Once Salar de Uyuni and the surrounding area formed an enormous sea. Nowadays it is the largest salt flat in the world. This almost surreal world lies at an altitude of 3,650 meters. There are mud geysers, thermal springs and strange rocks carved by the wind.
As always, Mother Nature has adapted itself and there is life in abundance in this part of Bolivia. For instance, there are three types of flamingos that roost here, and some cacti can grow an grow as tall as 40 feet (12 meters).
Salar de Uyuni feels like another planet. The endless salt flats, the rugged volcanic landscape of the Andes, together with the striking tranquility, provide a scenery unequalled the world over. It is a place we can only experience, filled with awe, time and again; a place where you simply have to adapt, like the plants and animals do.
Scientists have discovered that this territory in the southwest of Bolivia was part of Lake Minchin some 40,000 years ago. This prehistoric lake once covered the whole southwestern part of Bolivia, but through the years, it gradually dried up. Two smaller lakes remain as living memories, the Poopó lake and the Uru Uru lake.
In some caves you can still find fossilised coral, proof that the sea was really there once upon a time. In the dried up parts, salt has remained (in fact, this is a mixture of ‘regular table salt’ and calcium sulphate). The flats are known as Salar de Uyuni and the smaller Salar de Coipasa.
The salt is formed by minerals that slowly rise out of the ground. As there is no way out for the water, countless minerals are visible on the surface. The dormant volcano Mount Tunupa is the basis of this area, towering 5,432 meters high over the flat. The salt flat now stretches out over 12.000 km2. The wind ensures that the salt ‘lives’: it the only place in the world where you can see shifting salt dunes.
From December to February, you can witness a remarkable phenomenon here. Because of the various rain showers the lake fills up with rain water. This turns the Salar de Uyuni (but also the nearby Salar de Coipasa) into the largest mirrors in the world. The reflection of everything you see here is almost surreal, whether it be the clouds, flamingos, a car or a person.
Subtropical alpine meadow
The landscape around the salt flats is called páramo, or subtropical alpine meadow. Because of its altitude, it lies between the tree line and the Andes. The climate here is rough: at night it is bitterly cold, there is a lot of wind and rainfall is limited to just about 400 mm per year.