Bolivia Salt Flats: The Ultimate Guide To Salar De Uyuni

One of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken was to the Salar de Uyuni, better known as the Bolivian Salt Flats. Located in southwestern Bolivia in the middle of the high plains, this natural wonder (the largest salt flats in the world!) is easily a bucket list destination for anyone who has ever seen a picture.

In this ultimate guide to Salar de Uyuni travel and the Uyuni Salt Flats, we’re covering everything you’ll need to know to plan for an incredible and unforgettable trip to this inspiring destination.

Don’t miss our recommendations for when to see the Salar de Uyuni reflection, known as the “World’s Largest Mirror” on the Bolivia Salt Flats.

Keep reading for everything you’ll need to know for your trip, including a complete guide to Uyuni town, including Salar de Uyuni hotels – like the famous Salt Hotel you can’t miss! – tour recommendations, and much more.

bolivia salt flats reflection

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Bolivian Salt Flats

Easily one of the most recognizable parts of Bolivia and one of the most unique and extreme landscapes on Earth, the Bolivian Salt Flats are well known for their beauty and mystery.

The Bolivian Salt Flats are the largest salt flats in the world and stretch on for miles and miles in every direction for nearly 4,050 square miles (nearly 10,500 square kilometers).

These salt flats were created when an ancient salt lake dried up tens of thousands of years ago, leaving the salt behind. In some areas of the salt flats, the salt layer is several meters deep!

While there is SO MUCH to see in Bolivia (it’s one of my favorite off-the-beaten-path travel destinations and one of the best countries in South America to visit) the Uyuni Salt Flats is Bolivia’s number one destination for travelers.

There is so much to see and do here, even more than just visiting the Salt Flats themselves.

Most visitors spend a few days here exploring the Bolivia Salt Flats and the incredible surrounding countryside with a Jeep 4X4 tour – jump ahead to read more about our top Salar de Uyuni tour recommendations.

Find the Best Salar de Uyuni Tours

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Bolivia Salt Flats Tours for more information and recommendations for the best Salar de Uyuni tours.

In the drier months, you’ll see dry white salt crystals as far as the eye can see, but in the wetter months of the rainy season, waters pools on top of the salt flats.

Because the water doesn’t have anywhere to go, it will sit nearly perfectly still, creating a mirror effect with the sky above that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.

No, truly, out of a sci-fi movie! There is a Salar de Uyuni Star Wars appearance in a Star Wars movie that was filmed here – jump ahead to read more about Star Wars on the Bolivia Salt Flats and other Salar de Uyuni facts.

Salar de Uyuni Reflection

The Bolivia Salt Flats are probably best known for their incredible reflective properties during the wet season. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures – photos that look like the sky is perfectly mirrored on the ground, with a barely discernable horizon in the distance.

While a visit to the Salar de Uyuni is incredible at any time of the visit, visiting during the rainy season and seeing the Salar de Uyuni reflection, called the World’s Largest Mirror, is truly unforgettable.

When water pools on top of the Salt Flats after rain, it doesn’t easily have a way of escaping, meaning that it will sit quite still over the salt flats for a long time.

Looking at the ground from above, you’ll easily be able to see through the water to the salt below, but when looking toward the horizon, you’ll see this fantastic reflection.

When photographing the Uyuni Salt Flats reflection, shoot toward the horizon for the best effect. Shooting towards the sun and creating silhouettes of people in the morning and afternoon also do a great job of creating a nearly flawless reflection shot.

Best Hotels & Hostels in Uyuni

bolivia salt flats

Remember, there are likely going to be areas of the Salt Flats that are more flooded than others during the rainy season, and your guide may have to travel a few kilometers to find a spot that can best show off the Salar de Uyuni reflection.

Because the reflection is dependent on the last rain, it’s never a guarantee to see it!

However, if you visit during the rainy season (December through April – with the best chance to see the reflection in January or February!) you’ll most likely see this effect on the Bolivia Salt Flats!

World’s Largest Mirror

The reflection of the sky at Salar de Uyuni during the rainy season is commonly referred to as the “World’s Largest Mirror” for the way it perfectly mirrors the sky.

The World’s Largest Mirror Salar de Uyuni reflection is actually so large during the rainy season that it can be seen from space! This is one of my favorite Salar de Uyuni facts!

Make sure when visiting that you have a chance to take tons of photos showing off the reflection – tour guides will know the best spots to take you on the Salt Flats for the best photography! Many tour participants also share that tour guides are generally helpful in directing how to take photos to maximize the effect – my guide was super helpful for photo ideas as well!

