Bolivian Salt Flats - 4 Reasons To Reconsider Your Bucket List
We ventured to this extraordinary destination back in March, mostly because it was the very first place Kelly pinned on her bucket list Pinterest board. As glad as we are that we’ve now been to the Bolivian Salt Flats, we wouldn’t suggest you rushing to get there. Shocking right?! We are even shocked to give such advice.
Don’t get us wrong, you should visit this country but maybe lower it on your bucket list. We list out the reasons why and if you’re anything like us, you'll understand why - however for landscape photographers (or people who enjoy long periods cramped in the back of a 4x4) this might be one of the best places you could visit.
Getting there is a bit of a pain. We opted to fly into the small Uyuni airport, however our roundtrip flights cost us in excess of $300. Many budget travelers opt to take the bus from La Paz or Chile. The bus from La Paz is an overnight journey that takes around 8 hours.
The Bolivian Salt Flats are an impressive and vast area of land that is incomparable to anywhere else we’ve seen. The flat white crystal-like surface goes on for miles and miles with no end in sight - you certainly don’t want to get lost out here. Tourists from across the world flock to the Salt Flats and we think many probably leave disappointed, or that it just wasn’t worth the extra time and money. For many, the Salt Flats means one thing, a good photo opportunity - whether that is to capture the famous reflection off the flooded plains or to try your hand at perspective photography (looking giant or puny depending what’s in the forefront). To capture that famous reflection shot, you really need the perfect scenario which many don’t get. Either you’ll be there for dry season and there’s no flooding. Or there might be too much flooding and high winds, meaning you won’t have that perfectly still water to capture the reflection. We were there for the latter. It will just be luck and coincidence if you get the shot you’re looking for.
We booked ourselves onto a 2-night, 3-day excursion of the Salt Flats and surrounding area. This included the train graveyard, red and green lagoons including flamingoes, stone tree, the Salvador Dali landscape, and hot springs and geysers. What no one tells you about these tours is that since everything is so far away from each other, you mostly spend your time sitting in a car being driven from point to point. The roads are bumpy and the cars cramped, with up to 6 passengers and a driver to each car. Our driver didn’t speak any English, so the “tour” part was limited to the time we got out of the car and the lead tour guide provided some information on what we were seeing. For the hours you spend sitting in a car, you have but only minutes to take your photos of the lagoon or rock formations or geysers. This was pretty disappointing for the money we paid for the tour. I’m afraid unless you pay for a luxury experience, this is most likely what you are going to get.
A couple of miscellaneous notes of interest to anyone thinking about booking themselves on to a multi-day tour:
- The tour didn’t provide any water - we had to go buy that last minute for ourselves.
- The overnight stays were very basic. I wasn’t expecting 5-star accommodation, but at least working electricity and not hostel style dorm-rooms. Hot or even luke-warm showers would have been nice too. There’s certainly a gap in the market for eco-lodging here.
- The food consisted of staples; lots of vegetables and quinoa.
- No toilet breaks for hours on end during the driving part of the tour. When we did stop you just had to find a hidden place to go in nature - often difficult when the landscape is bare and wide open.
Pro tip: make sure you have some USD or bolivianos left at the end of your trip to pay the airport exit fee. We didn;t realise this and spent our last Bolivianos on a deck of playing cards. Thankfully we still have a few USD bills lying around.