The lush, dense jungle of Costa Rica has made it one of the best places to go zip-lining – the hair-raising extreme sport of hurtling between or above lofty trees suspended from a cable. It’s the bucket-list opportunity to ascend into rainforest canopy and see jungle life from a unique perspective as well as get a massive buzz. Despite its white-knuckle effect, zip-lining is one of the safest extreme activities you can do, and is even suitable for children as young as four and older people, as there’s very little exertion. So it’s no wonder zip-lining has taken off to such an extent that there is now an abundance of companies offering varying types of canopy tour packages. With all this choice, how do you choose which is the best zip-lining experience for you? Here’s my review of my zip-lining experience with Selvatura Park in Monteverde National Park, plus two alternatives in different areas of Costa Rica:
Where? Monteverde National Park
Best for? Variety of nature experiences and big thrills
Selvatura is a virtual nature’s theme park, set in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, and offering an extensive canopy tour, ‘Tarzan Swing’, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, tree-top walkways and an insect museum. You can select which combination of activities you would like in Selvatura’s packages according to your budget and preferences. We went for the canopy tour, the tree-top walkways and the hummingbird garden, which made for a great adventure-filled day.
The day began with a thrill-filled few hours on one of Costa Rica’s longest networks of zip-lines, with 15 cables and 18 platforms, culminating in the heart-swallowing ‘Flight of the Quetzal’. This piece “de resistance of the canopy tour”, named after Costa Rica’s beautiful national bird, is a cable over half a mile (1km) long, suspended 328ft (100m) above the treetops. On the rest of the canopy tour, you travel solo, but on the Flight of the Quetzal you must go two-by-two as the weight helps propel you along the cable – you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of this one! As my buddy and I launched off the platform, the scream was frozen in my throat as we hurtled along, seemingly impossibly high in the air. Halfway along, my scream made its way out in combination with hysterical laughter. What a thrill, with nothing but cloud forest as far as you can see!
Just when you think it’s all over, walking wobbly-kneed towards the exit, there is one final opportunity for some screaming with the Tarzan Swing – a bungee-jump type of experience, where you are harnessed to a rope, and then jump off a tall platform to swing – in true jungle adventure style – through the trees. Doing the Tarzan call is optional.
After all this, the tranquil hummingbird garden came as a welcome light relief, and even the miles-high treetop walkways were positively relaxing.
Where? Arenal, La Fortuna province
Best for? Getting a whole new perspective of the famous Arenal Volcano
With the stunning Arenal Volcano looming nearby, Sky Trek starts your adrenaline rush with a ride in the ‘Sky Tram’ – an open-air gondola that rises 775ft (236m) in a 4100ft (1250m)-long ride up to an observation deck for spectacular views of the volcano and landscapes all around. Then it’s time to get down to business as you embark on a circuit of zip-lines stretching across canyons and between treetops, a route measuring almost 2 miles (3km) in total. The 10 zip-line cables range in height from 98ft (30m) to 656ft (200m) and in length from 656ft (200m) to a mega 2460ft (750m).
Also on site, you can visit a butterfly and orchid garden, and take a guided tour along the Sky Walk, a complex of hanging bridges and trails. During the 2-mile (3km) hike you will get to stop on observation platforms, and see waterfalls and the rich flora and fauna of the forest.
Sky Trek also offers different combination tours so you can adjust your day to suit you and your adventure companions.
Where? Quepos, the gateway to the Manuel Antonio National Park in Puntarenas province
Best for? Chances to see tropical jungle wildlife
Canopy Safari is one of the longest-established zip-line operators in Costa Rica, having constructed its first canopy course in 1997. Their tour package starts with an exciting drive through the tropical rainforest, with an expert bilingual guide who stops to show you the exotic flora and fauna, such as the poison dart frogs and the ‘walking palm tree’. You then reach the beginning of your canopy tour which consists of 18 platforms and 10 zip-lines, all with a beautiful river backdrop. As if this wasn’t enough to keep you stimulated, the park also has 2 rappel lines, a Tarzan Swing, a suspension bridge, a butterfly farm and – if you can bare it – a serpentarium.
