Salar de Uyuni
A visit to an impressive 10,600 square km landscape of salt.
Uyuni is small town of 11,000 people, situated on the eastern edge of the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat. Once a trading post constructed in the late 1800s, Uyuni is now what another traveler called the San Pedro de Atacama of Bolivia—a town about one thing: Tourists.
The town of Uyuni looks completely war torn, like cruise missiles and urban combat have decimated the buildings and streets. Rubble is everywhere.
I, like most others, traveled to Uyuni for the salt flats; however, I wasn't particularly interested in the pricey multi-day excursions into the salty desert (that take many travelers into Chile). As chance would have it, Esther, the Aussie I met during my trip across the border, was short on travel time and also looking to do a single day tour.
There are plenty of agencies to select from—we went with Jhaneth Tours. Depending on your negotiating, a single day trip (about five hours) runs between US$15-20, and includes a transit to the train cemetery/graveyard just outside of town, the small salt flat village of Colchani, a hotel constructed from bricks of pure salt, and lunch on Isla Pescado (Fish Island).
The Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt of which less than 25,000 tons is extracted annually. It's roughly 25 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States.
The tour group of eight (including myself and driver) filled the Jeep with the mixture of the top languages I'd love to learn. There was our Bolivian driver, a Peruvian, a couple from Germany, a pair from Japan, Esther from Australia, and myself.
Isla Pescado seems to be the northern hub for tours on the salt flat. There are roads—well traveled paths, really—leading in many directions away from it, visible from a brief climb. There are some cacti on the "island" (among thousands of others) that are over 12 meters tall and 1,200 years old.
I was most impressed with the scene when our vehicle reached the salt flat. An endless sea of white that was so blinding in the mid-day sunlight that it was too painful to look at without sunglasses. During the Bolivian rainy season (which I'm encroaching on rapidly) the flats are covered in several inches of water—reflecting the sky like a giant mirror. The rest of the year the flat looks like a massive field of snow. The way the salt dries in a consistent hexagonal pattern is most interesting.
I had been thinking about it since I got into town… naked on the salt flat. Sure, why not? Should make for a fun memory. There's no hiding on the salt flat, and I could hear the gasps, and cheers erupt from tour group in the car behind me when they saw what I was up to. Most entertaining.
I believe this was the first tour I've been on since I started traveling, about a year ago. There are many opportunities for such things, every country seems to have plenty to chose from, but I'm particularly happy I paid for the chance to walk around on such an interesting piece of South America—a nice highlight for this continent.