Magical Places: Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Ever want to go somewhere that makes you feel like you are on another planet? Those who live in the western United States are familiar with the Bonneville Salt Flats – an impossible stretch of pristine white perfectly flat ground that stretches to the horizon. I’ve been there. It’s both incredible as it is blinding.

Bonneville Salt Flats is ringed by the different ranges within the Rocky Mountains, which are visible in the photo below. Now imagine if it were 100 times larger and you’d have Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest salt flat in the world.

Me, being a complete dork on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Salt flats are formed where prehistoric lake beds have filled and dried millions of times over the course of eons. In Utah, that prehistoric lake was Lake Bonneville and it used to cover over half of Utah. This cycle of filling and drying left behind a meters thick even layer of salts that are distributed so evenly that NASA uses them to calibrate the altimeters of Earth observation satellites.

Salar de Uyuni is part of the Altiplano (literally translates to ‘high plain’) of Bolivia and originated from the prehistoric lakes Lake Minchin and later Paleo Lake Tauca. The altitude is so high in fact, at 11,800 ft, that it’s recommended for travelers to acclimate in La Paz for a few days before visiting. It’s also bitterly cold in the winter, dropping as low as -4F (-20C).

Because it’s as beautiful as it is alien, it has become a highlighted tourist stop for those traveling in Bolivia. Hidden within the vast expanses of these salt flats are technicolor lagoons, gushing hot springs, and surreal deserts.

Now I totally want to create a story that has a salt flat… so cool.

As the brine beneath the crust rises and falls it forms geometric shapes.

Interesting facts about Salar de Uyuni:

  • It’s the largest concentration of lithium on the planet. The battery in your phone most likely has lithium from Salar de Uyuni in it.
  • The final battle scene in The Last Jedi was filmed here
  • After the rain it creates the largest natural mirror in existence.
  • It’s a huge breeding ground for three species of Flamingo who turn pink from ingesting the pink algae.
During the rainy season, Salar de Uyuni becomes a giant natural mirror

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