Salar de Uyuni

Ever since I have arrived in Bolivia, whenever speaking to Bolivians about what things I should see while I’m here, Salar de Uyuni inevitably comes up. I can now say I have been there! Salar de Uyuni is a large salt flat in southwestern Bolivia, about 10 hours south of La Paz. It has been formed by the evaporation of a salt water lake and it really is incredible to see. Unfortunately, my camera decided to malfunction on me at the start of this little trip, so I will have to get pictures from the others who were there. I will post some when I get a chance.

Our trip started Tues morning. Jackie and Brian, the daughter and son-in-law of Mike and Susana, are here for a short visit. We all piled into the car and headed to Oruro, a town about 3 hours from La Paz. Along the way, we ran into a bit of trouble with a flat tire. After a quick change of tire (it was also at this point that I discovered the malfunctioning camera), we were off again. We arrived in Oruro in time for a lunch of lamb and then headed to the train station.

There are two ways to get to Uyuni from Oruro, by road or by train. We opted for the train because it would be more comfortable and relaxing than driving the whole way. The train took 7 hours to reach Uyuni, passing by some incredible scenery, including a lake full of all sorts of birds, amongst them some pink flamingoes. We arrived in Uyuni at 10:30pm and walked from the station to our hotel.

Wednesday morning we had a bit of time to wander around the town. Uyuni is a small town, without much to see other than the salt flats themselves. It is also very cold, even by La Paz standards (we were told by our hotel that the night before we stayed there it went down to -17C and their pipes froze, so we had been advised to shower at night!). We walked around for about 45 minutes before heading back to the hotel to wait for our tour to pick us up. We finally left Uyuni at about 11am in a Toyota Landcruiser, decked out with a spare tire, extra fuel and our lunch on the roof.

Our first stop was the train graveyard, just outside of town. This is where all the old mine trains have gone to die. It was a rather eerie sight to be honest! There were lots of old trains, all rusting away. Some train cars only had frames left, the metal either having been taken for use elsewhere or completely rusted away. Some train cars had their engines in tact. You were able to climb on the trains and look inside.

Then we were off to see some handicrafts made of salt. I did not buy anything, as most of the things that were for sale were pretty useless, and if they get wet, well that’s it! But basically these were things carved in salt, such as candle holders and llama sculptures. Then we stopped to see a salt hotel. The salt is so deep in the salt flats that you can actually cut blocks of it and use them as bricks. There are a few hotels in the area that are made completely of salt, including the bed frames, tables and chairs.

After that, it was off to see the salt flats themselves! As you drive out on to them, all you see is whiteness surrounded by mountains and dotted here and there with other tour cars. It reminded me a lot of a lake covered in ice, only it wasn’t ice, it was salt. There is no vegetation whatsoever, on the flats or near them. As we drove out into the whiteness, we passed by some “salt mountains”. These are piles of salt that people collect by scraping the surface of the salt flats, and then sell by the truckload to a local processing plant where it is transformed into food grade salt.

Our next stop was Isla de las Pescadores, an island which is full of cacti. Here we had lunch, provided by the tour company, and then went for a short walk to a lookout, passing by hundreds of huge cacti. The views were incredible. All you can see on the horizon in any direction is white, and mountains in the distance. The interesting thing about the island is that some of the cacti are over 1200 years old. Supposedly cacti grow at a rate of 1cm per year, so you can tell how old one is by its height. We were also lucky enough to see an animal (whose name I forget), which looks a like a rabbit but with the tail of a cat. The island is thought to have been a sacrificial site for the Incas because remains were found of people with missing body parts.

After our walk, we drove further into the salt flats to the crater of an old volcano. We didn’t have enough time to climb the entire crater, but we did walk up to a lookout where you could see where the volcano erupted. In this same location, there was a cave with several mummies from Inca times. The mummies were supposedly found in the cave in the positions they are still in.

After a full day on the salt flats, we headed back across the vastness to Uyuni, stopping briefly so that we could see an area where the water which is underneath the salt bubbles up from below. The depth of salt ranges from close to nothing to 2m, and there is water underneath all of it. Our driver told us that you have to know where to drive so that you avoid any soft spots. We arrived back in Uyuni in time to have a pizza dinner and then head to a local pub with a fireplace for a beer while waiting for our train, which was scheduled to leave at midnight.

At the train station, we waited on the train for a while before it left the station, although it was actually on time! In fact, both of our trains were like clockwork. The seats in the train were able to go way back, to make sleeping a little bit easier, however I’m pretty tired!! We arrived back in Oruro at 7am, had some breakfast and took the tire to be fixed while we went to a few shops that make costumes for Carnaval. Once we picked up the repaired tire, we were on our way back to La Paz, where we arrived in time for lunch and an afternoon nap!

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Posted in bolivia | travel Submitted by Meg on Thu, 2007-08-30 18:21

salt hotel

Submitted by on Tue, 2007-09-04 15:17.

The salt hotel - wouldn't it degrade over time? I wouldn't want to be sleeping in one of those beds if I had a cut! :)

Sounds pretty amazing Meg. I'm sorry to hear that your camera died on you - I would have liked to see some pictures.


there will be pictures

Submitted by Meg on Tue, 2007-09-04 19:56.

Never fear! There will be pictures. I just have to get them from the people that I went with and then will post them as my own!! Well, not really - but I will post some of them. It really is an incredible sight.

As for the degrading of salt hotels ... I would imagine you are correct, however they build them in such a way that the bottom 2 feet are not actually salt, but stone, and the roof overhangs quite a bit, so that way not much rain should actually be hitting the walls of the building and any rain that splashes from the ground hits the rock foundation.


not really...

Submitted by Meg on Fri, 2007-08-31 13:05.

There was no water on the flats because it is the dry season. The mirroring really only happens in the wet season. However, there was a sort of mirage effect when you looked to the horizon - it looked like other cars were floating on air, or driving in the sky. It's hard to explain!


Sounds like it was a good trip...

Submitted by smithdm3@smithd... on Thu, 2007-08-30 23:23.

... talk about crazy travel though. Bet the beer in the pub by the fireplace was great with the temperature there.

Did you see the areas where there are water and the horizon kinds of blends in on it, so that it all reflects and mirrors the sky?

Wish I could have gone :(


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