The awe-inspiring, untamed breathtakingly white wilderness of salt lakes – that is Salar de Uyuni for you. Located at an altitude of 12,000ft (3,600m), the largest salt flat in the world covers a whopping 12,000 sq.km (that’s larger than smaller 20+ countries in the world), and so flat and dazzling that its attracts a plethora of tourists, adventure seekers and photographers. The strange-looking islands in this dried up prehistoric lake and the volcanic mountains serving as border to this natural wonder bestows a memorable experience to every visitor. As if these virtues were not enough, the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni transforms into the largest mirror in the world during rainy season when a thin layer of water cover the slat flats. However, I was not lucky enough to witness the mesmerizing scene where the land and sky merges into one, as it wasn’t rainy season when I visited.
On November the 23th, 2017, Prateek Jay and I took the overnight local bus to Salar de Uyuni from La Paz bus terminal. If you’re taking a bus, I’d recommend the local bus over tourist bus, because the seats are wider, more comfy and cheaper, but lack the extra services (which are not useful anyway, but no worries, there’s wifi). We reached Salar de Uyuni at 6 am on the 24th, and found it to be pretty cold and deserted dusty town. First thing we did was to go to a coffee shop to freshen up and charge our phones (And have breakfast – secondary priority). At around 9.30 we went to Perla de Bolivia tours were we had booked a single day trip for $70, At 10.30 along with D’Angela from Houston and Victor (Guide) and Abraham (driver), we started our trip on a 4×4 land cruiser. While driving through he city, my first impression was that of some Small Iraqi city (the ones you see on TV and movies). First destination was the Train Cemetery. Its a paradise for photographers and for amateurs to get good Instagram pics. The rusty old UK made steam engines serve a reminder of a bygone era. Imagine, a rusty old Hogwarts express trains lying in the middle of a dusty desert. Quite eerie, isn’t it. Nonetheless, the abandoned presence of the “great train graveyard”, finds solace in the presence of curious visitors.
After spending 20 minutes at the train graveyard, we went to a settlement near the salt flats. They have a few shops there and they gave a quick tour of the slat making process. that includes heating to remove the water content followed by grinding and packaging.you can even buy authentic Bolivian slat flat salt from there (Before you do that, remember, you’d be carrying a plastic bag with a white powder from Bolivia across the Customs and Immigration officers of your next destination outside South America – Yeah! exactly. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you). Now, its finally time to experience this unreal landscape for myself.
Behold! The great slat flats of Salar de Uyuni! White and flat, with cloudless blue skies as far as you’re eye can see. Luckily there are some mountains on on side or else you’d be lost without any reference. The presence of mountains is the major difference I found between the salt flats of Rann of Kutch in India, and unlike the Rann of Kutch, you won’t end up in Pakistan if you get lost in Salar de Uyuni (Phew! That’s a relief). The slat flats looks brownish close to the town due to dust bowls, but becomes white as we move further. The cracks on the slat forms a hexagonal pattern that makes the ground look like paved tiles. The tour included a picnic lunch in the middle of the salt flats (you can add more salt if you like). Next we drove to the only salt hotel in Salar de Uyuni, the Palacio de Sal and the huge Dakar statue near it. Make sure you bring your countries flag, so that you can hang it on the flag posts. Too bad there wasn’t a single Indian flag there and we didn’t have one with us either. Bolivia uses the Dakar rally to promote tourism at Salar de Uyuni. After wandering around the hotel for a while, we left to the middle of nowhere. Now for the star attraction. Photo time!!
The white and flat salt beds provide an excellent setting for perspective photography. Victor had all the required props and he was an excellent photographer. All the perspective photos and gifs in this blog post were taken by Victor! We spent close to 1.5 hours taking incredible photos and then decided to head to our final stop of the day – the Incahausi island. There are numerous islands in Salar de Uyuni and Icahausi is the largest and one of the most visited one. This outherworldly and spectacular former island is a hilly outpost covered with massive hundreds of years old cactii. There are a few that is over 1000s of years old. Climbing to the topmost point of the island offers a stunning view of the white sea of salt with huge cactii in the foreground and mountains in the backdrop. Just magnificent! At 5.30 we started back to Uyuni.
On the way, at 6.45, we stopped to watch the colorful and vibrant Uyuni sunset. A solemn end to a beautiful day what projected the triviality of our existence, when compared to the grandeur of nature. At 7.30 we reach back at Uyuni. My travel partners Prateek and Jay were pure vegetarians, and they couldn’t find a single place to eat and had to finally resort to chips and biscuits. For vegetarians and vegans, Bolivia isn’t very accommodating. So, I’d advise you to make arrangements beforehand, if you’re a vegetarian. Our return bus to La Paz was at 8.30 pm. For Salar de Uyuni, if you have more time, you can take a 3 day trip across the salt flats, that takes you to the border of Chile and Argentina. Also, if it rains too much, its hard to drive and the trips are cancelled. So, to see the mirror like sat flats, the weather should be in your favor.
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