One of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world, lies in the southwestern part of Bolivia and is known as Salar de Uyuni or, the Salt Flats.
I spent a good three days exploring the Salt Flats and its surroundings, with my excursion beginning in a tiny little down called Uyuni which serves as a gateway for travellers visiting the flats. It’s a very secluded and quiet town with a population of around ten thousand people. There are a few restaurants, cafes and convenience stores scattered around but all in all, it really is just a stop before the final destination.
I spent one night in Uyuni, making the most of one last night of comfort before staying in salt/eco hostels for the next two nights! I left Uyuni in the afternoon, via trucks that would take us through the Salt Flats and its surrounding attractions.
My first stop en-route to the Salt Flats was the antique train cemetery, located around three kilometers outside of Uyuni. These train lines were first built by the British in the 19th century, encouraging development of the Bolivian transport system but they were constantly opposed by the local indigenous people who found it to disrupt their lifestyle. Eventually, these trains were abandoned, creating the now train cemetery.
Although very cool to see, this cemetery is just one abandoned train in the middle of an open desert. I’m not sure if I would recommend this as a must-see for everyone?
About a forty-five minute drive from the train cemetery, we finally reached the start of the magnificent Salt Flats, distinguished by these iconic flags representing visitors from all over the world.
Regardless of the number of images I Googled before coming here, I was not prepared for the vastness of this space. This massive ocean of white with nothing but nothing all around! It’s also beautiful and bewildering how the salt on the ground is laid out all over in a hexagonal pattern, completely naturally!
With absolutely nothing to do but to stare out at its vastness, The Salt Flats are a hotspot for perspective photos. We spent a good hour or so perfecting just the right angle, position and pose while watching the sun set and getting ready to leave for our first eco hostel made out of salt!
The hostel (apologies, I’ve completely forgotten the name and I haven’t been able to find it anywhere online!) is located right below the beautiful Tunupa volcano and overlooks a lake which is frequented by pink flamingos. It consists of three large houses made of salt bricks that hold seven to eight people each, a bathtub and toilet. Now when I say toilet, I mean, a hole in the ground with a plastic seat placed on top; a very interesting experience! Although there was no hot water or heating, there was luckily electricity and all basic comforts; eg. Bed, blanket and pillow.
After a pretty cold, heating-less night, I woke up bright and early to this view (made the cold totally worth it!). A massive heard of llamas crossing the field right in-front of us.
So calm and graceful! And just how beautiful are those colours on that volcano?
My 2nd day on the Salt Flats began with a visit to Incahuasi Island which is located right in the center of the flats. The island is the top of the remains of an ancient volcano which was submerged when the area was a part of a giant prehistoric lake. What is now left, is a hilly and rocky piece of land filled with gigantic cacti.
It’s so strange to find this rocky, earthy formation within a vast, never-ending ocean of white.
You feel this strange sense of calm here. Despite being such a popular tourist attraction, it still seems untouched. This feeling of the surroundings going on and on forever makes you feel absolutely tiny (something I’ve felt on more than one occasion in this continent!). It’s welcoming to see nothing but nature, no buildings or traffic or noise, just a wide, open space where you can breathe freely.
After exploring the rest of Incahuasi Island, we were back on the Salt Flats to take in as much of this once in a lifetime experience as we could. This of course meant a billion more photos, angles and poses!
Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world, spanning across 10,600 square kilometers! It was formed as a result of transformations of several prehistoric lakes, covered with a few meters of salt crust and containing 50 to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves.
I was lucky enough to visit it when I did as Bolivia is now planning on closing off a part of the Salt Flats to begin extracting lithium from underneath which although is great news for the Bolivian economy, is also worrying as to what state it will leave this natural wonder!
This three day excursion continued across the rest of the flats, into the Atacama dessert and across to the Chile. But more on that next time!
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