Outside the dusty, bitterly cold town of Uyuni in the high desert of southern Bolivia lies the largest salt flat on earth, the Salar de Uyuni. At 12,000 square meters, equivalent to the size of Belgium, the Salar is immense, a vast expanse of blinding whiteness as far as the eye can see. In the dry season, from April through November, a layer of sediment forms a hexagon pattern across the surface. In the rainy season, from December through March, water floods the Salar, resulting in a perfect mirror image of the sky and clouds above.
Millions of years ago, a sea covered this region of Bolivia. With the uplifting of the Andes mountain range, the sea shrunk into smaller lakes and eventually dissolved entirely. The salt that remained coalesced on the surface, creating salt flats high in the mountains, the largest of which is the Salar de Uyuni. In addition to salt, the Salar is rich in minerals and includes the largest deposits of lithium in the world.
The remnants of once active volcanoes float upon the surface of the Salar like misplaced rocky islands. These islands have developed fragile ecosystems, consisting of towering cacti blooming with flowers and small rodents known as vizcachas. The sight of the cacti against the backdrop of the gleaming sea of salt is surreal, as is the entire Salar.