Backpacker’s Guide – Uyuni, Bolivia to San Pedro Atacama, Chile
Well, this article will talk about our experience of going from La Paz, Bolivia to Uyuni, Bolivia then doing the three days/two nights tour of Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia to San Pedro Atacama, Chile.
You also need to know that the electricity is limited during this three-day trip and there’s NO INTERNET (there’s one hotel by the lake, but they’ll charge you 20 Bolivianos for 1 15 minutes / WhatsApp only internet connection)!
How to get there?
- Tour Operator: Most of the tour packages won’t include the bus cost of going from La Paz to Uyuni. Some of the well-known companies may have their shuttle bus or van to bring you to Uyuni for an extra cost (usually overpriced!)
- Bus Station: Since we had a low budget, what we did (which we usually do) is going to the local bus station (there’s only 1 in La Paz!) then book the ticket from there. There are different companies there going straight to Uyuni by 12-hour bus journey such as Panamericana and Panasur. We chose Panasur*. The semi-cama seat is only 137 Bolivianos while the Cama option is only 197 Bolivianos. The bus leaves at 19:00 (exact!) and arrives between 6:30 am to 7:30 am in Uyuni (ours arrived at 6:45 am).
Then, once in, Uyuni, you can decide to stay there for a night or go straight and do the tour. The tour usually starts at 10 AM.
* You can contact them directly at [email protected] / (591) 2281708 in La Paz/ www.uyunipanasur.com
How to choose a tour package?
We don’t usually do tours as we prefer to do our own thing, but for this kind, of trip, it would cost us a lot more money to rent a car or motorbike. You can book your tour in La Paz, or you can book it last minute in Uyuni, Bolivia. There are about 75 tour operators in Uyuni, some larger and more reviewed than others!
We checked out 10 of them and decided to go with a family-owned tour operator called Huracan Expedeciones (or Expediciones Huracan), their office is just along from the bus stop. They don’t have a website, but I was able to get their personal Facebook account and email. Here are their details: CEL.74232093
When booking a tour, they will ask you how many days tour you want – 1 day, two days, three days or 4 days. If you just want to go to the Salt Flats then just choose the one day!
They will also ask you if you decide to go back to Uyuni, Bolivia or head straight to San Pedro Atacama, Chile – some will charge you extra for the shuttle bus that will bring you from the Bolivian border to San Pedro Atacama- it’s only 50 Bolivianos (don’t pay more than that!)
You must also know the season as the rates vary slightly.
Tour Cost Range depends on the Season (this is according to our Tour Operator)
There’s a lot of companies who will try to rip you off (based on what we’ve seen and encountered) so hope you’ll find this cost guide useful. We arrived on last week of December (December 28 to 30, 2014) and it was their peak season!
- PEAK SEASON!! November to February –750 to 1000 Bolivianos (Mostly Asian and Latino travelers during this season)
- Late February to Early April – 700 to 850 Bolivianos (Mostly Israeli travelers)
- LOW SEASON! April to May – 600 to 800 Bolivianos
- June to July – 800 to 900 Bolivianos (Mostly European travelers)
- LOW SEASON! August to Early November – 600 to 800 Bolivianos
Different Tour Operators have different packages. Ours included the following:
- Meals – First day (lunch and dinner), Second day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and third day (breakfast)
The tour operator will prepare all of the ingredients for your 3-day journey (it’s in the back seat including all the cutlery) then the hostel staff will be the one cooking for your “picnic” style meals! On our first day- lunch was served at the Hostal Salar (in the salt flats itself), we had beefsteak with veggies then dinner was served at the Hostal where we slept that night
- Hostal – 2 nights
On our first night, we stayed at the hostel made of salt. It’s not posh (remember you’re a backpacker) and the electricity is limited. You also have to pay 10 Bolivianos to use the hot shower. On our second night, we stayed in a 7-bed dorm room in the desert; it was beautiful and simple. You’ll find one shower (ducha) in that whole area, we were lucky it was in our hostel, other tour operators’ guests had to go to our hostel and paid 20 Bolivianos to shower, and we only had to pay 10 Bolivianos for it.
