1) To climb on modern ruins
The first stop on our journey into the Salar de Uyuni was the Railroad Cemetery. You are free to explore these modern ruins, climbing on top of them or searching out their gutted innards. Our guide Abel, explained to us that the area was used by American Engineers during the silver rush here in the 1860s. Decommissioned trains were stashed here and used for parts. Eventually the Silver-mine closest to the cemetery was closed down and the trains were left to wither and become part of the barren landscape. In the picture below, you can see that it’s not only trains that the Salar has claimed, a dog has also succumb to the harsh environment.
2) To feel a deep connection with nature
Now don’t go and call me a hippy just yet. Hear me out.
The Inca and other indigenous tribes have held pagan beliefs in Bolivia for a thousand years. Although Christianity was introduced by the Spanish 500 hundred years ago, today the connection with nature is as palpable in Bolivia as pop culture is in the United States. Need an example? Pachamama, or mother earth, still receives sacrifices in the form of Llama fetuses before any construction is undertaken in Bolivia. The landscape is so beautiful and awesome (and I believe I am using awesome in it’s proper form here), you begin to understand their veneration.
3) Because Zorro is here
Well, Zorro just means fox in Spanish, but still! Officially the Andean Fox is a protected animal. Unofficially, some locals chop off their tails or noses because they are considered lucky. Run Zorro, Run!
4) To let your inner creativity loose
I kept on thinking of the Kid’s in the Hall sketch where a disgruntled man played by Dave Foley squishes the head’s of unsuspecting people on the street from a safe distance (if you don’t know who the Kids in the hall are, then I’ve just dated myself. Ugh!). Perspective Pictures are a must when you visit the Salar. After a lunch of Llama and Quinoa, it’s officially time to look like an idiot. Luckily, we weren’t alone. In every direction, we saw people sticking out their limbs at weird angles and pretending to be hit by imaginary items, just to create the famous forced perspective pictures.
5) Road trip!
Most tour companies in the area sell a 3 day / 2 night trip that includes not only the Salar, but the desert and altiplano surrounding it (a guide to choosing a company can be found here). In that amount of time, you can see soo much – approximately 18 different stops. The Salar de Uyuni is definitely one of the top things to do in Bolivia and probably in all of South America as well.
6) Because the Salar de Uyuni may have held the lost city of Atlantis
The Salar de Uyuni was not always one of the driest places on earth. It was actually one of the wettest – it used to be a lake. According to Abel, the people of Atlantis lived above the ancient Paleolakes of the Salar in caves. After doing a little research, it seems that there is some backing to Abel’s claim. Some researchers believe that Atlantis was located on the Pampa Auallagas mountain that is located close to the Salar.
7) To take one hell of a Facebook photo
If you are into that type of thing. As a blogger, I am totally, um, not. Really, at all.
8) To see the Vicuña roam freely
Vicuña are relatives of domesticated Alpacas. At one point Vicuña were on the endangered species list. In 1974, not more than 6,000 were alive. Today, they are doing much better, with a population around 350,000.
9) To see the salt of the earth. Literally.
Some of the slightly bigger towns in the area produce salt. Here a laborer seals a salt bag with fire from a propane tank. There is an estimated 10 Billion tons of salt in the Salar, of which only 25,000 tons are mined annually.
The town we stayed at our first night – which turned out to be the hometown of our guide – only had a population of 20 families. The people of the towns mostly subsist on Llamas and quinoa… mostly (Abel told us that sometimes a tourist who pisses them off goes missing. I’m pretty sure he was joking… pretty sure)
10) To take Mortal Kombat photos
Because inside every, bearded 33 year old man, there is a 12 year old boy inside who just wants to jump kick things (crap, now I’ve really dated myself). Alternatively, if you go during January, you can take photos where a shallow amount of water acts like a mirror to the sky.
11) You will automatically take awesome photos
Ok, maybe I’m not strictly using awesome correctly, but the reality is that wherever you point the camera, there is a 90 percent chance of capturing something interesting (90% is of course, totally scientifically proven and pulled directly from my ass).
I love volcanos. There is something so primal about them. On our second day, we saw Ollagüe, which on the backside contains one of the world’s highest roads and also a working sulfur mine. Ollagüe is active as well; you can see the plume of smoke on the left side of the mountain.
13) There are places that look like they belong on another planet
Canapa Lagoon is surrounded by gold and yellow shrubs. The shrubs look so out of place; almost like they were grown on some alien planet.
14) To have lunch with this view
On our second day, we ate lunch at a place called the Stinky Lagoon. Its name is due to the high sulfur content in the lake. On a windy day, it can be quite, well, stinky, but on the day we went my lunch went down without a side-smell of egg.
15) To see a ton of Flamingos
There are three different types of flamingos in the Salar: the James flamingo, the Chilean flamingo and the Andean flamingo. The Jame’s Flamino can only be found in the high altitude plains of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The weird gray looking one is a juvenile, but I am not sure from which species.
The Stone tree is seven meters high. I was told that the unique shape is due to the top being rich in iron, while the bottom is not, which results in the unusual erosion.
17) To feel like one of the sand people from Star wars
Or obi wan kenobi. Your choice.
18) Because there is water the color of rust
The red coloring of the water in Laguna Colarada is caused by sedimentation and a special type of algae and clashes nicely with the white islands made of borax.
19) To see a town stuck in the 50s
Actually, that might be overstating the technological advancement of this place. On our second night, we stayed in Wallajara, a town without hot water, electricity (after 7 pm) or heat. Because there is no light pollution, it is a great place to watch the sunset or star gaze, or both!
20) Unforgettable sunsets
Due to the relative flatness of the area, you can enjoy the full spectrum of color that extends all the way down to the horizon. The haze of colors that dreamily fused together in the sky is something that will stick with me for a long time.
21) To divert a geyser with your foot
At an altitude of 16,400 feet (5,000 meters), you will find yourself in the middle of Sol de Mañana, which contains mud baths, fumaroles and geysers that emit sulfuric gases. Our guide Abel, pictured below, showed us that you can divert the gas of one of the geysers with your foot. Alternatively, you can jump through it. Really.
22) To soak in the natural hot springs
One of my favorite parts of the whole trip was soaking in the hot springs. It was near the end of the trip and many people decided that they didn’t want to make the effort. Don’t make that mistake! The water is so refreshing and hot, while the outside air is so cold. The juxtaposition of the two makes this one of the most memorable parts of the entire trip.
23) The Salvador Dali desert
Some people say that Salvador Dali got his inspiration from this desert. Others say this desert got its ideas from Salvador Dali – admittedly, the people who say that are mostly high.
24) To see the Green Lagoon
When the wind is right, this lagoon is a spectacular emerald green due to deposits of lead, magnesium, sulfur, and arsenic. When it’s not, you have to be a bit more creative to get a good picture.
25) To grapple with the meaning of this sign
Do you know what it’s trying to say? If so, leave your answer in the comments below.