Salar de Uyuni

One of THE highlights of Bolivia is the incredible Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat.  It’s a mind-boggling 12,106 square kilometres in size and sits at an also impressive 3,653m altitude.

Like all things in Bolivia it turned out to be a bitch to get to.  It was a nightmarish 13 hour night bus ride south from La Paz along the altiplano, all of which apart from the first three hours were along some of the worst dirt roads I’ve ever had the experience of enduring.  What’s even more amazing is that the road is THE main “highway” south from La Paz towards Chile and Argentina (I use the term “highway” loosely as I’m not sure you can call a dirt road a highway anyway, especially when the max speed possible is about 40km/h)!  I arrived at the small little dusty town of Uyuni, which couldn’t be more in the middle of nowhere and which forms the centre of the salt processing industry around the lake.  It was a pleasant little town with absolutely nothing to do, the sort of place everyone passes through on their way to somewhere else.  As I also observed it was the sort of place with a trucker’s calendar on every store wall showing a ridiculously busty woman with big pechugas (quite a surprise in conservative and Catholic Bolivia!).  Anyhoo with other things on my mind I checked into a cheap hotel, arranged a day tour out to the Salar later in the morning, and grabbed some brekkie.

We started the tour with a visit to the Train Cemetery.  Uyuni sits on the rail line connecting central Bolivia to Chile and Argentina, and for some reasons all these century old steam engines ended up here at the “end of the line”.  It was quite a surreal sight!

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We then drove 20km north to Colchani, where most of the salt processing is done, and drove onto the Salar.  For three months of the year over the rainy season the lake is partially covered with a thin layer of water, and we were fortunate enough to see this.  After the first 30 minutes or so of driving the salt dried out and we were left with a blinding expanse of white as far as the eye could see.

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We drove across the Salar some 70 kilometres to the Isla de los Pescadores (Island of the Fishermen – don’t ask me why because there’s certainly nothing to fish!), a lone rocky outcrop in the middle of the lake covered with the most incredible Spaghetti Western-style cactii you’ve ever seen (some in excess of 10m tall and 1200 years old)!  We relaxed and ate lunch there (“Pass the salt please” – ha ha), and had time to explore the island and climb to its rocky peak.

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We drove back out of the salk lake the way we came in and arrived at the edge of the lake just as the sun began to set.  Fortunately for us the lake had seen some rain in recent days, and the reflections in the shallow water were outta this world!!!  Definitely one of the more memorable and stand-out sunsets I’ve seen!

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p.s. Happy Australia Day everyone!!!  Hope you’re all celebrating it in style…  I spent the evening with a bunch of Aussies at the hostel who were so incredibly “Oz” they made me cringe!

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