How much does a 3 day 2 night tour cost?
From Uyuni: 600 – 900 Bolivianos for 95% of the tour companies depending on your willingness to barter. Two companies use only English speaking guides and coat $180 USD (1300 Bolivianos). If you wish to return to San Pedro, add 50 – 200 Bolivianos for a transfer.
From San Pedro: 950 – 110 Bolivianos (for essentially same tour operator as 95% in Uyuni). If you wish to return to San Pedro, add 30,000 CLP/ 320 Bolivianos for a return transfer.
Do salt flat tours from San Pedro normally end in San Pedro?
No, all tours normally end in Uyuni. If you start in San Pedro you will spend a third night in Uyuni and a fourth day driving back to San Pedro. Add 30,000 CLP/ 320 Bolivianos for a return transfer to San Pedro.
What are the benefits of doing a salt flat tour from Uyuni?
- Taking a tour from Uyuni allows you to deal with the tour operator direct. Only Bolivian companies take the tours. Tour companies in San Pedro are essentially middle men. They have little control over the particulars such as whether you get a private room; how old the car is & how many people are in the car.
- From Uyuni, you get to spend most of the first day on the salt flat and can see the sunset too (make sure you negotiate this with your operator before you book). It is nice to do the best part of the tour when you are fresh and clean (the showers are not great on the tour!).
- It is quite a bit cheaper to book your tour in Uyuni.
- Booking in Uyuni allows you to chose a company with a preferred tour itinerary. For example, not all companies from Uyuni stay for the sunset on the salt flats. Additionally, some operators offer the second night in accommodation near the hot springs so you can spend the night enjoying the stars with a drink in the hot springs.
- More opportunity to choose your fellow passengers. Everyone in Uyuni is there to start or finish a salt flat tour. You can improve your chances of enjoying your tour by choosing your own group. If you don’t get the chance to form a group, at least be sure to ask the operator the age and nationality of your prospective passengers. This will allow you a better chance to receive like-minded passengers. For instance, if you don’t speak spanish, it is nice to have at least one of your fellow passenger who speaks english. From San Pedro, you join a group at the border which means you have less chance to hand pick your travelling companions.
- From Uyuni, you have better chance to get good weather on the Salar as you can plan for the weather (only booking a tour if the weather is acceptable the next day). The first day you visit the salt flats as opposed to the last day coming from San Pedro.
What are the benefits of doing a salt flat tour from San Pedro de Atacama?
- If you are already in San Pedro and are planning to continue through Bolivia or Peru, it is much quicker to start the tour there. The alternative is essentially backtracking. It involves catching a 6 hour bus to Uyuni from San Pedro and on the last day of your tour doing essentially the same drive again.
- You get to see the sunrise on your last day (as opposed to the sunset) which can be a magical experience.
Should I do a 1 or 2 night tour salt flat tour?
On a 1 night tour you don’t see the natural hot springs, the lakes (in particularly the spectacular Laguna Verde), the geysers or the flamingos. If you have time & want to see more of the Bolivian countryside, a two night tour is definitely worthwhile. However, it also is double the cost. A one night tour can set you back as little as only 300 Bolivianos & also avoids the national park entry fee (150 Bolivianos) on the second day. A one night tour is better for those people who are only interested in seeing the salt flats and nothing else.
Which tour operator did you go with?
After much looking around we initially settled on Andes Salt Expeditions Tours for 650 Bolivianos. As they don’t accept credit card we went to an ATM to withdraw some cash. At the bank we met 2 English girls and 2 Brazilian guys. We bonded over our relief that our cards hadn’t been chewed by the ATM machine like the poor girl before us. Discovering we were both about to book a trip we agreed to scope out their operator first (Yuanumar) as it was 50 Bolivianos cheaper. The operator survived our spanish inquisition so we booked with them.
We had a very good time on our tour however, in some aspects our tour operator over promised and under delivered. For instance, that the car would be 2009 model (it wasn’t – more like 1989), we could drive across the Salar to Fish Island if it didn’t rain (it didn’t but the driver still refused) and we could watch the sunset from the Salar (this we achieved after a battle for control with our driver Juan).
So our operator kind of screwed us. But you know what, deep down I know that had we gone with the other operator they probably would have too at some stage. We subsequently ran into a girl from our hotel who toured with Andes SE (one of the best rated companies on tripadvisor). They didn’t stay on the Salar for the sunset, which would have been super disappointing for us as this was probably the highlight of our experience. Also, despite our mini battles with our driver Juan, he managed to endear himself to our group during a stop at one of the attractions on day 2. Despite the presence of several other vehicles, a few in our group were desperate enough to ask Juan for ‘Baño natural’. “Solo pi pi. Nada numero dos!” came Juan’s concerned reply. Our group had embraced baño natural but Juan had clearly overestimated our brazeness. A poo in the bushes at a national monument was still a step too far!
The Uyuni Salt Flats
Takeaway tips for the Salt Flats?
So, our takeaway is this:
- Ask each tour operator questions important to you. Don’t assume they do something because all the others do it. I’m sure if we hadn’t asked 5 times about the sunset that it wouldn’t have happened.
- Try to get a group of people you think you can bond with. You spend every waking moment with these guys for 3 days and they can make or break for experience.
- The tour will be what you make it. You can only control so much. Make the most of it by encouraging your driver to do what is the most important to you.
We made a video of our Salt Flat experience – check it out below!