EXCURSION FROM SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA TO SALAR DE UYUNI

by MorganeChrlr
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3 DAYS EXCURSION TO THE BOLIVIAN SALT DESERT

Being in Chile before doing the Salar de Uyuni, there are several options from San Pedro de Atacama to join the classic loop. I did the Salar de Uyuni excursion in collaboration with Torre Tours to cross the border and do the 3 day excursion. In this article, I’ll detail what we did hour by hour, so you’ve a clear idea of the itinerary.

WHAT IS THE 3-DAY ITINERARY TO SALAR DE UYUNI?

DAY 1: FROM SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA TO LAGUNA COLORADA

7:15 a.m.: departure from our hostel. A mini van comes to pick up several people who aren’t necessarily doing the excursion with the same agency, to go to the border.
7:45 a.m.: we arrive at the border, located at an altitude of 4,600m above sea level, and we see the queue of vehicles. We’ve breakfast there, while waiting for the doors to open.
9:15 a.m.: we go through Chilean customs so they can stamp our passport and collect our paper. Then head to the Bolivian border where we meet our guide Edgar who explains to us what we need to do. Our guide only speaks Spanish (it was US$50* extra for an English-speaking guide) but his Spanish was quite easy to understand. What I really liked about the agency was that they also explained to us in advance the paperwork to be completed before departure, detailing certain information. After going through all the formalities, the next step’s to pay for the national park entrance.
10:30 a.m.: finally ready! We meet the 2 other people with whom we’ll share the 3 days.
10:35 a.m.: first stop, the Laguna Blanca! Our guide drops us off at a place to pick us up a little further away, about ten minutes’ walk away. A very beautiful lake to start this excursion to the Salar de Uyuni. The mountains are reflected in the water! It’s absolutely beautiful!
11 a.m.: 15 minutes stop at the Laguna Verde located at the foot of the Licancabur volcano. Bad luck for us, the lake wasn’t green that day because there was little wind. No problem, we’re back on the road. We see a fox at the side of the road. Our guide stopped so we could appreciate its beauty. Don’t worry, there are also other animals that you’ll see on the way.
12:05 p.m.: the Salvador Dalí Desert, desierto Salvador Dalí. As its name suggests, it’s a desert! But its particularity is that there are large rocks everywhere coming from a volcano which was erupting further away. The landscapes are magnificent ! One of my favorite places! We stay there for around ten minutes to admire the landscape and take a few photos.
12:30 p.m.: Hots Springs, Termas de Polques. Our stop to eat a delicious meal prepared by our excellent cook Lydia, who will accompany us throughout the stay. After this good meal, we’ve the opportunity to bathe in the hot springs. Personally, there were so many people that it didn’t necessarily make me want to… There are 2 pools, one at 35 degrees and the other at 30 degrees. I waited to leave while admiring the beautiful landscape around. We leave around 2:15 p.m.
2:45 p.m.: we stay for around thirty minutes at Sol de Mañana geysers, located at an altitude of 5,000m above sea level. If you aren’t used to being at high altitude, take your time to do the tour and mention it to your guide if you aren’t feeling well. When I got out of the car, there was a smell of sulfur that hit me straight in the nose! The geysers are quite different from what we saw in San Pedro de Atacama. It’s possible to be close enough to the geysers to watch these gray holes boil.
4 p.m.: arrival at our hostel for the night. We were supposed to have a shared room but circumstances made it possible to give us a private room. We didn’t say no haha. The hostel really seems to be in the middle of nowhere, next to shops and abandoned cars. It’s quite a unique place.
4:15 p.m.: we take the car again for around ten minutes to arrive at Laguna Colorada! Due to algae, the lagoon has a red color! And best of all, there are countless numbers of Andean flamingos in this lagoon! I can’t believe the immensity of this lagoon, the colors, the flamingos… It’s truly incredible! There’s a loop that you can do with a viewpoint and then walk along the edge of the lagoon not far from the flamingos. We really ended the day with a good memory. After 1 hour of walking and observation, we return to the accommodation.
7 p.m.: dinner with a good hot soup and a good dish before going to bed.

