The Salar de Uyuni Salt flats

Posted: June 3, 2012 by Ben Weber in English
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Unfortunately, we only had time to go on a one day (two night) journey to Salar de Uyuni  – massive salt flats stretching over 500km from north to south and 300km from east to west. We had to get back to La Paz in order to meet up with our mountaineering team, and also this Saturday there is the Gran Poder festival  – a massive festivals which Bolivians see as on par with the Rio Carnival…

But back to the subject. The Salar de Uyuni is a good 12 hour bus ride from La Paz… a long way to go for one day. You can also get a train there, which will get you there at 2am. We went with an agency rather than completely on our own – due to the time limitations we thought that this would be best. I would definitely recommend going by yourself if you have a good amount of time to play with as some of what the agency told us about the tour was blatantly at odds with what we actually saw on the tour itself. But, ultimately whilst we did not see as much as we were led to believe we would see, it didn’t detract too much from our time there.

We got there at 7am so time for breakfast before we met with our guide. The last three hours of the bus ride had been spent going along an incredibly bumpy road, with things falling everywhere in the bus, so not much sleep there. It was freezing when we got out – basically the Salar is a desert, so while it gets quite hot during the daytime, at night it can go down to well below freezing. The breakfast was welcome, especially with a nice big mug of hot chocolate.

The basic itinerary was first to the train cemetery – an area in the desert behind Uyuni town where old trains were left to rust and decay – then into the Salar, where we saw people digging up salt into piles to be taken away for industry and export, and to the Incahuasi island – a rocky island in the middle of the salt flats, with giant cactuses and a great view of the Salar.

It was a bit of a rush. The guide only gave us 15 minutes to go through the train cemetery, to take pictures of all the old rusting locomotives and train cars – really interesting to go through, and fortunately at the end of the tour we had time and I got the guide to take us back there: just before dusk, so the light from the lowering sun was lovely.  Still would have liked more time though, but ah well.

And then there were the flats themselves. Just white salt flats in every direction as far as the eye could see, with some mountains in the background. Extremely impressive. Everything becomes distorted on the flats and you have no sense of depth – it was quite fun playing with the camera, showing Natalia “holding” people who were behind her. The dry season meant that very little water around to get the mirror effect, but it was still amazing and well worth the journey. From the “island”, it was nice to sit down and just look pretty much in awe at the whole massiveness of the place.

So then to dusk, an evening meal, and back on the bus which was super-heated by the driver as we drove over the bump road. We were happy when we eventually got back to La Paz, though definitely intend to go back to experience more of the flats and its sights.

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