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The Great Salt Flat of Uyuni and its Surroundings

Bolivia

Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes that reach 5000 meters above sea level, the Uyuni Salt Flat (Salar de Uyuni) in Bolivia is an immense white plain of 12.000 square kilometers of salt. It is the only place on Earth visible by the naked eye from the moon.

Some call it a desert - nothing lives here - while for others it is a sea. However, the only thing certain is that the Uyuni salt flat is a huge white plain surface formed by grain after grain of salt.

It is such an extraordinary place that no visitor has yet left unimpressed.

Once inside, when everything is white, it is very easy to get lost. For this reason it is essential that all incursions be made accompanied by an expert guide and a suitable all terrain vehicle. It is an extraordinary experience to cross this lake of salt by car, especially during the winter, because at that time the sky is completely clear and the bright blue color of the sky contrasts brilliantly with the salt. On a cloudy day there is a "white-out" effect: the horizon seems to blend in with the sky and you can hardly tell where the salt lake actually ends.

Getting to Uyuni requires certain sacrifice: 8 hours by bus from La Paz. There is a paved road up to Huari, but from there it is a dirt road with many bumps and ditches. Many therefore prefer to take a flight to Uyuni from La Paz or Santa Cruz. The town of Uyuni has grown in recent years and the traveler can now find all that a tourist may need: from varied menus in several languages (though mostly based on llama meat) internet, to hotels of varying prices and service levels.

Several islands in the interior of the salt flat harbor unique forms of life and gigantic cactuses. During the rainy season, the surface is covered by a thin layer of water that presents a unique reflection. The horizon and the sky become one, making this place a paradise for the lovers of photography and nature.

Once at the salt flats and marveled by the fantastic immensity of this white desert, one may think that all the expectations of the trip have been met. However, there are even more amazing and mysterious attractions that reveal themselves to the fascinated tourists.

The Village of Four Names

San Pedro de Quemez is a small village of about 60 families. It has been destroyed several times but the community has not dispersed.

In 1879, chilean tropos invaded the territory and destroyed the village made of stones. The inhabitants found refuge at the foot of a mountain where they erected Pueblo Refugio (Refuge Village). When the invaders left, they returned and reconstructed their village at the lower side of the hill, leaving the remains of Pueblo Quemado (Burnt Village) as a witness to the invasion and abandoning Pueblo Refugio.

Isla Incahuasi

This strange island in the middle of the salt flats is formed by volcanic rocks. The most characteristic of the island are the giant cactuses that grow here, some since hundreds of years. A short walk of about 10 minutes takes the visitor to the peak from where one can observe this impressive garden of thorns and marvel at the fabulous view of the white desert.

The cave of stars

About two hours away from San Pedro de Quemez are Cueva Galaxia (Galaxy Cave) and Cueva del Diablo (Devil's Cave). The first is a rock fantasy that takes the visitor to another dimension. The rock formations were created when the salt flats were still a sea and the Thunupa volcano came into contact with the water about 225 million years ago. They resemble strange bones hanging from the ceiling and walls, forming extraordinary figures. Next to this cave is the Cueva del Diablo, which contains a cemetery or chullpar with human remains. It is a sacred burial ground surrounded by many myths.

At the feet of the Thunupa volcano

After a refreshing rest at the village of Tahua, the ascent towards Pucara Chilguilla may begin. Walking about an hour to the peak at over 3800 meters, the visitor's resistance is severely tested. It is well worth the effort though: the views of the salt flat and the Thunupa volcano amidst the archeological ruins are simply spectacular. It is believed that these are the ruins of an Inca military post. At the shores of the salt desert, pink flamingos parade their beauty.

Museum of the mummies of Colquesa

About 15 minutes from Tahua, this impressive place conserves pre-Inca mummies and the remains of the rituals and burials of these ancient civilizations.

Visiting Uyuni is an ideal adventure for those who enjoy photography and the wonders of nature. Continuing the trip to the Eduardo Avaroa National Park and the Green and Colored Lagoons is part of this unforgettable journey.

Characteristics of the Uyuni Salt Flat:

The Uyuni Salt Flat, situated at the south-east area of Bolivia, cover an area of approximately 12000 square kilometers, almost the entire province of Daniel Campos.

It is formed by about 11 layers of salt, varying from 2 to 10 meters in thickness. The crust at the surface is about 10 meters thick. The estimated amount of salt is 64 billion tons.

The salt desert is the largest deposit of lithium in the world and contains significant amounts of potassium, magnesium and boron.

The salt deposit was formed by the disappearance of an inland sea that covered the entire Altiplano (High Plains) and extended to the Titicaca lake. Today, the Titicaca lake, the Poopo lake, the salt flats of Uyuni and Coipasa are what remain of this sea.

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