Frankly speaking, when I was on the Salar Uyuni tour, I didn’t know the all the name of the places I was visiting. I was so enamoured with the magnificient landscapes that I wanted to understand and know more of what I have seen. This post will give you a headstart and introduction to this tour. The following are the places you will visit if you went on a typical 3D2N Salar Uyuni tour from Uyuni and ending at the drop-off point to Pedro de Atacama.
First of all, almost, if not all tours are conducted with 4 WD vehicles such as the photo above. Don’t be surprised to see 30 to 40 other vehicles going on the similar route as yours. So…. let’s begin with Day 1 of Salar de Uyuni Tour.
The train cemetery aka Great Train Graveyard located at the outskirt of Uyuni is the first stop of the tour. In this deserted place, there are several rusted and hollowed out wrecked steam locomotive. In the 19th century, the planning of a railway hub connecting Uyuni to other cities throughout Bolivia and neighbouring countries had to be abandoned due to political and geographical challenges. The trains were primarily used for the mining industry but in the 1940s, mines throughout the country were shut down due to lack of resources amongst other reasons. As a result, the trains and other railroad equipment were left here and over the years, they were corroded by the salt winds that blow over Uyuni. As this place is not guarded and fenced up, vandalism and theft occurred. We were given 20 minutes and tourist are allowed to climb into and on the trains . Well…. tourists are also contributing to more wear and tear of this already sorry-looking rusted pieces of metals.
The second stop of our first day tour is the tiny town of Colchani located just 20 kilometers outside of Uyuni. There are small stalls lining up both sides of the road selling souvenirs made out of salt, sunglasses, warm clothing, gloves and even local food. This is a good opportunity to do some last-minute shopping for items you might need to ward off the piercing sunlight or keeping you toasty warm during the cold freezing night and early morning’s below freezing point temperature. Our driver picked up some food for our lunch here. There were easily another 20 vehicles just like ours – going on the Salar de Uyuni tour. (I found out after the tour that Colchani is a salt processing village. Some tourists were brought to observe how salt were processed. If you are interested in this, do check whether it is included in your tour.)
We were brought to an area where salts were scraped and neatly placed in triangular piles known a Montones de Sal (Salt Mounds). This is the first drying period and once they are ready, they will be shoveled into antique trucks back to Colchani for processing.
We stopped at some empty hotels made completely out of salt which was smacked right in the middle of the salt plains. It is considered to be a museum and when I was there, I could just walk into one of the hotels to have a look. All furniture were made out of salt and tourists are allowed to go inside.
Besides the salt hotels museum, is this big salt structure with “BOLIVIA” proudly engraved on it. I just could not resist the opportunity to take a photograph with it and posted it on Faceback to tell my family and friends that I was finally in Bolivia and living it up.
At an elevation of 3,656 metres (11,9955 ft) above mean sea level, the Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat at 10, 582 sq km (4,086 sq mi). The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 50 to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves, which is in the process of being extracted. It serves as the major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano.
Alas, there was no water on the salt lake and therefore not the day to get the mirror reflections from the salar. But it was still Mother Nature’s unique canvass with her contrasting colours. With the blue sky against the brilliant eye-blinding whiteness of the salt, it was a photographer’s dreamland. Our driver, Alberto lay down on the ground to take trick photographs for us. We had a whale of a time trying out with different props. This is also the place where we had our lunch …. in the middle of the salar. With our lunch set on the bonnet of the 4×4 Land Cruiser, there is no better place to have a meal.
Our driver, Alberto orchestrated and took the above video of our tour group. It is not perfectly done but we had so much fun with it. Do bring some stuff to photograph with such as drink cans, fruits, etc. The above are some tricks you can emulate but let your creative juice flow …. it’s extremely liberating!
SIXTH AND FINAL STOP
Our final visit is Isla de los Pescados, or Isla Incahuasi. During the wet season, the reflection of the island on the salar resembles the appearance of a fish. Thus it is called the Fish Island. There is a fee of BOB30 to visit this island of fossilized coral covered in 1000-year-old cacti in the middle of the Salar. The entrance fee was not included in my tour. It’s good to find out whether it is included in the tour you wish to take. We were given about an hour to visit this place and thankfully there is toilet facility here but there is a charge of 1BOB to use it.
As you can see, some of the cacti are extremely tall and I was told that the highest is about 9 to 10m. As they grow at the rate of 1 cm per year, it is relatively easy to calculate their age. My height is 158 cm….can you work out the age of the cactus next to me? This was the last stop of our first day before we checked into our salt hotel.
Do not miss the beautiful sunset from the salt hotel.
As the day turned into night, the temperature started to fall drastically. We were feeling the chill and the dinner plus the wonderful company provided a much-welcomed warmth.