The Salt Flats in Bolivia have been top of my bucketlist for years now. So of course, when I finally got the opportunity to go, I wanted to make sure everything went perfectly. I spent a lot of time researching different tour providers, altitude mediation, and reading fabulous travel blogs. In the end, the trip far exceeded my expectations (which were already set VERY high!) and so I wanted to share everything I learnt with you guys.
I vlogged the trip so you can get immersed in it, but I also wanted to do a blog post of practical tips and details. So here goes!
Truth behind the Instagrams?
- Is it crowded?
- A lot of famous sights around the world (like the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China) end up being super packed with tourists but I didn’t feel like that in Bolivia. We were in a car with 6 people, plus a driver, and tended to see the same 4/5 cars at every stop and hotel. Some of them were with the same tour agency and some different. But apart from that we didn’t really see anyone else! So the crowds were pretty minimal.
- Which direction is best?
- We did the trip from San Pedro (Chile) – Uyuni (Bolivia). I really wanted to do it the other way round as there are a lot more options from Uyuni and it’s much more popular. However, it’s far easier to get to San Pedro (direct flight from Santiago) and actually I think it meant our route was less crowded.
- How do you get there?
- You can fly directly from Santiago, then take a 1 hour shuttle bus ride. They all cost the same so go for TransVIP if you can.
- A word of warning:
- This trip is not very glamorous! You’ll be sleeping in very basic accommodation, and eating pretty bland “camping style” food like pasta and tuna. However, it’s also not as hardcore as it looked based on what people are wearing on Instagram! I got the impression you had to wear hiking gear and puffer jackets all the time but actually you can take cute outfits (see my vlog and Instagram). You’re mostly just in and out of the car all the time so I’d recommend running shoes, but otherwise not much else practical!
- Is it worth doing the whole 3 days?
- To be honest I was hell bent on getting to the Salt Flats asap and not “wasting” any time with the 3 day drive and tour. However, boy was I wrong! The tour was absolutely incredible and possibly (possibly!) even the best part. Definitely do it.
Staying physically strong…
- How to avoid altitude sickness?
- The natural option is coco leaves, coco tea, and even caramel covered coco candy! There’s no scientific evidence but the locals swear by it and they’re all very cheap options.
- Another natural option is chlorophyll drops in your water – about 30 drops for a big 1L bottle.
- We also took over the counter pills (twice daily) – Acetazolamida if you’re interested.
- And a lot of water! Really this is the number one way to avoid symptoms. Like seriously drink as much as you can force down! And don’t drink alcohol (obviously).
- I didn’t feel any effects (apart from being a bit out of breath), but most other people had headaches, and one or two had vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Other medication you might want to pack…. ibuprofen (headaches) and anti diarrhoea (obviously), rehydration salts (because dehydration is the most common cause) and as much sleep as possible given there will be multiple early mornings.
- How to avoid Food Poisoning
- Depends how paranoid you want to be! When I’m in India I’m on maximum alert (i.e. cleaning my cutlery with wipes!!), but in Thailand I eat salad and ice without a problem. In Bolivia we used tap water for cleaning our teeth, and hand sanitised constantly. We also avoided salads and packed a ton of snacks in case we wanted to opt out of any meals.
- If in doubt avoid meat, and uncooked veg (e.g. salads)
I read a LOT of bad reviews from different tour companies… including drivers so drunk that the customers took over and drove the jeep! Thankfully we had absolutely zero problems and a generally flawless experience. Here’s who we booked with…
- Tour agency: Keteka – who booked us on to Green and White as the tour provider. This was our exact trip.
- They all seemed very good – all drivers in our convoy seemed sober and friendly (although didn’t speak a word of English)!
- TransVIP are best airport transfer
- Lodge Tatais was our hotel in San Pedro – everything in San Pedro was pretty basic so ours exceeded those expectations and the guy running the place was lovely.
To be honest this wasn’t a big factor for me as I’d been dreaming of this tour for a long time. However, I can never fully switch of my thrifty radar so here are a couple of tips.
- Book when you’re in Uyuni for the best prices (if you’re going that way round), or failing that book on the spot in San Pedro. We booked in online advance for peace of mind but the tours leave every day so you shouldn’t have to wait long to get on one.
- Shop for your alpaca sweaters and trinkets in the market near Uyuni (see the vlog). It’s not incredible quality but apparently it’s the best prices (and boy was it cheap!)
- The entire experience is actually very cheap as everything is included! We paid around $200 for the whole 4 day tour – include all accommodation, food and drink (water/tea/occasional coke), and transfers. There’s about $40 of extra costs like national park fees, and I went kind of crazy in the market and spent about $50 on a ton of gifts etc. We also tipped our driver $20 but that seemed to be far more than the South American’s with us so I guess it varies.
- We only had an afternoon in San Pedro de Atacama so we hired bikes (about $8 each) for the afternoon and cycled to Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte. We also hired sandboards from the same place and had a play around in Muerte. Getting to the locations was super easy (big, flat roads) but cycling around them was pretty tough (sand and rocks!). However, it was very cheap and meant we could fit in a lot more than a drawn out tour as we just took some quick photos and moved on. Normally the valleys would be half a day each but we did the speedy (and cheap!) version.
What else to pack:
- We took 10L of water per person for the 3 days. This was a lot more than recommended (7L) but we drank it all!
- 350 Bolivian pesos for park fees etc, plus spending money (the artisan market was great!). Try to get small change as the notes from currency exchanges are 100 and a lot of the early stops (e.g. toilets) only cost 6 and will have no change.
- Extra snacks – sugar, protein, plain things in case you’re sick etc
- Layers – hot and cold as you’ll be going from freezing nights to desert days
- Suncream and sunglasses – very important!
- Closed toe shoes for sand and the odd bit of rock clambering
- Electricity backups – portable power packs, multi way converters to share the one socket with everyone in your dorm room, spare batteries etc. Two of the nights were in a hotel that supposedly only had 2 hours of electricity but actually it was on a lot more than that. Regardless, the cold nights will wreck your battery and you don’t want to miss out on photos! So bring as many options as you can.
- Salt flat props – for hilarious photo
- Swimming costume and towel – for the hot springs
- Moisturiser and lip balm! The hot springs (and the desert in general) and very drying #obviously, and this was something I really missed.
- Hand sanitiser and toilet roll – will not be provided
Well – that was an exhaustingly long post! I really hope you found it useful and discovered some new tips. I can’t stress enough how incredible this trip was and how highly I recommend it…. and I’ll be looking forward to hearing all about your experiences in the comments too! Happy adventuring <3