Salar de Uyuni

4 to 6 August, 2004
I don't think many words need be wasted here, as the pictures speak for themselves.  I was often asked, what was the most beautiful place I saw in South America?  Every time I answered without hesitation, the Salar de Uyuni.  The entire 3 day Landcruiser trip from Uyuni, Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, was filled with one devastatingly beautiful site after another.

Salar de Uyuni
When done in the Bolivia to Chile direction, the Salar (salt flat) itself is the first destination.  Some prefer to go the other way, saving the Salar until the end, but it didn't make much difference to me.  The largest salt flat in the world, your eyes get almost snowblinded by the endless whiteness.  Here, a group of Landcruisers from the McSalar company of Colque Tours gather together to have a lunchtime communion (I personally recommend Cordillera if you're looking for a company).

Salar de Uyuni salt mine

Yes, indeed the Salar is in fact a salt mine as well.  Salt miners don't particularly enjoying seeing tourists hop off their Landcruisers and take photos of them, but they've gotten used to it.  It is terribly photogenic.  The water on the ground was added, because it was dry everywhere on the Salar.  Some guidebooks say that taking the tour during the rainy season, when a sheet of water covering the salt flats reflects the sky like a mirror, is especially breathtaking.

Salar de Uyuni sulfur spring

When sulfur springs emerge from the volcanic underground and seeps up onto the surface salt, beautifully coloured designs wend its way  across the Salar like an artist's palette.

Salar de Uyuni Isla Pescado

The only island within the salt flat, the so-called Isla Pescado because of its fish shape, serves as the first day's lunchbreak picnic spot.  Little nature walks around the island offer scenic views across the Salar.

Siluri desert salar de uyuni

After the Salar, the expedition drives through the Siluri desert.  The high altitudes (reaching over 5000m on the 2nd night) and exceptionally clear air provide a striking visual clarity.  The colours leap out of nature and affix themselves onto your eyes.

Arbol de Piedra
The oft-photographed Arbol de Piedra (stone tree), located in a part of the Siluri desert with many odd rock formations, beckons at you mysteriously like a Magritte painting.

San Quemes Sunset

Sunset at our first night's lodging,basic shacks with heavy blankets for the nighttime desert chill.

Laguna hedionda

Toward the Chilean border, we see a change in terrain.  The arid desert gives way to geysers, hot thermal springs and sumptuous kaleidoscopic lakes.  This Laguna Hedionda (stinky lagoon) does indeed smell of sulfur, but that doesn't seem to bother the pink flamingos who are wading out beyond the salt encrusted shore of the lake.

Laguna colorada

This picture with faded colours under a clouded sky simply does not do justice to the breathtaking Laguna Colorada, what I considered the most spectacular sight of the expedition.  The water in the centre of the lake is blood red (from proprietary algae), something I've never seen anywhere else.  Not too far from here is the Laguna Verde, a lake whose eerie green colour was taken by NASA to paint on some of their space capsules.  The trip ended in the overrated and overpriced Chilean tourist town of San Pedro de Atacama, and it would mark my final exit from Bolivia.