Salar de Uyuni is an incredible sight to behold.
Read on to discover:
- Where the term Salar De Uyuni comes from
- Top attractions
- Best time to visit and
- How to get there
Located at a lofty attitude of 3,653m above sea level, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flats, covering almost 12,000 sq km.
Covering an area larger than over 150 countries in the world, including Jamaica, Qatar and the Bahamas, the flats contains 10 billion tons of salt, of which 25,000 tons are extracted annually. During the dry season you will witness hundreds of conical mounds dotted across the flats awaiting exportation. The salt is then sold in Bolivia as well as being shipped all over the world.
Originally part of the prehistoric Lake Minchin, which covered most of Southwest Bolivia, formation of the flats began some 40,000 years ago as a result of the Andean uplift. As the high Bolivian Altiplano emerged, Lake Minchin eventually dried up, leaving behind the salt deposits the area is now famed for.
Today, two modern lakes - Poopó and Uru Uru - remain, as well as the two major salt deserts of Salar de Coipasa, and the larger Salar de Uyuni. During the rainy season, a combination of increased rainfall, plus an overflowing Lake Poopó, creates a wholly unique environment, where the sky is magnificently reflected. Photos of the phenomenon simply don't do it justice.
Did you know: The area houses the largest reserves of Lithium (used for the battery in your mobile phone) in the world.
Salar De Uyuni Meaning
The meaning of Salar De Uyuni in English is fairly straightforward. In Spanish, Salar means Salt Flat whilst Uyuni is the name of the closest town (and the place where most people start when visiting the salt flats). The translation of Uyuni from the Aymara language is pen or enclosure.
It can therefore be translated as salt flat with enclosures or the salt flat at Uyuni.
Attractions at the Bolivia Salt Lake
The landscapes of Salar de Uyuni provide tourists with unique photo opportunities. The expansive stretch of salt has little to interrupt the horizon meaning that travellers can play with the perspective while taking photos.
Aside from the sprawling landscapes, there are several other attractions to include in any visit to the region.
Located in the northern part of the salt flats, Isla Pescado, or Fish Island, is one of the key attractions within Salar de Uyuni. The cacti on this island grow up through the salt crust and can reach a height of 10 metres. The islands peak also provides spectacular views over the sprawling flats and nearby Andean mountains.
The island is rumoured to have gotten its name from the indigenous Aymara ethnic group who were the first settlers in the area. They are said to have chosen the name due to its semi ellipsoidal profile when viewed from the East or West when the salt is flooded, as this creates a silhouette shape of a fish.
Continuing south across the blinding white salt crust towards the Chilean Border will lead travellers to great expanses of red desert, where mineral rich and vividly coloured lakes support flocks of flamingos and Vicuñas herds.
In November the region is a key breeding ground for three species of South American flamingo – Chilean, Andean and the rarer James’s.
An alternative attraction in the area is the antique train cemetery located 3 km outside Uyuni. The town once served as a distribution hub for trains carrying minerals to Pacific Ocean ports. When the mining industry collapsed in the 1940s, partly due to mineral depletion, many of the trains were abandoned creating this eerie, yet fascinating train graveyard.
Best Time To visit
There are two distinct seasons at the Salar De Uyuni and each one provides different opportunities and sights. If you are looking to see the incredible mirror effect on the salt flats, then the best time to visit is during the rainy season. This would be during December to April.
The dry season - May to November - provides opportunities to photograph some unique perspective bending photos by venturing into places that are hard to get to during the rainy season.
The high season is June through to August – which may make visiting Uyuni a more expensive endeavour than at other times.
How to get there
Most visitors would start their Salar de Uyuni adventure in the town of Uyuni. From here you can explore the region on day trips or tours that take you to the most important sights within the region.
The easiest way to get to Uyuni is by air from La Paz
, starting your adventure into the otherworldly terrain from the arrival hall.
A Bolivia AirStream Camper offers a unique way to experience the Salar de Uyuni’s surreal beauty. These vintage-style Airstream Campers cater for up to two guests, are fully equipped and include a personal chauffeur/guide.
By touring Salar de Uyuni by Airstream Camper
you will have more time to explore the area and salt flats, cycle to remote areas, visit local communities, star gaze and trek across vast open spaces. Another added bonus is that travellers can park miles away from other tourists, saving the view for themselves.