We continue our journey across the Bolivian high plateau towards the Salar de Uyuni. A visit to the world’s largest salt flat is another highlight of our 6-day tour through the fascinating landscapes of the Altiplano.
On the way to the Salar
The fourth day of our tour is devoted to the road to the Salar de Uyuni. On our way, we pass the Árbol de Piedra, a stone “tree” shaped by the wind, about seven meters high. Along the way, we also pass several lagoons and, at one of them, we can even observe a group of male flamingos gathering for a nuptial dance. In the late afternoon, we finally arrive at our rudimentary but charming salt hotel, by far our most comfortable accommodation during this tour.
Ahead of us lies the world’s largest salt flat: the Salar de Uyuni. For Marion, it’s a dream come true. This destination has long been at the top of her bucket list. Here, an incredible 10 billion tons of salt spread over an area of 10’500 km². What is more, it is home to one of the world’s largest lithium reserves, estimated at between 5 and 9 million tonnes depending on the source. A visit to this unique salt desert is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip in South America.
Drive to Salar de Uyuni
Lagoons, desert & volcanoes
Isla de Incahuasi
We have to get up early the next day. Before setting off to hike the Tunupa volcano, we are going to watch the sun rise over the Salar from Isla de Incahuasi. The alarm clock goes off at 4 a.m. and we leave our hotel in the freezing cold, with temperatures well below zero. The sky is clear, the stars are twinkling and the Milky Way is clearly visible.
We cross the salt desert to Isla de Incahuasi, “home of the Incas” in Quechua. Once there, a short path leads us up a small hill to the viewpoint. The island is lined with thousand-year-old cacti, some over 10 meters high. In the distance, at the end of the salt flat, we can see the Tunupa volcano, where we are going take a hike a little later. There is lots of good photo opportunities and we feel like our fingers are freezing as we adjust the camera settings. The sunrise over the Salar de Uyuni is simply fantastic and a very special moment.
The Milk Way
Walk on the island
Tunupa volcano in the distance
After sunrise, we drive to the edge of the salt flat, to the village of Coqueza. We have breakfast in the village main square, a delicious cake that our cook Marco carefully prepared for us early this morning. This gives us plenty of energy for the short hike to the viewpoint of the Tunupa volcano.
The weather is magnificent throughout our ascent: in addition to the cloudless blue sky, we are for once spared the cold wind on the volcano’s flank. We arrive at the mirador at around 4370 meters above sea level, and the view is impressive: in front of us, the colorful Tunupa volcano, which rises to around 5400 meters, and behind us, a panoramic view of the Salar de Uyuni.
Breakfast in the village
Viewpoint Segundo Mirador
Perfect weather without wind
A glimpse of the reflections
During the rainy season, from December to April, the Uyuni salt flat is transformed into the world’s largest mirror. At this time of year, a carpet of water covers the entire salt flat, creating enchanting reflections.
During our visit in October, the weather is dry and the Uyuni salt flat is visible for what it is: a salt flat. However, during the dry season, there is some water on a very small part of the salar, allowing us to get a little taste of what the Uyuni salt flat would look like during the rainy season.
Reflections on the salt flat
Fun photo session
In the evening, we set off once again for the Salar de Uyuni. Our guide Vicente is looking for a quiet spot in the middle of the salt flat, where we can watch the sunset together. Bingo, we do not see anyone for miles around, so we enjoy the idyll of the last light of day. Vicente prepares a small aperitif for us in the back of our Toyota Landcruiser: some chips, nuts and a glass of a sky-blue Bolivian liqueur. We take a few steps in this peaceful landscape, chat a little and Vicente shows us some impressive photos from a tour during which he took two professional photographers on the salt flat during the rainy season.
The sun slowly sets on the horizon. The colors of the sky change impressively, almost artistically. As darkness quickly sets in, it is no mean feat to find one’s way around the almost total darkness of the salt flat. But Vicente knows his way around better than anyone and so, after a long day, we finally arrive at our hotel.
Drive on the Salar
Aperitif with Vicente
Crossing the salt flat
On the sixth and final day of our adventure across the Bolivian high plateau, we cross the Salar de Uyuni once again. Our final destination is the town of Uyuni, where we will end our tour. But first, we make a stop in the middle of the salt flat: Vicente and Marco set the scene for an impromptu photo session. It is time to play with perspective. Although at first glance this activity does not really appeal to us, in the end it turns out to be a lot of fun.
While we are taking more or less creative photos, Vicente and Marco wander off and start looking for something in the salt soil, although we can’t quite work out what it is. After a few moments, they return to our delight with a remarkable piece of salt crystal they have extracted from the soil.
We continue our way, stopping briefly to observe some salt sculptures. Shortly afterwards, we reach Uyuni, at the eastern end of the salt flat. A little outside town, we visit the Uyuni Train Graveyard. Here, in what was once an important railway junction which lost its importance with the decline of the local industry in the 1940s, lie around 100 decommissioned locomotives and wagons.
After a last delicious lunch with Vicente and Marco, it is now time to say goodbye before boarding on our bus to Potosí.