Bolivia Atacama Expedition Travel Tips & Advice
By Finding Awesome | Mar 2015
By Finding Awesome | Mar 2015
Traveling through the salt flats and desert at different times of the year will provide travelers with uniquely different experiences. To see the water reflections across the salt flats, the best time of year is typically March and April, but expect more tourists as well. Also, during this time some areas of the salt flats are inaccessible due to the risk of vehicles sinking into the salt.
The number of visitors significantly drops after peak season. There may only be a few other tour groups during an excursion in May, making for less crowds around area attractions and enjoying the desert all to yourself. The skies are clear and sunny on most days after the rainy season but temperatures can range between 20° F and 50° F (-6° to 10° Celsius) as the winter approaches in the Southern Hemisphere.Jump to Bolivia Tour Photos
Take a flight from Santiago, or Lima, to Calama. For a more unique experience, fly into Tacna Peru, grab a taxi to Arica Chile, and then take a bus to San Pedro de Atacama.
Both Uyuni and San Pedro de Atacama have plenty of tour operators available. There are a lot of backpacking travelers in both cities and so multiple tours run daily in both directions. We suggest booking a tour in advance, though, it is possible to find a good tour option while out there.
Entry: U.S. Citizens should be prepared to pay an entry visa to enter Bolivia, in cash. Tour operators may fail to mention the entry visa – UPDATE U.S. citizens no longer need a visa to enter Bolivia for tourism. Source: Travel.state.gov.
Weather: The weather from May through September is cold, really cold! Expect sunny, windy, and freezing temperatures. Visitors may need sunblock and a winter jacket at the same time. Pick up a llama wool jacket in San Pedro de Atacama before a tour for ~$10 USD. See ChampionTraveler.com for more complete Bolivia Altiplano weather information.
Group Tours: Many of the group tours cram up to 6 people in a truck, accommodations are in a generic hostels, and they do not provide a translator. Group tours are generally on a tight schedule and do not allocate enough time for visitors to explore attractions. There are many tour operators available, as well as cheaper day trip options.
Private Tours through Bolivia will ensure a safe driver, tour guide/translator, very nice lodging, breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well snacks along the way. While more expensive than a group tour, private tours offer personalized attention, custom itinerary, and greater flexibility including deviating from course or spending more time at places for pictures.
Fremen Tours and other private tour providers partner with many of the remote hotels in the region. This makes them a good choice for the traveler who prefers a fully accommodating tour package with hotel versus a group tour and hostel.
The hotel accommodations from our Bolivia expedition were very nice with friendly and attentive staff. The hotel information for each location is detailed below.
Before beginning an expedition in Bolivia, check out the sights in and near San Pedro de Atacama.
Laguna Chaxa Park The park is located in Salar de Atacama. Only short drive from San Pedro de Atacama, the park is a typical stop for most day tours. The main attraction here are the flocks of flamingos (flamencos).
National Reserve & Siloli Desert - Day 1 of a Bolivia Tour starting from San Pedro de Atacama begins with a short taxi ride from San Pedro de Atacama to the Bolivia / Chile border crossing and entering Bolivia's Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. The first stops are Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde. The White and Green Lagoons, respectively, get their names from how they appear due to the minerals in each lake.
Desierto Salvador Dalí or the Salvador Dalí desert gets its name from the volcanic debris spewed over the desert landscape - resembling the artist style from the famous artist.
Valley of Rock & Altiplano - The second day begins in Villamar Mallcu, with the first stop at Laguna Negra, also known as the Laughing Lagoon for the bird sounds that resemble humans laughing hysterically. Very amusing!
Salt Flats & Volcàn Tunupa - The third day is filled with sightseeing, starting out at Cuerva de Galaxias (Galaxy Cave) or the Gruta de las Galaxias.
After entering the Uyuni Salt Flats from the South edge and taking funny perspective photos with your driver and guide, the next stop appears in the distance. Crossing over Isla del Pescado, an island popping up on the salt flat with hundreds of years old monster-sized cacti marks about halfway across the ancient dried up lake. The final main attraction of the day is after enduring the vast and blinding whiteness of the Uyuni Salt Flat. The town of Coqueza Canton on the north edge of the flat and at the base of Volcano Tunupa presents amazing opportunities to take pictures. After a quick lunch, drive and then hike up the side of Volcàn Tunupa for an endless panoramic view of the Uyuni Salt Flat, surrounding mountains, and villages below at Mirador Chatahuana.
The day ends in the town of Tahua at Hotel Tayka de Sal. Be sure to get outside and view the volcano and salt flats at sunset.
Salt Flats & Uyuni - The final day starts at the Chantani Museum featuring native artifacts collected from the hillside and volcano. Visitors are surprised to see the unique collection of items including a ceremonial ayahuasca pipe carved of wood only found in the amazon jungle or an array of sea shells from the ancient salt lake. Afterwards traverse the salt to the island Isla Incahuasi. Tour the island museum and hike to the summit for panoramic photo opportunities from the middle of the worlds largest salt flat. Check out the island at night for out of this world stargazing or visit during the wet season for mirror like reflections across the salt flat surface. Stop at the salt processing fields and discover how the locals turn the mineral & lithium rich Salar de Uyuni into edible table salt. Be sure to venture to the Train Graveyard before ending the trip in Uyuni.
The La Paz bus station is about 9 hours away from Uyuni. Spend time in La Paz, or catch a bus ride to Cusco from here. The bus tickets are inexpensive, and for a $5 USD upgrade, get a seat in the climate controlled lower deck complete with WiFi and a restroom. It is well worth the upgrade price as the bus trip takes about 13 hours!
The bus crosses the border at Desaguadero, and continues along the shore of beautiful Lake Titicaca for several hours. There are several stops along the ride, including in Puno Peru. The trip ends in Cusco Peru after a slow, and sometimes scary, bus trip through the mountains and cliff edges.
Photo Gallery Information
The collection of photos and panoramic pictures above were taken while on excursion through the Chilean Atacama and Bolivia Highlands. Learn more about booking an adventure like this at our affiliate partner Trip.com.
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Use the comment section below for questions, recommendations, or trip ideas.