Salar de Uyuni Facts

Salar de Uyuni Appeared in Star Wars

Salar de Uyuni appeared as a filming location in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, released in 2017. In this Star Wars franchise movie, Salar de Uyuni served as the backdrop for the planet Crait – with its flat, stark, white landscapes it makes a perfect backdrop for an alien planet!

Salar de Uyuni is the Flattest Place on Earth

The Bolivian Salt Flats at Uyuni is the flattest place on earth! The Bolivian Salt Flats are known for being extremely flat – one of the flattest places on earth.

There is almost no change in elevation when moving across them, due to the way they were created, with receding saltwater.

This extreme flatness combined with few points of reference – all you’ll see will be salt and sky at the horizon – leads to crazy optical illusions.

One fun part of any Bolivia Salt Flats tour is taking “fotos locos” as the local guides call them – “crazy photos” that demonstrate this insane loss of depth perspective. Guides will often bring things out on the salt flats to take these pictures with, or you can bring your own along with you or find some in town.

What to Pack for Salar de Uyuni

Check out our Ultimate Salar de Uyuni Packing List for our tried and tested packing list. Don’t repeat our mistakes on your Laguna Colorada and Salar de Uyuni adventure!

salar de uyuni

Salar de Uyuni’s Hotels are Famous

Salar de Uyuni is famous for the salt hotel – these are hotels built entirely out of blocks of salt carved from the Bolivian salt flats.

There are hotels at all price points in Uyuni and the surrounding communities built entirely from giant blocks of salt. Make sure to stay in one while you’re visiting – it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and definitely the best option for where to stay in Uyuni.

Uyuni has plenty of salt hotel options at all price points- check out these for an unforgettable stay:

Often the Salar de Uyuni Jeep 4×4 tours will include a night in a salt hotel, but you’ll want to make sure to contact your tour company to verify this, as you don’t want to miss this unique accommodation experience!

What About the Uyuni Salt Flats Is So Special?

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia is home to one of the world’s largest lithium deposits, found beneath the thick layer of salt. In a world increasingly reliant on lithium batteries and the countless other ways lithium powers us, Salar de Uyuni represents one of the world’s richest sources of this resource.

Geologists aren’t sure about the true size of the lithium deposits under the Salar de Uyuni, but this is thought to be one of the largest concentrated areas of lithium on Earth. Not much has yet been extracted, but Bolivia could become one of the world’s major lithium producers in the coming years.

Salar de Uyuni Map

I created this Salar de Uyuni map to help you get your bearings about what to see and where to visit when planning a Salar de Uyuni trip. While the Salt Flats are certainly the star of the show, there is so much more to see here!

Click and zoom on the Salar de Uyuni map to see the location of destinations mentioned throughout this article, as well as places you can’t miss when visiting the Bolivian Salt Flats and the surrounding region.

Salar de Uyuni Altitude

Salar de Uyuni is located in Bolivia’s altiplano, or, “high plains” region, and is located in some of the highest parts of the Andes mountains. Here you’ll definitely feel the altitude as soon as you arrive! The Salar de Uyuni altitude is often the highest that most visitors have ever experienced.

Keep reading to come prepared and knowledgeable about what to do to avoid the effects of altitude (drink water and coca tea… and more!).

Uyuni Altitude

The town of Uyuni is located at an astonishing 12,139 feet (3,700 meters) above sea level, meaning that any visit here will likely be one of the highest altitudes that most visitors ever experience.

Within and around Uyuni there is not much change in elevation. The Salt Flats themselves are known for being extremely flat – one of the flattest places on earth – altitude doesn’t vary much.

However, if you’re headed out on one of the popular Jeep 4X4 tours of the Salt Flats and of the surrounding region, you will experience altitudes that are both slightly higher or lower than the altitude of Uyuni.

For example, the altitude at Laguna Colorada is much higher than the altitude at Salar de Uyuni, located at about 14,100 feet (4,300 meters) above sea level. This will be around one of the higher locations you’ll likely visit on a tour!

salt flats bolivia uyuni

Salar de Uyuni Altitude Sickness

Given its extremely high altitude, be prepared to feel some effects of the altitude when you arrive in Uyuni – though you likely won’t notice much difference if you’ve already visited La Paz. Come prepared for the altitude by knowing to expect these symptoms:

  • Exhaustion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Greater exertion required when walking or exercising
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches

Thankfully most travelers will only feel mild symptoms, and drinking plenty of water and getting extra rest should do the trick.

Plus, as most travelers to Uyuni come from La Paz to the Salt Flats, most don’t feel the change in altitude – the Salar de Uyuni is only about 200 feet (60 meters) higher in altitude than La Paz, so there isn’t much change.

