Salar de Uyuni: A Desert of Salt


This is the world’s largest natural mirror during the rainy seasons, and a white flat floor with amazing crystalized salt patterns during the dry season; welcome to Salar de Uyuni!

Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt-encrusted dry lake in the world, stretching over 10,582 km2, at an elevation of 3,656 m, above sea level in southern Bolivia. It formed over tens of thousands of years of geological transformations. The area was originally part of a massive lake, known as Lake Minchin, where the water leached salt from the surrounding mountains. As the Lake dried up over time, it left behind enormous deposits of salt.

During the rainy season (December to April), water from lakes nearby overflows onto the extraordinarily flat area, forming a shallow lake up to 50 cm deep. This thin layer of water transforms the ground into a huge mirror showing a stunning reflection of the sky. During the dry season (May to November), the surface features stunning hexagonal shapes, that result from the crystallization of salt as water evaporates.

Mountains surrounding the Uyuni salt flat during sunrise, Daniel Campos Province, Potosí Department, southwestern Bolivia, not far from the crest of the Andes. Credits: Wikipedia

The salt curst ranges in thickness from a few centimeters and up to 11 meters. It is rich with valuable elements such as sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Yet, the most precious resource lies in the blue–green brine below the crust; namely the lithium metal. The brine hosts more than 9 million tons of lithium—at least one half of the world's lithium reserves—which was deposited by ancient volcanic activity in the region. Lithium is essential for manufacturing rechargeable batteries that run almost all electronic devices and electric cars.

Piles of salt at the Salar. Credits: Wikipedia

Salar de Uyuni is a harsh environment, yet, it still hosts life. There are around 80 species of migrating birds, including three species of flamingo that congregate on the flats every November to breed. Moreover, Salar de Uyuni embraces an island named Isla Incahuasi, known for its unique gigantic cacti.

Andean flamingos in the Laguna Colorada, south of the Salar. Credits: Wikipedia

A part of Incahuasi Island inside the Salar, featuring giant cacti. Credits: Wikipedia

Salar de Uyuni is a major touristic attraction site in South America all year round. When to visit depends on what you want to do. Some tourists prefer the rainy season to witness the breathtaking mirror effect; whereas others prefer the dry season, which allows them to drive across the vast white landscape to places that are not accessible in the rainy season.


Top image: This is the Salar of Uyuni, in Bolivia. Credits: Wikipedia

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