Spreading out over 11,000-sq.-km, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. An endless sheet of hexagonal tiles (created by the crystalline nature of the salt), dotted with pyramids of salt, Bolivia’s salt flats are a dazzling display of nature’s magic.
Despite the desert dryness, freezing night temperatures, and fierce desert sun, this landscape is not devoid of life. Pink flamingos, ancient cacti, and rare hummingbirds all live in the Salar de Uyuni.
During the wet season, which is roughly from November to April, the salt desert is transformed into an enormous salt lake, albeit one that is only six to twenty inches deep, traversable by both boat and truck. During this time, the shallow salt lake perfectly mirrors the sky, creating bizarre illusions of infinity. In the middle of this seemingly infinite salty lake is a hotel built entirely out of—naturally—salt.
Created from salt bricks held together with salt mortar, the hotel and everything inside it, including the chairs and tables, are made from salt. While the Hotel Playa Blanca has no electricity and little in the way of amenities (its water must be trucked in), it does offer even more important and certainly rarer qualities: utter silence, an all-encompassing austere beauty, and an astonishing view of the night sky.
Also worth traveling to are the nearby Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde. Laguna Colorada is a red-hued lake filled with thousands of pink flamingos, while Laguna Verde is a blue-green salt lake found at the foot of the volcano Licancabur. Its shifting aqua color is caused by copper sediments and microorganisms living within the lake.
Know Before You Go
Getting there. The logistics and duration of the trip to Salar de Uyuni depend on the departure point. Most tours run from three major locations:
1. Uyuni, Bolivia: The most popular starting point for salt flats tours. Uyuni is a small town packed with travel agencies in Plaza Arce. You can book a tour in advance online or use one of the local options in town. As Uyuni is so close to the flats, day trips are a feasible option. Uyuni is easily reachable by plane from La Paz (1 hour, about $130 round trip) or by bus from La Paz (10-12 hours, $30-40 one way).
2. San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: this option usually means a three-day tour. The agency drives travelers to the Chilean-Bolivian border and hands the tour over to a Bolivian tour operator.
3. Tupiza, Bolivia: This is the most popular starting point to the flats for travelers arriving from Argentina. Tour operators offer four-day tours from Tupiza, with a visit to Salar de Uyuni on the last day.