The afternoon we arrived at Palacio de Sal, a Bolivian salt hotel, it was eerily quiet. Travelling South America during shoulder season, we had avoided the crowds for the most part, but this was next level. When we arrived at Palacio de Sal, we found ourselves to be the only guests that evening, which gave us free rein to explore the amazing property made from roughly 10,000-tonnes of salt mined from the world’s largest salt flat. This is not just a hotel, but an experience. One you must add to your Bolivian bucket list!
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Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat
High in the Andes, 3656-metres above sea level (around 11,995-feet), is the world’s largest salt flat. This prehistoric lake dried up over tens of thousands of years and formed a several-metre thick crust of salt. Not only is it rich in several types of salt including sodium borate, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, but also contains 60% of the world’s lithium reserves. The salty expanse is over 10,000 square kilometres in area and varies under a metre in height—that makes it extremely flat! So flat indeed, that it is used to calibrate satellites. Star Wars fans may be interested to know that the world of Crait in The Last Jedi, was, in fact, Salar de Uyuni.
Palacio de Sal “Palace of Salt”
Palacio de Sal was the first salt hotel on Salar de Uyuni. The unique accommodation was initially constructed in the early nineties, and the 12-room hotel became popular with tourists exploring the salt flat. Its location on the salt desert presented a number of challenges, most significantly of the sanitary variety. The salt hotel had to be demolished and rebuilt circa 2007, in a new location.
The present 4,500-square metre hotel is made up of around 10,000-tonnes of salt that not only forms the walls and floor but parts of the ceiling, furniture and decorative sculpture. It is truly impressive! The newer 30-room hotel complies with sanitary requirements, has showers, and overall is an extremely comfortable place to stay. Just don’t lick the walls – that’s a complete no, no.
Staying in a Bolivian salt hotel
Our night at the salt hotel was cool—cool in a creepy way. Not because it lacked comfort, attentive service or great food, it had all those—but because the imagination was running away with plots of potential horror movies. The isolated position and eerie quietness of being the only guests was disconcerting at first. We wandered around outside at sunset as a cold wind swept over the plateau and we watched the lights come on in Uyuni, 25-kilometres in the distance. If there was a madman (or woman) on the loose, we were sitting ducks! Seriously though, it was one of the most unforgettable hotel experiences we’ve had to this day.
Things to do nearby
Besides jumping around in front of a camera creating optical illusions with the help of the giant salt pan, there are a few things to see on Salar de Uyuni. Incahuasi Island is a remote spot covered with cacti, that only adds to the ethereal atmosphere of the salt desert. The “train cemetery” is a rusty graveyard of abandoned trains that formerly serviced the salt mines and a photographer’s delight. Then there are the mines themselves, which are essentially local men shovelling snow-like piles to dry above the water level, then carting them away in trucks. Beyond the monster salt plain are more other-worldly landscapes to explore across the Altiplano.
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Have you stayed in unique accommodation while travelling? Tell us about your favourites in the comments below.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,