In March 1998, at the age of 24, Gustavo Slucka left Buenos Aires on his bicycle for northwestern Argentina. By train he arrived in Tucumán, where he began his journey by bike. From there he went on to Salta and Jujuy, before crossing into Bolivia through La Quiaca-Villazón. He cycled about 90 kilometers to Tupiza and made a stop.

He had warned that the height and the change in diet were taking a toll on his physique. After regaining his strength, he got back on a train, this time in the direction of the city of Uyuni, to get back on his biroda and explore the world’s largest salt flat in depth.

He still vibrates when he remembers the first visual contact with the immense salt flat, shaded by sky and clouds. “It was a very strong impression… I seemed to be on another planet,” she evokes.

After crossing the salt flat by bicycle, delving into that geography -which suddenly left the monochrome and appeared to her more alive and intense than she supposed- and entering the human landscape, her love for this place grew until it became unconditional. Two decades later, she is still in Uyuni, where she works transporting tourists to the salt flat. “I frequent it even on my days off, it’s magical, it never bores me”, assures him who today is one of the finest connoisseurs of the area.Uyuni Salt.

The 70’s marked the beginning of adventure tourism in Uyuni. The locals began to notice the presence of people outside the environment, mostly Europeans, who went a few kilometers into the salt flat, with no other guide than their sense of location. At the dawn of the 1990s, when Slucka arrived, there was a considerable increase in the flow of visitors, although access to Uyuni was still difficult. The trip, by train, car or bus, from any point in Bolivia, demanded several hours. 

But this reality changed in 2011, when routes to enter the city and the salt flat were paved and the airport was opened. Amaszonas was a pioneer in flights to this destination, which became the emblematic tourist image of Bolivia. Currently, the local airline offers several daily frequencies from La Paz.A llama by the road.

With an area of ​​10,582 km2, the salt flat is located 560 kilometers south of the country’s capital and 3,680 meters above sea level, in a mostly steep, volcanic and desert region, a scenario that could lead to suppose a territory with little life, no surprises. Nothing further from that idea. On the banks of the salt flat live native communities (Quechuas and Aymaras), who work the raw material; and sometimes vicuñas and flamingos are seen in the salar.

After retracing kilometers, the predominant white landscape is altered when you see the majesty of the Tunupa volcano and two important elevations in the immense plain: the Inca Huasi (the best known) and Pescado (further away and off the tourist route) islands. Both belong to a series of 32 islands within the salt flat, all of which are mountaintops that outcrop on its surface.The imposing Tunupa volcano, on the shores of the salt flat (Gustavo Slucka).The imposing Tunupa volcano, on the shores of the salt flat (Gustavo Slucka).

A layer of earth has concentrated on the surface of the islands, giving rise to an impressive ecosystem with varied vegetation, petrified algae (proof of the existence of ancient lakes within the plateau) and caves. “The first time I arrived at Inca Huasi I met don Alfredo Lázaro, the first inhabitant of the island. He had been living there for several years, in a natural cave that he himself had conditioned, where he eventually received tourists, ”he tells Viajes Slucka.

The Inca Huasi Island (House of the Inca, in Quechua) has a perimeter of almost two kilometers and a maximum height of 102 meters. At the top, which is accessed through a path between giant cacti, there is a ceremonial center that serves as a viewpoint, from where you can appreciate the immensity of the salt flat, its magic, which from the first moment boosted the imagination of the Argentine cycling adventurer.The immensity of the salt flat from the top of the Inca Huasi island. 

Activated by the memory of a Marlboro advertisement that showed a strange device propelled by the wind at the time, Slucka began to dream of this practice -which he later learned was called floatboating-, and to work on making these floatboats, to add them to the tourist offer of Uyuni. “I make them by hand, recycling different materials discarded by people, several of them that I collect when I travel to Buenos Aires, such as aluminum masts used for windsurfing or sails that I fix and modify with a sewing machine. I am designing them based on what I find, listening to my instinct, because I am totally self-taught. Carrovelismo, part of the new offer that the Uyuni salt flat.

The salt flat is more, much more. It always holds surprises. Thus, different optical phenomena can be seen, such as inversion, which occurs due to the crystallinity of the salt layer, especially when it is flooded.

Optical phenomena, one of the strong attractions of the salt flat (Laura Arias)

But to get to know the salt flat in depth, you have to have several days.

In the surrounding area, near Uyuni, there are two other very different attractions that are part of a one-day walk, not very physically demanding, that give the visitor a brief overview.

The train cemetery, another of the attractions of Uyuni (Laura Arias).

One of these attractions is the curious train cemetery, on the outskirts of the city of Uyuni, where old remains of locomotives of American or English origin XIX and XX, which in other times transported the minerals that They were extracted from the nearby Pulacayo mine to the Chilean port of Antofagasta.

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