Formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes, near the crest of the Andes at an elevation of 3656 meters, the world largest salt flat is by far the harshest and most inhospitable terrain we have set foot on so far. The endless salt crust reflects the sunlight with such intense whiteness that it seems to be snow, at night it looks like the moon let its light absorb by the salt which glows bright under the with stars filled firmament. Once saturated because of the seasonal rains (December till April), a thin layer of water at the surface turns the Salar into an infinite mirror that reflects the blue sky, the white cotton clouds and the surrounding highlands so perfectly that horizons fades away and that the mountains give the impression of being islands floating avatar-wise in the sky.
By sunset the ‘Salar de Uyuni’ (or Salar de Tunupa) plays with colours and masters optical illusions which words can’t describe.
Both the 10.582 square kilometers salt dessert and the ‘Reserva de fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa’ form a natural frontier between Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. To visit this wonders we travel to Uyuni village, founded in 1889 at the junction of the railways that enter Bolivia from Chile and Argentina. Uyuni has nothing more to offer than a 19th century clock tower, several rusty tributes to the golden age of steam and if it wasn’t for the salt it probably would have become a ghost town. Bolivia offers the cheapest possibilities to contract a tour that guides tourists through this rough area. It takes us a while but after gathering some information we find the right deal: a 3 day tour with lodgements, food, guide and transport included. It starts with the railway graveyard just outside the village and from there to the village of Colchani just some kilometers away from the salt dessert.
We are amazed by the stunning views of this over-white otherworld landscape that the Salar awardus and the three day trip just had started. After a short sleep on beds made of salt in a house made of salt we feel a bit dehydrated but are ready for the second day, where we leave the salt flats behind us and enter in a world of singular, eccentric landscapes. We enter a land of freezing salt lakes whose icy waters tinged bright red, pink, grey, orange or emerald green by microorganisms or mineral deposits. At the ‘Desierto de Siloli’, rocks sculptured by the very elements of nature designing the wildest and the most impossible formations are appearing any direction we look.
There is a wide range of rare Andean wildlife in and around all these lakes. Large herds of vicuñas grazing on the slight vegetation of the high, semi desert grassland, as well as viscachas and even the elusive Andean fox are sometimes spotted. The salty lakes, apart from the 80 species of birds, support large colonies of all three South American species of flamingo (James, Andean and Chilean) giving a supreme touch to a travellers experience. In the morning we have a sunrise with geysers at ‘Sol de Mañana’ and a bath in a natural hot springs at the shore of Laguna Challviri… it’s all just perfect. Refreshing the mind and recharging our inner batteries we are ready for a last day of wondering and gaping with disbelieve at this corner of Bolivia. All in this three day trip is just so spectacular, enormous, and breath-taking that while driving back to Uyuni we are aware of the difficulty to describe such a place…
- As there is not much to visit in Uyuni village the stay is just functional, one afternoon to check out prices a cheap and comfortable night rest and the next day we start the tour, so we did not expect any luxe or extras. Hostal ‘El Chavito’, close to the train station we got for 70 Bolivianos for the two of us.
- We paid 630 Bolivianos each, at the agency: ‘Expediciones Libez‘ for a three day tour with food, transport, guide and hotels/hostels included. If you are with a group of 5 then try to get the car for just the five of you, some tour operators load up the car with 7 persons which is very uncomfortable for long days of driving off road. Plus a 150 Bolivianos a person as entrance at ‘Reserva de fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa’ which is never included at any operator in the tour price. Ask explicit for a sunset at the Salar of Uyuni as not every tour includes this spectacle.
- There is the possibility to cross the border with Chile at San Pedro de Atacama, instead of driving back till Uyuni. You miss a last half day of excursion but win a day of traveling to Chile. In order to take this option it is important to get all the necessary papers and stamp passports at the police office of Uyuni.
- In Uyuni railway station the cheap train tickets, on a reclining seat is a treasure to look for so try to purchase your tickets in advance we recommend to get them before the three day trip.