How to get from Uyuni Salt Flats to the San Pedro de Atacama Desert
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How to get from Uyuni Salt Flats to the San Pedro de Atacama Desert

5 min read

Sep 30, 2013


By Gretchen Kraut

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Last updated on December 28th, 2020 at 11:33 am

Are you thinking of visiting the Salt Flats of Uyuni in Bolivia, and wondering how to combine a trip to Uyuni with the Atacama Desert in Chile? These two incredible deserts make a perfect pair for Bolivia and Chile Tours. First, let’s learn in-depth about Uyuni, and then how to link the Uyuni Salt Flats with the Atacama Desert.

Bolivia is the Tibet of the Andes.  Here, in the dry altiplano, rugged, snow-capped mountains mightily stand year-round guarding the planet’s highest hidden paradise as they have for millennia.  Here, is where cultures of the past meet the modern world and create the most beautiful juxtaposition and fusion of culture, language, and tradition.  Here, in southwestern Bolivia, on the Uyuni salt flats, is where we can lose all our senses and watch as the sky is perfectly mirrored on the saline ground and creates the ultimate optical illusion of the sky and the earth colliding, not solely on the horizon, but directly under your feet.

The Town of Uyuni

The town of Uyuni, perched 3,700 meters (12,139 ft) in the Andes, is a quaint old trading post.  It is a sleepy town but one with character.  To the east the snow-kissed mountains welcome you and to the west, the world’s largest Salar, or salt flats, beckon.  Before departing to the salt flats, visit the Uyuni market place.  For a sleepy town, this market breaks the mold and is the center of life, smells, and sounds. Get swept up in the whirlwind of spices, meats, indigenous handicrafts, and wares while mingling with the locals who call this otherworldly haven home.  For early risers, and those looking for a tasty traditional treat, visit Potosí and Bolívar in the mornings for some of (arguably) the best Bolivian salteñas (Bolivian empanadas)!

The Uyuni Train Cemetery

3 km outside Uyuni is an antique train cemetery.  This fantastic ghost-land of vintage locomotives will instantly capture your imagination.  In the late 1800s the Bolivian president, Aniceto Arce, worked with the British to push for a complex rail system to traverse Bolivia, but the project was later abandoned in 1892.  The trains, like the project itself, were left where they lay, and there they have remained.  This turn of the century industrial graveyard on the frontier of the salt flat is an anomaly and is a MUST when in this region!

Salar Uyuni Bolivia Tour

El Salar – The Salt Flat

Billions of years ago this area used to be ocean floor until the mountains sprang up and brought with them much of the saltwater from the ocean trapped between their toothed peaks.  Under the high sun of the altiplano, the water evaporated and left salt in its wake creating the Uyuni Salar of today.  These salt flats are the largest in the world and are self-replenishing. The Salar de Uyuni National Park is one of the most striking landscapes in the world.  Between the mountains, active volcanoes, and multicolored lakes of aquamarine, icy green, and every wash of vibrant blue, you find yourself navigating the planet’s rooftop where you can’t tell whether you’re upside down or right side up because of the optical illusions that sky and ground create, perfectly mirroring each other and catching you in a natural, heavenly limbo.

Take a tour of the flats and ride about in a 4×4 off-road vehicle.  There are no defined roads, which only escalates the glorious solitude of this remote, geographic wonderland.  Make sure to take pictures while you’re out on the salt flats.  One of the most favored photographed areas in Bolivia, the Salar boasts a landscape that seemingly makes you lose depth perception and thus, makes for amazing photo opportunities.  If you have time, check out the famous Luna Salada (literally the salty moon) Hotel.  Carved entirely from salt, this is a distinctive attraction. Why not stop for a break in your day of roaming the flats for a drink or a snack and marvel at the walls, chairs, tables and beds crafted from Bolivia’s finest salt?

We also can arrange for you to spend the night at the Salt Hotel. In another post, I talked about getting from Salta to the Atacama Desert, and now I want to point out as well, that the Uyuni Salar and the Atacama Desert are also an excellent pairing of astounding natural beauty and their close proximity should definitely be taken advantage of!

Getting From Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama

Atacama Desert Chile Tours

Uyuni’s location, as remote, as is, offers an excellent jump-off point to other destinations and attractions in Bolivia’s bordering countries but at times these transfers can appear tricky to achieve. Just beyond the southwestern border of Bolivia is the otherworldly Atacama Desert in Chile.  These two destinations are so close but, due to the severity of the terrain, it can be difficult to find ways to pass between them via any kind of public transportation.  This is where we come in.  Don’t let the lack of transport between these two natural gems deter you for a moment from potentially not visiting both.  Let us get you there! Sit back, relax and, on your schedule, watch as the pure, white salt flats and jade and azure lagoons give way to the Mars-like, brick-red desert of Atacama 1,500 meters (5000 ft) below. This passage is an attraction in and of its self and will leave you in awe of just how alien and fantastic our own planet truly is. I cannot emphasize it enough: this is a corner of the world that should not be missed!

View all our Bolivia and Chile Tours here, or just contact one of our travel consultants to receive a free quote for a customized Bolivia and Chile tour. Also, check out our Uyuni Salt Flats and the Atacama Desert Tour.

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Last updated on December 28th, 2020 at 11:33 am

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