Indigenous legend tells a story of a girl named Tunupa who lived in the valley, as beautiful as no one else, who had a wáwa, a baby, which promised to be as beautiful as her mother. All the men were in love with her and women envied intensely and lost no opportunity to make her suffer. The men in the area, pushed by the unbearable jealousy of the local women, kidnapped the baby and made her disappear. Shattered, Tunupa broke into tears, between piercing screams. The salty tears ran non-stop across her cheeks, falling from her chin, down her neck until reaching the chest, where they joined the milk that was spurting from the breast of the inconsolable mother, creating a huge river of milk and salt that drowned all the fields of the area, making excellent farmland in a desert wasteland of salt.
Tunupa is the volcano that looks over the Bolivian salt flats from a towering 5,200 metres from the north.
Extending over a staggering 12,000 square kilometres and an impressive 3653 meters above sea level, the fascinating Uyuni Salt Flats is both the largest and highest salt flat. Comparable to an endless white sea when dried and a huge reflective mirror when wet, the Bolivian Salt Flats seem almost otherworldly and will certainly provide to privileged visitors, spectacular pictures and unforgettable memories.
As many as 40,000 years ago, the aerial part of the lake was Minchin, a giant prehistoric lake. When the lake dried up, the remains were two lakes, Poopó and Uru Uru, and two major salt deserts. Uyuni is about 25 times larger than the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States. In addition to some 10 million tons of salt, the Salt Flats is also the subject of the world’s largest reserve of lithium, an essential mineral in many technological devices such as mobile phones and laptops. Also, with its incredibly huge area, the clarity of the skies and extraordinary plain, the Uyuni Salt Flats is used to calibrate satellite altimeters for Earth observation.
Every November, the Salar de Uyuni is the scene of the presence of three species of South American flamingos: Chilean, James and Andean. Amid this sea of salt there is a desert oasis – Fish Island -, named for its shape of fish, covered with giant cactuses. It is the only sign of life for kilometres.
Laguna Verde, Laguna Colorada and the hot springs can be visited during the tour of the salt flats, as we enter the Eduardo Alvaroa National Reserve. Laguna Verde is a beautiful lagoon with green-hued waters located towards the Chilean border at the foot of Licancabur volcano at an altitude of 4,300 meters (14,000 feet). Its colour is due to mineral sediment of copper. Laguna Colorada is a lagoon with crimson coloured waters due to the presence of mineral in the water. In these lagoons live flamingos (flamingos living at that altitude and those low temperatures!) which creates a unique scene of spectacular beauty!