Bolivia was never on our radar as a place to visit until I started seeing photos of the Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni). I was drawn to its simplistic beauty- crusty white salt covering miles and miles of land so flat there was no end in sight. So, off we went on a day tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats anticipating it to be one of the highlights of our FIRST TRIP TO BOLIVIA.
As the world's largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni covers 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi) in southwest Bolivia. The Uyuni Salt Flats used to be the site of several prehistoric lakes that dried up, leaving behind a landscape covered with salt crust. Underneath the solid top layer of salt is a pool of brine, exceptionally rich in lithium. The Uyuni Salt Flats are estimated to contain 50-70% of the world's lithium reserves.
Driving into the heart of the Uyuni Salt Flats, I quickly was impressed by the blinding white landscape around us. It was amazing how huge an area the salt covers and how incredibly flat the land is. We lost all sense of where the salt flats begin or end. We even witnessed mirages as we drove across the salty plain. After lunch we drove back across the salt flats towards Isla Incahuasi. This cactus-covered island seemed so out of place, yet was a welcome change in scenery. After a few minutes of taking photos we moved to Isla Incahuasi. This piece of land is actually the top of an ancient volcano that was submerged about 40,000 years ago when the area was part of a prehistoric lake called Lake Minchin. Walking around the island we saw a lot of cacti and coral-like structures. It also was neat to get an elevated view of the salt flats.
The last place we visited on our tour of Salar de Uyuni was the salt hotel. It's not an operating hotel anymore due to environmental concerns, so now it's just a building made out of blocks of salt. We walked a lap around it, peeked inside and then headed back to the vehicle. I was hoping to see the sunset on the salt flats (as advertised in the tour description) but our driver was already heading back to Uyuni, much earlier than expected. Disappointingly, we arrived back in Uyuni 1-1.5 hours earlier than the tour was supposed to end. All afternoon I got a sense that our guide and driver were in a hurry to end the tour- turns out I was right.
The salt flats are an incredible place and I’m really glad we made the trip to Bolivia to see them. It truly is a beautiful landscape. On a positive note, I liked that our guide and driver chose to do the route opposite of what other groups do. Instead of having lunch at Isla Incahuasi like most tours do, we ate at Tunupa volcano. This meant we avoided most of the crowds.
Although our day tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats wasn’t quite what we expected, we still had a really fun day. The Uyuni Salt Flats were the most unique place we visited in Bolivia and well worth taking an overnight bus from Uyuni to see.