves wholesome dishes and snacks, so it is ideal for light meals or less formal dinners. The ambiance of 4060 is fun, casual and always lively – there is no going wrong when dining here. Be prepared to wait in line before being seated since 4060’s growing popularity and taste attract a wide crowd of loyal followers (and quite a few new faces) every day. Even though it is a little pricier than the standard Bolivian, it is still very affordable by American standards.
Address: Hoyos 1, Potosi
3) Phishqa Warmis
Phishqa Warmis, the Qechua translation for five women, is a homey restaurant owned and run by five women. The restaurant has vegetarian options, an impressive salad bar and is well-known for its soup of the day. If you are looking for a meal that tastes less like microwave food and more like homemade delight, then Phisqa Warmis will satisfy both you and your stomach. The five ladies running the café or restaurant provide guests with the most attentive service in the whole town.
Address: 56 Sucre, Potosi
4) Dona Eugenia
Stray away from Potosi’s down town and let the mouthwatering scent lead you to Dona Eugenia’s door. This still untouched gem is loved by locals but not yet well known among tourists. Dona Eugenia boasts that it serves the best soup in the country; a tourist must go to test that statement. Those who have tried the soup are impressed and swear by the restaurant’s claim. You must try the Kalapurca, their signature dish, if you are at Dona Eugenia. Keep in mind that the restaurant closes quite early, around 3 p.m.
Address: corner Santa Cruz & Ortega, Potosi
5) El Mana
The most famous pizzas in town are found in the charismatic establishment of El Mana. Locals and tourists alike rush to El Mana on weekends and warm afternoons to take advantage of the quality and quantity of food offered for discounted price. Their staple pizza is made up of light crispy dough topped with fresh vegetables and local produce. Pizza is mostly served at dinner time while at lunch time they serve a wider variety of food including soups and salads.
Address: Bustillo # 1092, Potosi
Where to Stay
You won’t find opulence and marble floors in Potosi, but rather a kind village and welcoming warmth. If you can’t bear to exchange a spacious room, countless thread sheets and a spa for a small cozy room, the friendliest staff on earth and a lively village charm, then perhaps Potosi isn’t the place for you. However, if you do choose to take the challenge, you’ll never regret it. Listed below are some of the places where you can have that much-touted warm reception:
1) Hacienda de Cayara
Nestled in the outskirts of Potosi you’ll find an authentic Spanish Hacienda. Hacienda de Cayara’s strong personality emerges from its little details, including halls full of antiques and genuine Bolivian food. The Hacienda dates back to the 1500’s and is considered a relevant historical site by many. Walking around the Hotel before going to bed is an experience like no other. The staff will be eager to tour you around the halls and the Hacienda’s private museum and point out the historical significance of every item that currently plays a role in the building’s décor. The hotel keeps true to its original history by producing its own dairy, fruits, and vegetables, which you will get to savor in their daily complimentary breakfast. The hotel’s staff can even arrange to tour you around nearby villages for a good value. Expect to pay around USD120 a night.
Address: 22 km from Potosi
2) Hostal Tukos La Plaza Real
This affordable hostel, housed in a traditional building, is strategically located three blocks away from the main square. For USD40 a night, the comfortable rooms with heating and warm showers, rooftop terrace, impeccable service and lovely décors are more than you could ask for. The spacious rooms have their own private table and free WiFi is available throughout the building. Hostal Tukos La Plaza Real is also very conveniently located near bars and different restaurants.
Address: Hoyos 29, Potosi 591
3) Hotel Luna Salada
During cold Bolivian nights, walking into Hotel Luna Salada and sitting at the lounge area by log fireplace is pure bliss. The rooms of the hotel are spacious and traditionally decorated with a modern twist. The best of all is that you’ll be able to see the salt flats from your own view window. The hotel’s hammock is the ideal place to take an evening nap after trying their dining buffet, with options for all tastes and needs. Their complimentary breakfast is equally tasty and pleasing, especially when you need a hearty meal to endure walking around the town, the natural formations and the Salar de Uyuni. You’ll be able to enjoy hot showers after a long day, a pleasure that you shouldn’t take for granted this part of the world. The rate per night is USD100.
Address: A 7 km de Colchani, Salar de Uyuni, Uyuni
4) Hotel Palacio de Sal
Besides being impressively made out of salt, its luxury is what makes this hotel stand out among all the others in the area. Heating, warm showers, western breakfast cooked by a chef and modern décor are the elements that define luxury in this palatial hotel. Rooms sculpted out of salt blocks are a rare find anywhere in the world. After exploring the most impressive salt flat in the world, sleeping in a room crafted out of salt will make you feel as if you were sleeping in the palace of one of the otherworldly kingdoms. The hotel has a personal air, with only 16 rooms and a friendly staff. The rate per night ranges from USD100 to USD150 a night including breakfast.
Address: Orillas Salar de Uyuni, Uyuni
5) Hostel Patrimonio
You will find Hostel Patrimonio just a couple of blocks away from the main square. The hostel’s rooms are comfortable, clean and homey. The windows overlook the courtyard and inside you’ll have access to cable TV, heating and a minibar. Free Wi-Fi is also available. Your stay here includes fresh breakfast every morning including local fruits, yogurt and bread rolls among other goods. The bathroom is especially spacious with a nice bathtub, warm water and even some candles. Expect to pay between USD50 and USD70 a night.
Address: Calle Matos No. 62, Potosi
Salar de Uyuni is not your usual cup of tea. Nor is it your usual travel destination. If you’ve been to wildlife, beaches, marine wonders, and mountains, maybe you haven’t been to heaven. Take a taste of that heaven on earth, bet it would be a little briny. Do grab a travel partner – nothing beats having someone take that heavenly photo with you.