Updated: January 2020
From La Paz to Uyuni: Here you will find a complete guide which will provide all the information you need to book your transport to Uyuni, what to do when you arrive in Uyuni, how to get around, and how to plan for your salts flat tour, as well as information for after your tour.
If you’re traveling through South America, you surely do not want to miss these two destinations: Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flats on Earth with 12,000 km2 of salt extending in all visible directions.
This guide will cover the following:
- How to get from La Paz to Uyuni
- What to do in Uyuni
- How to book your Uyuni tour
- How to choose the right tour for you
- Other useful general information
1. How to get from La Paz to Uyuni
There are 3 ways to travel from La Paz to Uyuni:
- Making a direct trip by bus.
- Going by bus from La Paz to Oruro and then from Oruro to Uyuni by train.
- By plane (direct flight).
Bus from La Paz to Uyuni
There are many La Paz to Uyuni bus options. Tickets Bolivia works with Panasur, Trans Omar, Cruz del Norte and Trans Titicaca, all trustworthy and reliable companies that offer clients good quality services. Their schedules are as follows. There are no day buses, all the options available are night bus:
|Company||Bus class||Route||Time of departure and arrival||Prices in US Dollars|
|Trans Omar||Semi lie-flat/Lie-flat 3 rows||Direct service||20:00/6:00 (+1 day)||$14.60/21.90|
|Panasur||Lie-flat||Direct service||20:00/6:00 (+1 day)||$14.60/21.90|
|Cruz del Norte||Semi lie-flat/Lie-flat||Direct service||20:30/6:30 (+1 day)||$14.60/21.90|
|Trans Titicaca||Lie flat||Direct service||22:00/7:00 (+1 day)||$29.93|
All the buses leave from the main bus terminal of La Paz, located between Avenida Peru and Avenida Uruguay. The bus station is located here: https://ticketsbolivia.com.bo/googlemaps/terminal_la_paz.php
Uyuni has no proper bus terminal, but it has a street where buses depart from and arrive at. Here is the map and street address: https://ticketsbolivia.com.bo/googlemaps/terminal_uyuni.php
- These companies don’t offer food or refreshment during the trip. Sometimes they will take sellers on board offering drinks or food, this is a common custom for buses in Bolivia. Sometimes they will also stop to pick passengers or packages along the way.
- Buses should come with heating and blankets as the journey gets cold at night on the altiplano but it is better to always come prepared. It will also be very cold (whatever the time of year) when arriving in Uyuni at 5:30-6:00 so better have warm layers.
- There are other bus companies doing this route, another very good company that offers a more tourist bus experience is Todo Turismo with buses leaving at 21:00 every day and tickets costing about 37 us$.
Train from La Paz to Uyuni (via Oruro)
With this option, passengers have to travel first from La Paz to Oruro by bus (the cost is around 5 US$) and then take the train to Uyuni.
1- Buses depart from La Paz to Oruro every 30 minutes from the bus terminal of La Paz (see map above). The trip lasts around four hours and the buses arrive at the bus terminal of Oruro, located on Gregorio Reynolds Av. The cost of the bus should be about 30-35 bolivianos. Here is the map: https://ticketsbolivia.com.bo/googlemaps/terminal_oruro.php
2 -Once you are in Oruro, you must take a taxi to the train station, located on Avenida Velasco Galvarro.
The trains that travel from Oruro to Uyuni are Wara Wara del Sur and Expreso del Sur, they are both owned by Ferroviaria Andina and people can choose between two different classes: 2nd class and Executive.
Wara Wara del Sur leaves on Wednesdays and Sundays at 19:00, arriving in Uyuni at 02:20 in the morning. Expreso del Sur leaves on Tuesdays and Fridays at 14:00, arriving in Uyuni at 21:20.
This option allows the traveler to enjoy the trip by train and to travel during the day so to enjoy the views of the altiplano. It is a longer journey but it also allows passengers to rest the night before their tour. The trains also have a restaurant wagon where they can purchase drink and food during their journey.
