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The Salinas Grandes in Argentina sit right on the border between the Jujuy and Salta Provinces. They are the fourth largest salt flats in the world (Uyuni in Bolivia is the largest), and they are absolutely stunning. And, surprisingly easy and affordable to get to!
The closest town to the Salinas Grandes is Purmamarca, a small desert village that sits at the base of the Cerro de los Siete Colores. You can come for a day trip to Purmamarca as many do, though I suggest spending a couple days here at least.
COST: 1500 pesos (700 extra for the Ojo del Salar)
TIME: 4 hours round trip between Purmamarca and the Salinas Grandes
HOW TO GO:
There are several vans/buses that leave from Purmamarca every day between 8am-5pm. The van will finally leave once it reaches capacity, about 15 people, so there is no set schedule. You shouldn’t have to wait more than 30 minutes. One block from the bus station, on the corner in front of the Despensa Tahiel you’ll hear a man calling out “Salinas, Salinas.” Once you approach him, you’ll need to give him your name and pay the 1500 pesos ($7.50 usd). He will then wait until the van reaches full capacity before he leaves. Sundays are a bit more tricky, as less buses go. But you should have no problem Monday-Saturday.
ALONG THE WAY:
There are two short stops that you’ll make along the way to the Salinas. Both are for about 5-10 minutes, just enough time to snap a few photos and jump back into the van. The first stop is at a lookout point, where you can see the road weaving up through the valley. The second stop is at the altitude sign for Jujuy, measuring 4170 meters high. This seems to be one of the most well known photos as I had seen it several times while researching Jujuy.
FACILITIES AT THE SALINAS GRANDES:
At the entrance of the Salinas, there are bathrooms available for 30 ($0.12 usd)pesos per person, including toilet paper. There is no soap/water to wash your hands, but there is hand sanitizer provided. There are also a few women selling empanadas and tortillas. I got a ham & cheese tortilla for 250 pesos ($1.25 usd). On one side of the parking lot, there is also a row of merchants selling items, presumably made from the salt from the salinas.
OJO DEL SALAR:
While the trip is 1500 pesos, you have the option of paying an additional 700 pesos ($3.50 usd) to go to the Ojo del Salar. Our driver explained this to us once we were all in the van together. It is totally optional. If you don’t want to go, you can get out at the entrance and spend one hour near the main entrance area. You’ll need to pay 200 pesos ($1 usd) to enter.
If you do want to go (Everyone in our group went, except one person), just stay in the van. The 700 pesos includes a Spanish speaking guide who will jump in the van at this point. The driver will then take you right out onto the salt flats, driving another 5-10 minutes. Once you get out of the van, the guide will explain how you need to walk in a line because the salt layer is fragile.
You’ll walk a couple minutes to see the “ojo” (eye) of the Salar. It is a natural pool in the salt layer, revealing the water underneath. The guide explains a bit about this natural pool, then you’ll have several minutes to take photos in the area, though you’ll need to be more cautious of where you walk. Only the guide is allowed to take photos of you from one particular side so as to avoid unnecessary foot traffic and destruction.
After about 20-30 minutes, you’ll pile back in the van and head to the main entrance area where the many rows of water are. You’ll have about 30 minutes to spend in this area taking photos.
The total time is just over one hour at the Salinas. If you don’t go to see the Ojo del Salar, you’ll have one hour near the main entrance. If you do go, your time will be divided between both places, about 30 minutes each.
It’s so worth it, in my opinion. It was easy to get there, took only 4 hours total, and was absolutely stunning. I wish we had an extra hour there to be honest, because it did feel a bit rushed at times. I feel I could have really taken in the surroundings and enjoyed it even more if I had just a bit more time. If you are able to take your own vehicle, then it would be ideal. The salt flats are like a giant white surface, with seams that look like a basketball. I had been looking forward to this for so long, and I was not disappointed.
WHAT TO BRING:
Jacket – the first two stops were quite windy and cold. While the salt flats are very bright and sunny, it can still be quite cold, especially if you visit in the fall/winter months. I came in early June. You can also leave your jacket in the van if you wish.
T-shirt – It can get pretty hot and sunny once you’re at the salt flats. You definitely might want to peel off your layers once you get here!
SPF – This is absolutely essential. The salinas are one giant reflective surface. It is very bright here and having some sun protection will do you good.
Sunglasses – As mentioned, the salinas are bright! You’ll definitely be happy to have some eye protection out there.
Dramamine/anti-nausea pills – Half of the drive between Purmamarca and the Salinas is a very windy road. If you are prone to car sickness (it me!) then you may be relieved to have something to help you out!
Extra Money – The trip costs 1500 pesos, the Ojo del Salar is 700 pesos, the bathroom is 30 pesos, food is around 250 pesos. You want to be prepared for any of these things, just in case.
Snacks/water – The round trip takes just over 4 hours. If you’re like me, a constant snacker, you’ll be glad to have a little extra. I was good with a bottle of water, an apple, and I also purchased a tortilla at the salt flats just before heading back to Purmamarca.
Cocoa leaves/cocoa candy – This region is quite high. You’ll even pass the famous Jujuy sign showing 4170m altitude. If you are not adjusted to altitude, you might benefit from having a little assistance in this department. I just recently spent a month in Cusco, Peru and I am from the Rocky Mountains originally, so I didn’t have any issues with altitude at all. But if you come from a place near sea level, you might be affected.