Have you come across a desert that is white and cold?
Recently, a team of Travel-oholics sojourned the remote epic landscape of the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia of South America, where the sky and the land blended on the horizon like paradise on earth!
The Goal: to take the path less trodden and to Travel further. Travel longer. Travel deeper.
After a few days and months, this group of travel addicts stumbled upon the place of the Wander. Wonder. And a few weeks later, they came out carrying a suitcase full of memories.
In this article, I will tell you everything about it!
1. The Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia: Overview
A popular tourist hub and the world’s largest salt flat, the Uyuni Salt Flat is known for its heavenly desolate beauty and uniqueness. This rare natural occurrence has been preserved in the remotest part of Bolivia.
Instead of sand, you can find a huge stretch of white salt stretching beyond the horizon in all directions.
During the rainy season, the salt becomes a huge expanse of transparent glass reflecting just like a mirror. And once you step on the landscape, you get a 360-degree view of nothingness in this intense yet peaceful surreal landscape.
You can also find some evenly shaped hexagons that fit together, like what you might find in a crossword puzzle.
But trust me, more than these descriptions of the place, I would suggest you take a day tour there to experience the enchanting ambiance of this unspoiled scenery Bolivia offers you!
Don’t worry, though. Since 2002, amenities have been provided to promote this popular destination’s tourism. You can find Salt hotels (constructed out of pure salt) in the salt flats’ periphery with stringent environmental rules.
Today, they have developed and are furnished with modern amenities to become the best place to stay for salt flats tours.
2. Where are the Bolivian Salt Flats Located?
Sitting above 3,500 meters sea level, the salt flats cover an area of 12000 km² in the Southwestern part of Bolivia of the Potosi region.
The layers of salt are 6 meters deep and are said to have evolved after the evaporation of saltwater seepage from the mountains years ago.
Apart from being a visually stunning destination, the Salt Flats play a significant role in the economy and the Bolivian environment.
Nevertheless, South America does have some unique bucket list destinations, but nowhere can you see such large salt flats except in Bolivia.
From its length to regional importance, the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats still persist in fulfilling the requirements of nature and mankind.
3. An Escape into the Evolution of the Bolivia Salt Flats
With so much acclamation, grandeur, and splendor showered by millions of travelers worldwide, you might be intrigued to know how this evolved once upon a time. Am I right?
The long long ago history of Bolivia’s Salt Flats begins between 30,000 to 42,000 years ago when the entire Salar region was submerged under the blues. The place was part of a prehistoric lake called Lake Minchin and was enclosed by mountains.
After the expiry of thousand years, the lake faded and was broken into several small pieces of tiny lakes. One of which became what you see now: The Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia!
According to Scientists, this white desert was formed due to the fervent heat of the Andean sun on the highly saline lake.
Since the evaporation rates were ten times the precipitation, the Salar de Uyuni was formed with its never-ending salt supply.
Lake Titicaca, Lake Poopo, Uyuni, and Coipasa are the remnants of that prehistoric waterbody.
Well, there is a legendary side to the evolution of this utopian landscape found at the lower point of the Altiplano plateau.
3.1 The Aymara Legend
According to the Aymara Indigenous peoples residing there, the evolution of the Salt Flats goes like this…
Tunupa, Kusku, and Kusina mountains we see now were initially giants. As time passed, Tunupa, the primary goddess of the Aymara tribe, was married to Kusku.
However, for some reason we don’t know, Kusku left Tunupa to be with Kusina.
The forlorn Tunupa cries salty tears breastfeeding her son. And this legend states that the mixture of her tears and milk made the Salar.
But there is another version of the story. Some say these three mountains ringing the Salar looked like a love triangle. Even though Kusku married Tunupa, he loved Kusina more.
And when Tunupa heard this, her immediate downpour of tears overflowed the planar area allying the peaks and later evaporated, leaving the salt behind.
Now, what history do you wish to believe in?
Today, these salt flats are spotted around thirty islands, of which the Incahuasi Island stands first.
These islands possess carbonated reefs and gigantic cacti on their surface. During the rainy season, the Titicaca overflows through Lake Poopó, and drenches the Salar de Uyuni.
As a result, you get to see the mirror-like effect. It is said that you can find the largest mirror at Salt Flats!
And not to forget the Indigenous communities today, these people from the village of Colchani are provided allowance by the Government and can work as a family enterprise to excavate salt here.
So, this is how they work;
The salt is made into a heap to drain the water. Then loading them into trucks, they are taken to get processed in the villages surrounding Uyuni.
Finally, the dried salt returns to the families who extracted it by trucks, who then sell it for human consumption throughout Bolivia.
4. Bolivia Salt Flats Best Time to Go
Every season offers its own beauty to the place. If you wish to see the hexagonal reflective salt surface, then taking a trip during the rainy season between December and March is the best.
However, you must also note that the spells here often flood the place, causing some spots like the Isla Incahuasi to be challenging to visit.
So, the best part can be obtained if you start touring in March, as the salt surface experiences less rain around this month and offer pristine glass-like ground.
On the other hand, if you are not a wet-season explorer, the place awaits your footprint between July and October. Also, there are no restrictions to access all the sites around this time!
5. How to Put Your Best Foot on the Salt Surface
Please note that Uyuni has no International Airports to get to the white desert. So, you must catch a bus or train starting at La Paz, or a neighboring country.
However, here are some popular routes to take to Salt Flats.
5.1 Self-Drive Starting at Uyuni
This is a breezy 25 km drive to the place but with two possibilities: a complete adventure or a horrible nightmare!
You don’t get any navigational markers during your endless desert drive, with the main road ending at the entrance. And there are times you will be turned out at the gate if the water levels rise. So, do try this method in a dry season!
