How to Visit the Bolivia Salt Flats without a Tour in 2021

How to Visit the Bolivia Salt Flats without a Tour in 2021

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Three cars driving along the salar de uyuni under fluffy clouds

The small country of Bolivia tucked away between Peru, Argentina and Chile is becoming more and more popular on any tourist trail through South America. One of the highlights to do while visiting Bolivia is to visit the Bolivia Salt Flats.

Many people plan to visit the Bolivia Salt Flats with a tour, but what if I told you that you could visit the Bolivia Salt Flats without a tour? We dread the idea of being stowed away in a cramp vehicle with six of your closest mates traveling for kilometers across the salar. We instead decided that even though we may not see everything the Uyuni Salt Flats had to offer without a tour guide, the benefits outweighted the cons.

If we had a 4WD that could reliably get us further into the Bolivia Salt Flats than we traveled, we would have done it. Without a 4WD, you are limited in what you can see and do.

Do we regret not booking a tour? Absolutely not. If we could do it again would we? You bet.

So if you are like us and do not want to shell over the $350+ per person fee to visit the Bolivia Salt Flats, then read more to see just how you can visit the Bolivia Salt Flats without a tour!

(This is not a comprehensive guide to the surrounding antiplano area. We covered a majority of similar sights (i.e., antiplano lakes, flamingos, dramatic landscapes) during our time in the Atacama Desert in Chile).

Things to Do in the Bolivia Salt Flats without a Tour

While your options of things to do in the Bolivia Salt Flats without a tour or without a 4WD may be limited, you should still visit.

We spent a few days exploring the town and the surrounding area, and here is a list of things to do in the Bolivia Salt Flats without a tour (or 4WD)!

Visit the Town of Uyuni

Uyuni, a seven-and-a-half-hour drive from the capital city of La Paz, is the gateway to the Salar de Uyuni. The town itself has not kept up with the influx of tourism surrounding the salar. Roads remain unpaved, four-star hotels are not dotting the main corridor, and fancy Bolivian restaurants or cute cafes have not found a home here.

Rather, you will find overtly touristy restaurants selling their version of “Western food” and tour companies touting the best deals to visit the salars. Besides these few changes to the local way of life, things remain relatively unchanged.

Stroll through the market for your groceries or one of Bolivia’s delicious street foods like sultanas! Grab a drink at the local pub and chat up a local.

Experience Uyuni, the town in the middle of nowhere, before heading out to explore the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, as you continue your tour of the Bolivia Salt Flats without a tour guide!

Wander through the Tren de Cemetario

The tred de cemetario (train cemetery) is a stop on all of the Bolivia Salt Flat tours. But you do not need a tour to visit this eerie graveyard. The tren de cemetario is located just a few kilometers outside of town and can easily be reached on foot.

Abandoned during the early 20th century after the mining industry collapsed, trains lay fallen off their tracks. The rusty, fallen trains provide a great photographic opportunity. Visit during sunrise or sunset for the best photos and less people. Spend a leisure hour or so wandering and climbing through the trains, but be careful not to injure yourself.

Experience the Bolivia Salt Flats (or Salar de Uyuni)

Seeing the actual Bolivia Salt Flats without a tour is simple. The entrance to the salar is off route 30, the main highway into Uyuni from La Paz. From Uyuni, there is a toll of five Bolivianos on route 30 heading north.

Turn off on the only paved road in the town of Colchaini, twenty-two kilometers north of Uyuni, to access the salt flats. The paved road quickly becomes dirt and lined with potholes before you finally make it to the entrance twenty minutes later.

With 10,582 square kilometers, the Salar de Uyuni truly is spectacular. Set amongst the backdrop of the Andes mountains, the salar is an expansive white mystery waiting to be explored.

Be Creative for the Famed Bolivia Salt Flats Perception Photos

Let’s be honest. The main reason people visit the Bolivia Salt Flats is to take really cool perception photos. The best time to visit the Salar de Uyuni for perception photos is during the dry season which typically runs from June to November.

This, however, doesn’t mean you cannot take a Bolivia Salt Falts perception photo outside of the dry season. We visited the salar during January and were able to take a few perception photos.

If you want great perception photos, make sure to come prepared with a few props. We were not prepared and only had a simple water bottle to use for our perception photos, but it was still a lot of fun!

You could easily spend hours taking photos and having a laugh, so make sure you give yourself enough time to get the best shot for Instagram!

Don’t Forget the Bolivia Salt Flat Reflection Photos Too

If you are lucky enough to visit the Bolivia Salt Flats during the wet season, then you hopefully will be able to see both aspects of the salar. During the wet season, the sun reflects off the pools of water sitting on top of the salt flats creating dramatic mirroring images of the landscape and clouds.

I foolishly thought the salt melted causing the pools of water, but obviously this is not true. The pools of water form from the heavy downpours in the area. The water puddles result in a stunning mirror image of the looming mountains, fluffy clouds and the colors reflecting on each as the sun sets to the west.

Experience the Bolivia Salt Flats at Night

Since you are experiencing the Bolivia Salt Flats without a tour, then you probably have your own van. Stay the night just at the entrance to the salar. All the tourists leave after the sun sets with the occasional car (or bus) driving by in the middle of the night. (I am still baffled as to where they have been and what they are doing in the salar in the pitch black dark. For those of you who know, please tell me!) Regardless, stay for the night for endless star gazing unabated by the glow from Uyuni. Plus it is a great free place to camp for the evening although it does get quite cold, so remember to rug up!

Looking for More Bolivia Travel Inspiration

Despite being small, there are plenty of great places to visit in Bolivia, amazing things to do and surprisingly good food and wine. Check out our other articles for more Bolivia travel inspo!

Did we convince you to visit the Bolivia Salt Flats without a tour? How about without a four-wheel drive? Visiting the salar without a four-wheel drive and without a tour is super easy. Just remember to wash your undercarriage even if you do not drive on the salar to prevent rust!

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Comment below to let us know if you plan to visit the Bolivia Salt Flats without a tour! Plus, send us pictures of your favorite perception AND reflection photos!

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