I spent one night in Uyuni in a freezing cold hostel room, before heading out for my three day tour. There are numerous tour companies doing the Uyuni trip, and prices vary a lot. In the end I went with Red Planet because although they weren’t the cheapest they have a good reputation, particularly with regards to safety.
You could just turn up in Uyuni and see what is available (there are dozens of tour companies lining the main street) but you take your chance what you get (and you may not find anything. Uyuni town is not somewhere you’d want to be stuck for a few days waiting for your tour to begin; there’s not much to do in the town itself).
My three-day tour cost just over $200 and then you have a few entrance fees on top of that, hire of a sleeping bag if you need that, tips (obviously voluntary) and usually a hostel room either before or after the trip (unless you manage to get very lucky with the timings of your flights/buses).
If you are short of time (and/or money) there are also day trips that just go to the salt flats (which are the highlight of the region). However Uyuni is quite remote and travelling all that way just to do a day trip might feel too much like hard work.
IT IS VERY COLD THERE.
I can’t overstate this. I really don’t like the cold and kept myself going by remembering that afterwards I was off to a warmer city and a building with a pool.
Even by local standards, the guide told me, it is particularly cold this year. They had had a particularly dry wet season (if you’re a quinoa fan beware that this means higher prices are on the way for your cereal of choice) and were now having a particularly cold winter.
Anyway, most tours follow roughly the same route, although there are variations in the wet season because of pure practicalities.
We started at the cemetery of trains, just outside of the town. The trains mostly date from the early 20th century. When the mining industry collapsed the trains were simply left to rust. Lots of great photo opportunities here.
Then we drove on to the salt flats themselves. The salt flats are massive (more than 10,000 square kilometres).
Then there was a stop at this amazing ‘island’ in the middle of the salt flats. Not technically an island of course; it is the site of an old volcano that was submerged around 40,000 years ago. Now it is home to an abundance of giant cacti (and a visitor centre).
The next day we headed past some funky rocks… (the rocks were formed from lava dropping from nearby volcanoes)…
…to the pink lagoon. The colour of the lake is caused by animal plankton. It is home to many flamingos, although not too many of them were around for my trip; the lake was too dry. I met some friendly llamas though…
Then we went to the geysers. This was 5,000 metres above sea level. It is hoped that one day these geysers can provide the energy needs of the surrounding area.
We ended the day in a hut/hostel. It was quite basic (no running water and electric just for a couple of hours; like a prison we had lights out at nine). It was very cold. There was a hot spring very close (heated by the geysers above), but I didn’t go. I was simply too cold to function by then. (hence no photo).
On the last day we stopped off to see Salvador Dali desert.
Then onwards to the green lagoon, which wasn’t green.
Then we continued on the long drive back to Uyuni.
I met some fab people on the trip and enjoyed some great conversations (you know travellers, always talking about where they’ve been and where they’re going next, but I did have some conversations that got a bit beyond that kind of smalltalk). However I’m not the most social of animals and after three days I was glad to get back to my own space and my own agenda.