Definitely a highlight of our entire South America trip, the Bolivian Salt Flats are a must in South America – but it is important to read up and prepare before you go! Here are our top tips to survive…
1 . A good 4-season sleeping bag.
We brought our own for the trip and they were necessary for the Salt Flats. It got to -20 degrees Celsius on the first night, with my water bottle freezing, however inside my sleeping bag I was very toasty! Some tour companies will let you rent some, but it’s always good to have your own.
2. Water and snacks
We were told to bring enough water and snacks to last us three days – for everything. We ended up bringing more than we needed as they did actually provide us with some drinks at lunch and hot tea in the evenings. However, if you run out, there are not many places along the way to restock. All meals provided were good – we ate well and didn’t starve!
3. Wrap up warm
Wear thermals, even in the day it is cold. Layer up as it can get warmer/colder quickly
4. Take it slowly
The altitude in some places is very high. We slept on the first night at 4800m, which resulted in massive headaches and me needing to go on oxygen for 5 minutes upon arrival at the refuge. Most people on the trip were altitude sick at some point. When you are able to go off and explore the sites, refrain from walking too far. Although it would not normally be strenuous, with so little oxygen, our bodies tire much more easily and we end up paying for it later in the day. If you push yourself too far and need to go straight to Uyuni due to illness, your entire group (6 of you) have to go together, meaning the rest cannot complete the tour – you need to push through as best you can!
5. Go in the hot springs
First day, crazy windy, freezing. Getting changed into my swimsuit outside and sitting in some springs? Nope. I would rather keep warm in my clothes. However, I was eventually persuaded, through fear of FOMO and it looking clean. It was worth it as my bones and muscles really warmed up in the natural springs, and it made a difference for the rest of the day!
6. Brush up on your Spanish
This wasn’t relevant as a fluent Spanish-speaker, but I can see the issue if you don’t have anyone in your group who can speak Spanish. Our driver spoke several languages including Spanish, Quechua and some broken English. He spoke all the time in Spanish with us, and it would have been impossible to understand his advice, his knowledge as a guide, his jokes or anything really, without Spanish. It would have been much less enjoyable if we had no clue what was going on. Luckily 4 out of 6 of us spoke Spanish, so we were able to translate for the English-speakers.
7. Research your tour company carefully
We had heard many horror stories of drunk and dangerous drivers, rip-off tours etc. so we carefully chose a reputable company that was a little more expensive but that we knew would look after us and get us there in one piece!
8. Have an amazing time
It was a blast, and we saw so many things on the three day trip – not just salt flats but cacti as old as 1,000 years, lagoons, volcanoes and crazy rock formations.
9. Book a nice hotel to stay in when you get to Uyuni/San Pedro
We were the only ones staying in Uyuni after the tour – everyone else went straight on to Potosí/Sucre/La Paz. We booked a lovely 4* salt hotel, with a warm shower and comfy bed. We ate at a fancy restaurant and had an early night (before watching Game of Thrones of course!). This was all I needed after roughing it for three days in the salt flats. An 8-hour bus journey to Sucre would have been unbearable after all that!
Next time…on to Sucre – the capital of Bolivia!