Salar de Uyuni, also known as Uyuni Salts Flats, is every bit as other worldly as the pictures I had seen. My first trip there blew me away. Never had I seen, or have yet to see, a sunset so spectacular. No need for any special effects or perspective pictures, just point the camera and shoot. The show nature put on that first visit still wows me when I look at the pictures.
I was beginning to think my tour of Salar de Uyuni was never going to happen. As time ticked by on my second day in Uyuni, I thought my tour guide had vanished into the ether. In some places this would not have bothered, however Uyuni as a town isn’t much fun to be in watching time go by! Finally, Paul (from previous post) message me; we agreed to do two tours. First would be that afternoon, so my second day was not a total waste; to go watch the sunset. Second, would be the following day (in two parts); a whole day tour around Salar de Uyuni including lunch on Incahuasi Island. The second part of the day would be in the evening to get photos of the stars
I’ll get into my first visit shortly. As would be my luck, or so I thought, the sky had a dense scattering of clouds across the salt flat. This is quite unusual for the area, which is one of the reasons NASA uses it to calibrate its satellites’ distance from earth. Oh well, at least I was getting out of Uyuni town and seeing the surrounding area. Tomorrow would be a better day and the itinerary was full, great I thought. Nothing wrong with an unproductive day every now and then. How wrong I was!
Salar de Uyuni / Uyuni Salt Flats
Let me get the mundane stuff out of the way, it is interesting however the pictures speak a thousand words. With so many stunning pictures (in my opinion) I really struggled to whittle it down to under 40! I know I have said this on a few occasions like Machu Picchu and Petra a few others too, I could honestly have used every picture I took. I’ll be adding loads to my Batnomad Facebook and Pinterest page that I have not included in this post.
Considering I only got to Salar de Uyuni late in the afternoon to watch the sunset, I didn’t get the true vastness of the area until the following day. Even so you cannot mistake how this white expanse stretches out to the horizon. Valeria arrived with a driver in a 4×4 who didn’t speak much English at all however Valeria was more than proficient. We headed out of Uyuni about 50km till we reached the edge of the salt flat then headed inward. If I’m honest, I was impressed but not blown away – still a little frustrated at loosing almost a whole day doing nothing. We drove onto the salt flat heading inward for about 30 minutes of slow driving arriving at an area with a thin layer of water, about 5cm in depth. This may seem irrelevant but isn’t.
FYI – I’m coasting past lots of information which I’ll cover in my next post.
Facts and history of Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni sits on a plateau 3656m above sea level, it’s the largest salt flats in the world covering around 10 852 km square. It used to be part of a gigantic lake in pre-historic (around 40 000 years ago) times now call or referred to as Lake Minchin, named after Juan B. Minchin of Oruro. Later on (13 000 – 26 000 years ago) this became two lakes Paleo Lake Tauca which had a depth of 140m and another called Coipasa. Over thousands of years these too dried up leaving two modern day lakes and two salt flats. The lakes, Poopo and Uru Uru and the two salt flats Salar de Coipasa and Salar de Uyuni – the former is much smaller.
As I’ve already alluded to, Salar de Uyuni is flat…that’s an understatement! From one end to the other (about 129 km) there is less than 1m elevation difference. This exceptionally large and flat surface, combined with its lack of cloud cover all year round, is exactly why NASA uses it to calibrate their altimeters of Earth observation satellites. When Lake Titicaca overflows it runs into Poopo which in turn floods large parts of Salar de Uyuni, creating a mirror spanning 129 km! The deapest part of the salt flat is about 130m. The thick salty crust covers a pool of brine consisting of Sodium Chloride, Lithium Chloride and Magnesium Chloride. There is so much lithium, it is thought Salar de Uyuni has up to 70% of the world’s Lithium reserves…yet Bolivia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. How this is still the case I have no idea, especially would our insatiable appetite for battery powered gadgets!
Back to my visit
So, there we were parked in a shallow pool of water waiting for the sun to make its way to the horizon. Nature was putting on its best outfit for a matinee show of extraordinary colour, beauty, and spectacle. Rainbows are colourful, but today’s show put to shame anything a rainbow could ever dream of. Stepping out of the car I was amazed…”this place is beautiful!” was the only thing going through my mind. The thin veneer of water reflected everything…the world had become double. Not a whisper of wind, the water was crystal clear and unblemished still. An infinity mirror as far as the eye could see.
We were parked nearer to Uyuni Town side, maybe 30km from the nearest edge of the salt flat. On one horizon the closest mountain range with its mirrored image reflecting off the water. The other horizon, a mirage of the sky making you feel as if you are standing in the clouds. Underfoot the salt looked eerie, like a bleached brain in a pool of formaldehyde. I was already flabbergasted with the scenery and the main event had not even begun. The extravaganza was about to begin.
Nature at its most beautiful
Sunsets are quite quick events. The crest of the sun teasing the skyline the ebbing into the abyss. If you are lucky, the sky reflecting the last few rays of daylight in reds, oranges, and yellows. On this evening, the sky would come alive. The light refracted off the water mirror and dispersed into a kaleidoscope of colours like a watercolour painting of light hues. The show changed from understated colours to violent thrashings of red streaked across the sky and ground. Mixed with the burning fiery sky the clouds looked like wafts of grey misty smoke. Unable to distinguish where the sky ended and the ground began, I didn’t know if I should be looking up or down.
I have been fortunate enough to see some spectacular sites in my travels, yet the sunset that evening has been etched into my mind for ever. Maybe it is just me that thinks the pictures are beautiful (not because I took them), but I doubt it. I do like taking pictures reflected off still water, however Salar de Uyuni puts the experience on steroids. Thankfully, this was one of the very few times that the Uyuni Salt Flats had expansive cloud cover which just added to the spectacle. I watched the sunset the following evening too, beautiful yes, but nothing compared to the first evening. Just as in life, if it gives you lemons, make lemonade. Valeria couldn’t remember the last time Salar de Uyuni had had so much cloud cover. From starting the afternoon thinking I was unlucky, to ending it appreciating just how lucky I really was.
What a great first experience
I’m going to do things quite differently this time. Normally I would add my pictures between the paragraphs, I don’t think that will work this time. Instead I’ve decided to post the pictures in the order that I took them, one after the other. From when I to Salar de Uyuni and me snapping away during sunset. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the experience.