The gigantic Salar de Uyuni in southwest Bolivia is the largest salt lake in the world. Two small islands in the lake and the salt hotel can be reached by car via its metre-thick salt crust.
The gigantic Salar de Uyuni is located in the southwest of Bolivia near the border with Chile and is the largest salt lake in the world with an area of over 12,000 square kilometres. It is located in the Bolivian Andes, also called Altiplano, at an altitude of 3,650 metres and is one of our top 10 sights of Bolivia.
The lake is a maximum of 72 metres deep and covered by a metre-thick salt crust that can withstand even buses and trucks. Only the shore zones and the surroundings of some holes in the salt crust are muddy and not suitable for traffic. In the rainy season, the lake is flooded and cannot be driven on either.
With its endless white surface, the Salar de Uyuni resembles an enormous snowfield in the middle of Bolivia's lunar landscape. Large enough, unchanging and visible from space, the mirror-smooth, glistening surface is a popular spot on Earth for aligning satellites. Especially when the lake is flooded in the rainy season, the Salar de Uyuni is transformed into the world's largest mirror.
The Salar de Uyuni contains an estimated ten billion tonnes of salt. About 25,000 of these are mined annually and transported to the surrounding towns.
Besides its enormous amount of salt, the Salar de Uyuni is also considered the world's largest deposit of lithium, which is mainly used in electronic devices. 50-70% of the world's demand for lithium comes from the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
There are no living creatures in the Salar de Uyuni, only flamingos and other birds, such as Andean geese, use it as a breeding ground. Most of the black specks moving around the giant salt flat are tourists. Every visitor to Bolivia should make a stop at the Salar de Uyuni. The sight of this vast salt desert alone is overwhelming and even more spectacular at sunrise or sunset.
Tours on the Salar de Uyuni
In the dry season from June to December, the lake can also be cycled without any problems. A popular destination for bicycle tours are the two islands in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni, which were formed from former volcanoes. The "Incahuasi" ("House of the Inca") is particularly impressive with its 20-metre-high 1,000-year-old columnar cacti.
There are also coral reefs on Incahuasi that are hundreds of thousands of years old - witnesses to the fact that southwest Bolivia was once covered by an ocean, to which today's Salar de Uyuni owes its salt deposits.
On the Isla del Pescado, which takes its name from its fish-shaped form, the gigantic spiny columns also grow towards the sky. Here, in addition to vicuñas, you may also run into an Andean fox.
Those who have had enough of the flat surface of salt can treat their eyes to something different in Colchani. There is a hotel with 16 rooms that is built entirely of salt. Floors, tables, chairs, pillars, walls, everything is made of salt. This raw material was simply the easiest to obtain; everything else would have had to be transported laboriously to the salt lake.
Around one million salt blocks were used to build the Palacio del Sal. Cushions, blankets and other decorative material give the salty rooms in the Palacio de Sal a cosy atmosphere. The mounds of mined salt just before they are taken away can also be seen in front of the hotel.
Another tourist stopover is the railway cemetery about 3km from the Salar de Uyuni. Ancient locomotives and discarded wagons were parked there up to 100 years ago and left to corrode.
The railway network around the railway cemetery at Salar de Uyuni was installed by the British at the end of the 19th century. The construction of the railway station, now a railway cemetery, near Uyuni lasted from 1888 to 1892 and happened under Bolivia's President Aniceto Arce. In the 1940s, Bolivia's mining industry collapsed and many trains were abandoned at the railway cemetery near Uyuni.
Children's dreams come true, because you can even climb around on the old locomotives. There are plans to turn the railway graveyard into a museum.