In the middle of a land-locked country in South America lies a scene so desolate that you can drive long hours without seeing anything other than salt. In fact, there’s around 10,000 million tons of it. Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and you’ll know it at the mere sight of it. There’s an exhilarating feeling to driving with no particular destination: there’s only salt as far as the eye can see and when (or if) you steer doesn’t make much difference. Except there’s a lot to see in the salt flat and you won’t want to miss it.
Salar de Uyuni had long been in my to-explore list so it was one of the planned and anticipated stops in my three-month road trip around the west of South America. What couldn’t have possibly been anticipated was the feeling of actually being there. It’s chilly; the cool wind bites. It’s also salty and its very high elevation will likely give you altitude sickness. But the Salar’s hostility only magnifies the accomplishment of actually being there. You feel small and realize how infinitely awesome the world can be. It’s at times like these when I know I’ll always find my way back to travel, to exploring Earth’s amazing corners.
To reach the Uyuni salt flat a good bet is to fly into Calama, Chile. Calama is about an hour and a half away from San Pedro de Atacama, which is another hotspot for adventure and great views. From Atacama, you can hire a 4-day tour to the Salar that will also include exploring the multi-colored lagoons and wildlife around Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve. Another option is to fly into La Paz, rent a car to go on your own or visit a travel agency to book a trip with them. As part of the road trip, we had our own car to get to Uyuni and if at all possible I highly recommend this option as it gives you complete freedom on your schedule (or any unplanned wanderings!). If you do have your own car, make sure to stop by a car wash and ask to get the bottom waxed. This will prevent the salt from sticking and will avoid corrosion.
The Uyuni salt flat was formed over millions of years with the rise of the Andes and the slow evaporation of prehistoric lakes. Today various “islands” rise over the surface of the Salar. One of them, Incahuasi Island (House of the Inca in Quechua), has well-kept facilities and a short hike that will give you an impressive vantage point to look over the Salar. Due to the harsh conditions, cacti here grow only up to a centimeter a year yet as you roam around the island you’ll walk past over three-meter millennial cacti. It’s a stop you’ll want to make, as it will give you some sense of orientation as well as facts about the Salar’s history.
The “Island of the Fish” (Isla del Pescado) is larger and less interfered with. It made for a great spot to set camp for the night. Being in Salar de Uyuni we had to make sure to catch every changing time of day, so we positioned our car so that we could catch the sunset, the moonrise, and the sunrise. We had hoped to camp in the middle of the Salar but were advised not to do so as there had been accidents from people driving with their lights out.
Some time on your Salar de Uyuni expedition, make sure to check out the Salt Hotel that, you guessed it, is entirely made out of salt. There are life-sized salt statues and a flag plaza that make a great spot for pictures mingling with other adventure travelers.
Explore, run, take photos, scream & meditate; you’re on one of those places that make you understand how wild the world can be. Enjoy.