When to visit the Uyuni Salt Flat and how to get there?
Following the different route options:
La Paz to Uyuni
To get to Uyuni from La Paz city, take a bus. The trip takes approximately 12 to 15 hours. The suggested bus companies to Uyuni from La Paz are:
- Todo Turismo with daily departures at 20:30, highly recommended.
- Trans Omar
- Trans Panamerican
The highway from La Paz to Oruro is paved till Challapata town. From there the road is a dirt road, which means that during the rainy season the transit is difficult.
Oruro to Uyuni
The trip from Oruro to Uyuni can be made by bus or train:
By bus: Trans Azul buses make daily departures at 18:30
To get to Uyuni by train there are two alternatives:
- Expreso Sur with departures on Tuesdays and Fridays at 15:30
- Wara Wara with departures on Wednesdays and Sundays at 19:00
Potosi to Uyuni (230 km)
The trip from Potosi to Uyuni can be made by land and takes approximately 7 hours by bus.
The bus companies that travel by these routes are:
- Diana Tours with daily departures two times a day at 11:00 and at 18:38 p.m.
- Emperador Bus with daily departures twice a day at 12:00 p.m. and at 19:00 p.m.
Villazon to Uyuni
The trip from Villazon to Uyuni can be made by train on the Expreso Sur which departs on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 15:30.
The trip can also be made by train of the Wara Wara company with departures on Mondays and Thursdays at 15:30
- Other suggested routes are from La Paz to Sucre by air, then by land to Potosi and from there by bus to Uyuni.
- The travelers can take the train from Villazon, Tupiza, Uyuni and Oruro.
Getting to Uyuni from Chile
To get to Uyuni from Chile, take the paved highway from Iquique, passing through Calama till San Pedro de Atacama and arriving at Hito Cajones.
Getting to Uyuni from Argentina
In order to get to Uyuni from Argentina, I recommend Aerolineas Argentinas to San Salvador de Jujuy. From there go by road to La Quiaca. Cross to Villazon and from that town it is possible to take a train to Uyuni - the journey takes about 9 hours.
Another option is to take a flight from Buenos Aires to Cochabamba, go from this city to Oruro by bus and from there to Uyuni by train.
When to visit the Uyuni Salt Flat
The Uyuni Salt Flat in Potosi, Bolivia, can be visited all year long - even though the majority of the tour operators in the area strongly recommend the dry season of the year between April and October.
Rainy season (November to March)
During the rainy season the Uyuni Salt Flat is covered by about 20 cm of water and as a result it becomes a huge mirror reflecting the sky. Without doubt this is an amazing landscape worth to be appreciated and photographed. Another advantage of a visit during the rainy season is the presence of at least 25000 pink flamingos and other birds at the Colored Lagoon (Laguna Colorada).
The disadvantage of travelling during the rainy season is that the Galaxies cave and the Fish Island are covered by water, making it impossible to visit these attractions.
During the rainy season the roads are muddy and some vehicles experience technical problems.
Dry season (April to October)
The dry season is the most recommended period for a visit to the Uyuni Salt Flat. The octagonal salt formations can be appreciated in full and all the attractions of the area can be visited. June and July are considered to be the high season. Expect more tourist presence during this period.
- The best hours to visit and photograph the Colored Lagoon are between 11: 00 and 14:00 hours. During these hours the temperatures are higher and the sunlight is stronger - therefore the colors are more intense.
- The month of December is when the Flamingos appear, so it is possible to observe large quantities of these beautiful birds bathing and feeding at the Colored Lagoon.
- Do not forget to bring warm clothes during the dry season, as temperatures can get rather low during this period. Perhaps even an extra blanket or sleeping bag will be necessary, as some of the hostels and hotels are known for a bit of cold at night. Make sure that you have clothes that you can layer, as this will make it easier to stay comfortable in case you get too warm during a hike. Also, be sure to bring plenty of water - always bring more than you think you will need. Sun block is a good idea as well, since the sun in the desert can burn you even though it might feel quite chilly outside.
- Choose your tour carefully. It is often best to opt for a three to four day tour and visit all the attractions of the Salt Flat.
- Besides the Salt Desert, there are many more tourist attractions in the area that are worth visiting: the Village of Four Names, the Thunupa volcano and the mummies of Colquesa are just a few examples.
When is the best time to visit the Uyuni Salt Flats?
There is no good or bad time to visit the salt flats, it is simply a question of what you are looking for. Between May and November (dry, cold season) there is almost no rain. The salt flats look like a huge white sea, where you loose perspective and you can use the optical effects to take fun pictures. During this season the temprature varies between 16 °C and -4 °C. July is the coldest month.
Between December and April is the warm and rainy season. This is not necessarily bad. You may have seen photos of the salt flats turned into a giangantic mirror. This effect is almost exclusive to this period, though with some luck and a good tour guide you may find some places where water accumulates in the salt flats even during the dry season. During this season the temprature varies between 17 °C and 3 °C.
December - January - February: The Great Mirror
At the beginning of every year, the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia becomes the largest natural mirror in the world. As this giant desert of salt is covered by water during the rainy season, it reflects light creating almost impossible optical illusions. This time of the year is highly popular with tourists for visiting Uyuni. If it rains a lot, the water accumulates, the sal melts and access to the salt flats may become restricted. You may not be able to visit Incahuasi Island (Isla Incahuasi) or Fish Island (Isla del Pescado) located in the middle of the Uyuni Salt Flats. In this case, tours will only enter the salt flats up to a safe distance.
When can I see this phenomenon?
In summer, between January and March. Generous rains fall on the bolivian highlands, turning the Uyuni Salt Flats into something similar to a giant lake a few centimeters deep. In some years, depending on precipitation, you can still see this effect in the beginning of April.
Does the water cause difficulties for the travellers?
Depending on the amount of water that accumulates, access to Incahuasi and Fish islands can become restricted for safety reasons.
Why the flooding?
Several rivers deposit their sediments in the Uyuni Salt Flats and the water accumulates on the nearly waterproof salty surface.
Another less-known attraction is the large number (around 25000) of flamingos that gather at the Red Lagoon in the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve during the rainy seeason for mating.
March - April - May
There are far fewer tourists during these months, so you can get better deals from tour operators. The weather is still warmer and with a good guide you can find some places with water to see the mirror effect.
June - July - August: Cold, dry, white
Winter. Dress warm. Take extra blankets. The Salt Flat is a huge white beach-like desert during this time.
September - October - November
These months are less cold, still dry with occasional rains.
How much time is needed to visit the Uyuni Salt flats?
Before answering this question, we need to understand that the Uyuni Salt Flat is the largest salt desert in the world. The city of Uyuni in Bolivia is right on the border of this natural wonder, and from there you can visit it in just one day.
Having said that, an Uyuni Tour generally means a trip of 3 or 4 days, as besides this giant white extension the tour also includes numerous other attractions such as spectacular coloured lagoons, rock formations and a desert surrounding filled with native wildlife.