The 40,000 years-old White Bolivian Paradise
In Spanish, the word ‘Salar’ functions both as a verb and as a noun. As a verb, ‘salar’ means to add salt to something to make it salty. As a noun, Salar means any land that in past geological times was a seabed, on which a crust of salt has been deposited when the sea that covered it evaporated.
Uyuni originates from the Aymara language and means a pen (enclosure); Uyuni is a surname and the name of a town that serves as a gateway for tourists visiting the Salar. Thus Salar de Uyuni can be loosely translated as a salt flat with enclosures or as “salt-flat at Uyuni (the town named ‘pen for animals’).
The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt lake in the world and one of the most unique places in the planet, visually captivating and one of the most incredibly beautiful places there exists in Bolivia or South America.
It hides several gems and surreal landscapes. It is the world’s largest salt pan and natural mirror, and when a thin layer of water covers the surface, it reflects the sky and creates a breathtaking scene.
The area is large, with clear skies of exceptional fullness, making the Salar de Uyuni an ideal place for calibrating the altitude of Earth observation satellites.
Salar De Uyuni
It is located at the crest of the Andes Mountains, found in the Potosí and Oruro regions of southwestern Bolivia, at an altitude of 3,656 meters (11,995 feet) above sea level and spanning an area of 10,582 square kilometres (4,086 miles).
Salar de Uyuni is the remnant of an ancient gigantic prehistoric lake that dried up 40,000 years ago, Lake Minchin and later, 11,000 years ago, by Lake Tauca or Tauka. During this period, there was a phase of humid climate with a lot of rain, making the proto-lakes reach a height of around 100 m above the current level.
Afterwards came a dry and warm period, which produced a great reduction in the surface and volume of the Andean lakes. When the lake dried up, it left behind two lakes, Poopó and modern Uru Uru. In addition, two large salt “deserts” were created as a result of this process: the Salar de Coipasa and the much larger Salar de Uyuni.
The average depth of the Salar de Uyuni is approximately 10 meters and the highest point of the salt flat is more than 3,656 meters above sea level. The average altitude varies only one meter over the entire area of the lake. The bark serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It is considered that the Salar de Uyuni may contain 50-70% of the world’s lithium reserves.
The depth of the salt flat is 120 meters, and it is made up of approximately 11 layers of salt of different thicknesses, ranging from less than one meter to ten meters, the superficial one being the thickest.
Between these layers rainwater accumulates, which later becomes brine. In general, the salt crust is formed by porous halite filled with interstitial brine, which stands out for being very rich in lithium, potassium, boron and magnesium.
In addition, the Uyuni salt flat has 32 islands made up of petrified corals and cyanobacterial residues, which are even home to giant cacti, such as Incahuasi Island, one of the most visited in the area. Many of them are prepared for tourism, but perhaps the most extravagant thing that we can find in the middle of this esplanade is a salt hotel, prepared for adventurers who dare to drive to the salt flat.
What most characterizes this salt flat is undoubtedly its great reflectivity, turning it into a giant mirror during the rainy seasons. The nearby lakes overflow and turn the plain into a great reflection of the sky.
During the dry season, the brine evaporates and the surface becomes a true canvas of geometries. In the rainy season, the most superficial compact part partially dissolves and the brine level rises above the surface, between 10 and 30 centimetres, turning the Salar de Uyuni into a large lake.
The landscape of the Salar de Uyuni is made up of a variety of different formations and patterns, created by the salt. The formations are mainly hexagonal, due to the way the salt crystallizes when it is exposed to the sun and the wind. Other patterns include polygons, circles, and even rectangles. These patterns are believed to have been created over thousands of years, as the salt crystallizes and reforms in different ways.
The salt flats of Salar de Uyuni are a popular tourist destination, and many people flock to the area every year to experience the unique and stunning views. It is not only a popular tourist destination, but it also has great economic and cultural importance to the local people. Salt has been harvested from the salt flats for centuries, and the salt is still harvested today by locals who use traditional methods. The salt is then sold to local markets, or exported to other countries.
The Salar de Uyuni is home to a variety of wildlife, including llamas, vicuñas and various species of birds. The area is also home to several rare species of flora, such as the giant cactus, which can grow up to 10 meters in height.
The most popular time to visit the salt flats is during the wet season, between November and March, when the entire area is filled with a shallow layer of water, creating a surreal mirror-like effect. During the dry season, from April to October, the salt flats are mostly dry, and visitors can explore the area on foot or by mountain bike.
In recent years, the Salar de Uyuni has become a popular destination for photographers and filmmakers, who come to capture the unique and stunning views of the salt flats. The area has also been featured in many films, including the 2017 Star Wars movie “The Last Jedi”, which was filmed in part at the salt flats.
The Salar de Uyuni is a unique and breathtaking destination, and it continues to captivate visitors from all around the world. With its stunning views, unique formations and variety of wildlife, it is a place that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.
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