Flights from La Paz to Uyuni
There are two Bolivian airlines doing this route with the following departure times:
The flight lasts about an hour and departure are in the mornings and the evenings. The prices start at about 95 US$ and up to 170 US$ for one way. Flying has the advantage of being the fastest option. Flights are scheduled early and later in the day so travelers can catch their tour the same day and return the same day after the tour ends. See below more information on the Uyuni tours.
2. What to do in Uyuni
Buses arrive early in the morning – the first buses usually arrive at around 5:30 but it can be earlier. Passengers have time to charge their phones, eat something and buy whatever is needed before the tour, or book a tour if they haven’t done it. Agencies open at around 7:00 and tours leave at around 10:00. Until then there are options of coffee shops with Wi-Fi and hot drinks/food open from 5:00 to accommodate early arrivals.
The train arrives later at night (Trains arrive either at 21:20 or 2:20 in the morning) so it is recommended to book accommodation before hand. The train station is located in the center of Uyuni so you can easily book a hotel nearby.
The airport is located very near the town, most tour agencies will pick up passengers at the airport directly before the tour and drop them off there after. Otherwise there will be ways of transportation available to take you to your accommodation.
Here are some good food options if you are in Uyuni and are looking for a place to eat while you wait for your next bus/train/flight:
Breakfast Nonis: Opens early in the morning so you can go straight here after the long bus ride and warm with a hot drink and some simple food. The WiFi works well and there are plugs to charge your phone.
Minuteman Revolutionary Pizza: Located inside a hotel in the center of Uyuni, this pizza place is the perfect stop after your tour while waiting for your bus. It has a good selection of pizzas which also happen to be very good.
Lliphi: This is another very good option to wait during the afternoon. This restaurant/cafe-bistro has food, music, drinks and board games which will keep you occupied while you wait.
Tika: A more upscale option, this restaurant has a nice atmosphere and good-quality dishes.
Extreme Fun Pub: Like its name, this is a fun place meet fellow travelers if you happen to spend the night in Uyuni and are looking for a party and good drinks.
3. How to book your Uyuni salt flats tour
Tours can be booked online, in La Paz or directly in Uyuni when arriving in the morning. When in Uyuni, from as early as 5:00, tour agents will come forward trying to sell you a tour. It’s best to have an idea of which tour agencies you want to go to and go there directly to inquire for availability and prices.
But first, should you book your tour in advance? You can book your tour online or in La Paz or any travel agency in the country. If you want to have your trip planned and not worry about it, it is the best option. It is also recommended to book ahead if traveling in a large group. (Cars can carry up to 6 passengers – not including the driver). If you are travelling solo or with one other person, you can easily find space directly in Uyuni as agencies will be trying to fill their cars and bargain the prices due to the high competition.
In the case that you haven’t booked a tour yet, there are over 100 tour agencies and it can be overwhelming to have to choose between all the choices. Here are some tips to help you choose which company to travel with in Uyuni:
- Do some research about the tour agencies online, TripAdvisor is a reliable source of information as well as other traveler’s forums. When you have found some options go around and check for prices, tour descriptions and availability, compare the different operators before making a decision. If you are in Uyuni, tours will leave around 10:00 so there is plenty of time to choose. Don’t feel rushed to decide on the spot.
- The average price for a shared 3-day tour with a Spanish-speaking driver is about 750-800 bolivianos (115 US$). It is not recommended to go for a cheaper option as this could mean unsafe travel conditions. If you are paying for a more expensive tour make sure to know what are the added extras (usually English-speaking driver and private rooms). Paying more could just mean slightly better food and a bottle of wine in the evening so make sure to know exactly what you are paying for and decide if it’s worth it.
- You will need to have water, good sunglasses, a hat, warm clothing, a sleeping bag which can usually be rented with your tour agent.
- Car can carry 7 people maximum (including the driver). Do not pick a tour agency that says otherwise and who is willing take more people.
