Hugging the Southwest edge of Bolivia, is the Salar de Uyuni salt flat that holds the record for the largest salt flat in the world. 12,000 feet above sea level, Salar de Uyuni’s spectacular view is one of the hidden wonders of South America. The sky and earth kiss at the horizon line and the colors of the world bleed into each other displaying a mirror effect as far as the eye can see, giving it the nickname, “Heaven on Earth”. Ravishing views are one of the many sought after amenities in Salar de Uyuni. Government officials in Bolivia are determined to take advantage of other amenities, such as lithium from just below the salt crust.
Salar de Uyuni consists of over 4,000 square miles of salt crust and lithium which has yet to be extracted. Lithium is a valuable resource and can be found in batteries for mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras, electric vehicles, and even used to treat a variety of mental disorders. Scientific America reports:
“Lithium is found in many places on the planet, but among all of them no deposit is richer than the vast salt flats of Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, covering more than 10,000 square kilometers of the remote high plains. Lithium is found among these salts, mixed in with brine that lies beneath a saline crust, the residue of an ancient evaporated sea. That lithium-rich brine is the legacy of local volcanic activity transporting the metal to the surface where it could then be leached by infiltrating waters.”
President Evo Morales of Bolivia refers to lithium as the “hope of humanity” because efficiently extracting resources like lithium from Salar de Uyuni could eventually be the key to bringing the citizens of Bolivia out of poverty and increase job growth. In addition to Salar de Uyuni being resource rich, it is also an attraction for tourists looking to experience an unconventional vacation.
Visitors from all over the world travel vast distances to witness where the sky and earth become one; however, this view is only seen during Bolivia’s rainy seasons from December to April.
Beyond the scenery, one can find an abandoned train graveyard, located on the outskirts of the salt flat. The eroded trains capture the essence of the Gilded Age and industrial boom of the 1920s and 30s. Those wishing to stick around for more than one day to explore these hidden oddities can stay overnight at Salar de Uyuni’s Palacio de Sal, the only hotel made entirely of salt which attracts tourist from all over.
Although Bolivia is a mineral rich country, political challenges along with the country’s resilience to acclimatizing to current extraction processes interfere with Bolivia’s chances of successfully dominating the lithium industry. Currently, Bolivia remains a “paradox of plenty”; however, Morales plans to someday accelerate one of the most impoverished countries in South America, to one of the world’s competitors in the lithium industry.
Salar de Uyuni continues to double as South America’s most prized tourist attraction and one of the largest lithium reserves in the world.