The world’s largest mirror was just beneath my feet and stretching to the horizon on all direction. Everything we see comes in doubles because of this mirror, the mountain in the horizon, the birds in the sky, the car that took us here and the person next to me. This is the world’s largest mirror on the Uyuni salt flats and is the main reason that we wanted to come to country of Bolivia. We almost missed out on this amazing experience if our friend didn’t give us a crucial information that helped us correct our mistake in our itinerary in time.
Initially we booked the 3 day Uyuni tour which takes us from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama, thinking that we will definitely see the world’s largest mirror during this tour. But we won’t be! On the first day we will be crossing the Uyuni flats on the parts with no water and on the next two days, we will be crossing the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve of Andean Fauna which has no salt flats at all! There are only a few specific companies have tailored tours to find water on the salt flats so we can see this world’s largest mirror. These tours are called “Sunrise” and “Sunset” tours. A few day tours may take you to this world’s largest mirror too but you’ll have to ask to make sure.
Since we didn’t leave an extra day in our itinerary for this tour, we cut one day short on our stay in Potosi. Initially we were going to do a mining tour in Potosi, but we chickened out on the last moment because the mine is famous for devouring miners. It has been mined for over 300 years for silver at the beginning and for tin, copper, lead and few other minerals now. The mine is around 40 degrees Celsius inside and is known to contain poisonous gas and asbestos. Miners have a life expectancy of around 40 years old. Not to mention of the risk of mine collapsing from the over mining. The real reason that I was deterred is because of asbestos, something that could give me lung cancer without me knowing until decades later in my life. Luckily with this decision, we conveniently added one day to our Uyuni stay so we could see the world’s largest mirror.
When we arrive in Uyuni, we immediately went to look for a tour group that is willing to take us to the waters of Uyuni salt flat to see the world’s biggest mirror. Initially we wanted to join both “Sunrise” and “Sunset” tour. Funnily, these tours seems to only seem to attract the Asian crowd. The tour agencies seems to believe that non-Asians are usually not passionate to see the world’s largest mirror as the majority of tourists signing up are Asian. The Sunrise tour starts very early in the morning so you could see the stars and the galaxy reflected on the world’s largest mirror, then you’ll see the sunrise reflecting on it.
The Sunset tour will take you to take perspective photos on the salt flat first and then look for the water on the salt flat to take photos with the world’s largest mirror during sunset. However during sunset, the salt flat is usually windy and the reflection on the water will be disrupted. Our original plan was to join the Sunrise tour first, go home and sleep and then join the Sunset tour. However we were quite satisfied with our photos of the Sunrise tour, so we decided that we didn’t have to join the Sunset tour for more photos.
We left at 3:30am on our Sunrise tour. At that time we were half asleep and the weather was freezing. Our driver doesn’t know how to speak English but it wasn’t a tour that requires complicated communications, he just need to know where to find the water for the largest mirror. We shared our tour with 4 other Korean girls. After 30 minutes of driving on the dirt roads we arrived on the salt flat. The stars were extremely bright here and the pale white salt flat appeared grey in the dark. After another 30 minutes’ drive, our driver occasionally turns off the light and goes outside to look for the reflection from the largest mirror.
The driver was clearly lost as he turned around after 1 hour of driving and started from a point close to the dirt road again. He eventually found the water after 2 hours of driving, which was 1 hour longer than what we were told. Although this part of the salt flat always have water, it is hard to find in the dark. There are no signs at all on the huge salt flat and the driver had to find this spot with his experience alone.
As soon as we stepped off the car, we were frozen by the cold weather. Especially the cold from the icy water seems penetrate our gum boots and socks completely, but all this was worth the magical scenery. The stars were above us and below us and the reflection breaks away with each step but quickly comes back together. The car seems to have taken us to another universe. Because we broke our good camera only the week before, we didn’t have a good device to capture this moment. We did download an APP on my IPhone called NightCap Pro (website) which can adjust IPhone’s ISO and exposure time but we didn’t have a tripod to stand the iPhone still enough to take a good photo. I guess this moment will just have to be captured in our memories.
The sunrise time was around 6:20am. Before then we were in and out of our car to keep warm as it was extremely cold outside despite that we were wearing all the warm clothes we have brought on this trip. However the beautiful star light reflections kept tempting us to go outside to take more photos. Finally at sunrise, there were enough light for our phone and camera to take some decent pictures. There are mountains in the direction of the sunrise which some people dislike because they wouldn’t be able to see an infinity extension of the land joining with the sky. We personally like the mountain because it give extremely beautiful reflections on the largest mirror. There are no mountains in the direction of sunset.
So far on our trip, we haven’t had good luck seeing any sunrise. Even on our 4 days Inca Trail hike, it rained on the day when we arrived in Machu Picchu so we didn’t get to see the sunrise at the Sun Gate (Further Reading)! We were quite emotional to see such beautiful sunrise in such a magical place. The color of the sun and the sky changing every moment and reflecting on the surface of the largest mirror. It was a scenery that we could never be sick of.
On the other side, away from the sunrise, we could see a faint blue sky and its reflection on the largest mirror. Personally we like this scenery more as we could see face of the person and the reflection of the person more clearly. The color is absolutely stunning as well. If we visited the salt lake during the wet season, we should be able to see this beautiful reflection for a whole day during our three day trip, however our route from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama may be flooded and unpassable. Luckily we have these water finding tours for us in the dry season to see this world’s largest mirror in the Uyuni salt lake.
Every moment was a different color and a different scenery. When we thought we could take the day light photos of the world’s largest mirror because the sun has risen high enough, we were told to come back to the car by our driver. Unwillingly we went back to our car and were given some hot tea and bread to warm us up before we head back to the town of Uyuni.
