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Salar de Uyuni Highlights (Salt Flats Tour Highlights)

Pulacayo (Train Graveyard)

In many cases, the first stopping point for Salar de Uyuni tours is Pulacayo, the town where the so-called 'Train Graveyard' is located. Here, 22 km from Uyuni, are the remains of a number of steam trains that were originally brought in to support the ore industry. Most tours will stop for a few minutes so that the group can wander around the graveyard for photo opportunities. A highlight is the train that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid robbed, back in the day.

Salt Hills of Colchani

Colchani is typified by the piles of salt that can be seen in all directions in this area. Usually your tour will stop here so that you can get photos of the salt mounds. The salt mounds are formed in this way so that they can be picked up in wheelbarrows or on bicycles for further processing. It is possible to buy knick-knacks made from the salt, from the creative locals. There is also a workshop in this area where you can observe salt being shaped into furniture.

Salt Hotels

Often, your tour will stop at a Salt hotel or two. One of the popular stopping points is Hotel de Sal Playa Blanca. Such hotels are built from large blocks of salt, and almost everything inside is made from salt, including most of the furniture.

Isla Incahuasi

Isla Incahuasi is often known as Isla de Pescado, or “Fish Island”. This beautiful outcrop of land, covered with cacti in the middle of a vast white salt expanse is a visiting point for most Salar de Uyuni tours. The cost to get in is $1.25. This is often not included in your tour price. The Salt Flats surrounding the “island” are unfortunately stained black from the volume of 4x4 vehicles that visit. It is here that the detrimental impact of tourism on the Salt Flats can be seen most clearly. That said, look past the vehicle damage, and you'll enjoy views of the Salar that stretch for miles and miles. There are trails running all over island. There is a restaurant on the island, but most tour groups eat food prepared by their cook.

Lakes, Flamingoes and Dali Rocks

Heading south from the Salar de Uyuni, the route passes by Bolivia's only active volcano, Ollagüe. four stunning blue lakes. They are Cañapa, Hedionda, Ramaditas and Chiar Khota. The lakes have a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. The lakes are home to flamingoes, as well as other bird life. The route also passes by Arbol de Piedra, a stone that is eight meters tall, and looks as if Dali might have created it.

Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada is a bright red colored lake, at an altitude of 4278m. The lake is the biggest in the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. The entrance to the park is close to the lake, and it is here that you have to pay the entrance fee, which may or may not be included in your tour price. The intense color of the lake is formed by the algae that live in the water and enjoy the minerals that are within. Flamingoes feed at the lake on the algae, and it is possible to observe the Chilean flamingo, the Andean flamingo and the James flamingo at this spot. On the shores of the lake, there are white deposits that are made up from borax and ice. Tour groups stay overnight at accommodations close to the lake.

Sol de Mañana Geyser

Most tour groups head off early in the morning from Laguna Colorada, to head to Sol de Mañana geyser. At 4850m, the site has spots from which high-pressure steam is emitted. There are also bubbling mud pools and a strong smell of sulphur. The reason for getting here early, is that the power of the steam drops during the day. Close by, there are hot springs at Termas de Polques, where it is possible to dip into the warm water, which is said to have medicinal properties.

Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa

Significantly further south than Salar de Uyuni, the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa is home to the Arbol de Piedra, Laguna Colorada, the Sol de Mañana geyser, Laguna Polques, Salar de Chalviri and Laguna Verde. This reserve was formed in 1973, and affords some protection for this unique area.

Laguna Verde

At an altitude of 4400m, Laguna Verde is close to the border with Chile. The lake does not appear green all of the time, but when it does, this is down to the calcium carbonate, lead, arsenic and sulphur in the lake. Wind levels also have an influence on the intensity of the color of the lake. Covering a distance greater than 16 square kilometers, the lake's water maintains extremely low temperatures, dropping to as low as -56ºC and it doesn't freeze at this temperature due to the wind and the minerals within. It is possible to stay overnight in the lake area at a refuge, but most groups are here earlier in the day and don't stick around.

Volcán Licancabur

Sitting behind Laguna Verde is the magestic Volcán Licancabur. At the top, the ruins of an Inca site have been discovered. The site was thought to have been used for ceremonies. At 5920m, this dormant volcano can be climbed with some of the tour operators. This requires an additional day on your trip. The climb is not technical, but the extremities of weather make the trip challenging. The volcano is right on the border with Chile.

Laguna Celeste

Some tours head out to Laguna Celeste, but as yet, it is still somewhat off the beaten path for the 4x4 groups.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Uyuni: Border Crossing with Chile, Uyuni Services, Safety, Salar de Uyuni Tours (Salt Flats Tours) and Salar de Uyuni Packing List (Salt Flats Packing List).

By Paula Newton
I am V!VA's operations expert. With an MBA and a background in the Interactive Television industry in the U.K. I am the organizing force behind the...
02 Mar 2010

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