Salar de Uyuni
"Salt Processing near Colchani"
The world's largest salt plains (4600 square miles at 12,000 ft. elevation) are a spectacular sight. Be sure to bring your sunglasses though. As you can see, the water table is very high. The salt is stacked into piles to partially dry before being hauled to Colchani village to be thoroughly dried in ovens and put into bags. There are many more pictures on my Uyuni, Coquesa and Colchani pages.
"Hotel Made of Salt"
You travel across the Salar de Uyuni in a 4WD Totoya Land Cruiser. We used Colque Tours in Uyuni. A few kilometers west of Colchani there were two salt hotels, the Palacio de Sal and the smaller Hotel de Sal Playa Blanca (the latter was only one I saw both in Oct 03 and May 06). Both were shut down as hotels in October 2002 due to poor sanitation and environmental damage to the Salar. At the Hotel de Sal Playa Blanca, you can still look around if you buy something in the shop inside. Everything is made of salt, including the furniture. It is worth spending 5-6 Bs. to see the inside.
The good news is that they are building a new, large salt hotel on the edge of the Salar north of Colchani. In May 06, the new salt hotel had not opened yet. I only saw it from a distance but the construction seemed pretty far along. I found a website for Palacio de Sal that I think must be the new hotel. Lonely Planet in Apr 04 said that the old hotels were being deconstructed and relocated near Colchani. I know the Hotel Playa Blanca was still there in May 06, so maybe they just moved the Palacio de Sal.
"Almost Endless Whiteness"
The salt plain extends almost as far as you can see. However, there are volcanos in the distance.
"Shaped Like a Fish"
In the middle of nowhere, an island shaped like a fish appears on the horizon. The 4WD track is like a line reeling in that fish. Many tour books call it Isla del Pescado but it is actually Incahuasi. The real Isla del Pescado is further away and off the regular tour route.
"Outpost in the Salt Plain"
The back side of Incahuasi has a developed area where the 4WD tours stop for lunch. The island is relatively small and the walking trail can be toured in an hour or so. You must pay a fee to take the trail. I think it was 20 Bs. (certainly no more than that). It is a fascinating place. I wish we had stayed there longer after lunch, since we arrived at the Chuvica shelter around 3 PM.
"Amazing Cacti and Rock Formations"
The Incahuasi trail is like walking on the bottom of an ancient ocean, which is what you are actually doing. The rocks are covered with fossilized algae. Watch out, they are sharp. These cacti are estimated to grow 1 cm. per year and many are more than 10 m. tall. That makes them substantially older than even me.
"Chuvica Village Shelter"
Colque Tours has a new shelter at Chuvica on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, where you spend the first night of the tour. Everything is done on a vehicle basis. The first vehicle to arrive gets bedroom #1, the second #2, etc. In the dining room, the people in your vehicle sit at the same table and are served by the driver. A bedroom sleeps up to six people in twin beds and there is a bathroom for each bedroom (clean too). There is running water but the hot water never came as promised at 5 PM.
"Entertainment for a Good Cause"
After an ample and quite good dinner in the Chuvica dining room, the kids from the local orphanage put on a show. They dance and play traditional instruments. Give their teacher (standing in the right background) plenty of credit. These kids will see a better life because of his innovative idea. Please give generously when they pass the hat.