Carley Rojas Avila
Carley Rojas Avila is an avid traveler and the creator behind travel websites Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Having visited twenty-five countries and spent years living abroad, she shares destination guides and travel tips to help travelers and digital nomads feel at home when traveling off the beaten path to Havana or beyond.
For years, the Bolivia Salt Flats have been a photographer’s dream, with their shifting optical illusions in the landscape, each better than the next.
Even if you’ve never heard of them, you’ve seen them. In every direction, the Earth reflects the blue sky, dotted with fluffy white clouds, creating a mind-bending mirror effect even Photoshop cannot achieve. Or perhaps you’ve seen them without this mirror effect – a crusty white ground stretching endlessly into the distance, a Martian landscape if one can be found anywhere on Earth.
But travelers ask if the Bolivian Salt Flats are worth the trip.
What Are the Bolivia Salt Flats?
The Bolivia Salt Flats – known in Spanish as the Salar de Uyuni – are the largest salt flats in the world, stretching over 4,050 square miles in a remote corner of South America. Thanks to their virality, they are the most visited destination in Bolivia. They are also a South American bucket list destination.
Salar de Uyuni is evidence of a prehistoric salty sea that dried up around 30,000 years ago. With the water gone, the salt was all that was left behind. In some places, the layer of salt is meters deep.
Today the Bolivia Salt Flats are known for being one of the most extreme places on Earth, many times over. In addition to being the world’s largest salt flat, they are also the flattest spot on Earth and are at an extremely high altitude. The altitude at the Salt Flats is 12,139 feet (3,700 meters), though nearby attractions sit at even higher elevations.
Why Are the Bolivia Salt Flats Famous?
The Bolivia Salt Flats extremes have made it famous.
Salar de Uyuni is home to the World’s Largest Mirror. The salt flats flood with water for a few months every year. This water accumulates into a massive still pool resting on the salt. The stillness of the water creates a perfect mirror for the blue sky or the countless stars at night in this super-remote region.
The extreme visual effects of the landscape – especially the mirroring effect of the sky and the optical illusions created by the extreme flatness – make for incredible photographs.
Always a photographer’s dream, their fame has only grown as photos from all corners of the world have been more accessible to viewers on apps like Instagram and TikTok. They’ve been featured in dozens of movies (including Star Wars: The Last Jedi as the planet Crait!) and have gone viral countless times.
Where Are the Bolivia Salt Flats?
The Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats are extremely remote, located in the southwest corner of Bolivia. Reaching any city in the country from the salt flats takes at least 3 or 4 hours by car. The most significant nearby metropolises, like La Paz, are over 12 hours away.
The Salt Flats are located just beyond the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve, a breathtakingly beautiful part of the country marked by technicolored lakes – like the bright-red Laguna Colorada and the turquoise green Laguna Verde – plus countless volcanoes, thermal pools, snow-capped mountains, and more.
Nearby destinations include the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and wildly beautiful spots in north Argentina known for their red rock formation and colorful mountains. While similarly remote, these nearby sites can make incredible additions to any itinerary if traveling onwards after a visit to Salar de Uyuni.
How To Reach the Bolivia Salt Flats
The remoteness of the salt flats can make them challenging to access, no matter where your travel starts. Most travelers visit the Bolivia Salt Flats via the capital city of Bolivia, La Paz. The journey can be quite long, whether taking the overnight bus or flying to the town airport.
The bus ride from La Paz takes nearly 12 hours, and bus rides from other major Bolivian cities take at least 4 hours. Thankfully, Salar de Uyuni’s fame led the Bolivian government to construct an airport in the remote town of Uyuni on the edge of the salt flats, offering daily flights from major cities around the country.
Local travel companies offer complete travel packages to the salt flats from many of Bolivia’s major cities with transport included. This means you won’t have to navigate local bus terminals if you don’t want to. Buses and flights also connect the Bolivia Salt Flats with plenty of other destinations in the country, as well as northern Chile and Argentina.
