Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
© John Shaw/Minden Picture
Info. Salt cones on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
What we’re looking at isn’t snow and ice – it’s a surreal landscape of salt in the Andes of south-west Bolivia. Located 3,656 meters above sea level, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat (or salt pan), spanning just over 10,000 square kilometres. It was formed when prehistoric lakes dried up over centuries, leaving behind a desert of bright white salt that can be seen from space. During the rainy season (December to April), a thin layer of water covering the salt transforms the area into a giant mirror that reflects the beautiful Bolivian skies.
There’s an estimated 10 billion tons of salt here, with about 25,000 tons extracted annually. Local salt gatherers, known as ’saleros’, scoop the raw mineral into piles to let it dry under the sun before it's taken to the nearby village of Colchani, where it's processed and turned into table salt, which is then sold in Bolivia and other countries. But the real treasure is buried beneath the salt crust: Just below the surface lies the world's largest untapped lithium reserve that could one day power the batteries in our smartphones, laptops and electric cars.