Entrance to the national park: bob 150*
Bathing in the thermal baths: bob 6*

DAY 2: FROM LAGUNA COLORADA TO UYUNI SALT HOTEL

6 a.m.: we’ve breakfast and prepare our things for departure.
7am: we drive for around 2 hours passing incredible landscapes the whole way. We’re almost alone on the road, a real joy!
9:10 a.m.: Our first stop of the day, the Copa del Mundo. We stay for a little less than an hour looking at these rocks with different shapes around us. A different type of landscape than the day before, it’s impressive!
10 a.m.: right next door, we go to Italia Perdida. It’s possible to climb on one of the rocks to have a superb view! Be careful if you’re scared of heights, the path’s quite open and steep.
10:30 a.m.: we stop briefly at Laguna Vinto before hitting the road again.
10:50 a.m.: we walk about 5 minutes to arrive at the magnificent Laguna Negra. A lagoon with an incredible mirror reflection, in the middle of the rocks. It’s just impressive! Wow… We took our time here to enjoy the landscape and observe some animals including viscachas which look like little rabbits. We stay there for about 40 minutes before getting back in the car.
11:45 a.m.: a quick 10-minute stop in the Vale de Rocas to observe the volcanic rocks.
12:10 p.m.: Mirador Cañon de Alota, or sometimes known as Anaconda Canyon! A 20 minute stop that I was waiting for so much! A high view of an incredible canyon with a river at the bottom that’s shaped like a snake. The view’s truly magnificent, it was worth it! This is one of my favorite views during this second day.
1 p.m.: lunch on the edge of a small lagoon with flamingos in the area. A beautiful view to eat your meal. We hit the road for another 1.5 hours before arriving at our next stop.
3 p.m.: short break in a bar to have a Uyuni salt beer if we want (not included in the Salar de Uyuni excursion). Very touristy obviously, but it also allows you to take a 30-minute break before hitting the road again.
4 p.m.: arrival at our Uyuni salt hotel. Accommodation made almost entirely of salt! It’s impressive and magnificent! With a view on the Salar de Uyuni!
5:40 p.m.: we had specifically requested it from the agency because they don’t all do that, we take the car back to go to watch the sunset over the Salar de Uyuni. Our guide offers us a drink on site while we admire this magnificent sunset over this immensity of Bolivian salt desert. The colors are incredible! It’s really beautiful, I can’t believe I’m finally in this place that made me dream so much!
7 p.m.: back at the hotel, we have a nice dinner with a bottle of wine to share between us. We’re going to sleep quite early because a very early awakening awaits us the next day.

Price of beer at the bar: bob 20*

DAY 3: SALAR DE UYUNI

5:30 a.m.: we had a very early wake-up because it was at this time that we put all the luggage in the car and left for the sunrise in the middle of the largest salt desert in the world, with its 12,000 km2 .
6:30 a.m.: arrival on the cactus island, Incahuasi. I found it really strange to have such an island in the middle of the desert, a real mystery! We go up to the top where there are other groups as well. The colors appear little by little on this salt desert, in the middle of all these volcanoes. It’s just incredible! On one side the sun waking up, on the other side, purple and blue colors that will take your breath away! This is one of my greatest memories of the Salar de Uyuni excursion! It’s definitely worth it!
7:30 a.m.: after admiring this magnificent sunrise, we go back down to the foot of the island where breakfast awaits us.
8 a.m.: we get back in the car to drive in this Bolivian salt desert. I still can’t believe the immensity of this place! White as far as the eye can see with volcanoes far away.
9 a.m.: we stop in the middle of the desert with no one around us, to take the famous pictures that everyone loves to take. Be creative! We stayed there for a good hour taking dozens of different photos.
10:15 a.m.: 20-minute stop at Casa de Sal. The place where you can play « find the flag of your country », or take a photo of the Dakar monument, monumento al Dakar. This is the last stop in this famous salt desert.
10:45 a.m.: break in the Colchani village where there are many craft stands. The time you spend there will depend on your group and their purchases. We stayed there for a good hour.
12 p.m.: lunch break with our guide.
1 p.m.: after about twenty minutes of driving, we arrived to the train cemetery, cementerio de trenes! It’s a former Uyuni train station with trains dating from 1960/1970 which only ran on coal. I had always wanted to see these abandoned trains with my own eyes, and in fact, I found it quite impressive! It’s pretty cool to walk around these trains. We stay for about thirty minutes before getting back in the car. The guide drops us off in the city center so that we can take our bus, heading to Sucre!