Visit the Bolivia Salt Flats
To experience the vast salt flats properly, you’ll need to schedule a Salar de Uyuni tour. Jeep 4X4 tours across the salt flats are the way to go. Full-day experiences generally cost around $75 for a small group excursion and can cost hundreds of dollars for a luxury private tour.
Travelers can visit prominent destinations like the Isla Incahuasi with its towering centuries-old cacti, hidden caves with ancient mummies, and the slumbering Tunupa volcano sitting prominently over the edge of the salt flats. Plus, guides are excellent for showing tourists the best photo destinations, especially areas to capture the famous mirrored effect on the sky.
A visit to the Salar de Uyuni is also an opportunity to experience some unique accommodations you’re sure only to find there! The area is well known for its salt hotels. These accommodations include walls, floors, ceilings, and even furniture made out of bricks of solid salt carved from the salt flats.
Beyond the Salt Flats
While the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats is an unforgettable destination, there is much more to see and do in the vicinity that helps further justify the distance and time it takes to get to this remote destination. Many travelers opt for a 3-day or 4-day tour around Bolivia’s southwest region.
These salt flats tours generally start with a full day before heading onward. Guides trace remote roads through areas of high-altitude desert with countless volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, and incredible vistas that set this region apart.
If you can find space in your itinerary for a multi-day tour, you’ll visit additional spots that are as photo-worthy as the salt flats. These include hot springs, mountains, and even a desert-like landscape known as the Desert of Dalí, named after the surrealist painter renowned for painting otherworldly landscapes with distorted shapes and extreme angles.
The most dramatic highlights of the region include stunning technicolor lagoons scattered across the deserted landscape of the high plains. The bright-red lagoon, Laguna Colorada, is most famous, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. It’s home to flocks of bright pink Andean flamingos. You’ll also see the aquamarine Laguna Verde and the tranquil, white Laguna Blanca.
Multi-day tours are all-inclusive of transportation, a guide, food, and accommodations. You can find more luxurious private tours that stay at lovely hotels or more basic options with bare-bones hotel rooms and simple yet delicious meals.
Visiting the Bolivian Salt Flats can be expensive, especially when factoring in the cost of tours and transportation to this hard-to-reach area. Flights cost around $200 from major Bolivian cities, while day tours of the salt flats cost at least $75. Multi-day tours start at about $300.
When considering the cost of tours and transportation, this bucket list destination can be expensive even if you choose basic tours and accommodations. Its remote location certainly doesn’t help your wallet, regardless of how many cost-saving travel hacks are in your repertoire.
However, Bolivia is one of the cheapest South American countries to visit. Traveling through other areas of the country will be easy on your wallet, even if you’re looking for luxury experiences. You’ll save what you’ll spend visiting Salar de Uyuni in the rest of Bolivia.
Are the Bolivia Salt Flats Worth the Trip?
Undeniably, the Bolivia Salt Flats is a unique, one-in-a-lifetime destination for most travelers. Whether the Bolivia Salt Flats are worth the trip to visit them is an entirely different question.
If you’re simply interested in traveling to recreate a viral TikTok video or Instagram photo, the hours of travel to this remote spot are likely too difficult to reach to make such a trip “worth it.” Though beautiful and affordable for most travel budgets, you’ll need more time here to justify the travel.
However, if you can build out an itinerary that includes the salt flats and the rest of the region, visiting is worth it. Planning a multi-day trip through the area to see the breathtaking mountains, volcanos, hot springs, and equally photo-worthy technicolor lagoons is an unforgettable travel experience. You’ll be thankful you made the most of a trip you traveled a long distance for.
An otherworldly destination that will impress you with beauty at every turn, the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia are one of the world’s most unique – and famous – travel destinations. While they might not be the right travel destination for every traveler, they have so much to offer if you’re willing to make the trip to this remote destination in search of more than just a viral photo.
This post originally appeared on Savoteur.