Bolivia is a relatively safe country by South American standards, but that doesn’t mean that dangers don’t exist.
By far the greatest threat to your personal safety in and around Uyuni is on the roads–road safety is substandard and you should take precautions to be sure that you’re traveling as safe as possible. This also includes your bus and transportation to and from Uyuni–not just the 4×4 you ride in on your Uyuni tour.
Past that, there are some other considerations to take into account, but nothing that really doesn’t fall outside the bounds of common sense precautions against uncommon dangers.
Uyuni Road Safety and Accidents on Tours
As we started on above, road safety is your number one concern in Uyuni. You’d be surprised at the number of tour drivers, bus drivers and shared van drivers that don’t actually have driver’s licenses, are too young to drive, or drive in some sort of state of inebriation.
For this reason, it’s probably a good idea to splurge a little bit on your bus trip into Uyuni, and beware of the lowest cost tour providers.
Some additional tips:
- Check our bus recommendations on best providers from La Paz, Oruro, Sucre, Potosí, and Chile.
- Review our guide to choosing a Salar de Uyuni tour, particularly the following sections:
- Verify that your tour agency is not on our list of accidents in Uyuni
- Check out our Tips on Surviving Uyuni
Also be sure to keep an eye on road conditions: the roads can get particularly sketchy in the rainy season, as road conditions can deteriorate significantly. The salar can be more dangerous to drive on when it’s wet–be weary of tour operators that are over confident of their ability to operate where others are concerned about tours conditions.
Protests and Bloqueos
Though not common in Uyuni, protests and roadblocks are common in Bolivia and can affect your trip with little to no warning.
These are not typically dangerous, but can be if situations are very tense.
Always use caution and never cross roadblocks in Bolivia with a vehicle.
For more information, read our page on strikes, roadblocks and bloqueos in Bolivia, which includes information on how to monitor current road accessibility and local news sources to keep track of roadblocks.
Hotel Security in Uyuni
Always ask to see your room in Bolivia before agreeing to rent it. Take the opportunity not only to check the relative condition and comfort of the room, but to identify any sort of security risks that may be present in the room as well:
- If the room is on the first floor, check any windows to see.
- Check the locking mechanism, be sure you can lock your room when you leave.
- Also check the door to see how easy it may be to pry open.
- Most hotels in Bolivia don’t have safes–consider locking your luggage and other valuables to unmovable objects.
- Use extra caution in hotels/hostels near bus or train stations.
- Consider staying in one of our recommended hotels.
Female Travelers in Uyuni
Female travelers in Uyuni should follow common-sense and exercise high levels of caution. However, there are no female-specific dangers that exist in Uyuni, and many women travel by themselves safely in Bolivia.
Be careful if you are obviously foreign in appearance, as this may garner unwanted attention–particularly if you are blonde and/or light skinned. You may be the target of whistles or other sexual harassment
Be careful in January and February, carnaval season, as water balloon throwing is common, and foreign women make particularly enticing targets.
Fake Police, Fake Taxis & Express Kidnappings
Fake police and fake taxis have been a problem in Bolivia for some time. Though not common in Uyuni, these sorts of incidents do happen in other parts of Bolivia–it’s definitely worth being cautious!
Fake police officers, and their accomplices, will try to coerce you to follow them to a police station or to get into a shared taxi to drive you there.
Some refer to these kind of encounters as express kidnappings–once you are in the vehicle, they will drive you to an isolated ATM or otherwise rob you.
Don’t fall for it!
Things to remember:
- Most Bolivian policemen work in pairs of two–a single police officer approaching is a red flag
- A policeman will never ask you to get into a taxi with them
- Criminals and scam artists often work in teams–don’t share taxis with other travelers, they may be working with scam artists
- If unsure, walk into a bank or other public establishment to review your documents or other info
If you need to take a taxi, ask your hotel to call one for you. In Uyuni, you shouldn’t need one unless you’re going to the airport.
Uyuni Safety at Night
Uyuni can be a little bit unsafe at night, but not necessarily more so than other parts of Bolivia.
An easy benchmark to use is that if there are no locals out on the streets, particularly women and children, then you shouldn’t be out on the street. When the neighborhood corner stores start to close down, that’s probably time to pack it up for the night yourself.
Plus, there’s not much to do in the evenings in Uyuni–rest up, and get ready for your tour!
Protecting Money in Uyuni
Uyuni, and Bolivia in general, is not a place where you really have to worry about pickpocketing, but separating your money into a few different places and using a money belt might still be a good idea.
Never leave your luggage and other belongings unattended–there is some opportunistic crime that happens as well in Uyuni.
Along these same lines, I don’t like to leave my luggage at luggage checks or with a hotel concierge if I can avoid it. This is much easier if you pack light!
Police Contacts–Who to Contact
If you’ve been the victim of a crime in Uyuni, you should get in touch with the tourist police. If you don’t encounter them in the city, the police station in the town of Uyuni is located at the corner of Av. Ferrovaria and Av. Bolivar, on the back side of the plaza principal.
You can also dial 110 to reach the police on Bolivian phones.
Take precautions to avoid altitude sickness in Uyuni, including taking it much easier on the alcohol than you might be accustomed to. Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of liquids!