Spending 3 days in the Salar de Uyuni: Uyuni originates from the Aymara language and means a pen (enclosure). Thus Salar de Uyuni can be loosely translated as a salt flat with enclosures, the latter possibly referring to the “islands” of the Salar.
Meet the worlds largest salt flat! Covering 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi) at an elevation of 3,656 meters (11,995 ft) above sea level. Sjælland is the largest island in Denmark covering an area of 7031 square kilometers, which makes the salt flat 1,5 times bigger than Sjælland. Salar de Uyuni is roughly 100 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered with a solid salt crust varying in thickness between tens of centimeters and a few meters (yes, there is water underneath), which has an extraordinary flatness with the average elevation variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salt flat (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salar_de_Uyuni).
The existing lake under the salt layer is visible when entering the salt flat, so it is important to use the manmade roads when entering and exiting the salt flat
Since the slat flat is 1,5 times bigger than Sjælland we could easily spend 3 days here. We entered the salt flat on the 1st of September (my birthday – last year we were on the Galapagos Islands enjoying “all you can eat” sushi. What to know more? Visit our first post from Galapagos “The creation and evolution of the Galapagos island” and explore the next 12 posts – ENJOY). It is important for me to do something memorable on my birthday, when I can’t celebrate it with family and friend, and this year we had already when to restaurant Gustu in La Paz just two days before. So I had already had my special thing for my birthday.
Our destination for day 1 “TNA island” (find it on www.ioverlander.com)
Having some fun on our way – playing with the perspective illusion that the salt flat creates
On our way we passed the tourist island “Inkahuasi”, which is where all the tour companies takes all the tourists
This is also the only inhabited island on the salt flat, and it also has the only toilet on the salt flat. But all that luxury has a price, the entrance fee is 30 bob (4,4 USD or 28 DDK) per person, so we decided not to visit the island, but continued towards TNA island. The entrance is marked by rocks due to a soft layer of mud surrounding the island, but this tour guide didn’t know that. We had just arrived on the island, and Esben was ready to take a nap, when it knocked on our door.
Nothing helped and Lance didn’t have the horsepower or the tires to pull the car free and being in 3600 meters only took away more power
The tour guide kept digging… and digging… and he didn’t even bring a shovel. After digging with our “toilet” shovel until it broke, he kept digging with his bare hands. It was just an impossible task, because the car was stuck on the bottom. Also the mud is so soft that every time the guide got some rocks placed under the cars rear tires, the rocks just sunk deeper into the mud. The guide finally called his boss for help, and they would send a extra car. The help was at least 2 hours away, and as the sun went down the temperature quickly dropped below freeze. The area has a relatively stable average temperature with a peak at 21 °C in November to January and a low of 13 °C in June. The nights are cold all through the year, with temperatures between −9 °C and 5 °C. The relative humidity is constant throughout the year at 30% to 45%.
We invited the whole family from the tour car into our van, and I started cooking dinner for all of us. While all this was going on a guy from France had arrived to TNA island on his small Yamaha motorcycle (right picture). He was also trying to help, and made a bonfire, since there was not room for everybody in the van.
We had a great time with the family, and this event made my birthday memorable in a different way. When the help finally arrived we were all tired. We hugged the family goodbye, and went to bed. BUT WAIT – the story doesn’t end here. The next morning when we went for a walk on the island, we were met by this sight. It turned out, that the same tour guide had driven for just a few minutes, then got lost in the darkness, and had turned the car in the wrong direction. The result was, that he drove directly back into the mud surrounding TNA-island. The family was gone, but the tour guide was still in his car covered in mud he asked for a ride to the tourist island “Inkahuasi”. We dropped him off and was heading north on the salt flat towards volcán Tunupa.
Pictures from the walk on TNA-island
The geological history of the salt flat is associated with a sequential transformation between several vast lakes. Some 30,000 to 42,000 years ago, the area was part of a giant prehistoric lake, Lake Minchin. As the lake was drying out, smaller lakes was created and today two lakes remains Poopó and Uru Uru, and two major salt deserts, Salar de Coipasa and the larger Salar de Uyuni. The center of the Salar contains a few islands, which are the remains of the tops of ancient volcanoes submerged during the era of Lake Minchin. The former volcanic activity have crates several caves on TNA-island, here we are visiting the biggest one (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salar_de_Uyuni).
Sunset and sunrise is the best time of the day on the salt flat, our best tip when visiting the salt flat is to spend at least one night here, so you get to see the sunset and sunrise. Since we are already on day 2, we would like to share some moments from the sunset.
Check out how the surface of the salt flat looks like big salt flakes
With volcán Tunupa in the background
We drove north on day 2 to reach volcán Tunupa to go for a hike, and at the same time getting a view over the salt flat
Hiking towards volcán Tunupa
Close up photo of the “rainbow” mountain to the left of volcán Tunupa
The view over the salt flat as we walked back down
Heading back out on the salt flat on one of the entrances, just south of volcán Tunupa – no problem with just 2 wheel drive
Getting the reflection of volcán Tunupa in the surface water of Salar de Uyuni
We camped out in the middle of the salt flat between a couple of islands – the sun had just disappeared behind be horizon, so no sunset pictures, but Esben got up during the night .
Rising early to see the sunrise. Esben is in the mood for taking more photos
Drone photos during sunrise of Lance and the island
The beautiful pattern on the surface of the salt flat, which get more visible during sunset and sunrise
We were on day 3, and it was time to have some more fun on the salt flat
It is important to stay in shape
The moose also wanted to play… The moose has been traveling with us on all our trips, since we did the first one in 2009 traveling the western states in the US and Canada. Check out “Our earlier travels”.
The salt flat is a major breeding ground for several species of flamingos, and we were lucky to see some in the most northern part of the salt flat. Click on the picture to view it in full size, to see the reflection of the flamingoes in the water .
Before leaving the slat flat we still had two more stops, The Dakar monument and…
… the collection of flags
Since 2009 we have been carrying a Danish flag with us, and we felt that it was time to leave it behind. So if you go to the collection of flag in Salar de Uyuni, please let us know if it is still there, on the flag it says: “ESBEN AND CAMILLA, WWW.LESSISMORE.ONE, 3. SEPTEMBER 2018”.
It was time to leave Salar de Uyuni behind us…
We drove back to Uyuni and had pizza for dinner, just to celebrate that it had been my birthday two days before (no more birthday celebrations this year, it will have to wait until next year). This should be THE PLACE for pizza in Uyuni, Minuteman Pizza located inside Tonito Hotel and we were not disappointed. Loved the pizza , and we would highly recommend it. See you in the next post, were we are soaking in hot springs in Sajama National Park.