Avid travelers, a young couple thinks they’ve seen it all. They’ve been to the greatest cities in the world like Milan, Paris, London, Shanghai, Seoul, Singapore. They’ve been to the most beautiful beaches and went scuba-diving with the most exotic sea life known to man, from Belize to Palau (see our Water Worlds post for more). But there’s one trip that they, and even the seasoned globe-trotter, likely haven’t yet visited: an utterly unique vista and vacation destination, a rare natural landscape for the especially intrepid. We as humans marvel at the grand and the towering: mountain ranges, monstrous castles, and deep canyons. Yet, imagine a landscape so still that no single organism can exist, so expansive and vast that you can see the curvature of the earth: the great Salt Flats of the world.
Salt flats are the creation of dry winds and unfettered sunfall, where water is evaporated before it fully soaks into the ground, leaving behind minerals at the surface. Over thousands of years, the minerals build up, forming arid salt flats as the world knows them. Salt flats are desert-like, and with their dryness, high salt content, are barren and uninhabitable for most forms of life.
Salt flats can vary massively in size depending on climate. Arguably the most famous, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is more than 12,000 square kilometers, making it the largest salt flat in the world while also being one of the world’s largest sources of precious metals. From North America, it’s simple to take an hour-long flight from La Paz, Brazil, to Salar de Uyuni, which also made headlines for the recently-opened Kachi Lodge. Seven geodesic domes sit on the Uyuni Salt Flats, fully outfitted with plush sheepskins, great heating, and luxurious beds, overlooking the breathtaking landscape. Coupled with the vista, the Kachi Lodge accommodations, the first of their kind in Bolivia, make for a dazzling and utterly unique vacation experience that connects travelers to Bolivian culture. The result is a premium, rare opportunity for lucky travelers to absorb a completely Bolivian experience, and to encounter the raw local environment.
The Salt Flats also offer incredibly different visuals depending on the time of year you choose to visit. In the dry season, from May to October, the dried flats are patterned with endless geometric shapes. During the wet season, from November to March, a few inches of water on the surface of the flats creates a perfect mirror as smooth as glass, making it seem as though you are floating in endless sky: a surreal vista much loved by photographers.
If you think your stay immersed in the 6,800 square miles of salt flats will leave you wanting for good food, Kachi Lodge’s partnership with gustu is an apt answer. Gustu is the Bolivian birth child of Claus Meyer, co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, three-time winner of 50 Best Restaurants in the World. “Why Bolivia?” Meyer says in a phone call from Copenhagen. “If you have access to a large diversity of products, unknown to foodies, then you have a strong chance of coming up with something that could have global interest. Bolivia may have the most interesting and unexplored biodiversity in the world.” Gustu, along with the Southern Tarija area’s blossoming wine scene, has put Bolivia on the gastronomical map.
Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
Indeed, though the Salt Flats are a harsh environment for natural diversity, other nearby features of Uyuni include desert dunes, brilliantly-colored lakes like the crimson-red Laguna Colorada, wild flamingos and llamas, volcanoes, and hot springs: all unmissable aspects of Brazil’s natural majesty.
Though Salar de Uyunis is the largest salt flat in the world, salt flats can be found in multiple countries, even as locally as in the U.S. Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats are 100 times smaller than Salar de Uyunis, but have made headlines as the venue for a number of world record-breaking land speed feats. The Great Salt Lake west of Bonneville is all that remains of the ancient Bonneville Lake, dried up centuries ago to create the salt pans and now home to the famous Bonneville speedway. Camp in the surrounding public lands, stargaze Utah’s uninhibited skies, and wake to the brilliance of the flats to get the most out of a visit to Bonneville.
Travel buffs from all over the world are well-aware of Chile’s allure: from the grassy Patagonia mountain ranges to the forests of Torres del Paine National Park, Chile has never been short of natural beauty. Yet for a more remote wilderness experience, northern Chile is home to Atacama Salt Flats, also called Salar de Pedernales, unique for its greyish salt crust and thanks so its many “watery eyes,” its exotic bird life like the Andean flamingo that feed in these ponds. Atacama is also one of the few salt flats in the world that are actually swimmable, and you’ll be eager to take a dip in its crystal-clear bright turquoise pools. The Salar de Pedernales are a short drive south of San Pedro and are bordered by the magnificent Andes Mountains. The Atacama Desert is its own formidable force, with a long history of ancient communities carving out their homes amongst the unforgiving rocks and salt. Atacama offers several forays into the wilderness, such as the famous Valle de la Luna, its extraterrestrial appearance and cliff pillars rising high from the salty soil that have inspired visitors for centuries.
Several accommodations curate experiences and focus on wellness, like Alto Atamaca and Tierra Atacama, utilizing the local lithium-rich salts and desert herbs––the perfect repose from exploring the high desert and Salt Flats.
Seasoned travelers regularly report that their visits to Salt Flats have been the most memorable trips of their lives. As such, the Flats have become major travel destinations, with modern resorts designed to allow visitors to totally absorb their surroundings in modern, stylish comfort. Due to its unique geology, history, and scenic beauty, the Bonneville Salt Flats have been designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in 1985, and designated for public use and enjoyment by the Bureau of Land Management. The Salt Flats of the world, though seemingly strong and formidable biomes, demand proper respect and preservation to exist in all their scenic beauty. For those seeking the world’s most alluring treasure, for photo enthusiasts, and those who wish to relax. To fully experience the breadth of natural beauty our world has to offer, the heavenly salt flats are an environ all their own that refuses to be missed.