UYUNI, Bolivia – The Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat not to mention the one located at the highest elevation, is the site selected by Bolivia as the “epicenter” of the country’s tourist attractions.
“The Salar de Uyuni is the epicenter of tourism in Bolivia. It’s one of the world treasures where one can find peace and, at the same time, cultural diversity,” Bolivian Tourism and Cultures Minister Wilma Alanoca told EFE.
The immense plain of salt was the site Bolivian authorities selected on the weekend for a special event on Saturday on World Tourism Day to recall how this natural treasure has been featured in films like those in the hugely popular Star Wars franchise.
The salt flat, which covers some 10,500 square kilometers (some 4,036 square miles) and is located at about 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level, was recognized in July at the World Travel Awards as the Best Natural Tourist Attraction in South America, these awards being considered the tourism sector’s most important international prizes.
A festival, Salt Fest 2019, was held on Incahuasi Island – which is covered with gigantic cactuses up to 12 meters high in the heart of the Salar – and was the scene of Bolivia’s World Tourism Day celebrations this year.
The event included performances by Bolivian musical groups, gastronomic delights from different parts of the country and activities such as ziplining and bicycling, all of which enabled participants to incorporate entertainment, good food and physical activity into one of the world’s most exotic locales.
“The Salar de Uyuni represents that mentality of sharing. We, as Bolivians, are sharing our diversity, our dances and our foods,” Alanoca said.
Salt Fest 2019, organized by the Bolivian Tourism and Cultures Ministry, specially invited members of the Star Wars Fan Club to the event, with members surprising other event-goers by appearing outfitted as some of the beloved Star Wars characters created by filmmaker George Lucas.
The flat white expanse of salt was one of the key filming locations for Star Wars Episode VIII “The Last Jedi,” and fans of the galactic space opera wanted to recall that film by bringing their costumes and light sabers to the event.
The tourism minister issued a call to Bolivians to “promote domestic tourism” and urged her countrymen to “continue falling in love with your country.”
“Bolivia encompasses many mysteries and many treasures. Tourism doesn’t depend on institutions alone, it depends on every Bolivian,” Alanoca said.
Accompanying Alanoca at the event was Deputy Tourism Minister Marcelo Arze, who in remarks to EFE emphasized “the mystic character” of the salt flat.
“Culturally, the salt flat creates myths. Tunupa is one of the most important gods we have in Andean mythology and this place is one of reverence for us,” said Arze, referring to the Salar’s original name, in honor of the god.
The salt desert some 40,000 years ago was part of the great Ballivian inland sea occupying a significant portion of the altiplano, which also includes Lakes Titicaca, Popoo and Uru Uru.
Dotted with about 80 small islands with exotic vegetation, the Salar is also considered potentially the world’s most important deposit of lithium, a valuable metal with multiple uses such as in batteries.