The company has an eco-friendly outlook, and has committed to a Sustainability Project for Eco-Tourism, helping to aid the preservation of endangered rainforest through financial support to conservation, education, and reforestation projects. They have also ensured that their canopy course is constructed so that there is very little impact on the sensitive ecological balance that exists in the rainforest.
My top tips for zip-lining
- Ensure safety and environmental credentials are high – you should be fitted with a full harness, helmet and gloves. These should be checked twice by the professional guides before you set off, and again on each and every platform between cables.
- Wear long sleeves and long trousers in case of any stray branches.
- Wear secure-fitting shoes.
- Carry nothing in your pockets unless they zip up securely (the parks provide lockers for storage).
- To extend the enjoyment when you get back home, film a video on at least one of your zips!
- Oh, and stick to the butterfly gardens if you have a fear of heights…
We are happy to bring you this bit of Peru travel news from our valued partner, Aranwa Hotels Resorts & Spas, a leading provider of luxury hospitality and spa services in Peru:
For a limited time only, travelers planning to travel to Peru for a trip to Cusco & Machu Picchu can take advantage of special rates on rooms at the excellent Aranwa Cusco Boutique Hotel, our top pick for 5-star hotels in Cusco.
Book a Peru travel package with Peru For Less and you’ll receive discounts on Classic Rooms and complimentary upgrades on Deluxe Rooms. This offer is exclusive to clients of Peru For Less, valid only for travel before July, and subject to availability. Contact our travel advisors to take advantage of this amazing Peru hotel deal.
Our Top Pick Cusco Hotel:
Since its inauguration in 2010, Aranwa Cusco Boutique Hotel has quickly distinguished itself as a top choice in Cusco luxury hotels. Along with its sister hotel in the Sacred Valley (more info below), it ranked among the Top 25 Hotels in Peru in Trip Advisor’s 2013 Travelers’ Choice Awards.
Aranwa Cusco boasts an ideal location in the historic center of Cusco. It borders the quaint Plaza Regocijo, where travelers are spoiled for choice in restaurants, museums, shopping, and other attractions. Be sure to check out the Choco Museo, where you can learn about, sample, and make chocolate; and Chicha, the restaurant of Peru’s culinary superstar, Gaston Acurio.
Meanwhile, the Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s busy main square, sits just one block 2 blocks away. The hotel is housed in a well-preserved, lovingly restored, colonial-era mansion. Now a National Historic Landmark, it was the home of Alonso Pérez de Villarejo, Dean of the Cusco Cathedral in the 16th century; and it also belonged to the famed Cusco novelist Clorinda Matto de Turner at the turn of 20th century. Throughout the building, guests will be able to see architectural elements that were painstakingly preserved during the building’s restoration.
Aranwa’s interior spaces are equally fantastic, containing a treasure trove of art and artifacts, including original paintings, sculptures, and carvings from the Escuela Cusqueña (the Cusco School of Art) that adorn guestrooms and common areas alike.
Despite an emphasis on the historical, Aranwa Cusco does not skimp on the modern. Each of the 34 rooms and suites features an intelligent oxygen system that circulates extra O2 into the room – a welcome amenity at Cusco’s 3,400 meters/11,150 feet of elevation. In addition, bathrooms boast a spa concept, incorporating elements such as Scottish showers, either Jacuzzis or hot tubs, and heated marble floors for maximum comfort. In short, Aranwa Cusco provides the ideal setting in which to experience the magic of the historical Inca city in absolute comfort and luxury.
The Sacred Valley & Beyond:
Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness, situated 1.5 hours from Cusco and 30 minutes from Ollantaytambo, is perfectly located for an extended stay in the Sacred Valley of the Incas either before or after a trip to Machu Picchu.
