The salt flats of Bolivia are arguably the biggest tourism pull for the country. The high season is during summer which is also their wet season. The water on the salt flats allows the reflective properties that one typically sees in pictures of Uyuni. I did not go during wet season so the scenery was definitely different, but still gorgeous in its own way, albeit freezing as hell.
Before I start outlining the excursion though, I want to comment on our tour group: they were awesome. It was Aiasha, myself, a couple from Texas, Angelina and Tommy and a solo British/Aussie guy, Kierran. We definitely got to know each other pretty well with all of our car time, nights in dorm style rooms, and huddling together for body warmth at night. You will see them periodically in my photos so at least now you have an introduction.
The tour was 3 days / 2 nights and was in large a roadtrip with a bunch of stops. It was a little tough being in the car for extended periods of time but they did do their best to break it up with stops at cool sites. The first of such stops was a train cemetery only about 20 minutes outside of the city of Uyuni. The British brought these locomotives to Bolivia using Uyuni as a transport hub for minerals and mining industries. With the collapse of the industries in the 40s, the trains were largely abandoned and now sit idly in the desert.
We continued into the salt flats after this stop and learned a little about the mining process. The large mounds of salt are dug up largely so that the salt can dry out before they are taken back to town in order to treat and grind the salt. It was incredible that you could really just see the salt desert for as far as the eye could see. It was truly rare scenery and we sat down for lunch in the middle of the salt flats next to a now deserted building full of flags. The building was originally intended to function as a hotel, but they did not get the proper building permits so now it is an abandoned “museum”. After lunch, we took the obligatory funny pictures:
Adding to the unique landscapes, the next stop was Cactus Island. How is there an island in the middle of a desert, you might ask. Well, this is partially due to those reflective properties when it is wet season that I had mentioned earlier, but also that when you have so much flat land everywhere at then a structure pops out in the middle, calling it an island seems excusable. It was really need to see the rock structures on the island as well as they were coral. This island (and the salt flats) used to be completely under water once upon a time which is how this was all possible. We jumped islands and watched the sunset concluding our first day in the salt flats.
To speed this along a bit, I’m including some scenic shots next with brief descriptions. There were various spots we stopped to see some other beautiful landscapes including a volcano that separates Chile and Bolivia (Volcan Ollague) and many rock “parks’. One particularly included a rock shaped like a tree, which was pretty interesting. We also spent time in one rock park creating shapes out of the various structures.
Check out that last picture by the way. Can you see the face?
We also stopped by several lagoons, two of them containing wild flamingoes. Two of the lagoons are aptly named red lagoon and green lagoon due to certain minerals and algae which cause the water to change colors. Summer is really the best time to see the lagoons in full color but the wind did cause some movement to create a bit of color.
There was also a time where we thought we were on Mars. There are various geysers located in the part of the desert, which first off, smelled like absolute crap (the sulfur) but the heat of the exhaust was so amazing! It was like 5 degrees Fahrenheit so we were seriously frozen until we got to the geysers. Luckily, next up was hot springs which was literally the most amazing feeling in the world.
I will finish off the Salar de Uyuni post with one last photo. There is a part of the desert that resembles the surrealist Dali paintings, which was our last stop and a perfect end to all the wonderful natural scenery we saw. It was a tough 3 days given the weather, but looking back on it I definitely smile more than shiver. Our group definitely made the trip more enjoyable and I’m glad Aiasha and I made it out there. Only 2 more cities left!