A trip across the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia's remote southwest mountain region is truly one of the world's most spectacular journeys. But the experience can be quite different depending on whether you travel in the wet or dry season. So what time of year is best to visit? There is rarely an easy answer, because like much in life, there are trade-offs to be made. From around mid-December to March the salt flats become flooded.
So a visit at this time of year makes it possible to experience the entirely unique phenomenon of "paddling across the sky" and gliding bird-like across an everlasting nothingness in a 4X4 jeep. But when the salt flats flood, everything else gets pretty wet too. And that can often make the rest of this already remote and rugged region almost inaccessible and confine itchy-footed travellers to the limits of small town life in Uyuni.
Visiting the salt flats at any other time of year won't get you the mirror effect, but the salt flats will take on a more brilliant bleach-white and ensure you will be able to cross the entire plain by jeep, not just the edges.
Avoiding the wet season also gives far better odds of being able to enjoy several days of deeper exploration into one of the world's true remaining wild regions The Bolivian Desert and the Eduardo Avaroa Natural Reserve: to explore cactus-riddled rocky outcrops, desert landscapes where colours melt like radioactive Dali paintings, flamingos feeding and flying over volcanic lagoons where the minerals have coloured the waters blues, greens and reds, bathe in bubbling hot springs and encounter flocks of llama, wild vicuna, rabbit-like viscachas or condors gliding in the distance.
From June to September the salt flats are completely dry and the region is accessible and popular with European visitors. But this is also when temperatures drop to their lowest- some nights as low as -20C.
A more comfortable time to visit would be from the end of September to early December, when the region is still accessible and night-times lose their bitter cold.
As you travel south of Uyuni you reach Tupiza, the notorious US outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their ends near here. It is easy to see the attraction from their point of view - a long way from the law in the American West and scenery just like home!; Tupiza can be reached by train from Uyuni. It departs at 2.30am, with carriages more comfortable than might be expected for the remote setting. Sunrise reveals spectacular views and this stretch of the railway is better than the more frequently-travelled tourist route from Oruro to Uyuni. Although you need a 4wd/driver to fully appreciate the scenery around Tupiza, you can also explore trails on foot by taking a microbus to surrounding villages. Who could resist a place called Canon el Magico?