Uyuni Salt Flats Bolivia – Heavenly Horizon!
Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes that reach 5000 meters above sea level, the Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni) in Bolivia is an immense white plain of 12.000 square kilometers of salt. It is the only place on Earth visible by the naked eye from the moon.
Some call it a desert – nothing lives here – while for others it is a sea. However, the only thing certain is that the Uyuni salt flats is a huge white plain surface formed by grain after grain of salt.
The Uyuni Salt Flats is an offspring of a dried-up prehistoric lake, technically a saltwater lake. But due to a dense, 6-foot salt crust, it appears more like a desert. Blanketing a 4,085-square-mile area – 25 times the size of Utah’s famed Bonneville Salt Flats – the Salar contains over 10,000 tons of this favorite household seasoning. In addition, the liquid brine hidden beneath the crust accounts for over 50 percent of the world’s lithium reserves.
As the name would suggest, the flats are extremely flat, varying only a meter in altitude over the entire salt crust. This natural level not only has geologists astounded but climatologists as well. Scorched by day, frozen by night, the flats harbor one of the most extreme daily temperature dichotomies on the planet.
The Uyuni Salt Flats Are Such An Extraordinary Place That No Visitor Has Yet Left Unimpressed
Once inside, when everything is white, it is very easy to get lost. For this reason it is essential that all incursions be made accompanied by an expert guide and a suitable all terrain vehicle. It is an extraordinary experience to cross this lake of salt by car, especially during the winter, because at that time the sky is completely clear and the bright blue color of the sky contrasts brilliantly with the salt. On a cloudy day there is a “white-out” effect: the horizon seems to blend in with the sky and you can hardly tell where the salt lake actually ends.
Getting to Uyuni Salt Flats requires certain sacrifice: 8 hours by bus from La Paz. There is a paved road up to Huari, but from there it is a dirt road with many bumps and ditches. The town of Uyuni has grown in recent years and the traveler can now find all that a tourist may need: from varied menus in several languages (though mostly based on llama meat) internet, to hotels of varying prices and service levels.
Several islands in the interior of the salt flat harbor unique forms of life and gigantic cactuses. During the rainy season, the surface is covered by a thin layer of water that presents a unique reflection. The horizon and the sky become one, making this place a paradise for the lovers of photography and nature.
Once at the salt flats and marveled by the fantastic immensity of this white desert, one may think that all the expectations of the trip have been met. However, there are even more amazing and mysterious attractions that reveal themselves to the fascinated tourists.
The Village of Four Names
San Pedro de Quemez, is a small village of about 60 families. It has been destroyed several times but the community has not dispersed.
In 1879, chilean tropos invaded the territory and destroyed the village made of stones. The inhabitants found refuge at the foot of a mountain where they erected Pueblo Refugio (Refuge Village). When the invaders left, they returned and reconstructed their village at the lower side of the hill, leaving the remains of Pueblo Quemado (Burnt Village) as a witness to the invasion and abandoning Pueblo Refugio.
This strange island in the middle of the salt flats is formed by volcanic rocks. The most characteristic of the island are the giant cactuses that grow here, some since hundreds of years. A short walk of about 10 minutes takes the visitor to the peak from where one can observe this impressive garden of thorns and marvel at the fabulous view of the white desert.
The cave of stars
About two hours away from San Pedro de Quemez are Cueva Galaxia (Galaxy Cave) and Cueva del Diablo (Devil’s Cave). The first is a rock fantasy that takes the visitor to another dimension. The rock formations were created when the salt flats were still a sea and the Thunupa volcano came into contact with the water about 225 million years ago. They resemble strange bones hanging from the ceiling and walls, forming extraordinary figures. Next to this cave is the Cueva del Diablo, which contains a cemetery or chullpar with human remains. It is a sacred burial ground surrounded by many myths.
At the feet of the Thunupa volcano
After a refreshing rest at the village of Tahua, the ascent towards Pucara Chilguilla may begin. Walking about an hour to the peak at over 3800 meters, the visitor’s resistance is severely tested. It is well worth the effort though: the views of the salt flat and the Thunupa volcano amidst the archeological ruins are simply spectacular. It is believed that these are the ruins of an Inca military post. At the shores of the salt desert, pink flamingos parade their beauty.
Museum of the mummies of Colquesa
About 15 minutes from Tahua, this impressive place conserves pre-Inca mummies and the remains of the rituals and burials of these ancient civilizations.
Visiting Uyuni Salt Flats is an ideal adventure for those who enjoy photography and the wonders of nature. Continuing the trip to the Eduardo Avaroa National Park and the Green and Colored Lagoons is part of this unforgettable journey.
