Uyuni, Bolivia: Making the most of the Salt Flats’ border town
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So, you’ve just had the most epic 3 days of your life on the Bolivian Salt Flats Tour and they’ve just dropped you off in Uyuni town; now what?! Now what, indeed. After dropping your bags off at your hostel, head straight to the row of bus companies outside the Uyuni Terminal de Buses and forge a plan to get out of Uyuni town. We say this not because Uyuni town is an overly terrible place (I mean, it’s not somewhere you’d want to spend more than 24 hours), but that the bus times and routes are particularly difficult. We planned to go to Sucre the day after getting to Uyuni town, but found that nothing was going until 8pm the next day, so without options from the 10+ agencies we tried, we ended up getting the 11am bus to Potosí instead. So really, make every effort to buy tickets for your departing bus pretty much as soon as you arrive in Uyuni town to ensure you have a space on the bus you need.
How to pronounce Uyuni: oo-YOU-knee
How to get to Uyuni town
If you haven’t yet done the Uyuni salt flats tour and you’re instead coming to Uyuni town from elsewhere in Bolivia, your options are to take a bus, a train or to fly. Flying is by far the better choice in our opinion, as they save a lot of time and are a hell of a lot safer than buses in Bolivia. A flight to Uyuni from La Paz is just 2.5 hours and starts at around $80 USD one-way.
For the train to Uyuni town, you’ll have to get to Oruro first (not a bad diversion!) and buy tickets for one of the 4 weekly departures, on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The train from Oruro to Uyuni takes 7 hours, and costs 47 to 103Bs depending on the train class you opt for.
Buses are said to take 8 hours from Sucre or La Paz to Uyuni town, but you can almost guarantee they will take several hours longer. Coming from Potosi, trains take 4 hours and leave 3 times a day. As recommended in our guide to what to look for in a night bus in South America, always pay more for the most reputable, modern company. This will decrease your chances of having a drunk driver at the wheel or dying of restricted airways if you’re allergic to dust, therefore increasing your chances of waking up at your destination being both alive and well-rested. Win-win!
Things to do in Uyuni town
Leave. Joking. But not really. Apart from the salt flats, this dusty pueblo doesn’t have much going for it. There are some food and market stalls dotted around the city, but not much in the way of funsies.
A short 5Bs bus ride out of the city (buses leave from outside the post office), you can get to Pulacayo. This was once a mining town, but is now more of a ghost town. However, you can take tours of the area and see how they used to extract silver.
If you’ve come from elsewhere in Bolivia and are looking to book the Uyuni Salt Flats tour into Chile, the same tips should be heeded as in the ‘How to Book a Salt Flats Tour from Chile’ guide. If you arrive early enough, you can book a Salt Flats tour on the same day that you get to Uyuni town, meaning you don’t have to stay the night (yay!). All of the tour agencies are on one street, Avenida Ferroviaria. Make sure everything is included and your tour guide/driver speaks a language you understand. You can also do day or sunset tours to the Uyuni Salt Flats without doing the 3 day tour, which is a good option for those who can’t go as far as Chile (the salt flats is by far the best bit, anyway).
Where to eat and drink in Uyuni town
Look for a small, family-run restaurant for a Menu del Dia and dribble at how cheap it is. Right next to where the buses pull up, there is a small but slightly hidden restaurant far back in what looks like a garage. Don’t worry, it’s safe, and a yummy 2 course meal will cost you £1 (10 Bs).
Where to stay in Uyuni town
Now, the town feels a little rough at night, and it’s not uncommon to come across a gnarly stray dog, so the closer you can be to the Plaza Principal in the centre, the better. The best high-rated, well situated, budget accommodation in Uyuni town seems to be Nativa Hotel, but it only has doubles and family rooms so is not so good for single travellers. Piedra Blanca Backpackers Hostel would be the best place to meet people as a solo traveller, though it is a teeeeny bit far out of the centre for our liking.
If you want something more quirky you can sleep in a recycled train carriage at Onkel Inn Wagon Sleepbox. Definitely the coolest place to stay in Uyuni town, and not too expensive either!