If you are looking for something absolutely spectacular while planning a tour of Bolivia, the name “Salar de Uyuni” should definitely be on the top of your list! In fact, for many adventure-lovers, this is the sole reason for planning a trip to Bolivia, to experience first-hand the magnificence of the Salar de Uyuni.
What is Salar de Uyuni?
Thousands of years ago, the ancient lake Coispasa in the southwestern quadrant of Bolivia dried up for natural reasons, and left behind a 10,582 square kilometer salt flat, which was later named “Salar de Uyuni”. This place is similar to a vast desert; but instead of sand, you can find shimmering white salt here. It is an extremely beautiful place to visit, and anyone who has experienced the beauty of Salar de Uyuni once will never forget it.
How is Salar de Uyuni Important for Bolivia?
Salar de Uyuni is mostly flat terrain, with a few ‘islands’ here and there, under which are large reserves of brine, enriched with lithium. This extraordinary miracle of nature meets 70% of the world’s total need for lithium, making this place an important part of the Bolivian economy. Extraction processes around Salar de Uyuni have given rise to a whole new industry dedicated to lithium, which produces revenue for the country and employment for locals.
Salar de Uyuni also happens to be the one of the main tourist attractions in Bolivia, and the main reason thousands of tourists visit this country regularly.
What to See Around Salar de Uyuni?
There are enough attractions around Salar de Uyuni to make a whole-day trip out of it. For instance, the Isla Incahausi is in the middle of the salt flat which is a rock-filled hilly area, dotted with with gigantic cacti that are hundreds of years old. The Isla Incahausi is indeed a site to visit on your tour to Salar de Uyuni standing magnificently in the middle of the glistening white salt desert. You can get a glimpse of prehistoric coral-like structures here, covered with algae created by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago.
The Uyuni Train Cemetery is located 3 km away from the salt flat; it is a forsaken town that was once the bustling distribution hub for minerals. When the mining industry collapsed in the 1940s, the town was deserted and the trains abandoned. Someday in the future the trains will be a part of a museum, but for now the forsaken trains give the town the look of an ancient cemetery.
If you are planning to spend the night at Salar de Uyuni, there’s nothing better than to check out the salt hotels in the area. Since building materials are scarce and a burden to transport, these hotels have been created entirely out of cemented salts. You can take a look inside if you are not planning to stay the night, have a drink and take some snaps to show your friends back home.
Planning a tour of Salar de Uyuni
A tour of Salar de Uyuni will require you to take a few notes and some pre-planning, without which your trip can easily become a disaster.
The best time to visit Salar de Uyuni would be through July to October, when the weather is dry. However, in the rainy season (March-April), rainwater creates a reflection of the sky on the ground, giving the entire salt flat a mirror-like look. This is also something to experience because Salar de Uyuni is probably the most beautiful after a rain.
There are a number of tours available to choose from, so find one that suits your needs well. Most tours are for 2/4 days and cover all the tourist attractions around the Salar de Uyuni, so you don’t miss anything important.
- Dress warmly, but in layers; the weather can suddenly become very hot and you might need to remove a few pieces of clothing.
- Carry as much water with you as possible.
- Carry a flashlight with you, because everything runs on generators, not electricity.
- Keep spare changes with you because the bathrooms are sparse and not free.
- Cover yourself with sunscreen since the sun can get very hot and intense.
- Wear sunglasses and a hat, especially in the rainy season because the reflection of the sun on the salt can become blinding.
- Carry extra snacks in case you are hungry between meals.
- Bring your cameras or smartphones. The photos of this place are always extraordinary.
- Carry your passport with you at all times.
- Carry alcohol gels and hygiene wipes, because nothing will be available on site.
- Bring a sleeping bag if you are spending the night outside the hotel.
Also, don’t forget to help the economy by buying local handicrafts sold throughout the area. This is an important part of the inhabitant’s income, by supplying their products to tourists from all over the world.
Whether you visit Salar de Uyuni in the dry season or the rainy, it is going to be a surreal experience you are never going to forget. So, if you are planning a tour to South America, a few days touring the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni should definitely be a part of your itinerary, unless you want to miss out on a remarkable memory.