Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, located in Bolivia.
It is in the Daniel Campos Province in Potosí in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes and is at an elevation of 3,656 meters (11,995 ft) above sea level.
Salar de Uyuni spreads over 10,582 square kilometers (4,085 square miles), which is roughly 100 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States.
There are a few small ‘islands’ such as Isla Incahuasi, which only accentuates the Salar’s surreal beauty.
The geological history of the Salar is associated with a sequential transformation between several vast lakes. Some 30,000 to 42,000 years ago, the area was part of a giant prehistoric lake, Lake Minchin. When the lake dried up, it left a couple of seasonal puddles and several salt pans, including Salar de Uyuni.
The area has a relatively stable average temperature with a peak at 21 °C in November to January and a low of 13 °C in June.
The rainfall is also low at 1 to 3 mm (0.04 to 0.12 in) per month between April and November, but it may increase up to 80 mm (3.15 in) in January.
Salar De Uyuni, turns into a mirror during the rainy season.
Salar is salt flat in Spanish. 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, the latter possibly referring to the “islands” of the Salar; or as “salt-flat at Uyuni (the town named ‘pen for animals’)”.
Salar de Uyuni attracts tourists from around the world. As it is far from the cities, a number of hotels have been built in the area.
Palacio de Sal (Spanish for “Palace of salt”) is a hotel built of salt blocks. It is located at the edge of Salar de Uyuni. Constructed in 2007, it was built with one million 35 centimeters (14-inch) blocks of salt which are used for the floor, walls, ceiling and furniture including beds, tables, chairs and sculptures.
One major tourist attraction is an antique train cemetery. It is 3 km (almost 2 miles) outside Uyuni and is connected to it by the old train tracks.
As an extremely broad and flat terrestrial surface, the salar de Uyuni is an ideal reference target for Earth-orbiting altimeters.
Every November, Salar de Uyuni is the breeding grounds for three species of pink South American flamingo: the Chilean, Andean, and rare James’s flamingos. About 80 other bird species are present, including the horned coot, Andean goose, and Andean hillstar.
It is covered by a few meters (several feet) of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average elevation variations within one meter (3.3 ft) over the entire area of the Salar.
Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt of which less than 25,000 tons is extracted annually.
Vast reserves of untapped lithium lie beneath the salt flat, and in the early 21st century the Bolivian government discussed options and feasibility for its extraction and production. It contains 50% to 70% of the world’s known lithium reserves.
With the use of modern GPS technology, it can now be proven that the Salar de Uyuni is not perfectly flat. New measurements revealed previously missed features resembling ridges, hills, and valleys only millimeters in height.