Characteristics of the Uyuni Salt Flats:
The Uyuni Salt Flats, situated at the south-east area of Bolivia, cover an area of approximately 12000 square kilometers, almost the entire province of Daniel Campos.
It is formed by about 11 layers of salt, varying from 2 to 10 meters in thickness. The crust at the surface is about 10 meters thick. The estimated amount of salt is 64 billion tons.
The salt desert is the largest deposit of lithium in the world and contains significant amounts of potassium, magnesium and boron.
The salt deposit was formed by the disappearance of an inland sea that covered the entire Altiplano (High Plains) and extended to the Titicaca lake. Today, the Titicaca lake, the Poopo lake, the salt flats of Uyuni and Coipasa are what remain of this sea.
San Pedro To Uyuni – Backpacking The Uyuni Salt Flats
Among the very best ways to learn about the earth is as simple as backpacking and finding spots and scenery which you might not have imagined could exist. Featuring on the South American backpacking circuit is the Uyuni Salt Flats, one of the leading holiday destinations for uncovering new experiences. If you are heading from Chile to Bolivia or vice versa, then among the very best ways to cross the border between both countries would be to travel the path from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni via the Salt Flats.
If you are likely to travel this route be prepared for some spectacular sights not common to the world as you know it. The Uyuni Salt Flats are completely remarkable and you will be awed by the sheer vastness of this landscape. The region was created as an ancient ocean slowly evaporated, leaving behind an extensive region of salt deposits as far as the eye can see. With the expansive size of the zone and the totally level terrain, you will experience the ability to witness our planet’s natural curvature, a breathtaking view which you will never let slip from your memory. Another feature of the Salt Flats is an island like land mass easily spotted jutting from the earth in an otherwise encompassing white expanse. This is known as Fish Island due to the fishly shape the hill takes if you were looking down at it from above. Known as an island, although surrounded by solid white salt rather than water, the hill offers an excellent opportunity to uncover a unique landscape of towering cacti centuries old which impose magnificently into the sky; it’s a terrain like no other.
If you are considering travelling this route its best to note some essential information and tips you need to consider to make the most of your time in the area and stay comfortable and prepared. Many of the locations you will be visiting are only accessible via jeep tours departing from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile or the town of Uyuni in Bolivia. The outing normally takes 3 days to reach the the opposite outpost, so it is essential you bring additional money along with you to cover a few expenses, although the majority of the activities are included in your tour, along with food and accommodation. Chances are you’ll require cash to cover additional national park fees and entrances, plus there are opportunities to purchase drinks and snacks along the way from remote local communities. Also be aware that if travelling from San Pedro when you arrive to Uyuni, it is not rare that the towns one ATM machine may not be working, so best to have back up cash in the form of US dollars which is widely accepted in Bolivia.
No doubt over the course of the tour, conditions will get extremely cold at night due to the unobstructed winds gushing the plains and the regions location at high altitudes, so it’s vital to bring warm clothes, a sleeping bag and remember that numerous guesthouses charge you additional fees for heated water to shower with; that is if they have water at all. Its important to remain rugged-up as the temperature plummets with the setting of the sun. Another important thing to consider is that during the wet season the salt flats can turn sludgy, and due to the extreme salinity can ruin footwear. Consequently it’s worth a thought to consider athletic shoes and sandals to ensure that you are able to interchange shoes when needed.
It is likewise important that you take a good camera because you will be witnessing numerous opportunities for unique photography over the 3 days and therefore you will almost certainly be taking scores of pictures. Take additional memory cards and batteries along with you. Extra batteries become especially valuable as everyone tussles for the few power outlets the guesthouses offer for the use of guests to power up their electrical devices.
The personal benefits of undertaking this stunning route by means of a jeep tour between San Pedro and Uyuni Salt Flats is the self exploration of one’s inner reaction to such an isolated and uniquely special corner of the world. By experiencing this area you should take away from it a little extra acknowledgment of how amazing this world can be outside the urban landscapes we face daily in our lives at home, and with luck this knowledge will stick with you helping to remind you how great it is to be a part of this creation called earth.
But to leave you with the most important tip available, come with only one expectation, that things may not always go to plan out there. Detours from regular itineraries often take place as a response to weather conditions and seasons, and be prepared that your driver will most likely not speak English. Although he acts as a basic guide using gestures more than words, you are left to ponder the region on your own without explanations about what your are witnessing. This actually could be the thing you appreciate most, as it is a nice escape to be guided by your senses rather than a rehearsed spiel from a guide. But if you are someone who can’t adapt to basic conditions and extreme isolation, this trip is probably not for you and it would probably be best for you to go around this region between Chile and Bolivia by more conventional means. It would be fair to suggest to add patience and a sense of adventure to your packing list for this trip!
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