- Transportation in a Toyota 4×4 Land Cruiser
Yes, you’ll only see 4×4 cars on these roads! The road is crazy, and four wheel drive is a must so if you decide to rent your own, good luck with the maintenance! Our car carried a spare wheel, and we had a flat tire once. The other drivers of the other tour companies all stopped to help out! The passengers must only be maximum of 7 but if you have a guide then a max of 6 per tour group.
Related Article: Looking for affordable accommodation? Check out our Ultimate List of Best Hostels in Brazil!
- Spanish Speaking Guide, who is also the driver
If you have extra money to pay (200 to 300 Bolivianos/person in the group) then you can have an English speaking guide, but usually your driver will serve as your tour guide, driver and your all-around hero (he prepares your table for lunch and will clean afterwards, your photographer, will look after your belongings, etc)
Our guide, Hipolito, doesn’t even know how to speak English but he’s awesome! He made sure we’re all fine and enjoyed our trip. He’s been in this field for a year as he just shifted career from being a hardcore mining engineer to a tour driver/guide!
What to Bring?
Well, if you will go to San Pedro Atacama, Chile then it’s best to bring your whole backpack! But here are some necessities you have to bring:
- Tissue paper/ Wetwipes – for every toilet use, you have to pay 2 to 5 Bolivianos, or you can just do it in the bush!
- Thick Jacket – it’s really cold at night there!
- Flashlight – just in case you want to stargaze and wander at night
- Extra Battery/ Portable Battery Charger – the electricity is, limited, and your camera might be low on battery by the second day!
- Snacks – the water and meals are provided, but just in case you want to munch food during the journey
- MONEY– Yes you need to bring some Bolivianos with you, though you think the tour will include most of what you need you still need to pay the following:
- 150 Bolivianos – Entrance Fee for the National Reserve to visit Laguna Verde, etc
- 10 to 20 Bolivianos – if you want the hot shower
- 2 to 5 Bolivianos – for the toilet
- 6 Bolivianos – for the hot spring (Aguas Thermales)
- 15 Bolivianos- for your exit stamp in Bolivian border to San Pedro Atacama. Though our visa to enter to Bolivia is FREE, the immigration will charge you this- if you refuse to pay they will refuse to give you the exit stamp. We don’t know if this legal.
- TIP for the guide – We gave him $20 as he’s really good guy!
Related Article: Looking for affordable accommodation? Check out our Ultimate List of Best Hostels in Chile!
Our 3-day Tour itinerary
Imagine a backpacker camping trip but with a driver, a cook and assistant? Well, I bet what we paid for really compensated our whole tour!
First, I want to introduce to you our awesome tour guide, HIPOLITO. He used to be a miner who just recently shifted to a tour driver career. Next, our awesome our buddies- they are all from Argentina!
Day One: The spots you’ll visit include: Train Graveyard, Small village of Colchani to visit the salt miners’ workshop, Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni salt flats), the original Salt Hotel (lunch will be served here), Inca Huasi Island (Fish Island / Cactus Island),
Day Two: Wake up at 5 am, have breakfast and leave at 6 am, stop at Andean lagoons to hang out with hundreds of flamingos, big desert of Siloli where you can see Arbol de Piedra (the rock tree), red Lagoon with more flamingos and the “Sol de Mañana” geysers
Day Three: Wake up at 4:30 am, have breakfast and leave at 5am, small desert of Chiguana on the south side of Salar de Uyuni where you stop at a lookout to view steamy volcanoes, Dali desert, 30 minutes in the Aguas Thermales (Hot spring), Laguna Verde (the green lake) then off to the Bolivian border to go to San Pedro Atacama, Chile (you will be there by 1PM
Where next? CHILE
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