Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.The first time I went to Southwest Bolivia all I had was a 7.1 megapixel point and shoot digital camera. Yet, I still was able to take some of the best photos of my life. It is hard not to. Everywhere you look you see something more exotic and un-earthly than the place you were just staring at and the light just gets better and better as the day changes.
The highlight of the trip is the Salar de Uyuni (Department of Potosi), which at 4,100 square miles is the largest salt flat in the world. It’s on the high, windswept altiplano at 3,700 meters in altitude. Nights can get extremely cold, though sunburn is common during the day as the rays reflect off of the ice like surface. Rocky islands in the sea of salt are home to cactus forests that seem eerily out of place.
From the Salar the excursion moves towards the Chilean border, passing emerald green and blood red mountain lakes filled with four species of flamingoes that feed on the minerals in the water. Wildlife includes herds of vicuña, the rabbit like vizcacha, alpaca, and foxes. Geysers and hot springs appear towards the end of the trip.
The trip has generally been targeted towards the budget traveler, though a new line up of luxury salt hotels and tour operators have begun to take advantage of what might be the world’s most unusual landscape. If you’re looking to explore the Salar in style, I recommend Chilean hotel company Explora’s Travesia tours that depart from their hotel in San Pedro de Atacama and are just about the only way you’ll be able to enjoy cold cuts, almonds, and fine wines at every stop.
This past October while updating the Bolivia chapter of the Frommer’s guide – even though it requires a pain in the ass night bus from La Paz to get there – I had the opportunity to take the four day 4×4 trip again. This time with a real camera. These are those are a few of those photos.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.