When people talk about Bolivia, they often talk about Salar de Uyuni or the largest salt flat in the world and for good reasons. Salar de Uyuni was one of the highlights of my South America trip and I was blown away as I stood on a rock overlooking the red lagoon with hundreds of flamingos just beyond me. If you are planning a South America trip, you will regret not including Bolivia and the Salar de Uyuni to your destination!
In this guide, we will show you why Salar de Uyuni is worth all the hype in the world and explore what other parts of Bolivia has to offer beyond the salt flat. Get your gears together and let's explore the land of stark beauty and alien landscape.
Why go to Bolivia?
One of the most diverse countries in South America, Bolivia does not offer just the unique Andean culture for the history buffs but also the unmatched level of wilderness and nature like nothing you have seen anywhere in the world waiting for you to explore. For collectors and shoppers, Bolivia is one of the cheapest countries to travel to in South America and if you are looking to buy any souvenirs back home, Bolivia is the place to do it!
When to Go
May to October offers a better chance of having a good clear weather but as for my personal preference, shoulder season which is around November to February is the perfect time for me.
Also, if you want t o get the best experience out of Salar de Uyuni, come to Bolivia in February during the rainy season and if you are lucky, you might be able to see the largest mirror in the world at the salt flat as the water accumulates and reflects the blue sky creating the infinite possibilities for perspective photography.
How to Get Here
The best way to get here is to fly if you are coming from abroad. I would recommend you browse through Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight from where you live to La Paz. If you are already in Peru, the cheapest way to travel to Bolivia is to take a bus from Lima to Puno and from Puno to La Paz.
How To Get Around
In cities like La Paz, where it is being plagued by a crazy traffic jam, the taxi is the easiest and most comfortable way to move around. Since La Paz is hilly, navigating the city by public transport may be impossible when you first arrive especially if you do not speak Spanish so taking a taxi is the way to go. The good thing is taxis are very cheap in Bolivia.
For intercity route, buses are the cheapest way to get around. Buses quality can range from acceptable to fully-reclining-bed comfortable. When you book a bus, just make sure you book either the semi-cama or cama seats.
I prefer El Dorado as my choice of bus company because it is one of the most well known and the bus quality is very acceptable.
Copacabana - Hotel Utama - 19.33 USD/Night (Single Room)
La Paz - 3600 Hostel - 15 USD/Night - A bit expensive but it is quiet and equipped with clean facilities, comfortable beds and curtains for privacy
Potosi - Hostal Eucalyptus - 22.27 USD/Night (Single Room)
Uyuni Town - Hostal Oro Blanco - 8.80 USD/Night - Not the best but good enough for one night.
Salar de Uyuni - The Red Planet Expedition - 210 USD / 2 Nights with 3 days worth of food, transportation and a guide
Internet access in La Paz and Potosi city area are widely acceptable. With a sim card by Entel, you can get 3 GB for only 140 Bs (20 USD)! That is really cheap! Although, do not expect any internet access while you are in the Salar de Uyuni salt flat throughout the whole 3 days.
This place is cheaper than most countries but not dirt cheap. Expect to pay around 30 - 50 USD per day per person including accommodation and food.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Bolivia, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
One Week Itinerary
Copacabana (2 nights)
If you are crossing the border from Peru to Bolivia, Copacabana makes a great rest stop before heading into La Paz. Located off the other side of Lake Titicaca, the opposite to Puno, Peru, Copacabana give you access to hiking trails that you don't get from the Peruvian side.
Isla del Sol and the Isla de la Luna are a must-do when you are here as you will be able to enjoy the white beach, the fresh air of the lake, and experiencing the authentic lives of people around the lake. You can either stay on the island overnight or do a one day tour from Copacabana via tour agency.
La Paz (3 nights)
At first glance La Paz might not be as attractive as Lima or Quito but a little time you spend walking around the main square and socializing with the overly friendly locals, the more you will fall in love with La Paz.
