Salt Plains Essay

If you are planning an extensive trip around South America, chances are you are including Salar de Uyuni in your itinerary. The largest salt flat in the world, located in Bolivia, is indeed pretty spectacular and shouldn’t be missed, particularly if you are into nature and adventure related activities.

But how to go about organizing a trip to the salar? Adventure companies tend to promote 3 and 4 day packages that include not only the salt flat per se but also the areas around it. But what if you don’t have that many days or do not wish to spend 4 days out of your traveling time just around this one location? Would you be missing out? Well, it depends!..

A&Z at Salar de Uyuni

 

If you are traveling around the south of Bolivia but also plan to visit the north of Chile (or you’re actually coming from there itself, like many do!), then 1 day in Uyuni is more than enough to see and enjoy what this place is all about. The 4 day jeep tours are not for everyone: the accommodation you’ll find along the way is basic, it can get cold during certain times of the year, and you never know if you’re going to appreciate your driver’s skills (I’ve read way too many horror stories). Apart from this, the Atacama desert in Chile and the areas around Uyuni share a lot of similarities, making it redundant to visit both in a row, unless this is your thing and nothing else is! If you plan to visit the Atacama or come from there, you’ll already see plenty of lagoons,flamingos, geysers and gorgeous landscapes, not so distinct from those included in the places that 3 or 4 day tours around Uyuni will take you to.

Am I discouraging anyone from staying longer in Uyuni? NO. But if you need to save time or you’re looking for a variety  of experiences and if you have already visited Atacama in Chile, then you can head straight for the main thing about the Uyuni tours: the salt flats.

Salar de Uyuni is best visited with someone who knows what he/she is going. You could eventually drive around yourself, yes, but everything looks forever white, so how is one supposed to “stay on track”? Because there is no track! There are more than enough tour companies and drivers in town to choose from, so shop around before you book your day tour, as the prices tend to vary a lot! Whatever you do, do not book with your hotel, because the price will obviously have a mark up, and sometimes quite a generous one (for the hotel, that is…). Just to give you one example, inside the same vehicle we used for our day tour, there were travelers who had booked the trip from 3 different companies. Everyone was paying a different price, ranging between USD20 and USD60 per person! Talk about ridiculous margins…

Incredibly white landscapes

 

Usually, a day trip around Salar de Uyuni includes

the following on the route:

 

- Train cemetery. If you stay near-by the salar like we did, as opposed to in town, you will not be picked-up for this – at least we didn’t!

- Colchani: enter the salt flat and see how people work collecting salt:

Collection of salt at the entrance of the salt flat

 

- The first hotel made of salt (right now a museum / stop point for travelers), which is cool, but not necessarily more interesting than any other salt hotel that came afterwards:

The original salt hotel

International flags coloring the area around the salt hotel

 

- Inca Huasi: a rocky island that stands out in the middle of a sea of white, with impressive old gigantic cacti and gorgeous views from the top:

View from atop Inca Huasi

Massive ancient cacti

 

Tunupa Volcano and its picturesque surroundings with lagoons, flamingos and even llamas and alpacas lounging around:

Tunupa Volcano – such earthy colors, it almost looks like it's been painted!

Bolivian flamingos fishing mini prawns

"Hey you, stop eating alpaca steaks!"

 

- Ojos del Salar (aka Eyes of Water), where bubbling water comes to the surface breaking the crust of salt.

 

You can do in all of the above in 1 day at Salar de Uyuni…

… and still at a leisurely pace!

 

If you do not wish to spend several days driving around but think a day trip is also way too short to enjoy this unique place, then staying at a hotel made of salt right next to the salar is a good option too – and that’s just what we did! That way, you can spend a day driving inside the salar and some more time close by, from where it’s easy to go for walks or biking in and around the salt flat. And of course, you get to enjoy a hotel made of salt, which is an attraction on its own!

Ashray enjoying a salty stay at Luna Salada hotel

 

Do keep in mind that the “mirror effect” that you might have seen in popular Uyuni photos doesn’t always happen. Only under optimal conditions you”ll be able to see the sky reflected on the floor, giving the sensation that there is sky both above and under yourself. This is more likely to happen when there has been a little bit of rainfall but not too much either, because in that case accessing the muddy salar can be tricky and the mirror effect would be replaced by a messy effect.

Walking in Salar de Uyuni towards sunset

 

Whatever number of days you stay around, Salar de Uyuni is very likely to give you an “out of this world” feel. The landscape looks like out of a movie – just the kind of thing photography lovers dig!

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By Elizabeth Curtis

Kep, Cambodia is a desolate sleepy seaside town taken by the grasp of the Khmer Rouge in the seventies. Little remains here, life is slow. It was once a town of grandeur now crumbling to the ground yet some charm still remains.

One misty morning we jump on our bikes as sunlight made its appearance to explore the surrounding area. The vast roads are eerily silent for what should have been a busy time for the morning commute. We rode for almost an hour barely seeing a soul. Off the unfinished highway we came across a red dirt road leading to nowhere. Intrigued, we turn down to see where we would end up.

Past the fields and shacks of local farmers, we came across an unfamiliar sight of brown flat land, which seemed to be a dried up lake. Looking further on, we see endless pools of water as far as the eye can see; we realise we have stumbled across salt flats.

We jump off our bikes and set off walking towards the pools. We stick to the very edges, careful not to tread in the shallow waters. From the distance we hear a friendly ‘Hello’ and see the workers waving us over to join them. In broken English they explain the salt is created by letting sea water flow into their shallow ponds then left in the heat until the water evaporates.

We sit on the edge of the man-made folds, watching on, engaged as the workers use a wooden broom to rake up the salt beneath a few inches of water into triangular cones. Handful by handful it’s scooped up into beautiful woven baskets and balanced between a pole on their shoulders, moved into the hand built warehouse and carefully placed on top of the existing crystals, piled up as high as the roof.

As time passes, the sun burns through the morning mist, a gentle prelude to the bright, warm day ahead. Reflections of the clouds above bounce onto the layers of salt, flickering particles glisten from the shards of sunlight. Salt flats. An unusual and intriguing sight.

Follow Elizabeth on Instagram or visit her website here.

Elizabeth Curtis

http://www.elizabeth-curtis.com

Elizabeth is a twenty something creative and yoga teacher from London. In 2016 she left England to travel through India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia finally to reach Australia and make a new home. She consciously travels to learn and discover the diversity of the world, our differences are what keeps life interesting. She believes travel enriches us mentally, physically and emotionally, and guides us in cultivating a more mindful way of living. You can see more of her adventures on her website www.elizabeth-curtis.com.

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