Natural wonders are amongst my favorite places to visit especially if this includes a unique luxury experience. The Salar de Uyuni, the world largest salt flat, has been on my priority list since a long time and I tried to schedule a visit many times. Finally, I could visit Bolivia before my annual business conference in Sao Paulo. I stayed two nights at Hotel de Sal Luna Salada which is located on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni and they arranged a full day luxury tour on the salar including a unique sunset for me. Join me on this luxury tour; I’m sure you will want to experience it too.
How to get to Salar de Uyuni
The reason I didn’t visit Bolivia before is because of its remoteness and the altitude difference which ranges from sea level to over 5000 meters high. I normally have a maximum of a week including travel time before or after a business trip and to make a decent trip to Bolivia this is too short. Due to my way of booking cheap business class tickers I arrived 10 days before my Sao Paulo conference in Brazil which made my wish to visit Bolivia come true. The only “problem” was that especially at the end of November the salar gets a bit brown because of wind blowing sand on it. This disappears again after the rainy season when the salar turns into one big mirror. I for sure need to return one day to see the salar as a mirror.
I visited Sucre first to get used to the altitude and continued to Potosi, Uyuni, and La Paz. You can fly to Uyuni from La Paz or Santa Cruz but I went by private car from Sucre to Potosi and finally to Uyuni. I will share my route with you later but you can email Jorge (email@example.com / Whatsapp: +59 1774 72 534) to book a car. He drives safe and defensive which isn’t standard in Bolivia as my taxi ride from Sucre airport reached 120 km/h at curvy mountain roads. I prefer to drive safe. To see the Salar de Uyuni one full day is enough unless you want to visit the desert and lakes on the other side too. I will visit those another time as I didn’t have time now and I saw similar landscapes already while exploring the Atacama Desert.
Geology of the Salar de Uyuni
The Salar de Uyuni is over 10000 square kilometers in size and the biggest salt flat in the world. It was formed over 40000 years ago, when several prehistoric lakes dried up and the Andes was lifted. Today a crust of salt covers a brine solution which can be seen at points where the crust is not thick (see photo below). This solution is rich in lithium, magnesium, and sodium chlorine of which especially the lithium is mined due to high request and high price paid for. Below the layer of brine solution starts a halite body containing most of the salt. In the rainy season, which is mainly December and January the Salar the Uyuni turns into one big mirror as a small film of water covers it. At an altitude of about 4000 meters the temperatures at night are cold and can reach on rare occasions minus 20 but during the day temperatures rise to 20 degrees due to the strong sun. When I visited, it was sunny, a bit windy, but very pleasant. As the air is dry, the sun very strong, you need to use anti sunburn on your skin; I forgot this and looked like a lobster the next day. There are several islands on the Salar de Uyuni which are extinct old volcanos from prehistoric times. They are fragile and covered by cacti and can be visited if the salar is not covered by water.
Driving over the Salar de Uyuni
I visited the Salar de Uyuni on a private tour which made the day much more flexible. The Hotel de Sal Luna Salada arranged a professional driver, a comfortable car, and a great surprise at sunset. First, we visited a salt processing factory which was a bit touristic and to be honest not the most interesting part of the day. You can buy at the shops salt, souvenirs and crystals but the latter you can take yourself from the Salar de Uyuni if you know where to find them; the driver knew. As the hotel was located at the edge of the salt flat it was just a few minutes’ drive before I arrived at the first stop: hot springs. Hot water surfaces there and it’s possible to take a food bath which is said to be healthy.
The next stop was at the old salt hotel ON the salt flat which is now a monument. It was closed due to waste problems and now hotels are forbidden on the salt flat itself. There is also a monument for the Dakar Rally that passed the salt flat and a place with flags of all the nationalities that visited; you could plant your flag too.
Spectacular photography at the Salar de Uyuni
Don’t bother to make photos of the Salar de Uyuni itself during the first part of the tour; it gets much better! I continued the drive over the “roads” which are colored black by the rubber of the heavy-duty tires. After a while the driver diverted from the road to find a good spot for photography as I wanted to have perfect hexagonal shapes in my photos. The old salt hotel disappeared in a distance and just a few volcanos remained visible far away; I was completely alone with just the salar around me. I just stood there for 10 minutes staring at the horizon as the view over the salar is simply magnificent. It was a perfect spot to finally use my 8mm fish-eye lens to make some surrealistic photos. Check them out in the gallery below.
After I finished experimenting with my fish eye lens the driver took me to a place where the salt crust was thin to make a hole. As explained above the salar is made up of layers of salt and water (brine solution). From the bottom of the top layer I took a few beautiful crystals home; remove them carefully and dry them in the sun before storing. The next stop was another photo stop but now it was time to experiment with perspective. As I travelled alone I could not experiment that much as would be possible with a group. You can make cool pictures where people look the size of your thumb for example. I had some fun however being trapped in a bottle and drinking from a big beer bottle.
Cactus island on the Salar de Uyuni
The cactus island is a small island in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni formed by an extinct prehistoric volcano. It’s covered with thousands of cactuses and gives a great birds eye view on the salar from the top. The hike over the island takes about an hour and is well worth it. There are toilets and a small shop available on the island too. I was surprised by the amount of cyclist passing by the cactus island; this must be a though exercise. One thing to keep in mind is that the cactus island can’t be visited if there is too much water on the salar.
Sunset at the Salar de Uyuni
What’s better as a table with wine and delicasies on the middle of the Salar de Uyuni while watching the sunset? I think this is an amazing experience! First the driver drove me halfway back to Uyuni until just before sunset. At one side of the Salar de Uyuni lightning struck while on the other side the sun was disappearing behind the volcanos at the edge of the salar. It reminded me of the five-star lunch I had the other year at the Salar de Tara in Chile; another amazing experience. When the sun disappeared and the bottle of wine was finished I returned to the Hotel de Sal Luna Salada for a five-course dinner to finish this amazing day.
This day was definitely the highlight of my trip to Bolivia. The Salar de Uyuni is truly a unique natural wonder and is a must see in Bolivia. If you visit the Salar de Uyuni I recommend to go on a private tour to be more flexible. Make sure to have a bottle of wine and delicacies ready when the sun sets. I guarantee it will be a memorable experience as it was for me. I continued the next day to La Paz which was the final stop of my Bolivia trip. I hope to return one day to see more of the country.Stay tuned for more stories and subscribe to the newsletter or follow CTB on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram including Instagram stories; on all social media you can find CTB @christravelblog) to get updated information.
Did you visit Salar de Uyuni too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!