CONCLUSION OF THE UYUNI SALAR EXCURSION

The Salar de Uyuni excursion in 3 days was a great experience! The landscapes are different every day, and each one’s beautiful. I fell in love with a lot of landscapes in certain places. The program was very complete, the timing was well managed, nothing to complain about in that regard.
Regarding the Torre Tours agency, I really liked the customer service before and after the Salar de Uyuni excursion. The guide was really good and met all our expectations. The food was good and varied. A great memory!

THE PRACTICAL MAP OF THE UYUNI SALAR EXCURSION

HOW MANY DAYS TO DO THE EXCURSION TO THE SALAR DE UYUNI?

There are different types of circuits to do the Salar de Uyuni:

  • 1 DAY: the quick option if you only want to do the Salar de Uyuni. Not necessarily what I recommend the most but it’s up to you.
  • 3 DAYS: from San Pedro de Atacama, it’s possible to do the circuit to the Salar de Uyuni. You see the main known places. This is the option we chose, and from Chile, honestly it’s the easiest.
  • 4 DAYS: a complete and classic loop from Bolivia. You’ve one more day to see other magnificent landscapes.

WHEN TO VISIT THE UYUNI SALAR?

There are two periods that may interest you to visit the Salar de Uyuni. The first’s during the rainy season to have this incredible mirror reflection in the salt desert, between January and March. But as mentioned, it’s the rainy season so you risk having bad weather. The other period is the dry season to have magnificent weather and enjoy every day between May and August. It’s up to you to see what you prefer.

Table Example
JANUARY In the middle of the rainy season, but temperatures are moderate.
FEBRUARY Several days of rain, but you might be able to see the reflecting pool at the Salar de Uyuni.
MARCH It’s the end of the rainy season.
APRIL Transition to the dry season, temperatures cool down.
MAY Very few rainy days, temperatures are colder than previous months.
JUNE Few rainy days and temperatures are cool.
JULY Right in the dry season, temperatures are low in the evening.
AUGUST Towards the end of the dry season, temperatures warm up.
SEPTEMBER It’s the start of the rainy season, but temperatures are rising a little.
OCTOBER Rainy days are gradually increasing.
NOVEMBER In the rainy season, temperatures are moderate.
DECEMBER During the rainy season, temperatures vary but remain moderate as in November.

WHAT BUDGET TO EXPECT FOR THE UYUNI SALAR EXCURSION?

Here’s the budget of a backpacker doing the Salar de Uyuni excursion with an agency, from San Pedro de Atacama:

  • Accommodation: Plan accommodation the day before the excursion at San Pedro de Atacama.
  • Food: Food’s included, even breakfast on the first morning and lunch on the last day.
  • Transport: Everything’s included, they pick you up from your accommodation and drop you off in Uyuni city center.
  • Activities: The tour we took with Torre Tours costs around US$ 250*. They have different options that you can see on their website. Don’t forget to add 150 bob* for the entrance to the national park.
  • Others: Some activities require payment, such as hot springs, toilets or showers. Allow 150 bolivianos for extras, and to buy souvenirs too.

In total, plan on a good bob 2,300* if you want to plan generously on the excursion and your extras.

MY TRAVEL TIPS TO DO THE SALAR DE UYUNI EXCURSION

  • Go to several agencies and ask what’s included or not, as well as the complete itinerary so you can compare.
  • Read the comments on Google or on the various Facebook traveler groups. I’ve heard several unpleasant stories about certain guides or agencies.
  • Dress warmly, as the trip’s still at high altitude, it can be cold, especially at night !

*Prices are as of May 2023.

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