Salar de Uyuni, or the world’s largest salt flats is high in the Altiplano region of Bolivia. Now a popular place to visit for international visitors, it’s becoming better known in recent years.
It’s a unique place that offers different perspectives from the rainy season in the earlier and warmer months of the year to the dried and crusted salt flats in the cold winter months in July through October. When living there back in the late 1970’s, none of us knew about the salt flats, nor visited them as the road practically didn’t exist and what was there was unpaved, rocky and filled with pot holes.
So it was no surprise that my friend and I were really looking forward to the salt flats as they are unique and vast. Sitting at over 11,995 feet above sea level, the salt flats reach out over 4,086 square miles. The possibilities are endless but the conditions in the rainy season are always questionable.
We drove with our private guide/driver from La Paz and enjoyed the scenic sights along the way with countless Quinoa fields that were ready for harvest. After a long and grueling seven hour drive, we arrived to our salt-brick built hotel. The Hotel de Sal Cristal Semana was well equipped to handle international travelers with Wifi, oxygen and an on-site restaurant. Inside, the walls were built with salt bricks and large salt carvings were throughout the hotel.
Located in Colchani, this hotel was far from the town of Uyuni where most of the tourists stay when coming to visit. The advantage however is to be right at the main road entrance onto the salt flats which saves about thirty minutes each way to get there.
As the trip was to tour all of Bolivia, it didn’t take us long to realize that what we really wanted was to stay at least a week at Salar de Uyuni. The light, weather conditions and water levels on the salt flats vary each day which can make or break a stellar photograph. For our first night, we had the good fortune of having an absolutely incredibly colorful sunset that set the opposing clouds on fire. We had managed to find a few salt piles, but regretfully other (younger) tourists thought that walking and standing on them was fun to do.
It had taken quite a bit of coaxing of our driver/guide to even reach these piles as he didn’t really want to drive on the salt flats at all. He tried to tell us that all of the salt flats were flooded, but I watched jeep after jeep from other tours drive much deeper into the flats. Telling us that driving on it was like driving on soap and those other jeeps were “Just stopping up ahead” But I tell you, I never saw those jeeps later, they were long gone. After consideration I’ve surmised that what he really was doing was trying to protect his jeep so that it wouldn’t become salt filled. We had to make lemonade out of lemons and made the best of what we had.
Countless trucks that have been traversing the salt flats have left their mark on the landscape and the drone video at the end of the post will show you just how marked the salt flats have become. This made it impossible to find a pristine water covered area near the entrance to the salt flats.
I had timed our visit to coincide with a new moon so that we could photograph the Milky Way with some reflections. With a 2:30am wake up call, we headed out to the salt flats. The wind had kicked up which caused a salt-filled atmosphere that blurred the landscape. Working with a variety of subjects including the jeep, and the old remains of building that once held tools for workers on the salt flats, the stars seemed endless.
There was a lot of light coming from Uyuni and we used some of it to help highlight the old salt structure. But it really would have been nice if we could have gotten deeper in the salt flats to find some true darkness. We waited for the sunrise which was rather quiet and then returned back to the hotel for breakfast and rest before we explored the area later in the day.
That evening, we headed back out for sunset and reached the color flags that celebrate the nationalities that have visited Salar de Uyuni. But off in the distance was a huge dust storm coming in with 60 mph winds and it was safer to return to the edge of the salt flats to finish the day.
The next morning was to be a leisure morning, which worked out as the sunrise was lackluster at best. It allowed me time to walk out to the salt flats and fly my drone before breakfast. My lament is that I wish our driver had told us he wouldn’t get us until 11am so that could have made other arrangements with a different guide/driver that was more willing to drive out deeper into the salt flats.
And so it was to be, our brief visit to Salar de Uyuni. Absolutely amazing in so many ways, completely disappointing in many other ways. All this means is that Bolivia will be calling my name again for a new visit. Next time the Salt Flats will be the main star.
What an amazing place. I wonder what it must have looked like before it was all marked up. Was there any bird or animal life there? I wonder about its ecology.
Your photos and video really make it come alive for us!
You know amazingly Eliza, even though we were just at the end of the salt flats, I saw small flocks of what I thought were shore birds flying by at sunrise, and I did see a flamingo pass by as well. There are islands within the salt flats that surely something lives there. I’m sure if you go much deeper into the flats you get an idea of what the pristine landscape was like.
I came home from Mom’s today for one night & I finally sat down & turned on my computer . It was such a joy to see this pop up. All I can say is Wow. These pics are stunning & such a joy to go along on your journey. I’m sorry you had some disappointments but I can’t wait to see your next trip pics.
In the words of the Rolling Stones Laurie “You Can’t Always Get What You Want…But You Get What You Need.” All in all, I shouldn’t complain at all. The trip was fantastic. Thank you so much.
Wonderful Milky Way shots, Emily!
Thank you so much!
Great shots Em, especially those of the stars
Those stars were truly amazing Mark. And we saw lots of shooting stars as well as the Southern Cross.
Wow! The word that keeps coming to me is vast, your drone vid is wondrous, it looks like the flats never end. Such beauty I would have never known about, thank you for sharing!
I’m with you Terri – the salt flats did seem to go on forever and we only saw just a teeny portion. Now I’m ready to return. 🙂
Oh the salt flats. I wonder if there is a group tour to get there and experience the Milky Way.
Absolutely there are Perpetua. You need to make sure you’re there in a new moon for a full dark sky.