Most people know about Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, but did you know that Argentina has its own salt flats too? The vast Salinas Grandes (Great Salt Flats) is the 3rd largest salt flat in the world, stretching over Salta and Jujuy in northwest Argentina.
During our stay in Quebrada de Humahuaca, we went on a full day trip to Salinas Grandes from Purmamarca and we absolutely loved it! Whether you’ve already been to a salt flat or you’re planning to visit Uyuni, I would still recommend you visit Argentina’s Salinas Grandes. Curious to know why? Keep on reading.
7 reasons why you should visit Argentina’s Salinas Grandes Salt Flats.
#1 – No salt flat is created equal
It turns out I have managed to visit four salt flats around the world and each of them presented a unique landscape and experience. Besides the strikingly beautiful and bright salt plains, Salinas Grandes’s most unique feature has to be the turquoise blue pools that provide lots of opportunities for creative photography. Which takes me to the next point…
#2 – Salinas Grandes is a photographer’s paradise
Admittedly, one of the goals we had in mind when visiting Salinas Grandes was to try some optical illusion photography ahead of our Uyuni Salt Flat trip in Bolivia. It was much harder than we thought, but we did have the perfect conditions to practise: endless salt grounds, blue skies and no wind!
Tip | If you’re planning to take perspective shots, don’t forget to bring props with you and search some photo examples in advance for inspiration. It is also possible to fly a drone.
#3 – It can be visited on a full or half-day trip
Wondering how to see Salinas Grandes?
It is much easier than you think. You can take a full day tour from Salta (although it may be a bit tiring) or better still, take a half-day trip from Purmamarca, which is what we did. There’s no need to spend a night near the salt flats so it’s a perfect day trip idea for travellers on a tight schedule.
#4 – The admission to the salt flats is free
The access to the Salinas Grandes is through a highway that runs right across the middle of the salt flats. To enter, you just need to get off the car and walk a few steps! There’s no ticket booth or entrance fee. The only cost would be transportation.
For an additional fee, you can take a tour with a local guide on site who can explain further about the salt extraction process and take you to other parts of the flats, but that’s totally up to you. We were too busy taking pictures and didn’t consider taking a guided tour.
#5 – You can drive to Salinas Grandes on your own or on join a tour bus
To reach Salinas Grandes, you have different options to choose from:
1) Drive/rent a car: the salt flats are located on National Route 52, which is well maintained and signaled. This is the best option if you prefer the flexibility of stopping along the way to appreciate the spectacular scenery.
2) Join a tour bus: minibuses leave from Purmamarca daily at 1:30pm and they are affordable (around $10 USD per person). This is the option we went for.
3) Hire a private driver: this option is best if you don’t have any budget constraints and want to sit back and enjoy the journey.
#6 –You get to see the impressive Cuesta de Lipan (Lipan Slope)
The ride from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes is absolutely stunning! The highlight is the panoramic views of Cuesta de Lipán (Lipan Slope) – a zig-zag road across the quebrada. The tours normally stop at a viewpoint to allow passengers to fully take in the beautiful landscape.
#7 – You can combine Purmamarca + Salinas Grandes as a day trip
Many of the tour buses that take you to Salinas Grandes depart from Purmamarca, so if you’re staying in Humahuaca or Tilcara, you can head to Purmamarca early in the morning and explore the town before you go to the salt flats in the afternoon.
We had the whole morning to browse the local handicraft markets and admire the The Seven Colored Hill (Cerro de Siete Colores) that made Purmamarca famous.
This town deserves a full day (especially if you’d like to hike around these mountains) but for those with a tighter schedule, know that it is possible to combine a visit to Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes in a single day.
- Related post: A complete guide to Humahuaca in Northwest Argentina
More info on the group minibuses that go to Salinas Grandes
As mentioned above, we took a minibus from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes. In my opinion, it is the best option in terms of cost and convenience if you’re not driving your own car. Here are some things to know:
- Minibuses (locally known as combis) leave every day at 1:30pm from a corner close to the main Purmamarca station. They bring you back to Purmamarca by 5pm.
- Generally, there’s no need to book days in advance. Just secure your spot a few hours before departure time, say 10am or 11am.
- One minibus can carry up to 19 people.
- The driver makes two stops along the way to take pictures.
- You get 1 full hour to enjoy the Salinas Grandes.
- The price is 350 ARS (approx. $10 USD) per person *as of August 2018
Other useful tips for your Salinas Grandes visit
– Bring water, snacks, lip balm, sunglasses, hat and photography props.
– I’ve read quite a few negative comments about visiting Salinas Grandes from Salta: the journey is long and tiring and you don’t get to spend much time in the salt flats. Consider visiting from Purmamarca, Tilcara or Humahuaca instead.
Distances/time to Salinas Grandes:
– Purmamarca 66 km
– Tilcara 91 km
– Humahuaca 134 km
– San Salvador de Jujuy 131 km
– Salta 248 km
Tip | For those driving their own car: when estimating travel time, don’t believe what Google says…ask the locals. The journey on gravel roads will always take longer than you’d expect.
Best time to visit Salinas Grandes
– January to March is the best time to see Salinas Grandes when it is flooded. During this time you can witness the mirror effect.
– May to December present dry conditions, which are perfect for perspective photography.
All year around, weather conditions are best between noon and 4pm. After 4 pm, it gets cold and windy in the salt flats.
Heading to Northwest Argentina? Check out these articles to help you plan your trip:
- A complete guide to Humahuaca (the “capital” of Quebrada de Humahuaca)
- How to plan a day trip to El Hornocal (Mountain of 16 Colours)
- Why Uquia deserves more than a quick stop
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