At Peru For Less, we’re also excited about the opening of Aranwa’s newest resorts, Pueblito Encantado in the Colca Canyon and Aranwa Paracas Resort & Spa in the seaside town of Paracas 4 hours from Lima. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on any developments related to these and other Peru hotels.
Budget, boutique, or luxury – no matter what your travel style, Peru For Less delivers fully customized tours and services for travel to Peru and South America. Contact us to start planning your dream vacation.
Have you ever returned from a holiday somewhere that’s made a special impact, and thought you would like to give something back? Well that’s just what Jill and Eddie Neuwelt did after a homestay with a local family on the remote island of Amantani on Peru’s Lake Titicaca.
The couple, from Portland, Oregon, took their vacation to Peru in December 2012 and part of their trip included a homestay on Amantani Island. It was the experience of staying with the Yanarico family here that made such an impact on the Neuwelt’s lives. They were so moved by the family’s hospitality despite their humble and often difficult lives that Jill and Eddie decided to help them out with the gift of a solar power system to provide heating and lighting for the family home.
Amantaní is a small (6 sq mi (15 sq km)) island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, accessed by boat from Puno. The island is home to around 4000 people living in 10 communities, and most livelihoods are based on manual agricultural labor.
The island has no cars and no hotels, there is one health clinic and a few schools, and a few small stores that sell basic goods. Electricity used to be produced by a generator and provided limited power for a couple of hours each day, but with the rising price of petroleum, the generator is no longer used. Most families use candles or flashlights powered by batteries or hand-cranks, while small solar panels have recently begun to be installed on homes.
Some of the families on Amantaní open their homes to tourists for overnight stays and provide cooked meals, arranged through tour guides. It was on such a homestay that Jill and Eddie arrived.
And it was a trip they had never intended originally to take. Jill says, “Everyone thinks of Machu Picchu when they think of Peru, but Kelly, our travel advisor, recommended the homestay on Amantani, and it became the highlight of our whole trip.”
While Jill and Eddie were on their tour of Lake Titicaca, they also visited the Uros floating reed islands, as well as Taquile Island, which is near to Amantani. Jill tells how here she saw local children playing soccer with a plastic bag stuffed with scrunched up paper. She tried in vain to seek out a soccer ball she could buy for the kids on the island.
Then it was on to their homestay on Amantani where they stayed with the Yanarico family. Jill says, “They were a lovely family – there were aunts and a grandma and children all living under the same roof.” It was that night that Jill and Eddie experienced the cold temperatures that the family live in. “My husband was sleeping in his gloves and parka,” Jill explains. The couple discovered that the family were saving up for a solar heating system, and that it would take them no less than six years to do so. It was then that Jill and Eddie were inspired and decided to buy the solar system for the family. “We were really happy to pay for it,” Jill says.
She adds, “Staying on Amantani was wonderful, a unique and unforgettable experience, I loved that aspect of our trip to Peru.”
She also adds a tip for any other visitors heading to the islands of Titicaca: “Take an instant camera. Nowadays, most people just take digital cameras and show people the photos they have taken of them on the screen. I took photos of the kids and was able to give the mothers the pictures of their children to keep. They were really happy with that. Plus it’s a great way to bond over the language barrier.”
Willy Lopez, Peru for Less’ local representative on Amantani Island contacted us as soon as the Yanarico family had successfully installed their solar power system and sent us photos of the family with their new electric lights in use.
The tiny Central American nation of Costa Rica is well-known for being modern, highly developed, and environmentally conscious. But this peace-loving country (which abolished its armed forces in 1949) also has a wild side.
Costa Rica sits directly on the Ring of Fire, where the Pacific tectonic plate subducts under the encroaching Caribbean plate, and experience intense geothermal and seismic activity as a result. With 5 active volcanos and close to 100 others that are dormant or extinct, Costa Rica has become a preferred vacation spot for travelers who want to witness Planet Earth in action.
