The salt flats of Uyuni are Bolivia’s most important (plus the world’s largest) salt deposit. The 90 kms long, 130 kms wide salt flat lies in the southwest corner of the country and not only is a fascinating landscape, it also offers fantastic rough camping opportunities. We went twice and would love to return once more. Rough Camping at Salar de Uyuni is an adventure, albeit not without risk. Here are some tips and ideas.
Stocking Up and Camping Gear
- Before setting off stock up on lots of drinking water, food, clothes and camping equipment. Uyuni is a good town to stock up on drinking water and food. Note that Colchani, the nearest-by entrance to the Salar, has no proper facilities to do so.
- During the Bolivian winter (June-Sep), temperatures at night may reach -25 degrees Celsius so bring enough warm clothes. For me it has been one of the few places in South America to wear thermal underwear.
- Bring sun protection articles such as hat, sunglasses and sun lotion.
- In case you can’t sleep in your car: Bring quality camping gear from home. Don’t expect to be able to buy decent tents, sleeping bags or camping stoves in Bolivia.
Driving on Salar de Uyuni in the Dry Season vs. Wet Season
During the dry season (Apr-Nov) it is easy to follow existing tracks on the salt flats. However, during the rainy season (Dec-March) there may be a layer of water on the salt, which hide ojos de salar (lit: ‘salt eyes’, i.e. deep water holes) making them invisible. Okay, driving on the salt is horrendous for your car, driving in the wet season even worse, but getting stuck in one of those holes is definitely something you want to avoid.
In the center of the salt flat you can more or less drive anywhere, just pay attention to irregularities that may indicate those ojos de salar. Generally there are two weak areas on Uyuni’s salt flats: around the outer edges of the Salar the crust may be weak, so don’t just enter and exit the Salar anywhere but follow the well-trodden entrance and exit tracks. The area just around the islands may be weak as well, and the same rule applies: don’t just enter an island at any point but follow the tracks to be sure to enter in a safe spot.
In Uyuni you can take your vehicle to a taller mechanica (workshop, of which there are many) to properly prepare it against the salt: the undercarriage and engine will be sprayed with a mixture of diesel and oil, which will prevent salt from sticking. There are also a lot of car wash points where they can thoroughly wash your vehicle afterward.
Among our favorite spots on Salar de Uyuni are:
- Isla de los Pescadores, about 25 kilometers northwest of Isla Inca Huasi.
- Jiriri, a village located at the base of the Tunupa Volcano, north of the Salar. A place of flamingos, llamas, hikes to the volcano or ancient burial grounds.
- The immediate surroundings of San Juan, south of the Salar de Uyuni.
Note that it may sound adventurous or romantic to pitch a tent in the middle of the Salar. However, there may be traffic at night (local bus and tours) and incredible as it may sound, drivers do not always use the car’s headlights at night. Worse: drivers may be drunk, on drugs or may not have slept for days. Fatal accidents have happened on the Salar! Of course you can ensure that your campsite is well lit, but we prefer staying off the salt itself for the night.
Another campsite is Isla Inca Huasi, the island most visited by tour groups. It is a beautiful island with facilities such a restaurant and bathroom. There will probably be a small charge to camp there.
Here are a couple of practical GPS Waypoints for Salar de Uyuni and the Lagunas Coloradas:
- Entrance/exit to the Salar
- Places we rough camped
- Where to arrange paperwork when coming from Chile (San Pedro de Atacama)
- A couple of places we stopped to take in the views.
|Sud Lipez, Fumaroles / geysers |
Sud Lipez, Fumaroles / geysers. The geysers are a bit away from the main road, not indicated. (3672 mtrs, Nov '08). Read more here.
gps: -22.43543, -67.75718
|Colchani - south entrance to Salar de Uyuni |
Entrance/exit on the east side of Salar de Uyuni in Colchani, northwest of Uyuni (3669 mtrs, Aug '07). Read more here.
gps: -20.31622, -66.98088
|entrance to Salar de Uyuni |
Entrance/exit south side of Salar de Uyuni, northeast of Colcha K (3669 mtrs, Aug '07). Read more here.
gps: -20.60522, -67.58338
|Sud Lipez, Laguna Verde |
Sud Lipez, Laguna Verde, Along the long lake you'll see a small building to change clothes, adjacent to a wonderful thermal bath. Perfect place for rough camping (4364 mtrs, Nov '08). Read more here.
gps: -22.78662, -67.81993
|Sud Lipez, Laguna Honda |
Sud Lipez, Laguna Honda. Another awesome rough camp, between the flamingos (4150 mtrs, Nov '08). Read more here.
gps: -21.62073, -68.06300
|Salar de Uyuni, Ihla Pescado |
Salar de Uyuni. Ihla Pescado lies 20 kms northwest of Ihla Inca Huasi. Terrific spot for rough camping. During the day maybe 2 or 3 tour-cars stop by but during the evening we had the place to ourselves (3669 mtrs, Aug '07). Read more here.
gps: -20.14203, -67.81015
|Salar de Uyuni, Volcano Tunupa |
Salar de Uyuni. Volcano Tunupa near the village of Colquesa. Beautiful place to spend the night. Walk up to the volcano or watch flamingos (Aug '07). Read more here.
gps: -19.90130, -67.62500
|San Juan |
San Juan.Spent the night in the parking lot of Alojamiento Sicancahur, shower for 5 bolivianos. Friendly owner (3669 mtrs, Nov '10).
gps: -20.90030, -67.76708
|Aduana for Car Papers when coming from Chile |
Aduana for Car Papers when coming from Chile. When you enter Bolivia, you'll find Immigration to stamp your passport and a bit down the road is the entrance to Reserva National Eduardo Avaroa], entrance fee 150 bolivianos per peson (Jan '10). De Aduana, to get the stamp for your car, is 80 kms further north.
gps: -22.44080, -67.80588
Do you have tips or experiences to share about your stay at Salar de Uyuni? Please share them below in the comment section.