Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni & the Altiplano

Bolivia salt flats II
The Salt Flats

Bolivia is colder than I expected, and no wonder. The country is one of the highest in the world. At Uyuni, we stop by the old train cemetery, where rusting carriages and cabs sit silent and mildly accusing in the bright sunshine. Uyuni once was (and by some extent, still is) an important transportation hub, carrying materials from Alto Peru (modern day Peru and Bolivia) to ports on the coast. The trains and tracks were built by the British (who else!) who were brought in by the Bolivian government. When the mining industries collapsed, the trains fell into disuse, and were abandoned.

Uyuni train cemeteryUyuni train cemetery I
Train Cemetery, Uyuni

The town itself has a frontier-like feel, so close to the borders. The major industries are salt mining and tourism. It is the gateway to Bolivia’s star attraction: the world’s largest salt flats, formed by several prehistoric salt water lakes.

Bolivia salt flatsBolivia Arbol de Piedra
Bolivia Salt HotelBolivia 4x4
The Salt Flats, Arbol del Piedra rock formation, Salt Hotel, our 4×4

The flats are covered by a crust of salt a few metres thick, underneath which is a lake of brine. There are several islands in the salt flats, many of which were submerged at some point in prehistoric time, and now contain cacti as well as the remains of delicate marine coral.

Bolivia Isla IncahuasiBolivia flamingoes
Cacti on Isla de Pescadores, flamingos on the altiplano

The landscapes here are surreal and dream-like, stretching as far as the eye can see to distant mountains. The extreme flatness of the land lends itself to perspective photographs, allowing us to take some very weird and wonderful shots.

Bolivia salt flats dinosaurBolivia salt flats aliens
Playing with perspective

What strikes me most is the immensity of the flats, the silence and the ever present wind. I feel dwarfed by the horizons and tall sky. We spend days rattling in our jeeps from one point to another on the bumpy road. Dusty feet and happy hearts.

Here on the altiplano, the wind is cold, arid. Despite the salinity and the harshness of the land, there is life – pink flamingos breed and feed here. We spend a night at a salt hotel, constructed entirely out of salt bricks. At dawn, we load up our dusty 4x4s and set out across the flats, heading towards the coloured lakes and lagoons.

Bolivia altiplano lagoon
Lakes in the altiplano, and flamingos

The lakes here are coloured red or green by the minerals inherent in the water. Close by, steaming geysers create towers of hot water and calm thermal pools. Everywhere on the altiplano there is a stark, otherworldly beauty, of pristine landscapes, wild yet, and untouched.

Bolivia Laguna ColoradaBolivia Laguna Verde
Dawn altiplano BoliviaBolivia sunset
Coloured lagoons; dawn and sunset on the altiplano




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8 Comments

  1. Peggy Tee says:

    Thank you for commenting! πŸ™‚

  2. You’re right – otherworldly is the only way to describe this extraordinary place! How is it possible that a place so alien could exist along with all we think of as familiar and of our Earth?

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      That’s why we travel – to see other worlds. The altiplano was insane, can’t believe how different it is from everywhere else I’ve been to before.

      1. Well, yes, i suppose ‘to see’ is the initial propulsion, isn’t it?

        I loved your description – I never seem to get my fill of theres descriptions of their travels in South America. For a million reasons I’ve always been sidetracked from my plans for South America – despite emigrating to Canada to get closer to it and save … πŸ™‚

        1. Peggy Tee says:

          Thank you! I hope you make it down to South America some day – I mean to go back as have not been down to Ushuaia though I spent just over a month in Argentina (big country, that), and also would like to see Brazil and Colombia too.

  3. Chun says:

    Wonderful pictures! I am always impressed by the Blue Skies!!

Comments are closed.