On the Altiplano high plateaus at 3,660 meters above sea level, south of the city of La Paz, we will find the Uyuni Salt Pans, the largest in the world - a sea of salt, in a fantasy world of its own. It looks like an endless frozen over lake or a white expanse of desert, and is actually the evidence of a very ancient sea that existed here. Its total area is 10,580 km2. its average annual temperature ranges from 20░Celsius in the daytime to -25░C at night; it has a typical high-mountain climate: dry and cold, with low rainfall and intense solar radiation.
As a result of the instant evaporation of ground water that occurs in the southern high plateau due to the dryness of the air, enormous flat salt beds have formed consisting mainly of sodium chloride, together with the sodium and magnesium carbonates present in the original water. The township of Uyuni, departure point for tours to a region rich in landscapes, places of interest and natural wilderness areas, has tourist facilities for information, lodging, local and international cooking, unrestricted communications, medical assistance, foreign currency exchange and the purchase of local arts and crafts. Its weather is rainy from November to March and dry the rest of the year.
In the area of the salt pans of Coipasa, Uyuni and Empexa is concentrated the largest amount of salt on the planet. It is a plain of singular beauty, where nature has a very special way of displaying its marvels, by creating unique shapes. Snowcapped peaks of extinct volcanoes in immense arid plains with few rivers and vegetation and below zero Celsius temperatures at night.
The surface crust is 10 m thick, and the amount of salt in the Pans is estimated at 64000 millions tons. They also contain huge amounts of boron, chlorine, magnesium, sodium, potassium, strontium and other elements in smaller amounts, including lithium, which is considered a strategic mineral in high demand worldwide. At the edges of the salt pans potatoes and quinua are successfully farmed.
In winter, the salt pans are transitable and can be visited from the different towns in the surroundings. There are islands on the Uyuni Salt Pan with interest for tourists. Incahuasi, one of these, is spectacularly beautiful. Centrally located, it has calcareous rock formations including remains of coral and seashells, and is populated with cactus plants up to 7 meters in height, which climbed, afford a view of the enormous expanse of the salt pans from different angles.
Very close to its salt pans we find the town of Uyuni. There were plans in the 19th century to develop this settlement into a great railroad terminus and business metropolis; this, however, never happened. This explains the excessively wide streets of the original layout. The town of Uyuni is located on the highway that crosses the country in a north-south direction, and is the turning point for the town of Chiguna and the frontier village of Ollage, the Chilean border crossing; this road runs parallel to the railway line from La Paz. Nowadays the town of Uyuni lives off its salt pan, mining the salt and offering tours to its salt pan and those of Coipasa and Colchan as well as tours to Colorada Lagoon and Verde Lagoon (Red and Green Lagoons), and the other beauty spots mentioned below. The food and lodging services meet the visitors' basic needs. Actually, this whole area is a major cluster of salt pans and small lakes that form the remnants of a once immense inland sea.