The Bolivian Salt flat: the world's largest one
If you ask people what they know about Bolivia, they will most probably say the Bolivian salt flat. Definitively, Uyuni is one of the most important tourist attractions in South America. Thousands of travelers come from all over the world to see and photograph this unique landscape.
The salt gem in Bolivia
Those who come to visit the Uyuni salt flat have seen pictures before arriving, but nothing can anticipate what they feel once there. Its vastness and beauty are breathtaking. Its more than 10,000 square kilometers of salt which –depending on the time of the year– merge with the sky erasing the horizon or stand out against the deep blue sky. It is so big that when Neil Armstrong travelled to the moon in 1969, he saw it from the sky and decided to visit it once back on Earth.
Located at 3,665 meters above sea level, the Bolivian salt flat Uyuni is not only the largest but also the highest salt flat in the world, followed by the Atacama salt flat in Chile.
The origins of the Bolivian salt flat
About 40,000 years ago, the current area of the salt flat was Lake Minchin, a huge body of water that covered most of southwest Bolivia and which finally dried up, leaving behind lakes Poopó and Uru Uru and two large salt deserts: the Copaisa salt flat and the popular Bolivian salt flat called Uyuni. However, there are other theories.
Several legends of the Aymaras –one of the main indigenous peoples in Bolivia– provide their own interpretation. One of the prevailing stories explains its origins in Tunupa, Kusku and Kusina, the mountains located alongside the desert. Tunupa and Kuksu were married when Kuksu ran away with Kusina, which made Tunupa cry while breastfeeding their son. Her tears mixed with her milk giving shape to the Bolivian salt flat, which is also known as Tunupa salt flat.
A large source of minerals
With billions of tons of salt, mineral extraction in the world’s largest reserve goes back to pre-Columbian times. In such times, Aymaras packed their camelids with salt and walked for weeks trading their product. Currently, one of the most common means of extraction includes making small piles to help water evaporate and facilitate transport.
The Uyuni salt flat is also the world’s second most important lithium reserve. In the past few years, lithium has become popular because it is used in electronic devices’ batteries, including mobile phones and computers.
The white desert and colored lagoons
The Bolivian Salt Flat and its surrounding
It is widely known, however, due to the beauty of its landscapes. Comparable to an endless white ocean between May and November and to a huge mirror between December and April (the months with heaviest rainfall), the Uyuni salt flat is something else. It is useless to try to understand its overwhelming immensity. The only option left is to simply appreciate its splendor and infinitude.
One of the attractions of the Bolivian salt flat is Fish Island, a sort of oasis that emerges amidst the white surface. Climbing to the summit of this piece of land, among cactuses of more than 10 meters in height, is a must to get a panoramic view of this white desert.
In addition to this natural sight there are flamingos –mainly in November– and the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve, a territory of 714,000 hectares that protects a wonderful area in the Andes Highlands. Some of its attractions include the red lagoon, with orange waters and green surroundings; and the Morning Sun geysers, just to name a few.
Travesía Uyuni: a trip to the Bolivian salt flat
To visit this nature’s must, explora crated the Travesía Uyuni. A nomadic adventure through the Andes Mountain Range to explore one of the most pristine places on Earth: the Bolivian Andes Highlands and the perfect calmness of the white desert. During this Travesía, visitors have the chance of enjoying nature first hand. They ride in a van through some of the world’s most isolated routes, sleeping in remote camps located among amazing landscapes.
This unforgettable experience takes place among quiet routes for alpacas and vicuñas. The introduction to this adventure is San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. As travelers leave the oasis, among mountains and volcanoes, they access one of the most fascinating places on planet Earth.