Bolivia and the Salt Flats
Something Different in Bolivia
Gazing out at the ethereal landscape, I feel like I am on a different planet. What appears to be sand, or maybe even snow, continues endlessly on. The waves of heat create eerie shapes on the horizon, and the stillness around me makes me realize how vast and unique this place really is.
While it may feel like I have transported myself to another world, I have not. We are simply standing in the middle of the world’s largest salt flats – the Salar de Uyuni, in the isolated south of Bolivia. Plains of blinding white salt surround us, and pockets of water reflect the sky, creating a strikingly beautiful image.
The only things around us are several other 4×4 jeeps, parked while fellow visitors eat lunch or take the mandatory “optical illusion” photos. With the endless horizon and no obstacles in sight, the salt flats make the perfect place to take fun photos and get creative with the depth of field.
Getting to Salar de Uyuni
Getting here was not the easiest. The Salar is only accessible via 4×4 from the town of Uyuni, and the town itself is remote. A long overnight bus ride from La Paz on a jarring route was the transportation method of choice. Traveling on a road that was really a rocky salt path, we had two blown tires that needed changing along the way. We finally made it, albeit a bit bruised up, to our final destination.
The town of Uyuni doesn’t appear particularly welcoming; it consists only of a few blocks and has an unshakeable sense of isolation and loneliness about it. The main industry is tourism, so besides a few restaurants and hostels the highlight of our quick foot tour was petting a passing llama. We had come to the city to meet with a local tour operator that we had booked on the spot while in La Paz. The name of the company had somehow changed between the time we booked the tour and the time we met our 1guide. So did a lot of other things- namely the existence of an English-speaking guide and a “spacious jeep”. That’s the thing about Bolivia though, it’s stubborn and wild. You never get quite what you expect.
Our small jeep somehow filled up with a total of eight people. Nice and cozy, we left the town behind us, driving into the heart of the salt flats. Sun blazing, we began to see the incredible views that this place so tantalizingly promises. We spent most of the afternoon driving across this blindingly white landscape, taking the time to stop for a drink at a building made of salt.
With the terrain spreading out, unchanging for miles, it often felt like we had not moved at all. This dizzying experience was soon remedied with lunch at the Isla de Pescadores. This place is home to a large “island” of rocks and cacti, appearing like a mirage in the middle of the salt desert. We were able to hike up the hill formation of the island, and see cacti that were 20 feet tall and over 200 years old. From the top, we were also able to see the nearby Tunupa Volcano.
After lunch, the bouncy jeep ride continued on for several hours. Near dark, we arrived at a hostel in the tiny town of Agua Quiza, home to a booming population of 87 Quechua-speaking residents. From the outside, the place looked a bit shady, but we had no idea what was in store. When a hostel is built entirely of salt, and has salt tables, chairs, beds and walls, it instantly becomes charming.
The stunning, otherworldly presence of the Salar de Uyuni is one any visitor will not soon forget. The wild, remote landscape of the world’s largest salt flats is a true natural wonder that will leave you wondering when you can return.
Written by Michelle Weigold
I’m Michelle Weigold, a 28-year-old newlywed living in Kentucky and working as a Spanish teacher. I’ve always loved traveling and think I am so passionate about it because it is a way to combine my love for things like history, art, languages, and photography. Whenever I travel I am awed by the sights, and affected in one way or another. I always learn something new, and I think going out and seeing the world is the best classroom there is. You can follow my adventures on my Instagram account @chelletravelfoto.
Additional photos by Kuroiniisan under CC BY-SA 3.0