While you may be familiar with the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah that feature in the movie ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’, South America has its own famous salt flat, Salar de Uyuni. This is the world’s largest salt flat and it’s 100 times larger than the one at Bonneville. Any BUCKiTDREAM visit to Bolivia will be all about scheduling time in your itinerary to fully appreciate this regional highlight.
Of course, catching the giant salt flat at its best depends on what time of the year you travel to Bolivia. There is two type of experience that travelers typically experience at Sala De Uyuni. One is the thick, white crust of salt that appears in the cold, dry season (May to October) when the lake drains away.
The other is during the warm, wet season (November to April) when the lake is flooded and water covers the flats causing a mirror-like surface, making for some incredibly surreal photographs. March and April are the best times to visit if you want to be able to walk on the lake and photograph its reflective surfaces.
Here are some more facts, figures and ways to experience this extraordinary salt flat that once seen is not easily forgotten.
The World’s Largest Salt Flat At 4086 Square Miles Called simply ‘Salar’ by locals, approximately translated as ‘salt flat’ in Spanish, it’s a giant prehistoric lake that contains an estimated 10 billion tons of salt.
During the dry season, the water drains away and a thick crust of pure white salt forms over a pool of brine. The surface is exceptionally flat, making it ideal for calibrating the altimeters of the earth’s observation satellites. It is also the world’s largest source of lithium, containing 50 to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves.
The ‘Uyuni’ part of Sala De Uyuni relates to the nearby town which tourists use as a base for visiting. Uyuni means a pen or enclosure.
Experience Sala De Uyuni With a 4×4 Or Motorbike Tour Many tourists opt to take a 4×4 tour in the dry season to experience the phenomenon of the Salar and the area is well set up with many operators offering tours through the rugged landscape. Tours range from a classic 1-day tour of the salt flats to a 3-day tour that includes a visit to the salt flats, a hike up Incahuasi Island, visits to multicolored lagoons and soaking in natural hot springs.
Bear in mind there are usually six people to a group on a shared tour, so if you’re in a 4×4 jeep for 3 days it could get a little cramped, plus you have your guide and a cook. If you prefer more room, private tours can be arranged.
It is also possible to do a tour of the salt flats by motorbike for 2 days or 3 days if you’re a medium experienced rider and this includes visits to small villages, staying in local accommodation and getting cultural insights.
Accommodation for tours that are more than one day stay in basic local accommodation, and you may have to bring your own sleeping bag. Bring warm clothes as it gets chilly at night and sunscreen during the day is recommended as the sun’s reflection of the salt flats can burn.
Will I See Wildlife at Sala De Uyuni? Yes, depending on the time of year. The Salar is a stopover for three species of pink South American flamingos, which arrive every November to breed. The salt flat and its islands are home to around 80 other bird species, including the Andean goose and horned coot, the Andean fox, and viscachas, which are kind of rabbits.
One of the unique features of visiting the Salar is its salt hotels. Due to a lack of suitable building materials, several of the locals have decided to build accommodation out of the salt flat itself. This usually means that things such as the walls, floors, ceilings and furniture are carefully constructed from blocks of cemented salt. While some of these accommodations are pretty rustic, some are positively palatial, like the Palacio de Sal which has suites, a restaurant, golf course, and spa.
How To Get There
Uyuni is the most popular place to take a 1 – 3-day tour from as it’s closer to the salt flats and it’s cheaper. There are several options for getting there. You can catch a train or bus from Ororo, a bus from La Paz or fly into Uyuni’s small airport. The train and bus options do involve a minimum of 7 hours travel, so flying is much quicker, if not cheaper.
Alternatively, you can start a 3-day tour from Tupiza, a more southern city, with fewer tour options but small tour groups of approximately four people. The salt flats will be visited as the highlight on the last day of the tour.
If the unique destination of Sala De Uyuni is in your BUCKiTDREAM planner, don’t forget to share your incredible photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (depending on the internet connection, of course…).