Other travelers have told us about getting stranded under the scorching sun. So, please proceed with caution!!
5.2 A Day Trip from Tupiza or Uyuni
This is the best option for budget travelers to see the glistening mirror-like flats and enjoy the neighboring place, Tupiza, simultaneously saving a few bucks extra to boot.
5.3 Three-Day Tours from or to San Pedro de Atacama
This is a bit pricey and the longest way to see Salar de Uyuni. But I think this is the ultimate way to get around the place. Why?
This is actually a four-day round one-way trip starting from Chile’s desert town, San Pedro de Atacama or Uyuni. You can take a private tour or an English guide with six visitors and a Bolivian driver.
You can spend an entire day at the flats and then take a tour of some less-known remarkable landscapes throughout your ride.
Most Bolivia Salt Flat tours are safe and reliable. But to double-check, ensure that the tour operator is reliable and the vehicle is roadworthy with proper seatbelts. Apart from this, ensure you don’t miss checking out in your tour package whether;
- You get an English-speaking tour guide if you are not fluent in Spanish.
- Check if meals and accommodation are included in the package.
- Are the rooms shared or just for your family to pitch in?
- What are the places and activities you can jump into? Don’t forget to miss visiting the Lagoons, train wreck, and relax at the hot springs!
- Whether you get a chance to stay at the Salt Hotel, made completely out of salt!
Craving to book one for yourself? Then click here!
6. Travel Tips to Capture Optical Illusion Photographs
Photoholics, this is the peak place to play with depth of field and perspectives. Just being an endless horizon, you can click the craziest photography from all kinds of perspectives possible!
So here are some tips from travelers to travelers stepping out here to explore for the first time;
- Keep your camera at the ground level close to the prop. Doing this makes the prop larger than the people standing farther away.
That’s why collect all kinds of toys, action figures, water bottles, boots, toy vehicles, and everything you can find at home that can be turned from funny to useful!
Here’s a boost for you from an old photographer;
Shoot, shoot, shoot! Take lots and lots of shots since it’s not so easy to see your camera screen in the glare and you might never be back here again..
7. Chances to Escape Altitude Sickness
As mentioned earlier, the place stands thousands of feet above sea level, and we cannot predict who might catch the sickness.
Our first tip is to slow down and drink lots of water. This might sound simple, but in the long run, it can help you avoid catching the sickness. It helps your struggling body cope with oxygen levels.
Another option is to chew coca leaves, as for centuries, the native South American people have consumed this to alleviate the symptoms of this sickness.
Luckily, you can get them anywhere, from supermarkets to street stalls, as you take your trip to the flats.
8. Attractions to Enjoy at the Uyuni Flats
There is no place on earth equivalent to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni known for its
- salt diamond ground,
- mirror glass-like roads,
- snowy volcanoes,
- hot springs, the largest
- highest salt desert in the world
With apparently endless wonders to see and experience. Its striking landscape has inspired writers and artists apart from travelers across the globe.
Even there is a place for adventure lovers in the salt desert from colorful lagoons to majestic volcanoes to the salt hotel, the entire building is made of salt from the brick to the furniture!
So, once you’re done gazing at this heavenly landscape do stop by to enjoy these attractions;
8.1 Train Cemetery
This is the first eerie sight you might get if you start off into the salt desert. An open-air cemetery comprising of forsaken trains and wagons of the Antofagasta & Bolivia Railway that ran during the late 1900s.
These trains were initially used to carry all the mineral resources. As the industry collapsed and the minerals depleted this project was abandoned by the British Engineers. Also, there were constant sabotages by the native Aymara Indians who felt it to be an intrusion.
As time went by the salt in the air and the wind in Uyumi have given this post-apocalyptic look to these trains making it an open-air museum.
8.2 Uyuni Town
Located at the edge of the salt desert, this town is a popular tourist spot for all tour operators. These Uyuni tours start or end at this town or just start here and end in San Pedro de Atacama of Chile. This is the cheapest place to begin your Uyuni Flats tour.
Check out Viator.com to choose your tour package as no two tour operators follow the same route. Each company has its own touring spots and activities to do.
8.3 Dakar Monument
This is a monument erected 5 km inside the Salar and is completely made out of salt blocks! If you plan to see the Dakar Rally, an annual event for motorcycle driving, don’t forget to stop by and click a few pictures with it.
Also, you can pin your country’s flag in the flag pit!
8.4 Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon)
This is an enormous saltwater lagoon in Bolivia’s Potosi region. It is popular for its reddish lakes that contain algae and bacteria that supply food for the fish and flamingos occupying the lagoon.
Apart from these the lagoon also houses diverse kinds of fauna.
Reaching this place might be challenging as the winds are stronger and freezing temperatures. So, pull up your jackets with proper equipment to protect yourself!
8.5 Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)
Just beside the salt desert stands this lunar and surreal landscape with its enormous salt formations that appear to be hills and mountains.
This is an inhospitable landscape with varying weather conditions. So, respect this fragile ecosystem by bringing sufficient supplies and being prepared to face the weather.
To visit other places over this list, check here!
Ultimately, one of the best Salar de Uyuni facts is that this landscape was used as a filming location for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, released in 2017. It was used as a backdrop for Planet Crait, with its stark white, flat expanse proving it a perfect setup for an alien planet!
Don’t know where to stay? Then click here to get the best places!
9. Are You Ready to Unlock the Surreal?
Finally, thanks for stopping by!
We hope that this article has become one of your favorite travel guides to begin embarking on a journey to the salt desert.
Having any queries or comments about your visit? Do share it in the comment box below!
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