A van speeds along the sparkling white ground without following any marked road. The six passengers wonder how their driver knows where he's headed since white salt flats are the only thing they can see for miles around. These visitors are from all over the world--two recent high school graduates from Sweden, a middle-aged man from Iceland, an Israeli celebrating the completion of his military service, a girl from the US, and her boyfriend from Argentina. All of them are there to see the same thing: the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia.

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Most people have seen photos of this striking landscape on their Instagram feed, but may not have known where the photographer took the picture. The Bolivian salt flats are the perfect setting for shots ranging from unashamedly corny to breathtaking. In the dry season (April through October), tourists love setting up photos where one of them seems to hold a tiny person in their hand or minuscule hikers escape from a stomping giant. The plain white backdrop provides is perfect for creating this optical illusion since there's no horizon. During the rainy season (November through March), water accumulates over the salt creating a mirror reflecting the whole sky. Images created at this time of year seem to show heaven on Earth with endless clouds and blue sky. It's easy to understand why this spot draws visitors from all over the planet.

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Planes, Trains, And Buses To Uyuni

The travelers in the van each followed a distinct path to Bolivia's top destination. The visitor from Iceland wisely chose to take an airplane from El Alto International Airport in La Paz, Bolivia's capital to Uyuni's airport. This two-hour flight costs more than $250 USD for a one-way ticket and has a stopover in Cochabamba. Airline passengers won't have to worry about riding a bus with uncomfortable temperatures (always too hot or too cold), going over bumpy terrain, or keeping an eye on their valuables on an all-night bus.

The friends from Sweden took a nine-hour bus ride from La Paz's central bus station, La Terminal de Buses. The pair paid less than $40 each for tickets. The seats on their bus reclined a full 180 degrees and had individual screens showing movies. An attendant even served the passengers warm dinners. The low point of the ride was a stretch of unpaved road which was bumpy and dusty. Some buses take a longer route through Potosi to stay on concrete. Bus companies may offer tickets online, but often the cheapest and easiest way to travel is simply purchasing one in person at the station the day of the trip. This also means travelers can get a glimpse of the vehicle before deciding on a company.

  • Quick fact: Travelers who travel to Uyuni by bus from La Terminal de Buses de La Paz in Antofagasta Square should take a moment to enjoy the architecture of the station--it was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the author of Paris's Eiffel Tower.
  • Bus Companies: Many guides recommend traveling on Todo Turismo or Trans Turistico Omar. Some tourists complain that Todo Turismo charges inflated rates, but they have a 4.3-star rating on Google. This company has experience serving foreign tourists and provide more comfort. Trans Turistico Omar received just a 2.2-star rating with several tourists complaining that their electronics were stolen on the bus ride between Uyuni and La Paz. Brave travelers can shop around a bit more the Terminal de Buses if they want to compare prices and services since there are many more options available.

Staying In Uyuni And Getting To The Salt Flats

The town of Uyuni is in the middle of the desert and lodging ranges from basic to comfortable. The international couple from the US and Argentina booked a room in the famous Hotel Palacio de Sal. Here, rooms cost around $200 a night, which is tremendously expensive in comparison to many other accommodations nearby which cost as little as $20. The reason it's so special: blocks of salt, cut from the flats form the walls of this five-star hotel. Another noteworthy salt block hotel is Sumay Rijchariy. Local Bolivians built the structure and continue to run it. Staying there means supporting sustainable community development.

Uyuni's Salt Block Hotels:

  • Hotel Palacio de Sal
  • Hotel de Luna Salada
  • Hotel de Sal Cristal Samaña
  • Hotel de Sal Sumaj Rijchariy

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The traveler from Israel was backpacking through South America on a budget. He chose to stay in a low-cost hostel. it was a good thing he had his camping gear along--nights in Uyuni are chilly and his room didn't have great heating so he slept in his sleeping bag under the hotel blankets. The water in the shower was cooler than he'd have liked and the administration charged him extra for toilet paper and a towel. The price was a great deal, but his stay was not comfortable. Travelers will find that cheaper hostels in Bolivia often tack on extra charges for amenities like toilet paper, towels, and more.

Seeing The Salt Flats

These six travelers all found themselves on the same tour van, headed across the Salar de Uyuni. The trip includes short hikes at scenic points, seeing flocks of flamingos in the flat's lagoons, visiting the Thunupa volcano, star gazing, and witnessing mind-blowing sunsets. The three-day tour will take them across the border with Chile to San Pedro de Atacama where they'll continue to take in South America's spectacular landscapes.

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