Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is considered one of the most extreme and remarkable vistas in all of South America, if not Earth. Stretching more than 4,050 square miles of the Altiplano, it is the world’s largest salt flat, left behind by prehistoric lakes evaporated long ago. Here, a thick crust of salt extends to the horizon, covered by quilted, polygonal patterns of salt rising from the ground.
At certain times of the year, nearby lakes overflow and a thin layer of water transforms the flats into a stunning reflection of the sky. This beautiful and otherworldly terrain serves as a lucrative extraction site for salt and lithium—the element responsible for powering laptops, smart phones and electric cars. In addition to local workers who harvest these minerals, the landscape is home to the world's first salt hotel and populated by road-tripping tourists. The harsh beauty and desolateness of Salar de Uyuni can make for an incredible experience or a logistical nightmare.
Uyuni, Bolivia: The most popular jumping-off point for salt flats tours, Uyuni is a small, dusty town packed with tourism agencies in Plaza Arce, its main square. Travelers can book tours in advance online, through tour offices in La Paz, or they can simply arrive in Uyuni and peruse the options in town. Since Uyuni is so close to the salt flats, tourists can easily book day trips. Flights from La Paz to Uyuni can be booked through Amaszonas and BoA (one hour, about $130 round-trip). Overnight buses from La Paz are available with Trans Omar and Todo Turismo (10-12 hours, $30 to $40 each way).
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: Agencies drive travelers to the border before handing the tour over to a Bolivian operator. Due to the distance, this is a three-day tour.