We visited the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia many times both in the wet season and in the dry season. This gave us plenty of time to really explore the world’s largest salt flat. From hiking, to mummies, to taking silly pictures, to sleeping in some of the most unusual hotels on the planet, here’s your travel guide to Uyuni Salt Flat adventures.
The Uyuni Salt Flat (Salar de Uyuni in Spanish) covers more than 3,900 square miles (10,100 square km) at an elevation of 11,995 feet (3,656 meters) in the Altiplano of Bolivia. This massive salt flat, the largest in the world, is nearly four times the size of the US state of Rhode Island and 100 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flat in the US state of Utah.
The salt-crust-covered area is so flat there are virtually no changes in elevation or angle and with no landmarks to provide perspective, the Uyuni Salt Flat has an otherworldly feel with no sense of scale. You can drive across it for an hour at a high speed and it doesn’t look or feel like you’ve moved much. This surreal scenery attracts travelers and Hollywood. The Uyuni Salt Flat has been used as a filming location for movies including Star Wars The Last Jedi.
Take a look at the Uyuni Salt Flat from above in our drone travel video, below.
Yes, some salt is harvested here and you can buy small bags of salt in artisanal “factory stores” in the village of Colchani on the edge of the salt flat if you’re looking for a souvenir or a gift. But mining (mostly lithium) is the biggest game in town on the salt flat.
Uyuni Salt Flat Adventures in Bolivia
Tourism is also an increasingly important part of the local economy and hundreds of travelers visit the Uyuni Salt Flat every day. Here are some of the top Uyuni Salt Flat adventures.
Driving on the Uyuni Salt Flat
Whether you’re doing the driving or being driven by a guide, there are some safety precautions you need to take because every year tourists are injured or even killed while driving on the salt flat which is full of hard-to-see hazards. For example, a French woman died and her husband was critically injured when their vehicle lost a tire and flipped on the salt flat the day before we arrived for our first visit to the area.
Be sure the tour company you choose ensures their drivers maintain safe speeds and have vehicles in good condition with good tires. If you’re driving yourself, as we did for two of our four days on the flats, ask locals for advice about the safest spots to enter and exit the salt flat since conditions change daily. If you’re on the salt flat in the wet season, ask about which areas are too flooded to safely drive on (it’s sometimes impossible to reach Incahuasi Island in the wet season, for example). And resist the urge to speed on the salt flat. It never feels like you are going as fast as you are it’s exhilarating hitting 100 mph (161 km/h) in this vast open space, but speed is a major cause of accidents.
Our first visit to the salt flat was during the dry season and we drove our truck all over the white expanse. When we visited the Uyuni Salt Flat during the wet season, however, we opted to go on a guided tour to avoid getting our truck coated in the corrosive salt (it was bad enough in the dry season).
There are dozens of tour operators in Uyuni town all offering a range of guided salt flat adventures. After talking to other travelers and meeting with a few top-rated tour companies, we chose to do a full-day tour of the Uyuni salt flat with Andean Salt Expeditions (310BS or about US$45 per person including vehicle, driver, Spanish-speaking guide, lunch, and rubber boots which are a must in the wet season if you don’t want to wreck your shoes).
Our Andean Salt Expeditions tour started with the drive from Uyuni town to the village of Colchani which is on the edge of the salt flat. Then we slowly drove on the salt flat, exploring the views and the surface of the salt, before reaching the Dakar Rally monument (made of salt, of course) which commemorates the fact that the iconic endurance race used to pass through the salt flat.
Near the monument is an abandoned hotel made of salt blocks that’s now used as a lunch stop by tour groups. After a lunch of beef, quinoa, cucumber, tomato, avocado, a vegetarian omelet, water, and Coke, we all took a quick bathroom break and got back into our tour vehicle for many, many, many more hours exploring the salt flat.
Ten hours later, as the sun began to set, we parked on the salt flat and admired the views before returning to Uyuni town. All in all, it was an enjoyable tour, but we still don’t understand why it took 10 hours when we could have seen and done just as much in a 6-hour or 7-hour tour which would have been less exhausting (don’t underestimate the draining effects of extreme elevation, extreme sun, and extreme wind).
Visiting Incahuasi Island
It’s true that the Uyuni Salt Flat is remarkably flat, but there are a few bumps along the way. One of the most popular bumps is Incahuasi Island (Isla Incahuasi in Spanish) which is part of most tour itineraries.
We visited Incahuasi Island with Cruzzani Tours (685BS or about US$99 per person), which operates out of the Hotel del Sal Luna Salada on the edge of the salt flat. After a set lunch at the hotel, we climbed into a relatively new and comfortable Nissan 4X4 with our driver and our guide
Our first stop on this tour was the town of Colchani to see salt being processed by hand at small artisanal workshops. Then we drove across the salt flat to the Dakar Rally monument before we drove to a section of the flat where the salt on top formed hexagons. The patterns went on and on and on and they were so perfect that it almost looked like a white tile floor.
Ivan, our driver, was a pro at taking the perspective-bending photos that have become a hallmark of Uyuni Salt Flat tourism (more on this below). He even brought props including a toy dinosaur, a Pringles can, and an empty beer bottle. We all followed his instructions and laughed at the results and at each other’s attempts to come up with new ways to look goofy.
Then we drove to Incahuasi Island which is the rocky top of a volcano that protrudes up out of the salt. (30BS, about US$4.50, to enter, not included in the tour price). A short walk up to the top of the island got us 360 views of the salt flat and the flanks of this unique outpost of life. In the middle of a massive salty environment that does not sustain plant life, this island is notable for the proliferation of cactus all over the place which, in turn, attract insects and birds.
