La Paz is the second highest city in the world at 3460 meters above sea level and the airport at over 4000meters above sea level
The reason we came to La Paz is ultimately to see Uyuni and the world’s largest salt planes (Salar de Uyuni). It’s the legacy of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind a desert like state, nearly 11,000-sq.-km across.
La Paz / Uyuni
How to get to La Paz
Fly – you can fly in to La Paz from many areas, but the most common will be Lima or Cusco.
Bus - There are several bus companies to choose from to take this journey, they all have good and bad reviews as do many Bolivian services. The journey will take around 8 hours with a Questionable border crossing
TicketsBolivia.com is a good website for booking tickets, giving several operators and times.
Our Journey to the Salt Flats (Saler de Uyuni)
We can’t really write much about accommodation here as we only booked the cheapest room stay on airbnb to store our bags as what we were planning involved 2 night buses!
We booked our overnight bus through Kanoo tours who booked us on an overnight bus with Trans Omar Touristico. We had hoped to book with Todo Tourismo however there was no availability for our dates.
Trans Omar bus
The bus itself is not bad, the cama beds are in rows of 3 although they are not really cama seats (reclining 160 degrees). The buses in Bolivia are not anywhere near the same standard as buses in Brazil.
Trans Omar are a terrible company to travel with. The staff are quite frankly corrupt!! Let me explain:
Firstly our direct bus to Uyuni stopped no less than 6 times within the space of 1.5 hours to collect passengers who of course were paying the driver a back hander. There is no point in having a passenger list if the driver is going to pick up random people along route, right?
There were also ‘passengers’ sitting on the floor in the drivers cabin!
We were also told that we could not leave our toddlers pram in storage as there was no space?? This is a fold away pram, but soon became evident that the bus storage was left for the numerous additional ‘passenger’s collected.
On our return journey the driver even locked the toilet door at 11pm and refused to open it until 2 hours later.
The return journey was far worse than the going there. We had the downstairs seats and the smell from the toilet was horrendous. What was worse was that the drive turned on all the lights every time he picked up or dropped off one of his additional ‘fares’. He even questioned whether our sleeping toddler had bought a seat as he wanted to sell it to line his own pocket. This drivers have no morals and we would not recommend using them!!
We arrived in Uyuni 2 hours early in the dark and were ordered off the bus. We hadn’t anticipated arriving in Uyuni so early and so had not booked accommodation. We were lucky to find a breakfast place open at 5.30am! And ended up spending 4 hours there before our excursion.
Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, spanning over 4,000 sq. miles (10,582 sq. km) in south-western Bolivia. It was part of a prehistoric salt lake, Lago Minchín. Unlike traditional deserts which are filled with sand, the Salar de Uyuni features vast expanses of glistening white salt. Salt water deposits seeped from the surrounding mountains. Since there is no outlet to the sea, they were deposited here which is the lowest point of the Altiplano plateau. That water then formed a giant lake. High salinity means that whilst this vast lake has long since evaporated under the sun, a thick crust of salt remains, forming what we now know as the Salt Flats of Salar de Uyuni. The Salar sits at approximately 3650 meters (11,975 ft) above sea level. There is no place else like it in the world.
Red Planet Expeditions
This company is great. We were lucky enough to have a car to ourselves with Sergio as our tour guide. This was perfect for us and Sergio could not be faulted.
We firstly visited the train grave yard, which was remote and isolated. Uyuni was once a busy railway hub and a key link in the transport chain connecting the mines of Bolivia with the rest of the world. During the 1940s, the mining industry collapsed taking with it the demand for a huge rail hub in Uyuni. The trains were abandoned to be stripped by the locals. They were left to rot and rust in the harsh climate of fierce sun and the salty winds. Most of the trains that can be found in the Graveyard date back to the early 20th century. The quiet corroded locomotives, laced with graffiti are now huge climbing frames for adventurous travellers looking for a special photo as part of their Salt Flats tour.
From there we went to visit the salt factory and market. Here we saw how the salt is extracted from the salt planes and how it is processed in to the salt you consume. This process is still done manually to ensure the end product is pure.
We then stopped for a delicious hot lunch in the middle of a small village overlooking the volcano. After lunch we had the opportunity to see llama and flamingos.
From there we travelled to the salt flats and took some incredible pictures with the help of Sergio. The way to take these pictures is quite simple. Firstly as there are no objects or anything in the background the camera can’t identify depth perception.
Here are steps to take that perfect picture:
Bring lots of small objects with you, were had a toddler so had plenty of his toys
Whoever is taking the pictures has to lay on their stomach to get close to the ground
Place the toy about 1 meter in front of the camera
The people in the picture to stand about 5 meters from the toys.
The pictures will make the toy look MASSIVE and people tiny.
The terrain is very sharp here so ensure that children’s arms and legs are covered. Not to mention the power of the sun at this altitude! Eye protection is essential for all.
After this we travelled to the salt hotel, now a museum where there are a number of flags outside. An excellent picture opportunity. Before heading back to Uyuni.
We had some time to eat dinner before heading back on to our Trans Omar bus back to La Paz.
Essentials for Uyuni
Water – The sun is very powerful at such high altitude with a risk of dehydration
Sun protection – The sun is very powerful at such high altitude and sun cream is essential.
Sun glasses – The sun’s reflection off the salt flats can be blinding. Eye wear is essential.
Props – Great for taking some epic photographs
Suitable footwear – The salt flats are sharp and rough. Trainers will be more than suitable.