Uyuni is the gateway to Bolivia’s remote southwest. Active volcanoes, hot springs and a palette of colour-splashed lakes populated by hardy flamingos punctuate surreal landscapes of blindingly bright salt plains and deserts, described by many (including the author) as the most extraordinary in all Bolivia.
The town of Uyuni is best known for its train cemetery, where rusting hulks of steam engines and railway carriages slowly decay – victims of Bolivia’s severe shortage of working track. Not far out of town, the terrain is engulfed by the blinding whiteness of the 12,000 sq km Salar de Uyuni salt flats. Miles and miles of dazzling white nothingness are bizarrely punctuated by two “islands”: sports stadium-sized mounds of rock and earth on which flourish cactuses and a population of stranded viscachas (large Andean rabbits).
To the south of the great Salar, the terrain becomes higher and wilder as the Altiplano meets the Andes: a harsh desert landscape dotted with snow-capped, pink-brown mountains, active volcanoes and isolated, serene lakes. The fiery red Laguna Colorada (4,278m) never fails to astound, its incredible coloration caused by micro-organisms and a high ochre level. More unforgettable still, the otherworldly Laguna Verde sits placidly and romantically at 4,260m, isolated in Bolivia’s southwestern corner, with Volcán Licancábur rising 5,960m behind its turquoise, borax-lined surface.
Above this high altitude wilderness, even a full moon struggles to outshine a night sky as spellbindingly clear and starry as anywhere this side of outer space. Nights can be freezing cold and visitor facilities very basic, but you will never forget the Milky Way and shooting stars.
As you may have heard, lithium, a natural element that is used to generate electric power for all the green cars, cellphones, laptop computers, etc. is present under the Salar de Uyuni in high quantities : 50 to 70% of the world's lithium reserves.