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Uyuni is best known as the home of the world’s largest salt flats and the incredible scenery of southwestern Bolivia. But the town of Uyuni is also the haunting resting place of the rusting remains of dozens trains.
A brief history of the Uyuni Train Cemetery
The small Andean town of Uyuni is in the southwest of Bolivia and lies at about 3700 metres above sea level. In the late 19th century, Uyuni was a prospering trading post.
British engineers led efforts to build a rail network to connect the seaports of Chile with La Paz, Bolivia.
Uyuni became an important transport hub and the town experienced boom time.
However with the declining prices of minerals and the introduction of diesel engine, the vast numbers of steam engines used on the railroad became obsolete.
During the early 1940’s, the railroad companies began to abandon their efforts in the Uyuni region. With no need for the big old hunks of metal, they rolled the stock into town, relinquishing them to the elements of the high altitude desert.
Today, Uyuni is a primary base for visitors wanting to visit the salt flats and the tour the incredible laguna route towards Chile. And rightly so, but the Cementerio de Trenes, or Uyuni train cemetery has become an accidental must see attraction too.
Salar de Uyuni train cemetery
Most of the trains at the train graveyard were imported in the early 20th century from Britain. Because of the nearby salt flats, the winds blowing in Uyuni are heavy with salt. And salt and metal aren’t the best of friends.
Looters picked over the trains’ remains and significant corrosion ensued. Today only skeletons remain, a haunting shadow of a more lucrative past serving as a canvas for vandals and graffiti artists alike.
Uyuni train cemetery in photos
The skeletal remains of a train carriage.
It’s hard to imagine this place was once such an important transport hub in the northwest of Bolivia.
The trains seem ghostly, almost as if they’re only resting for a short time before continuing their journey.
Abandoned steam engine in Uyuni, Bolivia train cemetery.
Retired from the tracks, many old trains find themselves in glorious graveyards.
On the outskirts of the desert trading village high on the Andean plains, salt winds destroy these once magnificent machines.
The train tracks lead nowhere anymore. The locomotives are in their final resting place.
An abandoned train, the rust taking over.
With a backdrop of the Andes mountains of Bolivia, the entire site of Cementario de Trenes in Uyuni is wonderfully photogenic!
The harsh landscape surrounding Uyuni train cemetery is punishing on the remains of the locomotives.
Climbing all over the abandoned trains is almost compulsory! Make sure to watch your step though – there’s no health & safety here!
It’s not just trains that are abandoned at the locomotive graveyard.
The sand and dust if the desert takes it’s toll on the steel trains, leaving only skeletons for graffiti artists and vandals now.
A long exposure shot gives at little movement in the clouds overhead, making for a more eerie atmosphere.
Read more: things to do in Sucre, Bolivia
Things to know before visiting Uyuni
Uyuni lies at a high altitude so is often cold at night and hot during the day. Make sure you pack layers and a hat and scarf for the evening.
Getting cash from the ATMs can be a challenge. There’s plenty of ATM’s in the town but for some reason, they don’t always want to give cash. It seems inconsistent though. Best to bring cash with you.
Laundry in Uyuni is really expensive. Unless you really have no choice, try to catch up before you arrive in Potosi or Sucre.
How to get to the Uyuni train cemetery
The train graveyard is a on the outskirts of Uyuni town. If you don’t have your own transport, a taxi will cost about 10 Bolivianos per person return. The driver will wait for you too.
Entrance to Uyuni train cemetery is free and it’s open 24 hours a day.
Accommodation in Uyuni
You can camp for free at the Uyuni train cemetery. In fact. we’d recommend it especially for night time photos shoots in this haunting place. As the final visitors of the day leave before sunset, you’ll have this place all to yourself.
There’s a small informal campsite about 1km from the train cemetery.
Emilio charges 50 Bolivianos per night per vehicle. Facilities are basic, the shower is hot and there’s no wifi. Take a look at iOverlander.com for the full address & directions.
Hostels and hotels in Uyuni
Uyuni is all about tourism today so it’s no surprise there’s lots of accommodation options in town. For the latest prices and options, take a look here, on booking.com.
Things to do in Uyuni
Aside from being a base from which to explore the Salar de Uyuni salt flats and Bolivia’s Laguna Route, there’s little reason to visit the now sleepy town of Uyuni.