Coca Tea in Bolivia

One local remedy to help ease altitude sickness is drinking tea made from coca leaves – you’ll find coca leaves and coca leaf tea everywhere in the mountainous regions of Bolivia and Peru.

I found drinking coca tea to be extremely beneficial for easing the symptoms of altitude sickness and energizing even when only experiencing minor symptoms.

Coca is notorious for being the plant used for the production of cocaine, but coca leaves have been used for centuries by locals to help ease the effects of altitude sickness and other ailments.

It is usually enjoyed by making tea directly from the leaves or sucking on the leaves. Don’t worry, it won’t unintentionally make you high!

You can get tea from coca leaves at plenty of cafes, in tea bags from supermarkets or corner stores, or buy the leaves directly from markets – don’t worry, you won’t have any trouble finding it in Uyuni or throughout Bolivia.

Best Hotels & Hostels in Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni Best Time to Go

Picking when to visit Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia is one of the most important decisions you’ll make about your trip! The experience you have here will be entirely different depending on the time of year of your trip.

Because the Salt Flats are only flooded during the rainy season, you’ll only have a few months out of the year where you’ll be able to see the reflection that Salar de Uyuni is known for.

However, no matter what time of year you visit, it is worth a trip – the landscape here is just that beautiful!

December – April

These months mark the wet season at the Uyuni Salt Flats. While you’ll also have cooler temperatures and a higher likelihood of cloudy skies, you’re most likely to see the reflection on the salt flats.

Generally, January or February are the months that are the rainiest and most likely to produce the reflection over the largest area of the Salt Flats. In March and April, you’ll start getting better rates from tour operators.

May – November

These months are mostly dry, and you likely will not see the reflection on the Salt Flats if you visit at this time. However, you’ll also enjoy blue skies, warmer weather, and smaller crowds in May, October, and November. You’ll also get some better rates for Salar de Uyuni tours.

Regardless of when you visit, even in the warmer and drier season, remember that you’ll still be at high altitudes, and it will be cold at night! Come prepared with jackets, sweaters, and even a hat and gloves (you’ll need them at night) no matter when you plan to visit.

How to Get to Uyuni

Most visitors to Uyuni travel via La Paz, the capital of Bolivia and the nearest large city. The most cost-effective way to travel from La Paz to Uyuni is via overnight bus, lasting about 10-11 hours. Buses depart frequently from the Terminal de Buses – Lapaz bus terminal in central La Paz.

There are several bus companies that make the journey to the Uyuni Salt Flats, including Trans Titicaca, Cruz del Norte, and Panasur, but most prefer to take the Todo Turismo bus.

While all these bus companies have lie-flat seats for around $20-30 are and quite comfortable, the Todo Turismo is slightly nicer, provides dinner (and wine!), and is just a few dollars more.

Make sure to book ahead (tickets do sell out frequently on peak days!). You’ll want to get your ticket at least one day in advance, or online. You can book tickets online with a pickup from your hotel for just a few dollars more at this link: La Paz – Uyuni Overnight Bus Tickets.

However, there are plenty of ways to access Uyuni – particularly by bus – that avoid passing through La Paz. You’ll find frequent buses to Uyuni from nearby towns like Tupiza in southern Bolivia and San Pedro de Atacama (or Calama) in northern Chile.

Consider taking a bus through these cities if you’re traveling through Argentina or Chile, respectively.

Or, why not start a Salar de Uyuni tour that ends in Uyuni? Check out these options for more details:

Other large Bolivian cities with direct buses to Uyuni include Potosí and Sucre, which are relatively quick journeys. Longer direct routes from cities like Cochabamba are painfully long.

Uyuni Airport

Unless you’re traveling on a strict budget, I’d recommend checking out the flights into the Uyuni Airport – they generally are not too expensive and will save you an overnight bus ride.

The Joya Andina Uyuni Airport is small but modern and receives frequent flights from La Paz, Sucre, and Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Located close to everything in this small town, it costs less than $5 to get to and from the airport.

Find the Best Salar de Uyuni Tours

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Bolivia Salt Flats Tours for even more information and recommendations for the best Salar de Uyuni tours.

ruta de las lagunas

Salar de Uyuni Tours

The Salt Flats at Salar de Uyuni cover huge distances and are nearly empty, so they can’t really be visited on your own. Almost all visitors to the area book either a day trip around the Salt Flats or a multi-day tour of the entire region.

While full-day tours of the Salt Flats will give you an incredible experience visiting this unique destination, I recommend trying to make room in your itinerary for a multi-day tour.

Most multi-day Salar de Uyuni tours are three days and two nights, and are the perfect length of time to enjoy the entire area. These tours always include a full day at the Salt Flats and extra time to enjoy here.

