The Salar de Uyuni
The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat — over 4,000 square miles (10,000 square kilometers). It’s located in the southwest corner of Bolivia, at an altitude of 12,000 feet. The salt flat was formed by the evaporation of a large lake, leaving a thick crust of salt that is incredibly flat. Underneath, water is still present, and it bubbles up in some places. Salt is extracted for sale, as well as other minerals such as lithium.
The salt flats are one thing that most travelers to Bolivia want to see. There are several options for tours, from one day on up to three days. The longer the tours visit much more than the Salar, ranging across southwest Bolivia to the border with Chile.
My trip itinerary for Bolivia was pretty packed, so I decided on a one day tour, which would enable me to see the salt flat, plus a few other sites in the area, without taking time away from other destinations.
I arrived in Uyuni in the mid-afternoon on a bus from Potosi. I had read reviews of many of the tour companies, and decided to try to book with Andes Salt Expeditions. I walked to their office in Uyuni, and booked a tour for the next day for 150 Bolivianos (about $21 US). The tour was to leave at 10:00 a.m.
The next day, I arrived shortly before 10:00 and eventually was put into a Land Cruiser with five other tourists — a couple visiting from Switzerland, a man from Italy, and a woman from Australia. In addition, we had a driver and a guide along.
Our first stop was the train cemetery in Uyuni, which I’ll cover in another post. From there, we moved on to Colchani, where salt is processed. Basically, this was a place to drop us for 30 minutes to shop with not much else to do. So, shop we did.
Eventually we were driving on the salt flats themselves, and stopped at what we called the Ojos de Agua — holes with water bubbling up through the salt. This was sort of interesting, some colors to the landscape, but not much to see other than some water:
We stopped at the a salt hotel for lunch, where there was also a monument to the Dakar rally, which takes place on the Salar:
After that, we drove out further into the salt flat, getting further away from other groups. Eventually you stop to take perspective photos — the Salar is so flat, objects that are far away can seem very close. Taking these photos wasn’t a priority for me, but it was sort of fun after all, I enjoyed watching my fellow travelers come up with some interesting poses. I took a few photos of our Land Cruiser as well (I sort of wish it had been red or a color other than white!)
After taking fun photos, we visited Isla Incahuasi — a cactus covered rocky outcropping in the sea of salt. We had about an hour to wander on the trails on the island.
Our final stop was the dormant Volcano Thunupa. It stands nearly 17,500 feet tall, right on the edge of the salt flat. We drove up to a village at the base, where we were leaving our guide and one traveler.
In the water pictured above were quite a few flamingos — they apparently live at this high altitude, eating the small plankton and algaes that live in the water.
After Thunupa, we turned back toward Uyuni, and sped back across the salt flats. It was a wonderful day — I got lucky with a good driver, a good guide, and wonderful companions. I would highly recommend anyone in this area take the tour.
Wow that’s crazy! Very different from your recent Italy and Mexico posts. I think the Flamingo is what surprised me the post, just that it was there at that altitude and a landlocked remote location.
I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, and we too have a salt flat. Not that big of course, but the white flat ground with the mountains in the distance looked familiar.
I had never heard of this place before how fascinating!
It’s a really neat area of the world, I do wish I had time for the three day tour, there are apparently colored lagoons (red, green), and many more flamingos as you head towards the southwest corner of the country. Maybe next time…