The local populace is largely unaffected by Costa Rica’s many volcanoes, but the occasional flare-up reminds Ticos and travelers alike of the powerful forces that shape the earth. In a roundabout way, the volcanic activity serves as a blessing because falling ash from eruptions creates the mineral-rich soils upon which farmers reap the country’s agricultural bounty.
Here are the top volcano tours for a Costa Rica vacation:
Arenal Volcano: Following its first devastating eruption in 1968, a steady stream of travelers flocked to the quaint town of La Fortuna de San Carlos to see nature’s fireworks display. The sight was especially dazzling after dark, when lava sputtered from the perfectly conical peak of Arenal Volcano like fiery popcorn, spewing and skittering down the mountain’s slopes with blazing trails of red and orange.
The volcano has been dormant since 2010, but La Fortuna remains a top Costa Rica vacation spot thanks to its rural charm and laidback vibe. The beautiful Laguna Arenal, at the foot of the volcano, provides the setting for kayaking and bird-spotting tours. Other popular activities include soaking in the popular Tabacón Hot Springs and hiking or riding on horseback to the La Fortuna Waterfalls.
Irazú Volcano: At 11,260 feet, Irazú Volcano is the highest volcanic peak in Costa Rica’s Central Range. On a clear day (rare in these parts), lucky travelers get views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. Also known as El Colosal, Irazú’s name derives from an indigenous word meaning the “mountain of rumbling and trembling.” The summit of Irazú is actually composed of 5 craters, including the 900-foot-deep, water-filled Main Crater. The waters in the crater-lake are usually emerald green but can change to cherry red according to differing mineral concentrations.
Poás Volcano: Departing from San Jose, a tour to Poás Volcano takes travelers through the diverse landscapes of the Central Valley, from flower fields and strawberry farms to tropical cloud forests at the higher altitudes. A stunning, green acid lake fills the crater of the 8,885-ft Poás Volcano. The mile-wide caldera is fed by rains, which cause fluctuations in the acidity of the lake’s water. The last eruption was in 1910, but Poas Volcano is still active with small eruptions and seismic movements recorded as recently as May 3, 2013.
Other volcanoes: The sun-drenched Guanacaste Province on the northwest coast is a launching point for other volcano tours in Costa Rica. These include Turrialba Volcano, whose smoky plumes are visible in recent NOAA satellite images; and Tenorio Volcano, which is surrounded by forests, hot springs, and scattered geysers. There is also the steep-sloped Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, whose name in Spanish means “old woman’s corner” and whose columns of smoke, according to various local legends, represent either an old witch’s moments of fury or a kind old lady’s cooking fires.
Apart from volcanoes, Costa Rica offers a never-ending menu of activities for adventure-loving travelers. There’s never dull moment on a Costa Rica vacation – unless you actively pursue one, which is ok, too. You can hike mountains and explore jungle trails, raft whitewater rivers, zipline over rainforest canopies, spot myriad birds, animals, and plant species, surf swells on picture-perfect beaches, kayak through mangrove forests, snorkel spectacular coral reefs, scuba dive in crystal clear waters… and more.
The travel experts at Costa Rica For Less specialize in organizing trips to Costa Rica’s volcanoes, rainforests, beaches, and other amazing attractions. Contact us to start planning your dream vacation to Costa Rica.
If you are looking for a truly unique Latin America adventure take a trip to the Galapagos Islands. The diverse terrain and array of wildlife will make for a truly unforgettable experience.
The Galapagos Islands sit 650 miles west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. The islands are an archipelago of volcanic isles span across over 28,000 square miles of South Pacific. In the Galapagos whether on land or sea, there is always a surprise of nature lurking around with giant tortoises, prehistoric marine iguanas, pink flamingos, flightless cormorants and tiny penguins all inhabiting these popular islands.
The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic isles providing a diverse array of terrain and there are four ecosystems that exist in the Galapagos.
