No matter how many tourists there are in Salar de Uyuni at any given time, photographer and Shutterstock Contributor Olga Kot says you can always find a spot to be entirely and utterly alone. Looking back on her trip to the Bolivian salt flat, she remembers, “All the smells and sounds kind of fade away, and you just float in this white infinity. There is even a moment when you fail to realize whether you’re standing on the firm ground, sailing in the endless ocean, or soaring high in the sky.”
Six years ago, the Saint Petersburg photographer packed up her life and embarked on a six-month adventure across Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Colombia. She spent three days of those six months at the Altiplano in Bolivia, sometimes called the Bolivian Plateau.
“All the smells and sounds kind of fade away, and you just float in this white infinity”
She traveled by jeep from the city of Uyuni, spending each and every night in a different corner of the high plains and sleeping in huts with local hosts. Living conditions are extreme at such a high altitude, and Kot recalls needing “at least three blankets” to keep warm after dark. The food was simple, but according to the photographer, it seemed like the best food she’d ever had, probably due to the intensity of her surroundings.
Life near Salar de Uyuni is organized in part around the extraction of salt and lithium, and more recently, locals have found work in the tourism industry. Kot tells us that some have built hotels from the salt blocks. “You can even stay for a night in a salt palace on the edge of a salty desert,” she reports.
The salt flat itself is pretty inhospitable to wildlife for most of the year due to the lack of food sources, but Kot did encounter some flamingoes in the nearby salt lagoons. In November, she says, the birds visit Salar de Uyuni for breeding.
As the years have passed, Kot has longed to return to the Altiplano and to Salar de Uyuni. Her gear has changed (she now has a Nikon D800 and more lenses), and her techniques have evolved. Still, she says she remembers that first trip to Salar de Uyuni like it was yesterday.
“I would say that the simple fact of being in this place changes your mind somehow,” she admits. There were moments on that warm, sunny day when her body and brain couldn’t seem to process that all that white space was salt and not snow. The vastness of the void confuses the psyche and reconstructs it into something new. We asked Kot to share some of her beautiful photographs from the world’s largest salt flat along with her best tips for making pictures in this unusual place.