After a few gorgeous days in Cochabamba with Fabio’s family, Fabio, his mom, and I took a little mid-vacation vacation to the Bolivian salt flats, which are called Salar de Uyuni (FYI- Uyuni is the town closest to the salt flats, and sal means salt. Hence, Salar de Uyuni).
I’ve talked about the salt flats before, but in case you missed that post or just want to know more about the salt flats, here is some additional information:
- Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat at 4,086 square miles (10,582 square kilometers)
- The salt flats are at an elevation of 11,995 ft (3,656 meters) above sea level (for comparison, that is just about a few thousand feet less than the highest elevation points in the US)
- In most regions of the salar, the salt is a few meters thick
- The salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes about 40,000 years ago
- Under the salt lies 50 – 70% of the world’s lithium reserves, which is in the process of being extracted
- The salt flat serves as a major breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos
- The salt flats have been featured recently on a number of popular travel lists like this list of 22 Unbelievable Places that are Hard to Believe Really Exist
On Wednesday morning we began our trek to the salt flats. It took quite some time to get there, including a bus ride and a train ride. It was basically one full day of travel to and from the salt flats, and one full day to explore.
Personally, I didn’t mind the travel time one bit. Being on the bus and the train allowed me to see parts of Bolivia that I never would have been able to see otherwise. Most of the trip was through the mountains and we were able to catch a glimpse of how the farmers and rural towns in Bolivia function.
Also, the views were absolutely amazing. 90% of the trip looked just like this.
Oh, and those plants growing everywhere? That’s quinoa. Cool, right?
We saw views like this one around nearly every bend in the road. The mountains in Bolivia are truly spectacular.
It was also really interesting (though somewhat sad) to see the little towns and villages along the way. It sure made me appreciate the things I’m lucky enough to have at home.
When we finally arrived in Uyuni, I was so excited to see the Salt Hotel we were staying in!
The entire hotel was built from “bricks” of salt including the bed and furniture (not the mattress though, thankfully ;))
Unfortunately I discovered during my time there that altitude sickness is a very real thing. Pretty much starting halfway through our train ride I started to feel bad, and it continued during our entire time in Uyuni. Luckily it wasn’t too awful, but it felt sort of like the beginning of the flu. I was generally tired and weak feeling, with a headache and a bit of nausea. Also I completely lost my appetite, which was a bit of a bummer.
Luckily the altitude sickness didn’t stop me from having an amazing time at the salt flats! On the morning of our tour day, we were met by our tour guide who drove us around in a four-wheel drive jeep for the day along with 4 other passengers (2 ladies from Chile and a couple from Austria). Everyone was really nice and we had a great time on the tour!
Here we are!!
When we initially planned our trip we were hoping to go during the wet season so we could take those classic mirror/reflective pictures on the salt flats that I posted about before, but unfortunately due to some really nice sunny weather, the water had pretty much dried up and there were only a few small regions that were still wet. I was a little bummed about this initially, but we still wound up with some AWESOME pictures, and it’s hard to complain about too much good weather 😉
As you’ll see, we played around a bit with some perspective and had a fun time snapping creative pictures 🙂
Around midday our tour guide drove us out to an island that was originally used by the Incans! In addition to humongous cacti and plants on the island, there are fragile coral-like structures and deposits of fossils and algae. Cool! The island is the top of the remains of an ancient volcano, which was submerged around 40,000 years ago.
Our tour guide gave us tickets to explore and hike the island while he prepared us lunch. 🙂
It was so bright with all the white salt and the extremely strong sun beating down on us that the coloring in these pictures seems a little off. The colors looked closer to the picture below than the picture above.
If you ever visit the salt flats, make sure to bring sunscreen and sunglasses. It was so strong!!
The island was really cool to see, and we had a ton of fun hiking around.
After a nice lunch of quinoa, salad, potatoes, and llama (!!!) which I had trouble downing due to my altitude sickness, we took some more fun pictures. Check ’em out!
The salt was in really strange octagonal formations on the ground. I have no idea how or why it dried up this way, and I wish I had thought to ask our tour guide. It was so cool!
Next our tour guide drove us to a really remote location of the salt flats, away from islands, mountains, and other tourists, and had some fun with our cameras.
He was also really great and took this video that makes it look like we are all dancing out of a canister. So fun!
After taking some more pictures he took us around to see a number of other attractions like these little geyser-type holes in the salt where water from underneath bubbles up to the surface. There you could reach your hand in and pull out beautiful salt crystals that were square shaped and multiple colors (depending on the minerals).
We wound up taking home chunks of salt crystals that were purple, pink, and green, and sparkling all over. It was so cool! (Side note: Our tour guide told us that one time when he was reaching in for some salt crystals, he pulled up a dead flamingo instead. Ew ew ew!!)
On the way back to the hotel we saw a herd a wild alpaca crossing the street. Casual.
And in the evening, I realized that in addition to my altitude sickness, I was completely sunburnt. Wahhh!
Ah, well. It was SO worth it!! What an amazing adventure!!
I would totally recommend seeing Salar de Uyuni if you ever find yourself in that region of the world. It was so incredible!
Question of the day: Have you ever seen anything like those salt flats?