No South American Travel Itinerary would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, and as they are relatively close to each other (+/- 320km), one would think that it would be easy to travel between the two, but there is little information about the crossing to be found online.
Prior to our recent trip to South America, we spent many hours ‘Googling’ for a quick and easy transfer from Uyuni to San Pedro, but there are no flights, and none of the bus companies seem to have any online presence, and so the only option was to make our way there, and work it out on site.
To travel from Salar de Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama (or vice-versa) you basically have 3 options:
Option 1: Book a 3 or 4 Day Tour
There are some local tour operators that offer 3 and 4 day tours from Uyuni to San Pedro, but they cater more for the backpacker market, and accommodations on route are very basic, and in many instances, shared with other travellers, and so it’s not for everyone. During your tour, you will visit the Salar de Uyuni, Geysers and Lakes such as Laguna Colorada, and you’ll finish off in the Atacama Desert.
Option 2: Take a Taxi
This was our preferred option, but as we were travelling over the weekend, it didn’t work for us. You can take a local private taxi from Uyuni to the border town of Avaroa for around BOB 1,000 (approximately $145 USD), and from there you have to walk approximately 30 minutes in ‘no man’s land’ to the Chilean border town of Ollagüe, where you clear immigration, and take another local taxi to San Pedro (at a cost of around $200 USD). There are no taxi’s in Ollagüe on Saturdays and Sundays, and there are no accommodations of any type, so this is definitely not one to try over the weekend!
Option 3: Take a Bus
You won’t find any information about this on the internet, but taking the bus from Uyuni to San Pedro is relatively quick, relatively easy, and very affordable! There are 2 bus companies that run the route every day, the first is Cruz Del Norte, the second is Frontera. Buses depart at 5am every morning from the bus station in Uyuni, and they take you all the way to San Pedro, arriving at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The cost of our ticket was BOB 130 per person (approximately $18 USD), and they are available to purchase onsite at the bus station right up until the day before travel (and I assume even the day of travel if there are seats available).
Leaving Bolivia is easy. The border control staff are friendly and speak a good level of English, and there are a couple of little stalls where you can buy tea, coffee, snacks, and even a hot breakfast if you have time!
Once you have your exit stamp, you hop back on the same bus, drive across no man’s land to the Chilean border, and here it gets a little more serious…! You get off the bus, get your passport stamped, get back on the bus and drive a few meters to a control station where you need to get off the bus again with all your luggage for inspection.
After the sniffer dogs have had a good sniff, the contents of your suitcases/backpacks are checked manually by border control agents (who take their jobs very seriously indeed!!), and then you pack everything back on the bus and continue with your journey across one of the most spectacular landscapes in all southern America!
In total, the border crossings take about 2 – 3 hours, so you need to be patient, but you’ll be on your way before you know it, and once you arrive in San Pedro de Atacama, you’ll be very glad that you made the journey!
Travelling from Salar de Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama is easy, so don’t let the lack of information put you off. Take the bus and experience the real South America, we would recommend it to anyone!