Two Flats in One Day – Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia


Route Uyuni, Bolivia – Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
Distance 250Km round trip
Travel Time Full day
Road Conditions Terrible dirt until Colchani, then hard SALT
Weather Very synny, very cold
Terrain Salt Pan, flat as a surfboard
Food and Petrol Uyuni, Colchani
Accommodation Hosta El Cactu, Uyuni

We arrive in Uyuni late afternoon and check into the Hostal El Cactu at the plaza. It’s nothing special but the lady lets me park the bike in the lobby and it’s cheap (70Bolivanos/double with shared washrooms).


Uyuni itself is pretty run down. People look very poor and life up here must be very hard, especially given the altitude and remoteness of the place. It is surprising that the place is not in better shape since there must be quite a lot of tourism coming in headed to and from the Salar, but they must have their reasons.

The next day we wander the town and compare maps of the salar, marking out all the known routes on ours so that we don’t get lost on the salar. Some people have asked us whether we have a GPS – I have a compass. But they’ve all warned that compasses don’t work on the salar. I do some checking up on the Internet but find nothing to confirm or refute that.


The food here is so-so but there’s a good pizza to be found at the wood oven pizza restaurant next to El Cactu and we find a cool bar called Amazonas where they have a good atmosphere and good drinks. We try a Mojito de Coca, a Mojito made with liquor of the coca leaf. Nice stuff.


A visit to the market though, is a rather special experience and gives us an idea of what’s in store for us here in Bolivia.

Not much refrigeration required up here…

The following morning we get up early, saddle up for the Salar and head to the petrol station. No hay nada! It’s Sunday and that means all the fuel is sold out. Same story at the Potosi exit service station. I ask around and a guy suggests going to the Heladeria Pingui, he might have some. Indeed this seems to be where everyone goes on Sundays to buy canisters of petrol at double the price (6 Bolivanos/litre). We get 20 litres – enough for today and about 8 in the spare tanks for future use – and we head off.


The 20Km road to Colchani, the town at the Eastern “entrance” to the Salar, is horrible! No road would be better than this. But the hard work pays off when we reach the salt and we’re bubbling with excitement.

The Salar de Uyuni was a huge salt lake when the South American continent was raised from the ocean and separated this water from the rest of the Atlantic. Over time it evaporated, leaving the biggest salt flat on earth, at about 3669m above sea level. In summer it rains and it’s covered by a thin layer of water, creating the world’s largest mirror. But now it’s dry and the whole thing is a hard crust of pure white salt, spreading out in front of us as far as the eye can see. Wonderland!


Riding here is amazing. Flat, white, high volcanic peaks watch from a distance. The sun is as blinding-bright as the air is COLD. As we zoom across we become mesmerized. Such surreal beauty. You think you’re on snow but it’s not. Hard to believe we are really here. Possibly the only living souls in this vast, flat expanse of hard crystal salt? Wow! Here and there a black dot in the distance materializes into a 4×4 carrying tourists across the salar.

We spend the whole day riding out on the salar. About 90Km in (around the centre) we visit Isla Incahuasi, a beautiful rock island with ancient cacti all over it. A magical place.


We ride further in to visit some of the smaller islands dotted around in the distance. The compass doesn’t fail me once.

We try to take some of those interesting photos you can take here: because of the flatness and monotony of the surroundings your perception of distance is distorted and you can come up with some cool illusions on camera. (We don’t do too well though – takes practice I guess.)



In the afternoon on our way out we meet another biking couple (Elena and Sergio) from Brazil, two-up on a BMW. We join them for a bit more riding, over to Incahuasi. Then we leave at about sunset and get a few snaps of the magical sunset out here – not to be missed! – before the camera runs out of battery.


It’s been a great day out! We reach the end of the salar with the last rays of the sun fading behind us – beautiful. Then something funny. I stop, look down, and see my rear tyre is flat. Does it ever end?

Luckily I’ve come prepared with an emergency inflator, which manages to get the tyre serviceable again. We ride the 20Km back to Uyuni in the dark and the emergency inflation lasts just enough to get us back to the Hostel – lucky!

We have a good Pizza at the restaurant next door with a wood fire oven and at 10PM Sergio the Brazilian comes over to visit and exchange some photos. We end up talking for 2 hours. He’s been all over Brazil and imparts a lot of information that’s really useful for us in planning our trip through Brazil. We say goodbye and he invites us to come and stay with him in Florianopolis. Thanks Sergio, we really hope we make it there!


Visiting the Salar by bike is definitely doable (at this time of year) and I would recommend the experience to anyone mad enough to bike up to this area in the first place. Don’t worry too much about getting lost or the compass not working – they say the same about GPSs. One biker I met told me he’d personally see an compass going berzerk, right in the centre of the salar. But regardless, if you go there in daylight and use the sun and surrounding mountains to help place your location on the map I don’t think you should have any problems. Main tracks are well defined due to extensive use. Beware of water holes (I’ve seen them up to about 1/2m diameter in the main track) you don’t know where they are. And come prepared – clothing, puncture repair, fuel, lighter, torch… just in case. ENJOY!