Bolivia, Latin America

My Experience at Salar de Uyuni

Bolivia Latin America

The first thing to do when choosing to travel to Bolivia is to define what is a trip without hardship for you. If you do not tolerate unforeseen events and waits, better to scratch the country from your list of destinations. This has nothing to do with the luxury level of the trip. Even staying in the most luxurious available hotels and traveling only by plane, the lack of structure will affect you.

Even so, it is well worth knowing the country! The Salar de Uyuni is unbelievable and is one of the most spectacular sceneries I have ever seen! It is considered one of the most beautiful places in South America, but on my list, it is one of the most beautiful in the world.

The region called the Bolivian Altiplano blends deserts, volcanoes and lakes full of wildlife and breathtaking scenery. There you will feel on another planet with lunar landscapes, stone trees, ponds of unusual colors, the sky reflected in the ground (at certain time of the year) and islands of cacti; all of this amidst the white expanse of salt.

It is 10 hours by bus from La Paz to Potosí. There, you can choose your travel agency, among many options. There are several price options, so you will join a group of people to start the adventure.

Start of my tour

The first stop was in a train cemetery. In the middle of the arid landscape are several carcasses of trains that were used from the end of the 19th century until the great depression of 1930. The trains carried minerals extracted from the region to the port of Antofagasta, now a Chilean territory. With the collapse of the world market and the loss of an outlet to the sea, the Bolivian railroad gave its last gasp and died there in the midst of Salar. It feels like the end of the world and allows several nice pictures!

Train cemetery
Train cemetery
Train cemetery

After a quick stop in the village Colchani, where we saw a local producer turn the crystals of Salar into salt for consumption, we set out for the salt desert. The first impression is as if the ground were snowy; a white 11-square-kilometer carpet that leaves any tourist without air. Soon after, we took the bikes provided by our agency and went to explore this “land from another world.”Between a “hexagon” shape and another, water springs prove how different this place is. There we learned that Salar has a depth of 120 meters composed of 11 distinct layers, besides being one of the largest lithium reserves in the world.

Bike ride in Salar

Of course, this very different landscape attracts travelers from all over the world. Tourists can even stay in a salt hotel in one of the most central parts of Salar. There is a large monument in honor of the Dakar Rally, which since 2014 includes the desert in its races. It is usually in this part of the Salar that everybody hits the famous photos using the optical illusion. Our guide gave great ideas for the poses, but you can come up with one too!

The monument of the Dakar Rally
Photo with optical illusion

In the middle of the Salar, you will find a monument in honor of several countries with their respective flags. If yours is not there, you can put it there, or just take a photo like me.

Monument in honor of visiting countries

We continued towards Incahuasi Island, an island of 24 hectares in the middle of the white mantle. Despite the seemingly hostile environment, Incahuasi has an interesting ecosystem, with a forest of millennial cacti, rodents and birds. It is possible to take a short trail through the island, which is full of marine fossils and corals. These are from the time Salar was still a lagoon.

Incahuasi Island
Isla Incahuasi

For me, the most special part of the day was last. Between Incahuasi and our hotel in Mañica, we decided to stop along the way to see the sunset. We were not in the rainy season (going from December to February), so we did not take the famous water mirror photos at the Salar. But there are no words to describe this place. The truth is that even knowing all the challenges of the country, I would have made the trip the same way. It is worth it!

Sunset in Salar
Contributed by Vanessa Silva