From Potosi, we drive south to Uyuni in Bolivia. Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometres, about the size of Lebanon or 10 times the size of Hong Kong. It is situated at an altitude of 3,656 meters. Salar de Uyuni is not just rich in salt, it is also the world’s largest lithium reserve. Because this large area is exceptionally flat, it has been used for calibrating NASA’s laser altimeters and satellites. The large white expanse of the salt flat is covered with hexagonal patterns which can be clearly seen during the dry season. We chose to visit during the wet season where there is usually a few inches of water over the salt flat transforming it into the largest mirror in the world with a perfect reflection of the sky. It almost feels like you are standing inside a kaleidoscope. The wet season, from December to March, is also the peak season and hotels are fully booked over 6 months in advance. With the major weather changes around the globe, it didn’t start to rain at Uyuni until February of this year. And we were told that it has been raining quite heavily since and we were lucky enough to catch an afternoon of blue skies to experience the mirror effect of the salt flat. As we were waiting for the sunset, the storm rolled in and I managed to capture a few shots with the lightning perfectly reflected on the mirror surface before we returned back to the hotel. There is an island out in the middle of the salt flat called Isla Incahuasi or Fish Island because of its fish-like reflection during the rainy season. However, it is inaccessible during the wet season because there are areas with too much water for the 4×4 to pass.
We chose to stay at Luna Salada which is right at the edge of the salt flat and made out of salt. Luna Salada is considered the nicest hotel in the area. My only complaint is that the water filtration system is not all that great and the water is still a bit salty and smells like sulphur. Showering in sulphur smelling water is kind of nasty. Also the service here was a bit of a hit or miss, but I noticed it is pretty much that way all over Bolivia. There is a larger concentration of hotels in the town of San Juan but staying right at the Salar means you can get out to the salt flats whenever the weather allows it given how quickly the sky changes here. On clear nights, people go out to the salt flat at night to see the milky way reflected on the salt flat and then stay until sunrise. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop raining all night and it was too cloudy for us to see the sunrise.
Another tourist attraction you will be taken to in the area is the Train Cemetery. The original train tracks were mostly used by the mining industry, and when that collapsed, the trains and the tracks were abandoned. There were tourists climbing on top of these antique trains and the whole place looked like the set of a Mad Max movie.
If you were to go to just one place in South America, go to Uyuni Salt Flat during rain season. This should be on the top of any “Places to see before you die” list. For me, this is the most beautiful and amazing place in the world I have visited yet and I will definitely try to come back again. There is nothing man made here, just nature at its very best!
We will continue on to the Sioli Desert with its colored lagoons. Stay tuned!
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