The Uyuni Salt Falt or Tunupa Volcano is surrounded by the Bolivian Altiplano and the Andes Cordillera. This salt flat is the largest in the world with an extension of 12,000 sq km. It is located at 3,650 meters above sea level.
Some 40,000 years ago, the area that today is occupied by the Uyuni Salt Flat was covered by the prehistoric Lake Minchin and has a depth of salt varying from 10 cm to 8 meters. The salt flat is composed of lithium, boron, potassium, magnesium, borax, sodium sulfate, and ulexite. It is nowadays the world’s largest lithium reserve. It is estimated that there are 64 billion of tons of salt on the salt flat. Currently, 25 thousand tons are extracted per year in the neighboring town of Colchani.
On this salt sea you can find several islands with different characteristics but the most well-known is the Incahuasi Island (also known as Pescador Island), which has an area of 24 hectares. North of the salt sea, you will find the towns of Tahoua, Llica and Coquesa that offer hotels and hostels built with blocks of salt, but the most interesting part of it is that they are at the foot of the Tunupa Volcano (5432 m). This volcano has different viewpoints to see panoramically the Lipeza Desert and the Uyuni and Coipasa Salt Flats as well as the communities of Coquesa and Chantani which have interesting local museums with samples of pre-Columbian mummies and crafts.
As part of the tourist circuit on the Uyuni Salt Flat, it is possible to visit Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve (REA) where the famous colorful lagoons are located and one of the most famous is the Laguna Colorada with an area of 60 sq km and a depth of 35 cm.
The Laguna Colorada takes its name because of its great content of sediments and pigments of some types of algae and minerals. The tones of its waters vary from brown to deep red. In the lagoon there are South American flamingos migratory birds that are counted by thousands and the three species living on this lake are the Andean flamingo, the Chilean flamingo, and James flamingo. The Laguna Verde , salty water, is a high Andean lagoon with a surface area of 5 sq km and is linked to the Laguna Blanca by a small strait. Its emerald color comes from the high content of magnesium. This lagoon lies at the foot of the Licancabur Volcano, one of the highest active volcanoes of the world (5400 m).
Inside the REA, you can also visit the Siloli Desert that is formed by with fascinating color blends. This desert houses the Árbol de Piedra (Stone Tree) that is a rock formation with the appearance of a tree. Also, one of the world’s most exotic hotels is located on this desert: Hotel Tayka del Desierto. You can also experience the ‘Sol de Mañana’ (Dawn Sun) a geyser basin which produces gases and sulfur thermal waters of great pressure. The Valley of the Rocks offer a show with dozens of rock formations eroded by the wind reaching an altitude of 25 meters, which are archaeological sites and typical fauna and flora of these extreme altitude lands.
- Location: Southwest of Bolivia, in the Daniel Campos province in the department of Potosí inside the Altiplano region of the Andes Cordillera.
- Altitude: 3650 masl (in the circuit of the Uyuni Salt Flat and the Lagunas de Colores you reach 4300 masl at the foot of the Licancabur Volcano).
- Average temperature: 1 °C in winter and 13 °C in summer (in wintertime temperatures can drop below -20° C in the area of Los Lipez).
Night buses depart periodically from 7 to 9 pm every day from the La Paz bus terminal. This is the cheapest way to go, but this is not very comfortable since around 40% of the route to Uyuni is unpaved and in poor condition. A more comfortable option is to take the train from Oruro, 4 hours by bus from La Paz city. You can see the train schedules HERE. Finally, the best way to travel from La Paz to Uyuni is to take a 45-minute Amaszonas (air company) flight.
Buses depart in the morning and afternoon from the Oruro bus terminal. It takes around 8 hours. The other option is to take the train from the train station departing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 3:30 and 7 pm. The train ride from Oruro to Uyuni is around 7 hours.
Buses depart at 12:00 and 6:30 pm. It takes around 5 hours to arrive in Uyuni.