Life Travel

The magic of Salar de Uyuni

By Hannah Schadel, Camrose Canadian Travel Writer

Due to the flatness of the Salar de Uyuni and the mirrored surface, the resulting effect can play tricks on your mind as you lose all sense of depth perception. Supplied

Due to the flatness of the Salar de Uyuni and the mirrored surface, the resulting effect can play tricks on your mind as you lose all sense of depth perception. Supplied

Under the fluorescent blue Bolivian Sky, at more than 3,600 meters in altitude, you’ll find the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni. 

The exceptionally surreal blanket of salt extends across 12,000 square kilometres and was once a prehistoric lake. Lago (Lake) Minchin once lived and covered most of southwest Bolivia, completely dried up thousands of years ago, and left a bone-dry salt landscape that has been crowned one of the most astounding spectacles across the globe.  

Unlike typical deserts, where an abundance of sand can be found, this diverse landscape boasts extremes of coloured mineral lakes and blindingly bright salt planes. When visiting the salt flats, I became skeptical and intrigued by its formation. 

Like many historic and native beliefs, there is always the story told by the locals, and then the hard scientific facts. The indigenous people of the Andean region of Bolivia come from a strong Aymara culture, and they believe a particular legend is the reason for the salt flats. Legend has it that the three surrounding mountains, Kusina, Kusku and Tunupa, were once people, and Tunupa and Kusku were married. When Kusku wrongfully betrayed his wife for Kusina, Tunupa’s tears flooded the area and created the lake.  

Of course, when there are historic legends, science always comes in with alternative theory. Essentially, the Bolivian Andes are situated within the Altiplano, which is a plateau region in South America that not only spans across Bolivia, but also expands into the Andes of Argentina and Peru. This region has no drainage outlets, which meant that the water from surrounding mountains collected into Lago Minchin and formed a catchment lake. Within the lake, the high salinity meant that once the ferocious Andean sun evaporated the lake, a solid film of salt lingered, molding the recognizable and infamous Salar de Uyuni.  

If you haven’t visited the salt flats, I am sure you’re familiar with the incredibly creative and comical photographs taken at the salt flats. During the summer, the desert dries up completely, leaving salt cracks and an even luminous glow across the kilometres of salt. During the winter, when it very briefly rains, there is a small inch of water that fills the entirety of the flats, turning the area into a clear reflective mirror. Regardless of whatever time you’re there, photographs become the highlight of the day. Because Salar de Uyuni is incredibly flat, sense of perspective completely diminishes. Which means, when you stand a meter behind someone, the size of your body quickly becomes incredibly small. This is due to the vast stark white ground and blue skies, teamed with the kilometres of flatness that stretch into the horizon. It makes for some good entertainment for the day.  

If you do decide to visit Salar de Uyuni, don’t leave without staying a night at the Luna Salada Hotel. This hotel is situated in the midst of the salt flats and not only has an uninterrupted panoramic view of the landscape, but the entire hotel is made and constructed from salt blocks. The bedrooms, bathrooms, hotel spa and restaurant boast the salty constructed walls and flooring, giving you the illusion that the inside belongs, outside. After a full day out on the salt flats questioning whether the mirages you see are real or fake, you will be pleased to know this salty architecture is the vision you’ve been waiting for.  


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