Begin your Galapagos tour by traveling across the central island of Santa Cruz, the most developed and visited of the islands because of its great adventure expeditions. Travelers can explore Los Gemelos (The Twins) which are two gigantic lava chambers where natural lava tunnels once flowed. Santa Cruz is famous for its turtles with Bahia Tortuga one of the most famous beaches in the Galapagos a nesting place for turtles.
After discovering Santa Cruz, head southwards and head to San Cristobal which is home to a wide variety of animals including sea lions, blue and red-footed boobies, giant tortoises and dolphins. The nearby island of Floreana where volcano erosion has created lush landscapes and his home to even more luxuriant wildlife, travelers should take advantage and take a panga ride just off the shore to view some of the stunning seaside views. The island of Floreana is also famous for the Devil’s Crown, a snorkeler’s dream. A volcano submerged under water the Devil’s crown provides a diverse selection of wildlife to explore from tortoise, balloon fish, hammerhead sharks, tiger snake eels, and sea lions can all be found in the Devil’s crown.
Then head to the the largest island of the entire archipelago, Isabela. From the Concha Perla Lagoon, where hikers can make their way to the waters of the lagoon and swim with the sea lions to Puerto Villamil where a tortoise breeding center can be found, wildlife is plentiful on the island of Isabel. Travelers have plenty of options in Isabela but are highly recommended to hike the Sierra Negra Volcano which has a spectacular four-mile crater and then continue on to the Volcano Chico; a more difficult hike as it is mostly across sloping lava fields. Just a few miles away on the west coast is Elizabeth Bay, the perfect location to view penguins as the bay is home 95% of Galapago penguin population.
Finally, travel to the northern island of Genovesa otherwise known as “Bird Island” because of its vast bird population. The island is perfect for bird watching, especially from Peter’s Steps, a bird watching highland that rises 25 miles in elevation. Make sure to have your camera ready because you are sure to see a wide variety of birds including, red-footed boobies, lava gulls, and Darwin finches.
Did you know there is a canyon almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon? Colca Canyon in Peru is 13,650ft (4160m) deep, and is the second deepest canyon in the world. Its stunning scenery and the opportunity to spot the spectacular Andean condor soaring in the blue skies above adds to the charm of this unique place and makes it no surprise that it is Peru’s third most visited destination.
Most visitors set off on a Colca Canyon tour from Arequipa, a beautiful colonial city with many interesting Spanish buildings and churches constructed from the volcanic material exclusive to this area, called sillar, which is by nature bright white, giving the city its pseudonym La Ciudad Blanca (The White City). Declared a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO, the city makes a perfect location to spend some time before or after a tour of the canyon. Arequipa is also famous for being Peru’s second-most important city, and for its impressive backdrop with the omnipresent Misti Volcano.
This is high-altitude country – Arequipa sits at 7800ft (2380m), while your route through Colca Canyon will take you to nearly twice this in parts – so take time to adjust to the thin air.
Travelling to Colca Canyon from Arequipa is an experience in its own, as you pass highland landscapes and the Aguada Blanca National Vicuña Reserve, where you can even spot herds of the elegant vicuñas by the side of the road. Also keep your eyes peeled for viscachas – native rodents that look much like rabbits. Then be ready to hold your breath as the road traverses a staggering 15,830ft (4825m) at the Pata Pampa Pass and the Mirador de los Volcanes.
Chivay is the main village and the linking point between the two sides of Colca Canyon, and is where most tours start in earnest. It is also home to a lively market and shops selling high-quality local handicrafts, and best of all, just a short walk out of town are the hot springs of La Calera – perfect for a relaxing soak after a day’s exploring.
Unlike many canyons, Colca is fertile and inhabited, with extensive pre-Columbian terraces and unspoiled, traditional Andean villages only enhancing the landscape. The Collagua and Cabana peoples who lived here for at least 2000 years, from 800BC onward, built an ingenious terracing system on the valley walls that collects snowmelt from the nearby volcanoes. To one side, the smoking Sabancaya Volcano looms at 19,606ft (5976m), one of the most active volcanoes in the Americas, but don’t worry, the most you will see of an eruption is a billowing ash cloud. While alongside is the more docile but higher Ampato Volcano at a colossal 20,630ft (6288m), and where – you may recall – the famous ‘Ice Mummy’ was discovered.
