Journey Four / Chapter 43

Uyuni, Bolivia

February 2022

Unveiling Bolivia's historic rail heritage and natural marvels: exploring Uyuni, the train cemetery, and the enchanting salt flats. Discover the stories behind rusting relics and endless white horizons.

Nestled in the remote southwestern corner of Bolivia, the town of Uyuni serves as the gateway to some of the country's most extraordinary and surreal landscapes. Founded in 1890 as a trading post and railway hub, Uyuni has transformed over the decades from an industrial outpost to a vibrant tourist destination. Its quiet streets, lined with low-slung adobe buildings and bustling markets, exude a rustic charm that reflects both its historical roots and its evolving role as a center for adventurers seeking the wonders of the surrounding region.

Just outside Uyuni lies the hauntingly beautiful Cementerio de Trenes, or Train Cemetery, a testament to the town's rich railway history. In the early 20th century, Uyuni was a crucial junction for trains transporting minerals from the Bolivian highlands to the Pacific ports. Today, the remnants of this era can be seen in the rusting locomotives and railcars scattered across the desert landscape. The skeletal remains of these once-mighty machines create an eerie yet captivating scene, offering a tangible link to a bygone era of industrial ambition and decline.

Beyond the town and the Train Cemetery, the expansive Salar de Uyuni unfolds like a vast, otherworldly canvas. As the largest salt flat in the world, spanning over 10,000 square kilometers, Salar de Uyuni offers an unparalleled visual spectacle. Formed from prehistoric lakes that evaporated long ago, the salt flat is a seemingly endless expanse of white, creating a stark and stunning contrast against the blue sky. During the rainy season, a thin layer of water transforms the salt flat into a giant mirror, reflecting the sky and creating an illusion of walking on clouds, a phenomenon that draws visitors from around the globe.

The salt flat is not only a natural wonder but also a site of significant economic importance. Beneath its surface lies a vast reserve of lithium, a crucial component in modern battery technology. Additionally, the unique ecosystem of Salar de Uyuni supports rare wildlife, including flocks of pink flamingos that feed on the microbial life in the shallow waters. The interplay of natural beauty and industrial potential makes Salar de Uyuni a place of fascinating contrasts, embodying both the pristine and the practical aspects of Bolivia's natural heritage.