Stretching over 12,000 square kilometres, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s biggest salt flats, and quite possibly the closest looking thing to space on Earth. Sparse rocky deserts, geysers propelling out sulphur, semi-active volcanoes and a cactus filled island that looks like it has grown from thin air. It’s vast, empty, slightly eerie but spectacularly mind blowing. It plays tricks with your eyes, places colours where you don’t think they should be and sometimes the whole place turns into a giant mirror.
So where did such a supernatural thing come from? Well, Salar de Uyuni formed around 30,000 years ago when the enormous Lake Minchin dried up. Over time, a thick salt crust has formed which is what we can visit today. Underneath this is a mud layer holding huge amounts of Lithium, Sodium and Magnesium chloride of which are mined for a variety of uses.
Tours run between San Pedro de Atacama (which is another moon-like place) and Uyuni in Bolivia. You can do them either way round, but just make sure you do one! The altitude during the trip varies quite a lot so make sure you don’t wear yourself out too much!
Still having trouble comprehending what exactly it’s all about? I’ve put together some of my favourite photos from my 3-day tour of Salar de Uyuni to give you a taster.
The Dali Dessert
Named after Salvador Dali, this barren desert with the windswept landscape and colourful rock formations really resemble Dali’s surrealist style of painting. It sits in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa and it really does feel like you’re exploring the surface of the moon. Just to add to the surrealism of this place, the Laguna Verde (green lake) and Laguna Blanca (white lake) are found here. It’s pretty weird to see lakes this colour but it’s caused by the different minerals in the water – sodium borate makes it white and copper and arsenic makes it green. Surrounded by the hazy looking mountains, they really are beautiful to see.
The geology comes alive in the desert here with the plumes of steam and boiling mud pools from the volcano, Sol de Mañana in the Siloli desert. Over time the strong winds have eroded the rocks, leaving unusual and almost incomprehensible shapes- the most famous being the rock tree. Seriously though, how is it balancing?
Laguna Colorada -Red Lagoon
So far there has been a white and a green lake, so not it’s time to top it off with a red one caused by the high-level of borax in the water. This was by far my favourite, full of pink flamingos chilling out.
Incahuasi Island (Fish Island)
When I said that Salar de Uyuni is home to islands that look like they have grown from thin air, this is what I was talking about. Literally, in the middle of the salt flat, you will find Fish Island, made from petrified corals with huge cacti growing up from it. It offers great views of the salt flats and the colour contrast between the white and green almost looks like it’s man made.
The Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats
So this is what this trip is all about. I don’t know how many photos I tried (and mostly failed) to take, using the unique landscape to play with the perspective and get some amazing pictures. It’s pretty tricky but if you get it right, they can look brilliant!
There’s always something interesting about visiting derelict places so this train cemetery was a bonus. It really adds to the eeriness of the place – it kind of looks like something from a horror film but it an intriguing way. The train line was originally built by the British back in the 1880s to transport the minerals that had been mined from there, however, when the mining industry collapsed, the trains were just left right where you can find them now.
This tiny town next to the Salt Flats known as the ‘salt miners workshop’. About 600 people live here permanently and it is home to the only salt making facilities where they use the salt to build bricks and other materials. During this trip, you can stay in a salt hotel (literally, a hotel made entirely of salt); the only place in the world you can do it!