The south of Bolivia is home to some of the most surreal landscapes on the planet. This includes the famous Salar de Uyuni, which is the world’s largest salt flat. It is the remnant of a massive prehistoric lake and all that remains is a crystalized salt covered plains. It is made internet-famous by the perspective photography taken here, where you can appear to be standing in the palm of someone’s hand.
This is one of the most desolate and isolated corners of the world, but these beautiful landscapes find a way to delight the senses. The best way to experience this strange world is by “road”; by taking a 3-day Land Rover trek through the Salt Flats and into the neighboring – and equally impressive – Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve of Andean Fauna to the south. There are several tour companies that offer tours of the salt flats and beyond, and you can spend 2 nights in this surreal place. We traveled from 3700 meters up as high as 5000 meters as we off-roaded across this extreme landscape, eventually arriving at the Chilean border, where we would transfer to the town of San Pedro in the Atacama Desert.
We arrived in the town of Uyuni early in the morning on an overnight bus from La Paz and began our tour. Over the next three days, we would see some of the most strange and beautiful scenes imaginable, as if pulled directly from the imagination of an artist. Not everyone will associate a desert as beautiful, but this part of Bolivia challenges what you thought was possible.
What makes the Salar de Uyuni so amazing?
From Uyuni, you drive into the train graveyard, and then directly into the salt flats. We began with lunch at an old salt hotel, and some time at the Dakar Monument, a memorial to the annual off-road race that takes place here. This event used to be held in Africa (from Morocco to Senegal, across the Sahara Desert) but had to change venues a few years ago due to changing security concerns in the region.
This place is so flat that the mountains in the distance appear to be floating as if part of a mirage. This massive prehistoric dried up lake has long been forgotten, but it left in its place a salt layer 1-meter thick, which stretches off endlessly in all directions. It looks like a lake with no water. The best place to appreciate this was Incahuasi, an “island” that is covered in thousand-year-old cacti, which allowed you to step above the plains and appreciate its size. Beneath this massive salt flat is where over 50% of the world’s known lithium reserves exist.
It is a seemingly inhospitable place, yet life does flourish here, and the areas south of Uyuni is where things got really interesting. It is here that you find the many colourful lagoons that are home to flamingos (James, Andean and Chilean) as well as wild vicunas and other small creatures, such as the cute rabbit-like Viscacha. This region is unlike anything you could have ever imagined before you arrived, and is surrounded by volcanoes and massive uninhabited deserts.
Towards the southern tip of this region is the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve, a beautiful protected world that is the most visited reserve in Bolivia. Some of the mountains here are filled with a rainbow of colour; with orange, reds, and yellows that have stained the slopes. Large rocks – from a long forgotten volcanic eruption – litter the terrain, eroded over time by the winds. It gives this place an otherworldly feel.
The 3-day Uyuni Salt Flat tour was one of the highlights of our trip to South America and is the best way to experience this wild region. It is a can’t miss on any trip to this area, plus you’ll end up with some pretty fun perspective photos for your facebook or Instagram feed.
Where is the Salar de Uyuni and how do you get there?
The Train Graveyard:
Framed by the Train. 2017.
Rusted old train. 2017.
Salt Flats of Uyuni:
Fun with perspective in the Salt Flats. 2017.
These cacti on Incahuasi are over a thousand years old. 2017.
Dakar Monument on the Salt Flats. 2017.
Crystalized Salt flat. 2017.
Flag monument in the middle of the Salt Flats. 2017.
The “Island” of Incahuasi. 2017.
Two happy travelers enjoying the flag monument. 2017.
Lagoons and Flamingoes:
Flamingo reflection. 2017.
Laguna Verde. 2017.
This beautiful lagoon was filled with Flamingos. 2017.
Happy Travelers. 2017.
Laguna Colaradas. 2017.
Lagoons filled with flamingoes. 2017.
Unknown Andean Bird. 2017.
Laguna Colaradas at the edge of the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve. 2017.
Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve & Southern Bolivia:
Posing with the Stone Tree. 2017.
Bolivian flag with a volcano. 2017.
Rock Formations. 2017.
Salar de Chiguna. 2017.
Massive rocks in the middle of the desert. 2017.
Wild Vicunas. 2017.
Norma posing with a wind-eroded rock feature and an active volcano. 2017.
The Salvador Dali Desert. 2017.
Driving Across the Salar de Uyuni:
The 3-day Salar de Uyuni tour is the best way to see one of the most surreal places on the planet. Located in the south of Bolivia, it is home to the worlds largest salt flat, as well as desert plains, beautifully coloured lagoons, flamingos, and Volcanoes. All sitting well over 4000-meters above sea level. It was blisteringly hot during the day and shockingly cold at night, but it was a highlight of our 6-week trip to South America. It was a magical experience.
Bonus: Giants of the Salar de Uyuni:
Here is a little bonus video that relates to the Salar de Uyuni. While exploring the vast expanse of the Salt Flats – the Famous Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia – we encountered one of the very rare Uyuni Giants that call this strange environment home.