Anyone who is considering a trip to South America would be crazy not to visit the breathtaking Salar de Uyuni or “salt flats” in Bolivia – one of the most unique landscapes in the world.
Salar de Uyuni is famous for being the world’s largest salt flat, covering an expansive 10,000km2 region in south west Bolivia near the town of Potosi. An estimated 10 billion tons of salt can be found at the flats, with only 25,000 tons being extracted annually by local miners. Due to the area's status as a major tourist attraction several hotels have been built in the area – most of them constructed primarily from salt! Tours to the area usually take 3-4 days due to the long distances between nearby towns and the salt flats themselves. 4WD vehicles are required but still provide a very bumpy ride!
Why do tourists spend so much time travelling to the area? Because the beautiful and unique landscapes found in this distant corner of the Bolivian desert provide an experience that you will never find anywhere else. And because the vast and expansive salt lakes provide opportunities to take crazy and inventive mind-boggling photos, given the right props.
My own personal journey through the salt flats took place several years ago while taking a long-anticipated trip around Bolivia, Peru and Argentina. We had heard stories about the great scenery and photo opportunities and couldn’t wait to check it out. As it turned out, all of the hype was justified – the landscapes were amazing and we had great fun taking silly pictures and capturing beautiful once-in-a-lifetime kinds of photos. The only disappointing element was the limited time available to play around with different angles and perspectives when trying to get creative with our props.
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All of our photos were taken on an ordinary ‘point and shoot’ style camera – imagine what could be done with some fancy, state-of-the-art expensive camera gear!
Another of our photos - our tour group standing on the Lonely Planet Bolivia book.
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A couple of tips for those travelling to the Bolivian salt flats
- Do your research regarding tour companies travelling to the area – some companies have developed a bad reputation due to employees engaging in negligent driving, resulting in serious accidents. Trust me, you definitely don’t want to end up the victim of a car accident while in the middle of the Bolivian desert, and at least a full day’s drive away from proper civilization!
- If possible, stay at the salt flats for a couple of nights to allow more time for fun and adventures with photography props.
- Take props! Try buying some props from a local market or town just before you get there. Toys are particularly fun and creative to work with. Brainstorm ideas on the way in case you have limited time to stop and take photographs when you arrive, especially as each photo can take a while to set up and require some experimentation. We found that some of the local restaurants had a stash of props that were available to lend to tourists on a ‘good will’ basis (i.e. with the expectation that they would be returned later). Return the favor by passing along your props when you have finished, as you probably won’t want to cart them around in your luggage anyway.
- Take spare camera batteries and remember that being in the desert, it can get really cold at night – it was -37 degrees Celsius (really really cold!) when we set off one morning at 4am for a long drive to the next location. Camera batteries go flat more quickly in cold temperatures – putting them inside your pockets or blankets while sleeping helps to keep them warm.
So if you are an adventurous traveler who has not yet visited this beautiful place - do yourself a favor and visit the awe-inspiring salt flats in Bolivia!