The River Colca begins high in the Andes, and on its way down to the Pacific, it descends from 11,483ft (3500m) above sea level at Chivay, the first settlement on the edge of Colca Canyon, to reach 7218ft (2200m) at Cabanaconde, the small, last village in the canyon.
Descending to the deepest part of the canyon, you reach the Mirador Cruz del Condor, the best location to spot the legendary condor. The Andean condor is a national symbol not only of Peru, but of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, and plays an important role in the folklore and mythology of the Andean regions. Considered the animal of the spirit world according to Incan cosmology, it is easy to understand why when you stand and watch the majestic creatures swooping through the air. The population is unfortunately dwindling due to loss of habitat in parts of South America, but in Colca Canyon, visitors have the advantage of being able to see the birds at fairly close range as they fly past the cliff-edges.
A relative of the vulture, the bird is not pretty close-up, but with wingspans of up to 10.5ft (3.2 m), the sight of condors soaring gracefully on the thermal drifts created in the canyon is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For more chances of seeing the condors, come in the dry season between May and December; however, in the rainy season the valley is lush and green, with many flowers.
Many people choose to experience Colca Canyon on a two-day trek. Be prepared, this is for those who love trekking, as the way down – and the way up again – is long and steep. However, less enthusiastic trekkers can always opt for a mule ride.
Whichever way you choose to experience Colca Canyon, here you will see some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and maybe, just maybe, a soaring condor.
Lake Titicaca is just one of a few of Peru’s natural wonders. The lake is the highest navigable body of water in the world and has its western shores in Peru and its eastern shores in Bolivia. Its deep blue depths, situated at over 12,000 feet above sea level, have inspired myths and legends that date back to pre-Inca times and continues to be home to indigenous lake dwellers who build their houses on floating islands made from reeds, just as their ancestors did centuries before.
Lake Titicaca has become the main destination for travelers after visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu, as comfortable trains and the magical sight of the lake with its glistening waters has made Lake Titicaca a growing tourist attraction.
The lake straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia, both countries attracting thousands of travelers every year. For travelers who decide to visit both countries, Lake Titicaca provides a natural transition point and, on both the Peru and Bolivia sides, it has plenty of attractions for the curious traveler. The Uros are floating artificial islands made of woven totora reeds, in which pre-Incan people live. Travelers can visit many of the 32 floating islands constructed of thick woven mates of Totora reeds; those located closer to shore often allow tourists to visit during the day or stay overnight for a small fee, providing the main source of income for the inhabitants.
The next stop leads travelers to Taquile Island, which is famous for its beautiful handwoven textiles and numerous pre-Incan ruins. Islanders in the Taquile Island still maintain many ancient traditions reflected in their clothing and beautiful handicrafts. Travelers will visit the island’s most important sites such as the museum of traditional costumes and the ruins at the highest point of the island where you can see an incredible sunset.
The Island of Taquile, the next stop, is abundant with numerous pre-Inca and Inca ruins. Islanders still maintain many ancient traditions, reflected in their clothing and beautiful handicrafts. You will visit the most important sites, such as the museum of traditional costumes and the ruins at the highest point of the island where you can see an incredible sunset.
The city of Puno itself is most often used as the stepping off point for exploring Lake Titicaca, offering a pedestrian mall lined with shops and restaurants and a wide variety of handicrafts. Puno is a small provincial town which at first may not seem like it has much to offer but the distinct culture makes it incredibly appealing to observe how locals live outside of Peru’s bigger cities.
In February, when the town streets are inundated with costumed revelers for the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria. Puno has garnered fame as the Folkloric Capital of Peru and is renowned for the many ethnic dances that are on display during cultural and religious celebrations.