Best Salar de Uyuni Tours:

Multi-day tours are all-inclusive and will take you around the entire region, visiting destinations like the incredible Laguna Colorada, bubbling hot springs, deserts, volcanoes, and much more. This region has so much to offer, and you won’t regret taking the time to experience it.

What to Pack for Salar de Uyuni

Check out our Ultimate Salar de Uyuni Packing List for our tried and tested packing list. Don’t repeat our mistakes on your Laguna Colorada and Salar de Uyuni adventure!

lagunas route

While most multi-day tours depart from Uyuni town, you can also find tours from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, directly from La Paz, or Tupiza in southern Bolivia near the Argentina border.

Uyuni Town

The small town of Uyuni on the edge of the Salt Flats isn’t much of a site to see itself – it really exists to support visitors and the infrastructure they need to visit the Salt Flats. It isn’t the most charming, but it has more than enough to support visitors.

Here you’ll find plenty of accommodation options, tour companies, restaurants, and everything else you could need as a traveler passing through.

Top Uyuni Tips

Looking for a complete guide to the ins and outs of Salar de Uyuni tours and recommendations for the best tour companies? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Bolivia Salt Flats Tours.

Where to Stay in Uyuni

There are plenty of accommodation options in Uyuni, and in recent years the options have really expanded to better accommodate travelers at all price points.

Of course, one of the major draws here are the unique salt hotels that you’ll find around the city. Created entirely out of blocks of salt carved from the Salt Flats (even bed frames and other furniture it all salt!), these hotels are definitely worth at least a one-night stay for the experience – add this to your ultimate “what to do in Uyuni” list!

Make sure to check out these options if you’re interested in staying the night in one of these unique accommodations!

If you’re planning to stay a night in Uyuni town before embarking on a multi-day tour of the Salar de Uyuni and the surrounding region, it’s worth checking ahead with your tour company to see if a night in a salt hotel is a part of your tour – many tours include this fun experience.

If so, you could consider normal accommodation while in Uyuni.

Look into these options if you’re looking for Salar de Uyuni hotels other than a salt hotel:

What to Do in Uyuni

There isn’t much to do in Uyuni besides visiting the Salt Flats – but there are some sites you won’t want to miss!

The town largely exists to provide the infrastructure to support visitors to the Salt Flats, so most of what you’ll find here centers around Salt Flat tours.

Depending on the tour you select of the Salt Flats, many of the highlights in Uyuni and around the town are included in the tour. However, make sure to visit these unmissable destinations.

Uyuni Train Cemetery

Just outside of Uyuni, there is an abandoned train depot, destined decades ago to make Uyuni a mining and transportation hub. When those plans failed, a train cemetery was left behind, now its own attraction.

This eerie yet beautiful site has hundreds of rusted-out old trains, relatively close to town. Set against the desert landscape here, they are fascinating to explore and photograph!

You can book a short private tour of the Train Cemetary for under $15 if it won’t be included on your longer Salt Flats tour to make sure that you don’t miss out on visiting.

Or, consider combining a visit to the Train Cemetary and a sunset and stargazing excursion on the Salt Flats, another must in Uyuni!

Bolivian Salt Flats At Night

One of the most incredible things to do in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia is taking a tour of the salt flats at night! These nighttime starlight tours are often separate from a standard Salt Flats tour, so you’ll have to book them separately, but they are so worth it!

The guide will take you outside of the town to the best areas for stargazing, and you’ll be shocked at all you can see. Imagine seeing the reflection of thousands of stars on the mirror of the Salt Flats at once!

Plus, a lot of these nighttime stargazing tours include breakfast and sunrise over the Salt Flats, another unmissable moment at this wonder of the world.

bolivia salt flat

Isla Incahuasi

You can not miss this “island” within the Salt Flats! This is a must-visit destination in Uyuni, so make sure you plan to visit before traveling onward.

Isla Incahuasi “island” is home to centuries-old cacti that can tower as high as 35 feet (10 meters) high! Here you’ll learn more about how Salar de Uyuni was once an ancient, salty lake – you’ll see leftover corals and fossils of what was once a volcanic island.

Plus, Isla Incahuasi is one of the few places you’ll be able to see the Salt Flats from above – and one of the most beautiful places to photograph the Salt Flats. This is a totally unique perspective of this incredible site you can’t miss.

While relatively close to Uyuni, you’ll need to travel by Jeep 4X4 across the Salt Flats to get to Isla Incahuasi, so book a short but comprehensive visit hereSouth America Exploor has inexpensive day trips out to the “island”!

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.