Wise Up: Don't Follow the Masses on your Salt Flats Tour in Bolivia

Wise Up: Don't Follow the Masses on your Salt Flats Tour in Bolivia

The Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats) is a can’t miss, must-see, have to go to destination not only in Bolivia, but all of South America

On this tour that brings you through a good portion of the southwestern part of the country, the uniqueness and beauty will astound any traveler.

The entire country of Bolivia is this way, but it was never more evident than in the four day jeep trip. This tour brings travelers through such a myriad of landscapes that the four of us on our tour found ourselves using words like “lunar” and “Mars” to describe our surroundings.

The question shouldn’t be whether or not you should visit the Salt Flats.  Just go now and thank me later. 

The real question you should be asking yourself is where to begin your tour?  We were traveling from north to south in Bolivia, so it would have been more logical to begin our trip into the Salt Flats from the more northern city of Uyuni, which is where the vast majority of travelers depart.  But we decided to keep heading south and start our journey from the sleepy town of Tupiza in southern Bolivia, only a few hours from the Argentine border. 

Why would we do such a seemingly illogical thing?  

There are several reasons why, and if you wise up and stop following the herds to Uyuni, you will no doubt enjoy your experience more by heading south to Tupiza.


Reason #1-Comfort

If you’re traveling in Bolivia already, chances are you are already used to being uncomfortable in all manners of transport.  Bolivian buses and trains are not known for their vast space, timid drivers, and emptiness.  But if you’re already shelling out a good chunk of change for a Salt Flats tour, then you might as well drop a little extra coin to make yourselves more comfortable.  All mode of transport on a Salt Flats tour is by jeep.  They are all the same size, and they really only comfortably seat six; four travelers, a guide, and a cook.  And that’s not counting the college girl in your group who is on holiday and brought a 110 litre pack with her (no offense to college girls on holiday-I am really quite fond of you).  Every single jeep we saw that left from Uyuni had eight passengers; six tourists, a guide, and a cook, plus all the luggage that everyone brought.  The vast majority of jeeps leaving from Tupiza had six, which meant we could comfortably stretch out the entire trip. 

I know, I know, you already endured the most hellacious bus trip in all of South America by going to Rurrenabaque from La Paz.  You’re a seasoned traveler who can endure painful and uncomfortable modes of transport.  But what most people don’t realize before embarking on a tour of the Salt Flats is that they will be spending around twelve hours a day in their jeeps for four straight days, sometimes not getting out for hours at a time.  It also becomes problematic for seeing and picture taking when you’re stuck sitting in the middle of either row.  So do yourself a favor and splurge a little bit by heading down to Tupiza to begin your trip.


Reason #2-Less Options = Better?

Usually people want more options for everything.  More is always better, right?  Well, not necessarily in this case.  In Uyuni you will be inundated with companies claiming they’re the best and promising comfort and good food and English speaking guides and a bundle of cash at the end of your trip (OK, I made the last one up).  Do an internet search of companies who do tours of the Salt Flats from Uyuni, and you will come back more confused than ever with vastly differing accounts of who is good and who is bad.  In reality, it’s a crapshoot, and you just never know what you’re going to get in a town where new companies pop up overnight trying to make a buck.  You only have a few options in Tupiza, and you won’t make yourself dizzy trying to compare the hundreds of different companies available.


Reason #3-You Visit the Salt Flats LAST

You want to see the Salt Flats, right?  That’s why you’re taking this tour, correct?  Another thing that most people don’t know is that the actual Salt Flats only take up one day of the four day trip. “Wha Wha!?!?!?” you may be screaming.  Don’t worry, you will find out this is not a negative.  In fact, while the Salt Flats are the definite highlight of the trip, the other three days are just as spectacular and really provide that “I don’t really feel like I’m on Earth anymore” feeling. 

As jaw dropping as the rest of the tour is, the Salt Flats are the main attraction.  If you begin your odyssey in Uyuni, guess what you do the very first day?  That’s right, you visit the Slat Flats.  The climax is at the very beginning, making the rest of the journey a bit anticlimactic.  If you leave from Tupiza, you get to enjoy the lagoons and mountains and gorgeous landscapes of southwestern Bolivia on your first three days and end it all with a bang by hitting up the famous Salar de Uyuni on your final day.  You wouldn’t start the Inca Trail at Machu Picchu, or begin your Everest trek at the summit, would you?  So why begin the Salt Flats tour at the Salt Flats?


No matter what way you decide to do it, a visit to one of the world’s great wonders will no doubt leave you inspired, happy, and giddy.  It is a truly beautiful area of the world that is more unique than any other place I’ve been. 

But if you really want to get the most out of your trip, consider bucking the trend and beginning your journey in Tupiza instead of the more popular Uyuni.


Written and contributed by  Adam Seper


no map