Salar De Uyuni – Salt Flats (part 3)
In my final instalment of Salar de Uyuni, I finally make to to the hallucinogenic white landscape of the world’s largest salt lake and one of the world’s most majestic natural wonders.
Departing our salt hotel at around 5am, it takes us a while to get on the road. Our tour guide succumbed to the temptation of a bottle of vodka last night and judging by his nonsensical mood, he is still drunk. Luckily we have a driver.
As daybreak nudges the dark clouds the colours of the morning sky begin to lighten the Salar, sunrise is bearing down on us as we race to make it on time.
Our jeep comes to a grinding halt. Just when I think mother nature can’t deliver much more she throws a wild card my way. Smack bang in the middle of the enormous but almost desolate Bolivian salt flats, lies Isla de los Pescados, or Isla Incahuasi (3653m). An eclectic hilly and rocky island, its structure comprises unusual, fragile coral and deposits such as fossils and algae. It’s rooftop and our sunrise viewing platform is an ancient volcano. In its aridity humongous cacti have sprung to life. The highest standing nine to ten metres tall. On average they grow about one centimeter per year. This place is often referred to as cactus island or fish island, due to its shape. Whatever name you choose it is a reminder that the salt flats were once a gigantic prehistoric lake.
The combination of altitude and a steep uphill climb leaves me gasping for breath, but it’s no-where near as breathtaking as the panoramic view. Words fail to describe the beauty of this morning. As the sun rises over the white flats, the suns beams glisten, reflecting off the crystalline salt, bouncing through the spines of the cacti. Beauty overshadows the fresh, cold morning wind. This is probably the most photogenic place I have ever seen, every angle offering landscape perfection.
Climbing back down, an alfresco breakfast awaits, served right on the edge of the salt lake. It’s nothing fancy just cereal and yoghurt but what is lacking in breakfast the view makes up for. A vast white sea and perfect blue skies create an optical illusion with no sense of depth.
After breakfast, our driver navigates over the salt flats until we arrive at the little village of Coquesa. This neat little town on the edge of the lake rears herds of Llamas, there’s interesting walking tracks including a terraced hill that leads to a cave. Lazily we take the jeep to the top, stopping for a spectacular wide shot view, where the crust of salt meets the edge of desert.
Entering the dark cave I am surprised by the mummies. The skeletons are hunched in a corner, a mother and her children are fearfully huddled. Although I find the archaeology of this fascinating it is also confronting. I am relieved when we head back out into the light and back down the hill.
We drive back over the salt, finding a space in the middle of nowhere is easy. Under the weight of my feet the salt tiles are crunchy. The crusted hexagonal plates form due to the freezing and thawing of the crystalline salt. During the wet season the landscape is a 12,000 square kilometre mirror. This is the largest salt lake in the world. Boasting an estimated ten billion tonnes of salt, the salar also contains over half the world’s lithium reserves, combine that with all the other minerals it’s not just the richness of its beauty but also its natural resources.
Sitting down for a picnic lunch the ground is quite hard but the space is endless. Apart from our two jeeps and eleven other people on the tour there is no other sign of life.
Our final stop is an old abandoned train line, one of the only places in the world I would dare to mimic Penelope Pitstop. We follow the train line back to the train cemetery in Uyuni. This is the town’s major attraction. A small collection of rusty, antique trains rest in the dusty outskirts. These trains once transported minerals to the Pacific Ocean ports.
That night I endure the worst bus ride of my life. The bus leaves from Uyuni at 8pm and arrives in La Paz at 6:30am. The 542 kilometre journey from Uyuni to La Paz is awfully bumpy, bags fall from the overhead racks and I fear I will not make it alive. I am relieved to spot the welcoming lights of Bolivia’s capital city La Paz.
Salt Lake tours:
Available from San Pedro De Atacama, Tupiza and Uyuni
It’s best to book these tours from one of the many tour agencies in these towns
Costs vary depending on accommodation and I recommend paying extra money for an English tour guide.
You can take the bus or fly from Uyuni to La Paz
If you would like more details please contact me