Photo credit: Popsicle Society-Google map
Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, or Salar de Tunupa, it is the world’s largest salt flat, located amid the Andes in southwest. Stretching more than 11,000 sq.km. a landscape of bright-white salt and rock formations, left behind by prehistoric lakes that went dry long ago, leaving behind a desert like, and cacti-studded islands, covered by quilted, polygonal patterns of salt rising from the ground. Its vastity can be observed from central Incahuasi Island. Though wildlife is rare in this unique ecosystem, it harbors many pink flamingos.
The Salar was formed as a result of sequential transformation between several vast lakes some 30,000 to 42,000 years ago, and it is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average elevation variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium, the element responsible for powering laptops, smart phones, and electric cars. It contains 50% to 70% of the world’s known lithium reserves. And you’ll not believe it but its large area, the clear skies, and exceptional flatness of the surface make the Salar an ideal object for calibrating the altimeters of Earth observation satellites. Following rain, a thin layer of dead calm water transforms the flat into the world’s largest mirror, 129 kilometres (80 miles) across.
The Salar serves as the major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano and is a major breeding ground for several species of flamingos.
It is an extraordinary place where you can watch one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world, almost magical. At certain times of the year, nearby lakes overflow and a thin layer of water transforms the flats into a stunning reflection of the sky. The meeting of the sky and the earth gives the impression of walking among the clouds, thanks to the total absence of perspective, the immensity and the height of the place.
One major tourist attraction is an antique train cemetery located 3 km outside Uyuni and is connected to it by the old train tracks. The town served in the past as a distribution hub for the trains carrying minerals en route to Pacific Ocean ports. The rail lines were built by British engineers arriving near the end of the 19th century and formed a size-able community in Uyuni. The rail construction started in 1888 and ended in 1892. It was encouraged by Bolivian President Aniceto Arce, who believed Bolivia would flourish with a good transport system, but it was also constantly sabotaged by the local Aymara indigenous Indians who saw it as an intrusion into their lives. The trains were mostly used by the mining companies but in the 1940s, the mining industry collapsed, partly because of mineral depletion and many trains were abandoned, producing the train cemetery. There are proposals to build a museum from the cemetery.
Salar de Uyuni has two distinct seasons. The rainy season from December to April is when you can witness the Salar’s breathtaking mirror effect but be careful that January can be very rainy. During the dry season from May to November, the temperatures are colder, the ground has hardened, and you can drive across the stark white landscape to places that aren’t accessible in the rainy season.
The area has a relatively stable average temperature with a peak at 21 °C in November to January and a low of 13 °C in June. The nights are cold the entire year, with temperatures between −9 °C and 5 °C.
The high season is considered June through August.
Photo credit: Flickr, by szeke
Salar de Uyuni it is far from the cities and a number of hotels have been built in the area. Due to lack of conventional construction materials, you may experience a night in a hotel almost entirely built with salt blocks cut from the Salar, the walls, roof, even furniture are all made from salt blocks.
I see there are different types of tours, from 1-2 days visit departing from the city of Uyuni to the 3-4 day trekking routes.
An interesting place to visit if you have the chance.