The salt wonderland of Salar de Uyuni
BUENOS AIRES, Sept 17 — There are some things in the world that truly deserve to be described as amazing, unlike the banal everyday things, like say, chocolate cake. And Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is a prime example of something “amazing.”
The largest salt pan in the world, Salar de Uyuni conjures up a fantastical world where an immense salt lake appears to have been frozen ... trapping on it “islands” of rocky desert hills. The pure and brilliant whiteness of the hardened salt goes as far as the eye can see, uniting with the immaculate clear blue sky.
Accessible from the town of the same name, Uyuni, the salt pan lies in the south-west region of Bolivia, stretching across the departments of Potosi and Oruro. Uyuni is a sleepy town that receives an abundance of sunshine even in the very chilly days of spring and along with it a steady flow of tourists every year, particularly in the winter holiday months of the Southern Hemisphere, typically between June and August.
Being over 3,000 metres above sea level, you are as close to the sun as you should be, and despite the cold and dry climate, sun protection and hydration are definite essentials. The journey to Uyuni can be long and tiring, whether by train or bus from neighbouring cities in Bolivia.
Most travellers make their way to Uyuni after crossing the border of Argentina into the border town of Villazon or from the northern cities like La Paz, which may result in your internal organs being slightly rearranged due to many hours on rough, unpaved roads. It all forms part of the adventure of being in Bolivia, of course.
Tours are the only way to visit Salar de Uyuni and they range from a one- to three-day trip costing between 150 and 600 Bolivian pesos (RM66 and RM266) during the low season, and it’s worth shopping around for a good deal and finding out if your guide speaks English if you don’t speak Spanish.
Waste no time in Uyuni town and get on that jeep, on which you will pass by mountainous landscapes and sparse mud and brick huts dotted along the way. Thanks to President Evo Morales and his government, there are no giant manufacturing plants ruining the landscape of Uyuni. The major industry of salt and minerals mining is managed instead by a collective of families in the town that mine and process the salt in their humble homes using manual and rather archaic methods.
One of the marvellous things about being in Salar de Uyuni is finding yourself walking on concrete salt with pockets of still water that reflect the mountains and the sky like a flawless mirror. The temptation to taste the ground you walk upon will be too great to resist and you’ll find it is indeed very salty.
Pay a visit to the Cementario de Trenes where the eerie, rusted, dormant trains of yesteryear remain frozen in their tracks, a metal playground for adventurous visitors to climb in and out of. From there it is just a visual wonderland that is sure to make you marvel at the creativity of Mother Nature.
There are of course perfectly logical scientific and geographic explanations for why Salar de Uyuni is a whimsical combination of hardened salt lake, mountain and desert all rolled in one but let’s forget about the technical mumbo jumbo for now.
Instead, let yourself be carried away by the excitement of seeing a flock of pink flamingos feeding in a lake at the bottom of the volcanic mountains Tunupa, Kusku and Kusina, which according to Aymara legend were giant people, and listen to the guide tell you about their tragic love triangle.
Marvel at the spectacular rock formations that were left standing in the middle of the salt pan like abstract sculptures in a lonely white gallery. Find yourself questioning how you ended up in an “island” of giant cacti that is Incahuasi Island. And when the sun begins to set across the horizon, allow yourself to be lost in the peace of being just a tiny part of the magnificence of our planet Earth.