Salar de Uyuni. Largest Salt Desert on the Planet

Salar de Uyuni located in Bolivia on the border with Chile at 3656 m above sea level. It left behind by ancient lake evaporated long ago. During the rain season water from nearby lakes overflow which causes floods in the salt flat. Uyuni turns into a giant, stunning mirror. The best period for visiting Uyuni if you want to see it in all the reflection’s magnificence – February, March.

Why does this place attract tourists from all over the world?

It was one of the most picturesque and impressive places of the whole trip to South America fo me. More precisely, the places were delightful and we would gladly visit them without an organized tour – in such landscapes I prefer to stay all by myself or with a close friend, but not with an annoying guide always trying to take a photo in “the bride on the palm” style (and others exquisite tricks with a perspective).

 

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Uyuni is not only a glistening white salt cover spanning for hundreds of kilometers, but also lakes of all sorts of colors from the unearthly green to the blood-red with thousands of flamingos; it is geysers spewing from the ground and hot natural pools, it is deserts from Dali’s surreal paintings and, of course, mountains and volcanoes, it is a crystal clear sky full of stars … Really, this is one of the most breathtaking landscapes that I’ve ever seen in my life.

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Thick crust of salt covered by quilted polygonal patterns extends to the horizon – so magical at the sunset!
Underneath the salt cover  are large reservoir of valuable minerals – it contains 50-70% of the world’s lithium reserve.

Our experience in Salar de Uyuni …

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All tours in Uyuni are absolutely the same regardless which agency you will choose. For me it was a bit surprising – with so big opportunity for tourism and competition between agencies I expected to find variety of tours. The only difference I heard was drunk drivers on the cheaper tours and sober ones from the good agencies =) All companies start their tours at the same time and visit same places. And this cause crowds during all the trip.

 

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We arrived in Uyuni early in the morning from La Paz. At the bus stop dozens of tour agents were offering their tours – at 6 am! We chose one and on the same day at 10 am dozens of jeeps (with us in one of them) moved out of Uyuni.

1 day. Salar and its mysterious holes.

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On the first day you will visit…

  • Train cemetery. Located a couple of kilometers from the Uyuni, by the railway to Antofagasta (port in Chile). All minerals from mines did not stay long in Bolivia, and in South America in general – all raw materials were immediately exported to Europe or USA. In the 1950s mines were closed (they were completely used) – and locomotives were left here.  Government of Bolivia plans to create an open-air museum here but… Governments like a lot to plan.

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  • Uyuni Salt flat by itself. Actually all day long you will drive through the salt flat. We had couple of stops: at the small cold geyser (result of the action of the volcano nearby), at some hole where everyone was looking very seriously during 15 minutes- but i swear there was nothing inside, and classic stop for pictures (where  guides will invent different poses for photos playing with perspective) and lunch with must-do joke “If food is not salty enough you can lick a ground”).


    Some stops you will make can seem boring, not very impressive – but entirely flat landscape of salt flats and desert doesn’t give you much variety. However it is – what it is. And I find it very beautiful.

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  • Small hill with cactuses where you must pay 30 boliviano to hike few meter up. Doesn’t really worse it – view would be the same. There is a toilet but it said on the door: “No ticket – no toilet”. Typical bolivian way of making business. Salt on the other side of the hill is suspiciously yellow.DSC_0857
  • Salt Hotel built from bricks of cemented salt, everything inside made of salt – bar, rooms, beds. There are very expensive souvenir shop. Most likely you will stay in the salt hotel too but more basic. Salt is cheapest and most accessible material for construstion here.

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Day 2. Great Smelly Lake, lots of flamingos, endless desert and bizarre stones.

On the second day landscape didn’t change much. Kilometres of salt changed to the endless sand. 

  • We stopped at the picturesque lake at the foot of the mountains called Laguna Hedionda (which can be translated as Great Smelly Lake – and this name explain well what is this lake about). It was full of flamingos.
    Three kinds of flamingos live here, among them – James’s flamingo which was considered completely extinct, until in 1956 this species was accidentally find on Laguna Colorada in Bolivia. Now it is not in danger anymore, although it is still considered rare. 

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  • Wild life wasn’t that varied (or maybe we were not lucky to see it). We’ve seen some foxes, local type of hares, llamas and of course,plenty of flamingoes.

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  • Laguna Colorada, which was definitely one the most beautiful place I’ve seen on that trip. It is a red lake full of flamingos, near Chilean border, in the park called Eduardo Avaroa. The lake during the year changes its color from gray-pink to bloody-red, depending on the amount of special type of algae in the water. This algae also causes a deep pink color of flamingo’s feathers.

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Second night we stayed in a very basic hostel. Outside and inside it was terribly cold. We spent the night wrapped in the sleeping bag and a dozen of blankets. All standard tours stop at these hostels – in the middle of the desert it is quite difficult to get all goods of civilization. In the evening we were given an excellent big dinner and they even treated us with a bottle of wine. We sat till night by the fireplace, and after the most brave ones went out into the desert to enjoy the sky full of stars. 

When I was a kid, I couldn’t imagine that desert can be that cold, we all have this image of a desert as something very very hot and dusty.

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Day 3. Laguna Verde, hot geysers and Salvador Dali desert.

It was the last day. After the cold night we were all a bit tired, and we had to drive all way back home. We did few stops on the way.

  • Geysers in the martian landscape that were producing clouds of stinking smoke. The ground under my feet gurgled and grumbled. Geysers were small, but impressive. Amazing nature of Bolivia… 

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  • Thermal pool (6 boliviano) , but I wasn’t ready to undress in the cold and run to the pool, and then (oh, no!) get out back into the freezing cold … So I read a book, while  others were soaked in the pool. 
  • Laguna Verde with a view of the Likankabur volcano (5920m.) The water here is bright green, thanks to the copper contained in the water. Opposite the Green Lagoon is the White Lagoon (Laguna Blanca). They are not that creative with name here.DSC_0992
  • Salvador Dali desert which doesnt have anything to do with Dali , but the landscape is very similar to his surrealistic paintings.

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In the evening we returned to Uyuni, and from there immediately to Sucre. Staying overnight in Uyuni is not necessary, the schedule of tours and buses are perfectly coordinated.

Before the bus we went to the bar. Travel brings people together, for two days we became good friends, it was sad to leave them. Ok, except a quiet German who did not pay for his beer and we had to add money from our wallet. 

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