A Photographer’s Wonderland
Located in the southwest region of Ecuador, the Salar de Uyuni, or Uyuni Salt Flat in English, is a natural wonder that should be at the top of any traveler’s list of things to experience during a trip to South America.
World’s Largest Salt Flats
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, spanning 4,086 square miles. It is estimated to contain over 10 billion tons of white salt! The salt flat is a remnant of a prehistoric lake that evaporated leaving behind a thick crust of salt. The region is also home to the largest lithium reserves in the world.
The surface is perfectly flat for hundreds of miles. With the exception of a few mountains in the distance, the topography is so flat that travelers can take amusing photos with a skewed perception of depth. Here’s what I mean.
Getting To The Salt Flats
If you’re in the area for a short period of time, you should plan ahead! That’s what we learned about going to the Uyuni Slat Flats. That’s not to say it’s impossible to find last minute transportation to the flats, we did! But it was unnecessarily stressful because we only had three days in Bolivia and the overnight buses were selling out a day in advance. The day we arrived to Boliva we went to the bus terminal but all the operators were sold out. Luckily the following day we were able to find an overnight bus operator (Transporte Turístico Omar) that had two seats available, but not together. Being that it was our only choice, we bought the tickets anyway. The 10-hour bus ride wasn’t bad.
Just because they claim the bus has amenities like WiFi and movies doesn’t mean you’ll get it. We never got the promised WiFi, movies, snacks, etc. But the bus was newer and in good condition. They did provide blankets, the heat worked well, and the seat reclined to nearly horizontal (“cama bus”).
The weather was good and it handn’t rained for days (even though it was the rainy season) so we didn’t have any concerns about washed out roads during our trip. One surprising and annoying fact about the bus ride was the frequent stops. The first two hours or so of the trip was driving around town picking up cargo. When we finally got going we were able to get some rest. We arrived at around 6 am. Since we were short on time we decided to take the 1-hour flight back to La Paz on AmasZonas Airlines for $105 each. The bus ride to the flats was $18 each.
Salt Flats Tours
There are two popular options for exploring the salt flats; a 1-day tour and a 3-day tour. We opted for the 1-day tour (booked through Todo Tourismo) and were really happy. Most of the operators work together forming a large network of drivers/tour guides. It’s not uncommon for one drive to have passengers that book with different agencies.
The tour started at 10:30 AM and ended at 6:00 PM. The first stop of the tour takes you to the train cemetery. It is a really interesting location where trains that once transported minerals to Pacific Ocean ports were abandoned, producing the train cemetery. During this stop you have time to explore the trains and take pictures.
The next stop was Colchani, which really was nothing more than an outdoor gift shop. It’s a good place to buy props for your perspective pictures later in the tour. Lunch was served by our driver in the salt hotel, a unique structure made out of salt! After lunch you have about an hour to take your pictures before the next and final stop at the Incahuasi Island where you can see giant cacti and coral rock formations.