Tips for Overland Camping at Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia)

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The salt flats of Uyuni are Bolivia’s most important (plus the world’s largest) salt deposit. The 90-kilometer-long, 130-kilometer-wide Salar de Uyuni lies in the southwestern corner of the country. It not only is a mind-blowing landscape, but the salt plains offer fantastic rough-camp opportunities a well.

We visit the salt flats twice on our 9-year-long overland journey in South America and would love to return once more. Rough Camping at Salar de Uyuni is an adventure, albeit not without risk.

Here are tips and ideas to make the best of your trip.

Read More: The Rains Have Started – How Long Will the 1000-km Trip Take

 Stocking Up and Camping Gear

Let’s start with some of the basic stuff you should bring on for your overnight stay at the Salar.

  • Before setting off, stock up on drinking water, food, clothes, and camping equipment. Nearby 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. Salar de Uyuni has been one of the few places in South America where I wore thermal underwear.
  • Bring sun protection articles such as hat, sunglasses and sun lotion.
  • In case you can’t sleep in your overland rig: Bring quality camping gear from home. Don’t expect to be able to buy decent tents, sleeping bags or camping stoves in Bolivia.
  • Here’s more about Camping on Salar de Uyuni.

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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. Most of them are from organized tour groups that drive straight to the most popular island, Isla Incahuasi, the salt flats for a break and photo opportunities.

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.

Driving on the salt is horrendous for your overland rig to begin with and driving in the wet season even worse; getting stuck in one of those holes is definitely something you want to avoid.

On the other hand, a photo of your overland rig on the wet salt flats with its amazing reflections is a good reason to go out there in the wet season anyway. We did exactly did, however, also Bolivia suffers from climate change – the year we were there late January and early February, the salt flats had had not any rain. Not one drop!

Read More: The End of the Line – The Train Cemetery of Uyuni

In the center of the salt flats you can more or less drive anywhere, just pay attention to irregularities that may indicate those ojos de salar.

Weak Parts on Salar de Uyuni

Generally speaking, there are two weak areas on Uyuni’s salt flats: around the outer edges of salt flats, 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 right 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.

Here is more about Driving on Salar de Uyuni.

Preparing Your Overland Rig for Salar de Uyuni

In Uyuni you can take your overland rig 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.

Overland Camping on the Salar de Uyuni

Among our favorite camp 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 salt flats.

Take note of potential danger:

It sounds adventurous or romantic to pitch a tent in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni. However, note that there may be traffic at night (local bus and tours). 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 preferred staying off the salt itself for the night.

Read More: Laguna Colorada – A Washboarded World of Colored Lakes

Accidents do happen.

Another campsite is Isla Incahuasi, the island most visited by tour groups. It is a beautiful island with facilities such as a restaurant and bathroom. There will probably be a small charge to camp there.

You can also check out iOverlander, but here are a couple of our GPS Waypoints for Salar de Uyuni and the Lagunas Coloradas, south of the salt flats:

  • 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 where we stopped to take in the views.
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Do you have tips or experiences to share about camping at Salar de Uyuni? Please share them below in the comment section.

Originally published in 2013 / updated in 2019

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4 thoughts on “Tips for Overland Camping at Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia)”

  1. We are sure that the posts below will ring bells for you.

    Your advice is good re taking care on the surface of the salar. We saw evidence of failure to avoid the soft edges of the salar, and heard stories of the accidents at night.

    We hired a guide, Luis, with a second vehicle, both to help us find the way and avoid problems, and also to carry extra gas, since our range was around 500 Km and we didn’t want to install racks, buy bidons, add height to the Centre of Gravity, etc. This worked really well, since we were able to visit places off the main tourist trails, and also were able (after breaking the ice) to get to know Luis’s wife and daughter, who were able to come along since the second vehicle had no passengers. This was a “first” for them.

    http://www.suramericacontraelreloj.blogspot.com/2010/09/salar-de-uyuni-una-experiencia_09.html

    and

    http://www.suramericacontraelreloj.blogspot.com/2010/09/desiertos-y-lagunas-paisajes.html

    Reply
  2. What’s under the salt then? I thought it was just a thick solid layer. I’m hoping to camp there on a motorcycle tour in 2015

    Reply
    • Hi Michael, Under the salt there is often water. Yes, most of it is a thick solid layer but there are holes you have to watch out for if you go off the tracks that are visible on the salt (in dry season), which is where most vehicles drive (tours and such). Following those trails you’ll always be safe. In the wet season (Jan-March) you don’t see the tracks and there is water on top of the salt, making it hard/impossible to spot those holes. Hence it might be dangerous. Definitely camp with a motorcycle tour, that should be awesome!Ask if they can set up camp on one of the islands or along the shore and you’ll have some amazing sunsets/sunrises!

      Reply

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