Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, spanning a whopping 4000sq miles in the south west of Bolivia. Unlike traditional deserts, which have sand in abundance, Salar de Uyuni is comprised entirely of pure white salt, from which it gets its name. Unlike any other place on Earth, Salar de Uyuni provides a breath-taking experience for backpackers that will not be soon forgotten.
The best and most popular option for experiencing the wonders of Salar de Uyuni is by taking a 4×4 tour across the salt flats. Shared tours can be booked from operators in the town of Uyuni on the edge of the desert, although anywhere close enough to the vicinity of Uyuni will have someone offering you a deal. These shared tours can accommodate a lot of people, so if you want a more personal experience then seek out a private tour, the sort of which can also be booked in town. Most tours include one night’s accommodation in Salar de Uyuni, but be warned: don’t expect the St Regis or the Shangri-La. Accommodation is basic, so make sure you have enough warm clothes to survive the Bolivian night!
Upon daybreak, you will see that the landscape of Salar de Uyuni is completely flat, except for a few small islands, which only add further beauty to an already amazing sight. Around 70% of the world’s lithium supplies lay beneath Salar de Uyuni and this means that whenever you visit you will probably see many industrial vehicles digging up the salt for commercial purposes. Some locals have even taken it upon themselves to build houses made of salt, as no credible building materials can be found in the desert. Some of these ‘salt houses’ have even started taking bookings from tourists for a one night stay – so if you’re feeling adventurous then why not?!
Although I visited in the dry season, when the conditions are perhaps at their best in the desert, Salar de Uyuni also looks amazing in the wet season (March or April), as the salt flats get flooded making it a very surreal experience indeed. Whatever time of the year you visit, though, you will need a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes as – just like when skiing in the snow – the salt flats reflect sunlight to such a great extent that without sunglasses I struggled to even keep my eyes open!
The small town of Uyuni does have a small airstrip, but most travellers arrive here either from over the Peruvian border enroute to La Paz, the Bolivian capital, or directly from La Paz itself, which can take up to 15 hours by bus. Salar de Uyuni can also be reached from the city of Potosi in 6-7 hours. Despite the travel time, these salt flats are a wonder not to be missed – and I guarantee that adding salt to your traditional fish and chips won’t ever feel the same again…