- Bring cash with you as ATMs don’t always work in Uyuni and there is no place to exchange money. Tour agencies will accept US dollars and Bolivianos but the exchange rate may not be as good as in La Paz.
4. How to choose the right tour for you
There are about 4 different options for your Uyuni tour.
1 – One-day tour
First, and a very popular option is the one-day tour that can come with variations depending on the season with sunrise or sunset and even stargazing options. I would recommend this option only if your time/budget is limited and you absolutely have no other option. Tours will start at around 10:00 in the morning and return right after sunset. Most tours will take you to the train cemetery, Colchani, and then head to the salar for lunch. The afternoon is dedicated to taking the traditional fun pictures and a visit to the Tunupa volcano where there are good viewpoints and archaeological sites to explore.
2 – Three-day tour
The most popular option is the three-day tour. The tours follow the same route with small variations. On the first day you will go to the salt flats and spend most of the afternoon there before heading to your accommodation right after sunset. The first night is spent in a salt hostel at the edge of the salar with amenities varying depending on the tour booked.
The second is a lot of driving towards the National Reserve Eduardo Abaroa, you will see active volcanoes, lagoons and beautiful landscapes. The highlight of that day is the Laguna Colorada where tours stop the longest. This is usually the last stop of the day and accommodation the second is usually more rustic and at an higher altitude (around 4.700 meters above sea level) making it the coldest night of the trip.
On the third day you will most likely head before down to the geysers and then go to the hot springs where you can bathe, have breakfast and rest before the last stop of the tour. At Laguna Verde located very near the border with Chile the groups split; those wanting to continue to Chile will cross the border and the others will return to Uyuni. The rest of the day is mostly drive with stops for lunch and special sights. The cars take a different route to go back. Tours return to Uyuni at around 16:30-17:00.
3 – Two-day and four-day tours
These options are not always offered by agencies as a shared tour. If you are traveling in a group of 6, you can easily arrange a private tour and select what you want to see and do.
If you can’t afford a private tour, some companies do offer these as shared tours. You can find some of these options here. If you are interested in these options it is better to do some research beforehand and book it before getting to Uyuni as you may not be able to find what you want on the day.
Also please note that there are 4-day tours from Tupiza (instead of Uyuni) which are also a good alternative for those who want a slightly different and more complete experience. These tours are slightly more expensive since they can only accommodate groups of 5 per car. The tour comes with a driver/guide and a cook. Also because they are less popular, fewer agencies operate them but they are of generally good quality. They also have the advantage to hit all the touristic stops at a different time than the tours coming from Uyuni or San Pedro de Atacama, which means that you can enjoy them with significantly less people.
5. Other useful general information
- The high season is in December-January and July-August. Prices can be higher due to the high affluence of tourists during these months.
- Temperatures get really cold during the tour, especially if you do the 3-day tour on the second night. July and August are winter month and temperatures can drop to -20°C or -4°F. Tours can rent you a sleeping bag but bring warm layers.
- You will be affected by the altitude, especially for those who recently arrived in Bolivia and didn’t adjust properly. On the second and third day, tours go up to 5,000 meters above sea level. This affects the body on different levels, starting with headaches and trouble digesting. It is all completely normal but to avoid getting sick during the tour it is recommended to eat light, drink a lot and avoid alcohol.
- Bring protection from the sun, sunglasses are indispensable but also protect your head and skin.
- Five liters of water are recommended per person for a three-day tour.
- You can start the tour from Uyuni, Tupiza or San Pedro de Atacama. Tours from San Pedro de Atacama follow the same itinerary as the tours from Uyuni, except in the reverse order: the last day is spent on the salt flats and transfer is possible to Uyuni.
- During the rainy season (November to April/May), parts of the salt flats can be flooded causing changes to the itinerary as it is impossible to access some sites. However, the rainy season has the advantage to have the mirror effect happen where the sky reflects on the inundated white surface.