Imagine different shades of white and light blue blending together without any definite boundary; large triangle-shaped volcanoes standing at the far away horizon; and the sporadic rows of black 4 x 4 jeeps cruising the isolated terrain. Sun is shining proudly between the scattered white cotton-like clouds; the fresh air, although pure and unpolluted, sometimes seems too little as altitude reaches nearly the 4000 meters. Do you have an image in mind already? Let me introduce this visual to you as the great Bolivian region not to be missed during your trip to South America. My lovely readers, this is the Salt Flats of Uyuni. The world’s largest salt surface surrounded by the large Andes mountains over which the Dakar car race has passed twice; of which many families used to live with the production and selling of salt; and a traveling dream for many Nature lovers like me!
With the exception of heavy rainy season when the surface gets flooded with water making the safe driving difficult, the Uyuni salt flats can be visited almost all year round. When little water has been deposited over the salt flats and the wind is still, a beautiful mirage can be witnessed with the sky being reflected on the water making the division between earth and sky non-existent. The mild summer and winter day temperatures drop at night to bearable 0-5ºC in summer and to as low as -15/-20 ºC in winter, so pack up some warm clothes!
The best way to visit the Uyuni Salt Flats are with an experienced local guided jeep tour. In fact, this is the only way I recommend. Attempting to drive into it alone for a first time can be dangerous as no roads or signs exist and the terrain is not always smooth or in a condition to drive over. There are numerous tour operators offering one-day visits or three to four-day visits combining the Salt Flats with the Natural Reserve Eduardo Avaroa and Desert area. This is the option I chose and it was wonderful.
This is how it went for me: the tour operator picked me up from the small airport of Uyuni where I had just landed early morning. Not having eaten breakfast and having the entire exciting journey ahead of me, I was taken for an energizing breakfast at a small cute hostels`s restaurant. At about 9 am, the first day tour began with a visit to the train cemetery in the town of Colchani. The railway still in used by the cargo trains seemed in fact forgotten as it was surrounded by many scrap old-looking iron train wagons. There is nothing surrounding them, just sand and dust, making one believe to be in a western movie scene.
After being a bit childish among the trains, we jumped into the jeep and headed towards a rudimentary salt manufacture and Andean handcrafts market. We spent little time there as we had already loaded our bags with handcrafts in La Paz and we were too excited to enter into the salt flats. Only a short 10-minute ride away to the entry of Uyuni Salt Flats. My first impression was excellent: the landscape was really as beautiful as I had seen on magazines and had imagined it to be. We stepped out of the car onto the hard salt terrain and walked about a bit to explore the salt holes randomly left on the soil with pouring water.
Back in the car again, we drove further in the flats for a different salt landscape. Only white-greyish terrain surrounding us without any holes or water as earlier. We took plenty of time for photos, a short walk and being silly on the salt while the tour guide set the lunch table at an abandoned salt hotel, now used for tourists to rest for lunch. Everything was made out of salt blocks, except for the chair and the food!
Because we had not had enough salt for the day, we continued our drive further in the salt territory onto an area with a thin uniform water layer over the salt blocks. Walking bare feet was an experience: with the salt crystals pinching the feet while the ice-cold water relaxed them. This salt area was absolutely gorgeous!! There we had our picture-perfect views of the reflecting sky over the flats!!!
At about 4pm, we headed back to our salt hotel where we staying for one night Yes, everything was made out of salt, everything, even the bed! Taking into consideration the high altitude, it was a good idea to rest for a while and have a nice warm “mate the coca” (a tea made out of the coca leaves). This tea helps one get used to the altitude, aiding digestion and energizing the body. At about 6.30pm we headed to the entry to the salt flats again, all within walkable distance, to witness the most breath-taking sunset I have ever seen! Absolutely gorgeous!! The salt and water appear as beach sand and sea water on the photos, so amazing!
The day finished off with a nice dinner at the hotel room, of course also served on salt blocks-table, and a shortage of oxygen! This bad night experience I rather not remember but just a recommendation when visiting very high altitude regions: take it easy, have an oxygen bottle nearby, eat little and drink plenty of mate de coca!!
The overall tour was a bit expensive but every penny worth the money!! I highly recommend this visit!! Have you visited Uyuni Salt Flats? If so, what did you think? If you haven’t, would you like to go?
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