Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, has more to offer than its unique desert-like ecosystem. Salar means “salt flat” in Spanish and Uyuni originates from the Aymara language and translates as “pen” (or enclosure). Thus Salar de Uyuni can be loosely translated as a “salt flat with enclosures.” But the unique mirror effect is what the area is really known for.
Salt Flats of Bolivia
The salt flat spans across 4,805 square miles, roughly one hundred times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States. Located in the Daniel Campos Province in Posti, Southwestern Bolivia the area sits at 11,995 feet above sea level.
Roughly 30,000-40,000 years ago, the area was part of a giant prehistoric body of water, Lake Minchin. When the lake dried up, it left behind a few seasonal puddles and salt pans, including Salar de Uyuni. The area is covered with several feet of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average elevation variations within 3.3 ft over the entire site. Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt, 25,000 tons of which is extracted annually.
The rainfall in the area is light, getting an average of .04 and .12 inches of rain per month between April and November. January is typically the rainiest month of the year, gaining up to 3.15 inches of rain. And when it rains, that’s when the real attraction of the area becomes clear.
Salar de Uyuni at Night
When there is a clear rainfall at Salar de Uyuni, the way the water sits on the salt bed creates a mirror that reflects the sky above. Not only does that allow you to witness unique views like a bright sunset with its swirls of colors dancing both above and below you, but the views just get all the more spectacular at night. With little light pollution, the night sky is typically clear and, coupled with the rainy season, it can give one the illusion of walking through space.
Another popular tourist attraction in Salar de Uyuni is their train cemetery which is roughly 2 miles outside of Uyuni and connects to it with old train tracks. The train cemetery, which attracts thousands of tourists per year, contains a series of vintage trains that were used in the 1940s for mining purposes.
Birds of Bolivia
As far as wildlife is concerned, Salar de Uyuni’s main attraction is their birds. The area is the specific breeding ground for three different species of pink South American flamingos: Chilean, Andrean, and James’s flamingos. James’s flamingos are the rarest species of flamingo, thought to be extinct at one point until a small flock was discovered in the 1950s. Additionally, there are 80 other species of birds in the area including the Andrean goose, Andrean hillstar, horned coot, and more.
Whether you’re there to experience the other-worldly mirror stargazing at night or to spot some rare birds, visiting Salar de Uyuni can give visitors an amazing opportunity to reflect.