You can spend your first day walking around the main square, and dropping by and the witch market to see some really strange stuff on sales along the street. Even if you are not into witchcraft (!), you might be able to find your South America souvenir here at a cheaper price than any other countries around here.
In the evening, you can get a taxi and drop by the Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna) and enjoy a walk within the spectacular maze of rock formations that is as out of this world as any other landscape in Bolivia.
The next day, go on a mountain bike tour to tackle the infamous Death Road bike trail down the side of a mountain. It can be a little bit touristy at some points on the road, but I still think the experience is well worth the crowds. The first part of the biking trip is the most photogenic so prepare your camera accordingly!
You don't really have to be very physically fit since you are mostly going down a mountain, but you do have to know how to ride a bike on a rough terrain.
Potosi (2 nights)
From La Paz, you can take an overnight bus from the main bus terminal that leaves at either 9PM or 10PM and you should arrive in the morning after the sunrise. In Potosi, if you are interested in how a mine works, and how dangerous it is to work in a mind, I do suggest you go on a day tour into the deep part of the Cerro Rico, or more infamously known as "the mountain that eats men".
Why? Well, it goes way back since the Spanish arrives in Bolivia 400 years ago and employed slaves from everywhere in the world to mine the silver within Cerro Rico. Four hundred years later and 8 million deaths, the mine is still functioning and people is still going in and out, working their ways to live above poverty like nothing happened.
Fun Fact: You can buy coca leafs, 90% alcohol, and dynamite (yes, you read that right!) legally in many mining stores around town.
Salar de Uyuni (2 nights)
Note that this is not a paid endorsement, but if you are looking for a notable tour agency for your salt flat trip, I would highly recommend Red Planet Expedition. I was impressed with the english speaking guide, the hotels we stayed (we got the whole hotel to ourselves for 2 nights), the food, and the vehicle. No complaint at all.
I would also highly recommend you to go for at least the 3 days tour and more. You will get to see the remotest part of the salt flat more with drastically less number of tourists. You can also choose where you want to be dropped off at the end, back in Potosi or at the Chilean Border.
The first place you will visit is the photogenic locomotive graveyard in the middle of the desert. It is only a short stop so make sure you get the photos you want before the crowds arrive.
Next up, you will start to feel more like you are cruising in the salt flat as your surrounding becomes brighter and brighter. The guide will stop several time for you to take the perspective photos you want as many as you want. Hell, I think my guide was even trained to take perspective photos. He knows the angles like no one does!
You will also stop at a cactus island where you can hike up to see the salt flat from the top.
Your first day will be the only day you will be on an actual salt flat so take as many photo as you can on that day. You will have a couple of hours at the island and then you will go and watch the sun set and a different spot.
The accommodation I had with the Red Planet Expedition are nothing but stellar. Single rooms for the first night with built-in bathrooms and hot water available, while serving amazing great breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the trip.
The second day, you will go through an active part of the salt flat looking at volcanos, hot springs, geysers and alien looking lagoons. These landscapes are out of this world!
The red lagoon is one of the most beautiful lagoon I have ever seen in my life. Hundreds of flamingos eating the red algae, perfecting their pinkish feathers was quite a sight to behold.
Walking around the geyser field is like walking through a dream like landscape.. that smells like rotten eggs.
It blew my mind to see how active the land is even though these places are located more than 4000 above sea level in Bolivia.
In the evening, you will be able to experience a once in a life time opportunity to relax in a hot spring located 4700m above sea level under the Milky Way.
Without the light pollution emitted from cities, Uyuni is one of the best place on earth to go stargazing.
The third day, you will visit the Green lake as you drive through the Dali desert, a landscape so alien, some said it inspired Salvador Dali, a famous painter, to create his famous artwork, the Persistence of Memory (1931).
After that, if you choose to go to Chile next, the tour will drop you off at the border and they will buy the transfer ticket to Pedro de Atacama for you. If not, you will drive 6 hours back to Uyuni where you can head your way back to La Paz or head toward Sucre.
That is it for a week in Bolivia. Did I miss anything in the guide? Please do let me know in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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