Maybe I saw it first on Instagram or on some photography website but however it happened, Salar de Uyuni occupies a high spot on my wanderlist. But even with all the pictures I have seen, I am not prepared for how amazing it will be in person. So here is my photo homage to this photographer’s paradise.
Ok let’s go with some background first: In the antiplano (high plateau) of the Andes, a prehistoric salt lake, Lago Minchín, dries up and leaves behind Salar de Uyni. Though Aymaran/Bolivian legend credits the formation to Volcan Tunupa’s tears (seen in the background). And it is here, in the southwestern corner of Bolivia, near the borders with Chile and Argentina, that I come to the world’s largest salt flat at 4,633 sq miles (12,000 sq km) and containing an estimated 10 billion tons of salt at an altitude of 11,985 ft (3,653m).
There are many warnings on Internet forums and in guidebooks about the dangers of drunk and reckless tour drivers. So I take the advice from two friends that have just completed their tour quite recently to book with Red Planet Expedition. So Thursday morning and when everyone back home is celebrating Thanksgiving, I am grateful for Daniel, our great driver. The guy that doesn’t like reggaeton but will find some and play it because we had requested it and has excellent taste in music and provides an incredible soundtrack for the amazing journey.
FIRST DAY: First stop is a graveyard to see the first trains in Bolivia L: Skeleton on a car TR: Train swing! BR: The many defunct locomotives and the many people on tours Afterwards, we head to the small village of Colchani and L: visit a family run factory and R: see the rustic way of table salt production. Dakar Rally is a rally raid: off road endurance race that used to be from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal but due to security concerns was moved to South America in 2009. The salt flats TL: Piles of salt mined then set out to dry in pyramids of salt TR: Upclose look at the hexagonal and pentagonal formations M: Reflecting on how big it really is BL & BR: The middle of the salt where we stop to take pictures with the huge perspective (where people looks so tiny and funny) and a cool panoramic photo This video really does sum the Uyuni: the endless and blindingly white expanse of the salt flats, the Landcruiser in the distance changing a tire, the never-ending procession of tour vehicles and everyone working on those popular perspective shotsAfter lunch, we head to the central point of the salt flat which is the Isla Incahuasi (fish island) and see the giant cacti and the coral rock formation. We hike up the island and are rewarded with a spectacular view of the white salt flats, the surrounding mountains and the sky…and marvel at the long and crazy shadows cast. We stop at what Robert, our guide, calls TL: the eyes of the salt – big holes in the salt flat where the water from underneath the salt flat still comes out by high pressure when salt is mined TR: As I am wondering if this stop was constructed just for tourists, a truck comes to load the salt BL: Fun with shadows BR: Sunset silhouettes captured by Robert T: Nice part about sitting shotgun – really cool sunset shots BL & BR: Salt hostel with furniture and floor made from salt
TL & TR: First stop of the day B: Through the river in the Landcruisers TL & TR: Llamas & alpacas up close BL: Towards the border with Chile and where we learn about some of the contentious history between the two countries BR: This lichen is so dense that it can be used as firewood We continue heading south and stop off at T & BL & BR: a few different Andean antiplanic lagoons where flamingos number in the hundreds – water colors differ due to different chemical combinations TL: And we head farther south through the Siloli desert at 14,600 feet (4550 m) high TR: Colorful, rainbow mountains BL: Famous Árbol de Piedra (Stone tree) is about 21 ft (7 m) tall and is made primarily of sandstone shaped by strong winds BR: Large and funky shaped red rocks set in a dry mountainous area – lots of the day reminded me of home but nowhere more than here TL: We are so excited we finally made it to Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon)! BL & BM: The water gets that coloring from a specific type of algae and sedimentation that is offset nicely with the white islands made of borax. TR & MR & BR: More flamingos and some llamas We then head to the top of a big volcano called Sol de Mañana 16,502 ft (5030 m) high where in the crater, we see the fumaroles and boiling mad pots (volcanic activity 100 Cº hot) We head to our accommodations for the night and witness a T: beautiful sunset. One of the coolest experiences I had in South America was that night at the hot springs. I enjoy the crisp, cold air while gazing up at the stars and then watching the full moon rise over the horizon with my friends from Canada, Germany, Sweden, Australia & Bolivia.
B: I arise early and am glad that I do to take in the lovely sunrise and enjoy some pancakes with dulce de lecheThe short day starts with us visiting the Salvador Dali Desert (small colourful nice desert) as seen in the photos above. We go to the Laguna Verde, T: this lagoon is a spectacular emerald green due to deposits of lead, magnesium, sulfur, and arsenic. Forming a perfect backdrop is the inactive, snow-capped Licancabur Volcano (5,868m). The volcano straddles the Chile-Bolivia border, with the summit and (frozen) crater lake entirely within Chile. B: Last look at the colorful mountains
One of the other reasons why I opt for the three day tour is that San Pedro de Atacama, Chile is now only an hour bus ride away (and prearranged with Red Planet). Even though the tour has just ended, I am already planning on coming back during the rainy season to get some mirrored effect photos. I just hope that the massive lithium reserves found here don’t alter the landscape before I can return…