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Exploring the magnificent, seemingly endless Uyuni salt flats is an unforgettable experience…and unfortunately, the same can usually be said for the journey to get there.
Salar de Uyuni (as it’s known in Spanish) is located in the Andes in southwest Bolivia, and the remnant of a prehistoric lake that dried up and created the world’s largest salt flat. The sun reflects off the brilliant white salt, and the vast landscape is only dotted by the odd cacti-covered island which makes for incredible perspective photos.
Being such a remote location it’s not the easiest to get to, and it doesn’t help that there are hardly any paved roads and the few transport options that exist aren’t exactly reliable. Here’s how to get to Salar de Uyuni…and why you’ll want to pay close attention if you book a flight.
The La Paz to Uyuni bus
While this might be one of the cheapest options with tickets starting as low as $9, it can end up costing you a lot of sleep and aggravation. The La Paz to Uyuni bus is scheduled to take about nine hours–that is, if all goes according to plan which typically isn’t the case around these parts.
Since the trip takes so long, it’s an overnight bus ride which leaves from La Paz sometime between 7 and 10 p.m., and you can book tickets through a few different tour companies or on public transportation. Uyuni is also at the intersection of several major highways, so it’s possible to get to the town from Bolivian cities other than La Paz by booking through Tickets Bolivia. Just don’t expect to get too much sleep, which you can read more about in this post by Jodi from Legal Nomads about her disastrous experience.
How to get to Uyuni by train
The city of Oruro is about halfway between La Paz and Sucre, and from there it’s possible to get to Uyuni by train. The ride takes about seven hours through the scenic Bolivian highlands, and costs around $25. Be sure to double-check departure dates, as this route doesn’t run every day.
Salar de Uyuni tours
The final option for getting to Salar de Uyuni is to join an organized, multi-day tour. Depending on your budget, time and which package you choose, you can enjoy experiences like sleeping in a salt hotel or deluxe campervan, heading to the colourful lagoons in the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve, or Laguna Colorada to see flocks of flamingos.
Here are some options for booking an Uyuni salt flats tour:
La Paz to Uyuni flights
And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…why you need to pay attention if you’re booking a La Paz to Uyuni flight.
In theory, this is the easiest, quickest option to get to the salt flats since there are usually about three direct flights per day on either Boliviano de Aviacion (BoA) or Amaszonas, which take less than an hour and cost around $100. If you luck out and get a seat on a normal plane, you’re winning. If not…well, here’s what happened to me.
The Amaszonas plane pulled onto the runway after an unexplained 90-minute day, and 18–yes, only 18–of us excitedly handed over our boarding passes and walked across the tarmac. I didn’t think much of it when one girl stopped to take a photo of the rusty, decrepit looking, potentially Soviet-era jet, but as soon as I got inside I realized we were in trouble.
You could not stand up inside.
The nine rows only had one seat on each side of the plane, and three across the back (we got the back three). Everyone was giggling as they crouched down in the aisle and slinked towards their seats, plopping their carry-ons into the aisle. There were obviously no overhead bins, bathroom, flight attendant or drink service. No matter, it was only a one hour flight, right?
And hence began the worst flight of my entire life.
The turbulence began immediately, and I was hoping it was just because we were ascending. No, no, my friends. It lasted the Entire. Hour. I know turbulence doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but imagine being tossed around, your stomach dropping like you’re on a roller coaster, wedged into a tiny seat with no air, for one hour. It only took 10 minutes of this for me to start feeling awfully queasy, and begin eying the barf bag tucked into the seat in front of me. After 15 minutes…I had to use it.
Yup, for the first time ever, I lost my lunch on an airplane. Then lost it again. And again. By now, the Germans in front were passing their barf bags back to my partner, who was doing his best to comfort me as he tried to control his own retching stomach. Oh, and did I mention that I actually missed the bag at one point, and ended up getting you-know-what all over my jeans, arms, hair and shirt? Of course, there was nothing around to clean it up with.
Grossed out yet? Great, there’s more! Between rounds of vomit, I glanced up to see the men in the four rows in front of me all fanning their wives with airline booklets, trying to keep the hot flashes at bay as we all got sicker and sicker. I don’t know what it was about us gals, but we were dyin’ in there! Finally, after what I can confidently say was the longest hour of my life, we landed. Oh sweet, sweet tarmac we made it. I have to admit, at one point I didn’t even care if our crappy old plane crashed: I just wanted it to be over.
The kicker is that after limping into the teeny airport on shaky legs, passing other passengers who were basically curled up on the floor trying to fathom what we’d all just been through, I made my way to the bathroom to clean up. And what did I find there? Umm, nothing. Yup, no soap, no toilet paper, no hand towels, nothing. Bolivia is pretty awesome sometimes.
Thankfully, we caught a break on the way back to La Paz a couple days later, because there were about 50 passengers meaning we got a large plane and a smooth, easy flight.
My advice? If you want to go to Salar de Uyuni and find out you’re due to get on the tiny plane…maybe take the long bus ride instead.
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