The Puno area offers travelers a great place to indulge in culture and enjoy spectacular scenery. Take a trip to Puno and Lake Titicaca during your Peru trip.
On a trip to the altiplano of southwestern Bolivia, the natural landscape takes center stage. The highlight is Salar de Uyuni, a salt lake set at 3,700 meters above sea level and covering 4,086 mi2 (10,582 km2), an area roughly the size of Hawaii. NASA satellite images show that the Uyuni Salt Flat is larger than nearby Lake Titicaca, the highest-altitude navigable lake in the world.
The abstract numbers are impressive, but the scale of the place only really hits home when you travel to Uyuni, ride a 4X4 Landcruiser to the middle of the salt lake, and stand enveloped by a huge white space, completely bare of plant and animal life, that seems to extend into forever. In the far distance, a towering rim of mountains shimmers in the heat of the day, seeming to hover just above the horizon. Every astonishing sight reminds you that this is like no other place in the world.
Uyuni is distinguished by its exceptional flatness. Elevation varies by just 1 meter over the entire surface. With clear skies, dry air, and a highly reflective and stable surface, conditions are perfect for scientists seeking to calibrate orbiting satellites.
Walking on the vast white sheet of salt is a wonderful experience. In some places, the salt dries up into ridged patterns of rough hexagons. In other spots, it’s bumpy and textured like freezer frost. The salt crystals are big and solid, rough to the touch, and crunchy under your feet. Though it mimics the look of ice, it lacks the bite of cold against flesh.
The salt crust ranges in thickness from 1 and 10 meters and overlays a deep pool of brine, the remains of a dried up, prehistoric lake. A collective of local workers mines enormous quantities of salt, approximately 25,000 tons every year. It’s common to see these men at work, creating mounds of mushy salt (for faster drying) and shoveling loads of dried salt onto truck beds. Geologic studies have determined that the salt flat holds between 40 and 70% of the world’s lithium reserves, as well as quantities of gypsum and halite, though the Bolivian government does not currently permit extraction of these minerals.
Do a web search for “Uyuni images” and you’ll see examples of cool photos take on the Salar. Fun photography has become a hallmark of this top Bolivia tour. The dry season is the best time to play around with perspective. Small objects at the forefront become magnified, while those set a few feet back appear tiny, like something out of the 1989 film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Optical fun takes a different form in the wet season. Rainwater pools on the surface, erasing the horizon and acting like a giant mirror to reflect wisps of clouds and the big blue sky. The doubled images of people, vehicles, and other objects seem to float on nothing.
Many travelers, having taken the trouble to journey out this far, decide to take a 3-day tour beyond Uyuni and into the surrounding highlands. Here, the white salt is gone, replaced by a brown dryness spotted with shrubs, a land suitable for little except growing quinoa and grazing llamas.
The main attraction is the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, which sits in the southwestern-most corner of Bolivia, bordering Argentina and Chile. (A popular tour variation continues on to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, rather than returning to Uyuni).
As if seeking to one-up the Salar de Uyuni, the reserve’s landscape features are stellar. Isolated lagoons with differing concentrations of minerals, algae, and plankton, are colored in shades of white, red, green, and blue, and are inhabited by flocks of pink flamingos. Active volcanoes, bubbling mud lava pits, and warm hot springs testify to the intense geothermic activity that lies just beneath the surface and that continues to shape the land. Rock formations interrupt the otherwise empty spaces of desolate, wind-swept plains. The whole is something like Dali’s surreal imaginings brought to life.
Accommodations on an 3-day Uyuni tour are rather basic. Almost nothing grows on the Salar or the surrounding region, but locals have ingeniously adapted to the complete lack of native building materials by carving out huge salt blocks to construct entire hostels, including the furniture therein. In the evening, temperatures plummet, but out here, in the middle of nothing, the nighttime sky is spectacular.
See more photos and read about LAFL Travel Advisor Kristina McKinney’s unconventional Uyuni tour experience.