The Aymara Legend of the Bolivian Salar
Salar de Uyuni is surrounded by three mountains of Tunupa, Kusku, and Kusina. According to Aymara legend, these mountains were giant people. Kusku married Tunupa, but later left her for Kusina. Sorrowful Tunupa cried, and her tears are believed to have formed the salt flat. Locals thus revere Tunupa as their deity and want the place to be called 'Salar de Tunupa'.
Salar de Uyuni Salt Flat
Salar de Uyuni, in southwest Bolivia, is the largest salt flat in the world, spanning over 10,000 sq km. and also the highest - it lies about 3,656 meters above sea level. Located in the Potosi department, this desert with a few meters thick salt crust is motorable. The difference between altitudes throughout this crust is less than a meter, which explains the super-flat nature of the Salar. Now you know why it can be a photographers' paradise to obtain a tweaked perspective.
Why Do Tourists Flock To This Bolivian Desert?
Simply for its breathtaking views. Salar de Uyuni becomes a huge natural mirror in the wet season, between March and April. When it rains, one can see spectacularly serene reflections of the sky and clouds in water; it seems like the sky and earth have merged into each other. Also, unique shots that highlight the ultimate flatness of the terrain can be clicked, not to mention the mesmerizing sunsets that one can witness at this magical landscape.
Formation of Salar de Uyuni
Formation of the Andes mountains created the Altiplano, or the Bolivian high plateau, of which Salar de Uyuni is a part. The salt flat seen today was once a part of Lake Minchin, a huge prehistoric lake. This lake dried up leaving behind two smaller lakes, (Poopó Lake and Uru Uru Lake), and two salt deserts, Salar de Coipasa and Salar de Uyuni (the larger one).
Salar de Uyuni Wildlife
Salar de Uyuni, a breeding ground for pink flamingos, in November, hosts 3 different species of this bird: the Chilean, Andean, and James's flamingo (a rare find). The pink algae on which they feed is known to give them the pink color. Culpeo, or the Andean fox, Andean goose, Andean hillstar, and the rabbit-like Andean viscachas are found here too. Besides, Incahuasi island, a remarkable hilly outcrop in the middle of Salar, grows giant cacti.
Salt Production in Salar de Uyuni
Being the largest salt flat in the world, Salar de Uyuni holds around 10 billion tons of salt; of which annual extraction is around 25,000 tons. Interestingly, the hotels in this area are built using salt blocks; so don't be surprised to find your hotel pillars, doors, or windows to be salty (you can lick'em up a little to check!)
A Road Through The Bolivian Altiplano
A unique pattern of polygonal cracks does the tiling work for the world's largest salt flat. The salt crust of Salar de Uyuni, which can be a few centimeters or up to 10 meters thick, becomes a crucial transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano in the dry season.
Near Salar de Uyuni
Here are some other interesting spots to visit on your trip to the salt flat: Laguna Colorada, the shallow red salt lake that lies closer to Chile; the antique train cemetery housing old British-built trains from the 1880s, which used to transport minerals to the Pacific Ocean ports; and Laguna Verde, a lake that boasts of turquoise blue waters because of arsenic and other minerals present in it.