Argentina’s Salt Flats: On the Map, Out of this World

Among many beautiful sites down the world-famous Ruta 40, or Route 40, is the Salinas Grandes. At one of the furthest northwest points in Argentina, the salt flats stretch over the Salta and Jujuy provinces. The name “salt flat” does not do the landform justice: taking a trip to this geological wonder is like taking a trip out of this world.

The ancient dried-up river remnants that create a salt flat leave a completely surreal image. You are surrounded by an immaculate white landscape, the only break in the horizon being the majestic Andes Mountains. The sight is absolutely breathtaking, but that does not stop tourists from playing around! The vast, empty backdrop is the perfect location for taking amazing, and completely hilarious, photos that play around with perspective. This is the perfect visit for anyone who has taken the classic “holding” the Leaning Tower of Pisa shot… or for anyone that has at least dreamed of doing so. There is no entry fee to enter the Salinas Grandes territory, but have some money on hand in case you want to pick up a few hand-carved salt figures as souvenirs.

To get to the Salinas Grandes, you will need to register with a tour company or rent a car. There are plenty of tours – and you can opt for a one-day outing, or a multiple day excursion that would travel through not only the salt flats but a greater majority of the Salta and Jujuy area. Public transportation is rather limited in this region, so if that is your choice of transportation, make sure you check the Susques-bound bus times in advance.

Crossing the Argentinian border northward brings you to Bolivia, home of not just any salt flat, but the world’s largest. Visible from space, the Salar de Uyuni covers over 10,000 square kilometres and contains an estimated 50% of Earth’s lithium reserves. The Salar de Uyuni is known as the world’s largest mirror and admired for its dreamy and glossed landscape that blurs all boundaries between land and sky. It is rightfully revered as a top sight to see during your lifetime. The wildlife in Salar de Uyuni is minimal, but it would not be rare to cross paths with flamingos, culpeo foxes, and a variation of birds during your expedition.

Exploring the Salar de Uyuni is a more extensive trip than to the Salinas Grandes because it is a more in-depth experience. Keep note that travel through this famed Bolivian salt flat is categorised as basic, meaning there will not be many accessible luxuries one may expect from a relaxing vacation. Four to six people navigating the land in a jeep with a local driver is what the typical excursion looks like. If unique accommodations strike your interest then be sure to book a night at one of the area’s salt hotels. Yes, salt hotels. Fittingly enough for the world’s largest salt flat, you actually have the option to stay in a hotel constructed entirely out of salt blocks.

No matter how warm the days, the nights at Salar de Uyuni are quite cold so be prepared! And for any salt flat visit, do not forget your sunglasses to protect your eyes from the ground’s powerful glare. Lastly, bring extra memory cards for your camera because an adventure to one of South America’s salt flats is something you will cherish forever.

By Morgan Lamb