Otherworldly is a good way to describe the surreal journey across Bolivia’s salt flats. A bizarre part of the world which is teaming with life and is one of Bolivia’s most popular tourist attractions.
The Largest salt plain in the world, spanning an immense area, actually taking up over 10,582 sq. km, Salar de Uyuni is located in Southwest Bolivia. It is believed to be the relics of the medieval Salt Lake Lago Michin that dried up and formed a flat expanse which is now compact and seemingly endless.
In contrast to conventional deserts that are filled with sand, the Salar de Uyuni is made of barren land filled with a vast expanse of sparkling white salt. The Salar de Uyuni is the lowest point of the Altiplano Plateau and the salt water from the surrounding mountains formed the giant primeval lake. After the lake evaporated, the high saline content left behind formed a vast amount of salt which is now known as Salar de Uyuni. This salt plain is located about 3,650 meters above sea level, it cannot be compared with anywhere in the world.
Best time to go to Uyuni
The spectacle of Salar de Uyuni is exceptional during the dry season, this is the best time to visit this attraction location. The rainy season which spans from February to April gives the Salar de Uyun an entirely distinct experience. A thin layer of water which is a few of inches deep covers the plains and gives a perfect reflection of the sky such that it becomes impossible to differentiate the border between the sky and land.
Tips for trip to Salar de Uyuni
Most visitors navigate Bolivia’s Salt Flats on a 4×4, this is the best way to have a good glimpse of the Salar de Uyuni.
Salt Flat tours are generally regarded as safe and reliable, but you should be aware of the fact that the condition in this place is basic. The salt plains features are perhaps the toughest atmosphere to operate a vehicle all over the world. Therefore, the fact that vehicles can develop problems on the plain is a reality, and often times it does happen.
However, the drivers are conversant with vehicle breakdowns and have the required skills to do a quick fix. You cannot be stuck in the salt plains for long because the drivers do give each other a hand when needed. Simply have some patience when your tour vehicle develops issues. Food in this area is pretty basic and accommodation doesn’t always have running water or flushing toilets so be ready to rough it.
The tours are quite great with the exception that the travel is rough. You will certainly encounter one of the most unique landscapes on earth. You are advised to choose your tour driver carefully, just like you will do with any other tour. There are instances where the tour driver abuse alcohol while driving the 4×4 jeeps with tourist on board and leading to horrible crashes. Upon arrival at Uyuni, double check that your preferred tour vehicle has the required number of seatbelts and that it is roadworthy before embarking on your journey. Also enquire about the menu, as a cook is usually brought on the tour and some of the local cuisine may not be to your liking (think Guinea pig meat).
The intensity of the sun is unrelenting high in the Bolivian Altiplano so it is recommended that you go along with sunscreen, sunglasses and a protective hat or face cap. You will also need gloves, a scarf and a warm hat as the weather can get very cold at sunset.
If you are planning to stay an overnight in the plains, you certainly must have gloves, a scarf, thermals, hats, extra thick socks, and a good sleeping bag. The nights are long and cold and you will need your strength for the long journey to the other side of the expanse.
The location of the Usulu is isolated and it can be difficult to get access to the electric power supply so be prepared to use candles for light. Therefore, you should have your external power pack handy as well as extra batteries to ensure that your gadgets such as phones and cameras remain charged if you can get service.
TIP: Batteries usually discharge faster in the cold night weather, you should keep your batteries close to your body or below your sleeping bag to make them last longer.
Types of tours of the Salt Flats
The schedule of most of the tours includes a trip to Colchani village and the train cemetery.
Colchani is the home of the salt cooperative located at the edge of the Salar on Bolivia’s Salt Flats. It is a small town bisected by a single street that runs through the middle of the town. It also serves as the first stop for all tours leaving Uyuni before arriving at the salt plains. There are numerous stores located at the streets which sell Salar mementos, salt ornaments, and other local items. The town also has some minimalist “Salt Museums”.
The train cemetery of Uyuni
Before the 1940s, Uyuni was a busy railway hub and a focal point linking the transport chain which connects the Bolivian mines with the rest of the world. But the mining industry collapsed along with the huge demand for the railway hub in the 1940s. The abandoned trains were taken apart by the locals and the remains left to corrode in the harsh weather of hot sun and corrosive salt-laden wind.
Interestingly, most of the trains found in the graveyard date back to the 20th century. The relics of the locomotives now glazed with graffiti serve as huge climbing frames for daring travelers seeking unique photos to enhance their Salt Flats tour experience.
A Place to Stay
A stay at a The Salt Hotel which is a hotel constructed exclusively out of salt is a perfect fit for a tour to the Salt Flats. The Palacio Sal Resort is the most beautiful hotel resort in the country built entirely with salt. This luxurious hotel and Golf Course is equipped with all the treats you want in a resort such as a steam room, dry sauna, whirlpool, and a customized salt water baths.
This place is simply awesome; the peculiar swimming pool at the resort, the dining room set and the nine-holed golf course are made of salt! The bedrooms which look like igloos built with salt blocks are very attractive as well.
The construction of this marvelous resort took two years, blocks of salts were extracted directly from the salt flats and used as bricks. Although there are a few resorts built using the same prototype, none is as elegant and prestigious as The Palacio Sal Resort, a 25km drive from the city of Uyuni, southwest Bolivia. Remember to do your research when booking your salt hotel stay, as you may unwittingly book one of the places which have no electricity or running water, but have a similar name. The salt flats of Bolivia is a completely surreal experience and we recommend putting a journey across Bolivia’s salt flats on your bucket list without fail!