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Travel Story by Nathalie Koenig

  Salar de Uyuni
Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunset at Salar de Uyuni

There are so many places to visit in Bolivia, such as the capital, La Paz; Uyuni - the largest salt flat; Potosi - with the highest attitude of 4070m; the world's most dangerous road and much more.

Uyuni was full of tin-roofed houses and abandoned trains rusting away nearby! In the past, the trains travelled through to the mines and the area was very wealthy, but this is no longer true. I was told that the best way to explore the area was by hiring a jeep with a local driver. I did this for a day with a crazy, funky Bolivian driver.

We went to see a very small village where the locals collect salt from the salt lake and cook it in a hot fire to make it dry. Then they extract iodine from it using very old equipment. They sell it very cheaply abroad and don't make any profit for themselves. It's very sad to see how poor they are.

On the perfectly flat white salt lake our jeep reached speeds of about 100km per hour. This was was fantastic, especially when we raced five other jeeps! The salt flat (Salar de Uyuni) is one of the most extraordinary attractions in Bolivia and covers 12,000 square kilometres. We had to wear sunglasses and sun cream as it was extremely bright but it was beautiful!

It is by far the largest salt lake in the world. It is not a lake in the true sense but below the surface, it was largely saturated by water which later turned into thick hard crust of salt. The surface is mostly covered with water between December and April.

I could not stop taking photos and really enjoyed myself. Our guides were lovely. We stopped for lunch near the non-active volcano (I hope it was!) and visited the mummies up in the mountains. They were children who had hidden during the war and ended up dying in the caves, so it wasn't very nice to see.
We then visited one of the small islands called Fish Island, which is covered by giant cacti. Some of them are more than 10 metres high and are thought to be hundreds of years old. One of the cactus is 1,200 years old, I don't know how they know the age because of its height!

The Salt Hotel is made of raw salt cut from the surface of the Salar. We got there just in time to see the sunset and had a glass of red wine as it was so so cold. It was a brilliant experience.

The best advice is to ask a local driver to take you to the sites rather than going on a tourist coach. A good place to eat in Uyuni is Minuteman Pizza, which is well worth a visit as there is a warm and lively atmosphere with friendly Bolivian waiters. Huge cheap breakfasts are served and you can find it at Av Ferroviaria 60 at Hotel Tonito.

Click on photo to enlarge

Local cooking salt by the fire  Mummies!  Salar de Uyuni

Date Submitted: 08 Dec 2008

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