Salar de Uyuni Travel Guide

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Dawn on the salt flat

Dawn on the salt flat

Mariagudm

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. It is located in the Departmento of Potosí in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes, 3650 meters high.

It's been said before: the Salar de Uyuni is surreal. A dried hill with huge cacti, that once was a coral island in a high altitude sea, surrounded by the flattest place on earth, with around that extinct vulcanos with a different colour left by every next eruption. Lakes whech are coloured red by bacteria, white by minerals and green by arsenic, filled with pink flamingos resisting the wind at 4000 meters altitude. Landscapes which must have shown themselves in a dream to Salvador Dali. Strange bunnyrabbits with a long tail inhabiting miniature canyons.

You can visit this area, and it's redicoulously cheap. Basicly, you have to go with a tour. You'll spend one day on the Salar and two to three more days in the mountains to the south of it. Prices start at US$ 60 pp., everything included. In Uyuni about 60 agencies compete with exactly the same product. Ask help in choosing in the tourist information office. If you can form your own group, you can organize the trip like you want to. For a small extra cost, you can leave the jeep at the Chilean frontier, from where a bus can be arranged to San pedro de Atacama.
If you're coming from Argentina, take the trip from Tupiza. This is slightly more expensive, but you spend a day-and-a-half without seeing other tourists and avoid the least interesting part of the trip (as done from Uyuni).
You don't have to buy the trip from La Paz. This costs a lot more for the same service. Don't worry about not finding a tour or having to form a group: you're most likely to get bugged by several agencies on arriving in Uyuni (at whatever time of night).

Practical. It's better to do the trip in summer (November-March), as it can get extremely cold in winter. However, this is also the wet season, so the Salar might be inundated. This makes for an even more surreal experience, but some people insist on seeing the salt.
Accomodation is basic (independent of the agency you chose), and hot showers rare.

Background info. Some 40,000 years ago, the area was part of Lago Minchin, a giant lake. When the lake dried, it left behind two modern lakes, Lagos Poopó and Uru Uru, and two major salt deserts, Coipasa and the larger Uyuni. Uyuni is roughly 300 times the size of the better-known Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States.

Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt of which less than 25,000 tons is extracted annually. Every November, Salar de Uyuni is also the breeding grounds for three breeds of South American flamingos - Chilean, James and Andean. It is also a significant tourist destination

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February 20, 2007 change by joosts (4 points)

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