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SALAR DE UYUNI | THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORLD’S LARGEST SALT DESERT

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The world is filled with interesting and amazing places. Some are in the hilly regions, some near oceans, some underwater while some of them are present in cities. One such fascinating place in South America is Salar de Uyuni or Bolivian Salt Flats.

Salar in Spanish means salt flat and Uyuni translates to the enclosure. So, the name Salar de Uyuni can be translated as a salt flat with an enclosure.

It is the world’s largest salt flat, which is an area of land covered with salt and other minerals.

No other place in the world has such a vast amount of salt deposits as Salar de Uyuni. It is estimated that around 11 billion tons of salt are present in this region alone.

During the rainy season, the whole area is covered with crystal clear water and is known for the largest natural mirror in the world. The view is so spectacular that you cannot distinguish the horizon line.

Salar de Uyuni also serves as a breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos. There are around 5000 flamingos that flock somewhere in the region. The best way to observe the birds is by a 4×4 drive.

Another importance of this area is that NASA uses this region to calibrate and position their satellites. The filming of Star Wars: The Last Jedi was shot in Salar de Uyuni in 2017, for planet Crait.

Area and location

Salar de Uyuni is located in Daniel Campos Province in Potosi in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes mountains.

It covers an area of around 10,582 sq. km. (4,086 sq. mi.).

Formation and geological significance

Around 40,000 years ago, this area was covered by Lake Minchin.

Gradually, the water in the lake evaporated due to the heat from the sun, leaving behinda high concentration of salt and some mineral deposits like chlorides of lithium and magnesium in water.

That is why around 70 percent of lithium in the world is mined in this region.

The area is covered with a solid salt crust that ranges from few centimetres to meters.

There are a few islands at the center of the region which were formed due to the volcanic activities that took place many years ago.

Now the area is dormant, and an attractive place for tourists.

Temperatures in Salar de Uyuni during the day range from 21 °C to 14 °C. Nights are much colder that record negative temperatures as low as -9 °C.

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How to reach Salar De Uyuni

The tours to Salar de Uyuni are available from three places: Uyuni town in Bolivia, San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, and Tupiza in Bolivia.

  • The nearest town to Salar de Uyuni or the salt flats is Uyuni. Due to this, many day tours start from Uyuni frequently and you can surely find the time of your choice.
  • Another option is San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, where travel agencies will take you till the Chile-Bolivia border and then Bolivian operator will take control of the tour.
  • The last option is to book the tour from Tupiza, Bolivia. Generally, tourists coming from Argentina opt for this option.

The best time to visit Salar de Uyuni depends on what experience you prefer to get out of the trip. From December to April, you can get that mirror-like view at this place due to rains.

And from May to November is the dry season wherein you can drive across the landscape.

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Places to visit around Salar De Uyuni

Isla Incahuasi

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This is one of the most interesting places in Uyuni. The name of this place translates to house of the Inca.

This is a rocky and hilly land covered with giant cacti, that offers some amazing panoramic views.

The climb takes about 15 minutes and there is also a café-restaurant at the top.

Dakar Monument

This is a large salt statue that was built as a tribute to the Dakar Rally in Bolivia.

Many photo opportunities are available and there are a small café and exhibition near the statue.

Ojos del Salar – Eyes of the Salt Flat

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Certain subterranean rivers are flowing under the salt flat and these outlets denote Ojos del Salar.

The water under salt flats have acidic concentrations and are considered medicinal by the locals.

Siloli Desert – Desierto de Siloli

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This is one of the most arid deserts in the world situated at 5000 m. above sea level.

There are plenty of rock formations and lots of stretches of brown mountains and land.

Sol de la Mañana geyser

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Geysers are vents in the Earth’s surface that intermittently throw out water and steam. One such geothermally active region is Sol de la Mañana.

The area is around 10 sq. km. and offers some spectacular views of water and steam gushing out from the ground. Do not get too close for that selfie as the burns would be fatal.

Red Lagoon

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The Red Lagoon or Laguna Colorada is a shallow salt lake to southwest Bolivia.

The water in this lake has a reddish appearance due to the red sediments and variety of algae present.

Tunupa Volcano

This is a dormant volcano situated at 5,321 m. of elevation in southwestern Bolivia.

It is considered sacred by the local communities and the name Tunupa is the name of the God of Thunder.

The climb of the volcanic mountain is not that difficult, and you can have some beautiful views of Uyuni Salt Flat from the top.

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Cementerio de trenes

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This place has a collection of rusty, old locomotives, and rail cars that are here since the 19th Century when a rail-car factory was present.

It’s also said that a plan was drafted back in the days to start a train line from Uyuni, but the project was abandoned.

Now, this has become a tourist spot and showcases antiquity.

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Aguas Termales de Polques

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Also known as the Hot Springs of Polques, this is an enormous salty lagoon and has several open-air hot thermal swimming pools.

It is safe to take a bath in these pools as temperatures are around 28 to 30 °C and are known to cure arthritis and rheumatism.

Things to carry

Here is a handy list of things to carry while vising Salar de Uyuni:

  • Camera: This is an obvious item to carry to click those amazing photos.
  • Sunscreen and hat: To avoid the damage caused by harsh sun rays, while roaming around the salt flats.
  • Warm clothes and sleeping bags: As temperatures during night time dip down, it is always better to carry some warm clothes and if possible, your sleeping bag.
  • Water/snacks: Though many tours and travel agencies provide water bottles/snacks in the package, it is better to carry your own to stay hydrated throughout the tour.
  • Flashlight/Headlight:To help you navigate at night, it is good to have a bright flashlight or headlight with you.
  • Flip flops: It is better to walk on those salty flats with flip flops, rather than your shoes. They may become dirty and you do not want to ruin your nice-looking shoes.
  • Raincoat/capris: Required if visiting during the rainy season.
  • Cash: Since salt flats are kind of in a remote place, you may not come across any ATMs or cashless payment systems. Better to carry some cash to cover those local food expenses and to tip the drivers.

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Conclusion

Thus, Salar de Uyuni or Bolivian Salt Flats is a beautiful and must-visit place in South America. You will feel relaxed and calm after looking at the huge expanse of the salt flats.

Apart from salt flats, other places around Uyuni will also keep you engaged and entertained. Lots of photography opportunities exist everywhere.

This tour will not only increase your Instagram followers (after you post those amazing pics) but also make a memorable experience for you.

After visiting Salar de Uyuni, you will get a feeling of satisfaction for visiting one of the most spectacular places on planet Earth!

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