How to Combine Visiting Machu Picchu and Uyuni Salt Flats
Machu Picchu, located a short train ride from Cusco, is known world-wide for its iconic beauty and mystery; Rising as if defying gravity, from steep stone terraces some 2000 feet above the tempestuous Urubamba River.
Obscured by a thin layer of mist and nestled in verdant greenery, the near-geometric structure of Machu Picchu cuts a familiar shape in the Sacred Valley of the Andes. The 15th century citadel, without a doubt the most recognized and celebrated site of ancient Inca civilization, is built on a high shelf on the side of the mountainous Sacred Valley that gapes below. Its careful engineering naturally merges with the terrain as if it had arisen from the very rocks themselves. This labyrinthine structure of stone buildings, plazas, terraces and walkways is one of the most visited historic sanctuaries on the planet and for good reason. It's difficult to believe that when explorer Hiram Bingham stumbled upon the ruins in 1911, they had been towering mostly out of sight for nearly 400 years! Bingham believed the archaeological site to be the legendary Lost City of the Incas, to which the Incas fled from the Spanish conquistadors, however this has since been disproved. Nevertheless, this extraordinary feat of structural engineering is an endless source of fascination and planning for an in-depth tour should be promptly placed at the top of your travel checklist.
A few words of advice – the Museo de Sitio (site museum) Manuel Chávez Ballón, near the base of the site, offers valuable background information on the ruins themselves and is worth seeking out. Book entrance to Machu Picchu in advance from Cusco (or online in advance) as the site has a daily limit and tickets sell out well ahead of time. Access to the sanctuary is via Cusco, where you can choose between traveling to the ruins by train or by hiking the popular Inca Trail (though this can be pricey). If traveling by train towards Machu Picchu, we advise choosing a seat on the left side for the best views of the river, or on the right side if returning. Oh, and bring insect repellent or you might be ravaged by tiny biting flies!
Uyuni Salt Flats
Have you ever seen those awe-inspiring photos of white expanses stretching as far as the eye can see? Sometimes featuring comic poses that play with your perspective, where small objects dwarf the human subjects. Well, that'll be the Bolivian salt flats of Uyuni. The remains of prehistoric lakes long since evaporated where the enormity and epic flatness of the area make for spectacular photographs. Known as the Salar de Uyuni, they are the largest salt flats in the world, stretching across 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 square miles) in southwest Bolivia. Lying at an average, dizzying height of 3,700 m (12,139 ft) above sea level, they are an essential part of any trip to South America.
A tour of the salt flats begins by jeep from the town of Uyuni, when you are driven out to the middle of the area, where nothing can be seen in any direction apart from vast, overwhelming whiteness. A completely breathtaking experience, and unlike any other place on Earth, the area is made up of a crust of salt a few meters thick covering a briny pool which holds between 50-70% of the world's lithium reserves. When there has been rain or an overflow from nearby lakes a thin layer of water covers the flats, creating extraordinary mirages and reflections that become utterly sensational; allowing the setting sun to trigger its evening kaleidoscope in the sky. The Uyuni Salt Flats are also a breeding ground for many species of flamingo, an unexpected sight in the cold elevation of the Andes Mountains, so keep an eye out for them! Don't forget your sunglasses, which are an absolute necessity if you don't want to be squinting when the sun comes out, and of course plenty of water. You might want to think about bringing your own props for those photo opportunities as well.
Machu Picchu and Uyuni Salt Flats Tour
These two Latin American attractions may be on the top of most tourist bucket lists but don't let that put you off – both sites are well managed in order to maintain the peace and tranquility that makes them unique. The good news is that they are not too far apart, and so can easily be fitted into the same travel itinerary. To avoid heavy mist, we recommend you see Machu Picchu in the dry season (May to October). June to August is the busiest time of year for the site, so avoid then if you don't like crowds. Our Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley land tour takes in the historic centre of Cusco, as well as the meditative Sacred Valley and extraordinary ruins of Machu Picchu. There are a variety of ways to add an extension to Bolivia in order to experience the dazzling salt flats of Uyuni such as our Machu Picchu and Salar de Uyuni salt flats tours that we can advise on whether that be by train, bus or air. Contact us today or speak to one of our travel experts directly by calling 1-888-215-3555.