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Friday, August 19, 2011

Heaven on Earth: Amazing salt flats where the sky and ground merge into one to create dreamy landscapes

By Daily Mail Reporter
From: http://www.dailymail.co.uk
 
Who knows what awaits when St Peter lets us through those pearly gates. But perhaps influenced by the odd film or two, this is the sort of view of heaven many will have in mind.

It’s almost impossible to distinguish in these dream-like landscapes where the sky ends and the ground begins.

And with the addition of a few figures praying and dancing, even a few cars rumbling through, they take on an outer-worldly feel.

Popular spot: Tourists have been visiting the area for years, and can stay in homes cut off from the modern world
Popular spot: Tourists have been visiting the area for years, and can stay in homes cut off from the modern world

Mirror image: This tourist visiting the South American region is reflected in the salt flats, which are over 3,000m above sea level
Mirror image: This tourist visiting the South American region is reflected in the salt flats, which are over 3,000m above sea level

Volcanic region: The Tunupa volcano can be seen in the background as these cars negotiate the flats
Volcanic region: The Tunupa volcano can be seen in the background as these cars negotiate the flats

But they are of course taken here on Earth, in Bolivia's Uyuni salt flats to be precise.
The flats, located in Southern Bolivia near the country's Tunupa volcano make up the world's largest salt desert, around 11,000 km sq.

That makes it even larger than Lake Titicaca, the vast stretch of water shared by Bolivia and neighbouring Peru.

Mirror image: It is hard to tell where the lakes end and the clouds begin in this beautiful image
Mirror image: It is hard to tell where the lakes end and the clouds begin in this beautiful image


Power: The lithium in the area makes up half the world's supply and is used in batteries for mobile phones and computers, as well as being a key element in electric cars
Power: The lithium in the area makes up half the world's supply and is used in batteries for mobile phones and computers, as well as being a key element in electric cars


Stunning: The salt flats themselves are 3,600m above sea level in the Andes - making it almost possible, it seems, to reach up and touch the clouds from the ground
Stunning: The salt flats themselves are 3,600m above sea level in the Andes - making it almost possible, it seems, to reach up and touch the clouds from the ground


And the salt flats themselves are 3,600m above sea level in the Andes - making it almost possible, it seems, to reach up and touch the clouds from the ground.

The area has long been popular with tourists, particularly those looking for a holiday with a difference.

 
Visitors to the area can take in the vast white expanse of salt and the stunning surrounding vistas, while staying with locals in an area which feels cut off from the modern world.

Distant: This hiker is just a dot in the distance in the beautiful salt lakes
Distant: This hiker is just a dot in the distance in the beautiful salt lakes

Out of this world: Bolivia's Uyuni salt flats are spectacular
Out of this world: Bolivia's Uyuni salt flats are spectacular

Hypnotic: The flats, located in Southern Bolivia near the country's Tunupa volcano make up the world's largest salt desert, around 11,000 km sq
Hypnotic: The flats, located in Southern Bolivia near the country's Tunupa volcano make up the world's largest salt desert, around 11,000 km sq

Stunning: The hexagons in this landscape evolved after the salt pan, near Bolivia's Volcano Tunupa, had dried up
Stunning: The hexagons in this landscape evolved after the salt pan, near Bolivia's Volcano Tunupa, had dried up

At dusk: Photographed at twilight, the dried up salt pans appear blue in colour
At dusk: Photographed at twilight, the dried up salt pans appear blue in colour

For just $15 a day, tourists can lodge with peasant families in homes without running water or electricity - and outhouses used as bathrooms.

But despite the loss of home comforts, they can join in with local activities - such as the annual llama-shearing season in August, or joining llama caravans that deliver salt blocks to remote villages in exchange for food and other goods.

Although tourists have long been visiting the area, it wasn't until around five years ago that interest grew in extracting the 5.4m tons of lithium which is found just below the surface of the salt.

The lithium in the area makes up half the world's supply and is used in batteries for mobile phones and computers, as well as being a key element in electric cars.
The impact of mining on the tourism industry remains uncertain.

However it has yet to deter tourists from staying with the locals in Atulcha, Villamar and San Juan, all located around the salt flats.

'There is great interest in community tourism, to live with the people in the countryside, and even join them in their meals," said Rosa Perez, who heads the Uyuni regional tourism board.

'The communities have set up a few rooms with beds to be able to live with the visitors.'
Exact location: Bolivia is home to the salt flats, while a NASA satellite pic shows the area from above
Exact location: Bolivia is home to the salt flats, while a NASA satellite pic shows the area from above

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