We spent three days in San Pedro obsessing over which Salt flats tour to choose, and which operator seemed to be offering the best deal.
We were promised the world from many of the tour operators, even though essentially every tour is the same.
To save you those three days, here are our top tips on how to choose and how to avoid being ripped off!
Eventually we went for the 3D/2N tour from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Uyuni in Bolivia, with Towanda Tours, and we highly recommend them!
There is a lot to consider with so many tour operators and horror stories, so here goes…
1. Prepare for it to be basic
If you don’t like being cold or staying in basic accommodation, or sitting in a car for long periods, the 3D trip isn’t for you.
The jeeps they use are comfortable mostly but you’ll be in it for several hours a day. The accommodation will be a bed in a room, possibly with hot water but probably not. Prepare in advance and don’t worry about being a bit grubby, everyone is the same!
Take a sleeping bag liner if you’re worried about cleanliness.
2. There are 2 different routes – choose wisely
One route goes east from San Pedro on Day One, stopping at the famous tree-shaped rock and overnighting in what is called a ‘refuge’.
The other route goes west, staying in a homestay-style hostel which we were told was less cold and basic (although it’s still basic).
This is the route Towanda and a few others take (Flamingo, Ccapcha) . The landscapes on the western route include amazing rock formations and canyons, whereas apparently the eastern route includes more lagoons, many of which you will see similar versions of on day one.
If you want variety and a less cold stay, opt for the Western route like we did.
3. Choose a tour that includes sunrise on the salt flats
This is the most awesome part of the trip, but not all tours we spoke to got up early to see it. The view of the sun reflecting in the water pools on the vastness of the amazing salt flats is our all time best sunrise.
4. Don’t pay over the odds
Tours will try to claim its guides speak English or treat staff better to get more money out of you. In truth they all travel in convoy and offer almost identical itineraries.
And none speak fluent English. Our tour guide Ariel spoke little English but it didn’t matter (although we had a Spanish speaker in our car).
We paid 93,000 pesos but were quoted 110/115 in some places. Don’t pay more than 95,000 we’d say.
Have plenty of layers because it’s freezing first thing and boiling in the afternoon. The nights are cold but our hostels had plenty of blankets.
Take plenty of water and toilet paper and more bolivianos than you need (around 300 each is enough for park entrances, gifts etc).
And get some props for pictures on the salt flats. Toy dinosaurs, barbie dolls and pringles tubes are good to take funny altered perspectives where you look tiny and they look massive.
Google ideas as you won’t have long when you get there! Overall this was the highlight of our South America trip so far.
And finally… enjoy it!
We were lucky to share it with amazing new friends so if you can find like minded people to share a jeep with it will save the disappointment of being stuck with people you don’t like or don’t share a language with.
You’ll see lakes filled with flamingoes, stunning geysers, mind blowing volcanoes and end with the other worldly salt flats. You won’t regret it, just choose wisely!