Uyuni : The desert of Salt


My day started very early. At 5 a.m. I was picked up and taken to the El Alto airport in La Paz, and after a flight of only one hour we arrived in Uyuni, located in southern Bolivia at 3,680 meters (12,073 feet) above sea level.

It’s a strange feeling as soon as you exit the Uyuni airport, with the sun shining brightly and nothing but desert around you.
Our first stop was the Train Cemetery, located only 5 minutes away from the airport, where several trains lie abandoned since the early 20th Century due to mining and political crises.
The town of Uyuni is a few minutes away. Its small, picturesque streets lined with tourists are an indication that we are close to the salt flats.
We continued our trip and 30 minutes later, we arrived in the town of Colchani, located at the edge of the salt flat. The first impression is that this is an abandoned place, with no activity surrounding it. However, the truth is that the town is devoted to salt extraction, a labor-intensive activity accomplished with manual, rudimentary processes in order to preserve the importance of this location.
We visited a salt plant where the townspeople demonstrated the process of drying, grinding and packing the salt so that it’s ready for consumption. I was also impressed to see 5 to 8 year-old girls working with salt, these being family business activities.

Just a few steps away, we finally reached the Salar de Uyuni… simply indescribable.
This is the largest visible salt flat in the world, with a surface area of 12,000 square km (4,633 square miles), one of the largest lithium reserves in the world, and a place of breathtaking beauty due to the impressive, seemingly endless salt covering. Here you just can’t help but forget the outside world and fix your gaze on the white ground and the clear blue sky.
Our journey began on board an SUV, as we went further and further into the salt flat. We stopped for a moment, and we felt nothing but silence, surrounded by thousands of miles of salt. This was the best sensation of the trip… again, simply indescribable. There were a few mountains surrounding us, but we had no idea if they were located south, north, east or west. The only way we could know where we were was with the GPS in the SUV.
Then, we continued our trip and went to the Tunupa Volcano, which has a series of impressive landscapes, salt, rocks, plants and flamingos in a small lake, as well as llamas and alpacas strolling down the edge of island.
Right in the middle of the salt flat is the Incahuasi Island, better known as Isla Pescado (Fish Island), where you can find a restaurant featuring tables made from salt. The island also has several giant cactuses, reaching up to 10 meters (33 feet) high, and from the summit of the island you can enjoy the view of the salt landscape.

After our trip through the salt flat, we went to our hotel. Staying at a hotel made of salt is a totally different experience. Walls, floors, beds, chairs, tables, everything made of salt! From the terrace of the hotel, we ended our day with a spectacular sunset over the Salar de Uyuni. The rays of the sun cast a strange reflection of many colors in the sky, including orange, yellow, green, turquoise, fuchsia, red, etc. This was definitely the best way to end the day.

At 5:45 am the next day, with an outside temperature of -2° C (28° F), I was sitting in the hotel terrace to watch the sunrise over the salt flat, and again I was left speechless! A horizontal ray of blue, almost phosphorescent light announced that the sun was about to come out. A few minutes later, the blue light became yellow, but the surprising part was that upper and lower parts of the sky were still dark. It seemed that this was a solar eclipse taking place.

I left Uyuni as an enormous sun was shining over the salt flat and the surrounding desert. This was definitely an unforgettable experience. 

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