The two local communities that administer Incahuasi Island built a small area on top called Plaza Agosto 1. They believe that August 1 is an auspicious day to give offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and we happened to visit Incahuasi Island on August 1. When we reached the Plaza Agosto 1 area on top, we could see fresh blood from a llama offering locals had made earlier in the day. Most visitors didn’t notice, but our guide Emmy made sure to explain this tradition to us.
We enjoyed the views and mild weather on top of Incahuasi Island for a long time before descending back to our vehicle. With the day waning, Ivan drove us to an area where a table was draped in a tablecloth and set with crackers, cheese, nuts, and olives plus a bottle of wine and wine glasses. As the evening wind picked up, we sipped and snacked as the sun went down.
Seeing the Coquesa Mummies and Tunupa Volcano
The town of Coquesa on the lower flanks of the dormant Tunupa Volcano on the edge of the salt flat has a shallow cave in which seven mummies were interred. It’s a 1-hour hike up from the center of town or you can drive up, park, and walk 5 minutes to the grotto.
From there, a local guide/caretaker ushered us the final way to the cave entrance, unlocked the door, and provided a basic explanation about the mummies (30BS or about US$4.50 per person, Spanish only). Despite being up to 800 years old, the remains of these ancient people are remarkably intact–including hair and clothing–thanks to the dry and cold conditions.
Taking silly salt flat photos
Most Uyuni Salt Flat tour guides have become experts in the art of taking silly photos on the salt flat that use the warped perspective to create shots that look like people walking across hiking boot laces or holding someone in the palm of their hand.
Of course, we took our own prop-filled shots and turned them into this photo essay of perspective-bending Uyuni Slat Flat photos.
Getting up to speed
By pure luck, we were on the Uyuni Salt Flat at the same time that racer Rocky Robinson was going for a land speed record in a weird aerodynamic motorcycle thingy (picture a very souped-up motorcycle inside a cigar-shaped aerodynamic shell) called the Top 1 Ack Attack. Rocky and the Ack Attack captured the world record three times since 2006 and have held the record since 2010.
Why try again after comfortably holding the record for so long? The goal was to break 400 mph (643 km/h), besting their record of 376 mph (605 km/h) and they thought that the Uyuni Salt Flat was the place to do it. For one thing, the team was able to construct a 16-mile (25.7 km) long racing strip which is much longer than what can be created on the Bonneville Salt Flat in the US (another top location for racers who are going for top speeds).
Evo Morales, then Bolivia’s President, arrived by helicopter and a bevy of costumed dancers, members of the military, bands, and local models decked out in “Top 1” gear also descended on the salt flat for a special ceremony marking the record attempt. Did we mention the two film crews?
We were told that this sort of fanfare is a far cry from the motley crew of gear heads that normally attends land speed record attempts on the Bonneville Salt Flat.
There was only one problem: the cargo containers containing the racing machines and other crucial gear were three days late.
The Top 1 Ack Attack vehicle eventually arrived the following day, but that only left three more days on the salt and that wasn’t enough time to get everything tuned for the extreme altitude and into record-breaking shape. This meant their world record attempt was off.
Everyone was disappointed, but not all was lost and some other record speed attempts were made in different classes.
For example, Ralph Hudson set the world record for the all-time fastest non-streamliner motorcycle (aka a more traditional motorcycle with minor aerodynamic modifications) with a speed of 284 mph (457 km/h). He later bested himself with a new record speed of 297 mph (478 km/h). Sadly, Hudson died in a high-speed crash on the Bonneville Salt Flats in late 2020 while attempting to get his record over 300 mph.
Uyuni Salt Flat hotels
Keep the adventure going by staying in one of the unusual hotels around the Uyuni Salt Flat instead of staying in a hotel or hostel in Uyuni town.
There are a few hotels on the edge of the Uyuni Salt Flat that are made almost entirely out of blocks of salt harvested from the salt flat. These hotels started out as simple guesthouses, but have amped up the style, luxury, and service over time.
We stayed in the Hotel del Sal Luna Salada near the village of Colchani on the edge of the salt flat. Yes, it takes a minute to get used to a hotel with walls, furniture, floors, etc. all made out of salt and it is a bit gimmicky. However, this hotel’s location on a slight rise also means you also get some of the best views from above the Uyuni Salt Flat, especially at sunset.
Other notable Uyuni Salt Flat hotel options include Kachi Lodge, a luxury dome hotel that opened on the Uyuni Salt Flat in 2019. A few tour operators, including Exsus Tours, Rainbow Tours, and Crillon Tours, also offer fully-serviced Airstream rentals for overnight stays on the salt flat.
When to visit the Uyuni Salt Flat: wet season vs. dry season
The rainy season in Uyuni (December to April) is warmer and this is when visitors are able to see the famous “mirror effect” on the Uyuni Salt Flat. It’s caused when rainwater accumulates on top of the salt pack creating a nearly perfect reflection of the sky. Rainfall can be too heavy to allow tours in December and January and Incahuasi Island is often inaccessible in the rainy season.
The dry season in Uyuni (May to November) is colder and the Uyuni Salt Flat remains dry and hard which means there’s no mirror effect, but it is possible to drive more extensively across the salt flat in order to explore more areas of it.
Complete your Uyuni Salt Flat trip planning with our travel guide to Uyuni town and our post about driving the wild and rugged Southwest Circuit.
Here’s more about travel in Bolivia
Here’s more about Adventure Travel in the Americas