– photo by Ashwin Atre
The landscape of Bolivia ranges from the lofty peaks of the Andes Mountains and the desolate Atacama Desert to the rainforests of the Amazon. It is also home to Salar De Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat and a trip to Bolivia would be incomplete, if you skip this destination. It is located at an altitude of 3,650 meters and covers an area of around 10,600 square kilometers. In contrast, the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, India is located almost at sea level and has an area of 7,500 square kilometers.
Salar de Uyuni is located in the Altiplano (the high Andean plateau) in the southwest region of Bolivia. To reach the site, you have three options – bus, train and plane, which are available from almost all the major cities in Bolivia. The closest city to Salar de Uyuni is Uyuni, from where you can start your exploration.
Known to Star Wars fans as planet Crait, Salar de Uyuni is popular for its endless white stretches, but did you know that there was a time when it was a part of a lake? Covering much of southwest Bolivia, Lake Minchin was a prehistoric lake (about 45,000 years from now) and was one of the highest lakes in the Altiplano. When the lake dried, it resulted in small pools and numerous salt pans and Salar de Uyuni came into existence.
Salar de Uyuni is a great year around destination and you will have different experiences in different seasons. For example, if you visit the salt flat in the rainy season (i.e. between December and March), Salar de Uyuni turns into the world’s largest mirror and features some of the greatest sunsets on the planet. In the dry season (between April and October), it becomes a barren salt desert with an endless sea of white salt as far as the eye can see, best observed from atop Isla Incahuasi.
A note of caution: Visitors should consider choosing a good tour operator for the trip as there have been cases of accidents reported because of either bad vehicles or inexperienced driving.
The hilly and rocky Incahuasi Island – located in the center of the salt flat, is one of the main attractions of Salar de Uyuni. This cacti-dotted island is a great place to catch a sunrise and to appreciate the vastness of Salar de Uyuni. Wildlife is rare in this inhospitable landscape, but it acts as a breeding ground for pink flamingos, which flock here in the month of November.
The train cemetery, located about 3km away from Uyuni is another point of interest. These train lines were built during the 19th-century by mining companies but when the mining industry collapsed, the train cars and railway tracks were abandoned and fell into disrepair.
Salar de Uyuni is one of the most popular destinations in South America. It also provides a unique accommodation option – hotels built out of salt blocks, where you can sleep on beds made of salt. Built in 1995, Palacio de Sal is the pioneer of the salt hotel.
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