From my car window, I saw the last of this beautiful world and was sad that we had to leave this world’s largest mirror. At the same time we were extremely glad that our friend had told us in time for us to change our schedule. Otherwise not seeing this world’s largest mirror in Uyuni may be my biggest regret in South America.
What to prepare for sunrise/ sunrise tours?
It’s cold, very cold. Everyone who has joined the tour had said it was cold online and they all said that the sunrise time period is a lot colder than the sunset. However, the four Korean girls who went on the same trip clearly didn’t wear as much as we did, so I guess people who live in cold countries probably found the weather bearable. We did check the weather that morning and saw that the temperature was around -2 degrees Celsius with gushing wind.
For people who are following our blog, our total weight for all our gear is only 8kg. (Further Reading), So we were wearing what we wore to Antarctica. A heat tech base layer on the inside, our fleece on top of that base layer, our down jacket over the fleece and finally our wind proof jacket on the outside. For the bottom, we wore our heat tech base layer pants plus jeans. We were given some gum boots to wear and we wore two layers of socks but our feet were still freezing by the end of this tour.
Our other gear includes our gloves, beanie and scarf. It’s actually not too cold if we kept out of the water. Unfortunately I was too keen to do a hand stand in the water on the world’s largest mirror and managed to cut my hand on the salt. I didn’t realized that I had hurt myself until later because I had absolutely no feeling of them in the freezing water. Luckily Winny allowed me to do just the one hand stand.
Experiences with Companies who specializes in Finding “World’s Largest Mirror” during Dry Season
When we first arrived in Uyuni we were intending to join a Sunset or Sunrise tour from the company Hodaka Mountain (many bloggers indicated that mostly Japanese join this tour) as it was recommended by many Taiwanese bloggers. However when we arrive at their office on Ferroviaria road at 2:30pm, they were having a feaster so we went next door to Brisa Tours (many bloggers indicated that mostly Koreans join this tour) which was our next choice. At that point Brisa Tours have filled their Sunset tour that day and their Sunrise tour in the next morning. We were told that we could place our names on a sheet of paper for the Sun Set tour on the next day and we could pay later depending on how many people joining this tour.
How these Sunrise and Sunset tour work is that the cost to run one car is 800BS in all the companies. This cost can be shared up to 7 people which is the maximum capacity of these land rovers. Therefore the more people you have in one car, the cheaper it would be per person. Brisa Tours owner said that if the number is lower than 5 people, he could drop the total price to 700BS shared amongst the passengers. We are not sure if Hodaka Mountain would do the same if they have less than 5 people. Each day they will stick a Sunset Tour and a Sunrise Tour list in front of their office for people to write their names on. These tourists will then pay for the tour depending on how many people are in the tour.
At first we thought we would wait for Hodaka Mountain to finish feaster, so we could compare the two companies before we decide who to go with. However, after returning at 3:30pm, Hodaka Mountain still hadn’t opened! In front of Hodaka Mountain’s shop there were only a full list of Sunrise tour on the next morning and no Sunset Tour list for the day. At first we thought that that they didn’t have enough people for a Sun Set Tour that day but that wasn’t the case!
At 6:00pm we came to the offices again and finally saw that Hodaka Mountain had finally opened. When we questioned that if they had a tour operating for the Sunset tour that day, they said they had only 4 people on the Sunset tour which we so desperately wanted to join!
So essentially they found 4 people willing to pay for this tour so they charged them for the car and didn’t bother putting a list on the wall to find more customers, even though they could fit 3 more people in that tour (money hungry and simply don’t care)! Brisa Tours on the other hand kept their list on their wall till the last moment and charge people just before they board the car. Also Brisa Tours didn’t rest at all in the afternoon so tourists can have a chance to fill the Sun Set tour easily which leaves at 3:00pm.
Hodaka Mountain’s female owner then also told us to put our names on their list as well knowing that we are already registered at Brisa Tours. She said that if we got enough people on their side, we could cancel with Brisa Tours. We didn’t wanted to do that so we refused her and left. At 7:00pm that day we were afraid that we won’t have enough people for the Sun Set tour on the next day so we decided to join a company called Oasis Bolivia which has 4 people already in their Sunrise tour list. We never came across this company during our research. Unfortunately Oasis Bolivia’s office had already closed when we arrived.
Luckily Brisa Tours owner was around and we asked for his help. Brisa Tours owner didn’t just help us contact Oasis Bolivia, he also waited with us outside for over 20 minutes. During the wait we chatted for a while and learnt that he was the first to do the Sunrise and Sunset tours. Hodaka Mountains followed his lead shortly after and Oasis Bolivia just recently started the Sunrise tour. He was extremely fluent in English and overall we felt that he was quite a good person.
After the owner of Oasis Bolivia arrived, he charged us 130Bs each ( cost should be derived by 800 BS divided by 6). We were not quite sure if he had already charged the 4 persons before us already or not at a higher price. When we left the store, the female owner of Hodaka Mountains joyfully waved us over and said that she had found 4 other customers and told us that we should register with them. After we hesitantly place our name down, she demanded money on the spot. We told her that Brisa Tours only ask for money just before the tour just in case the last place is filled up and the cost of the tour will be decreased. In the end she said that without payment there is no guarantee so she whited out our names.
Overall we weren’t pleased with our encounter with Hodaka Mountains and we got quite exceptional help with Brisa Tours. The owner of Brisa Tours is the rare few passionate and helpful person we have encountered in Bolivia. Although we ended up only travelling with Oasis Bolivia which was a company which we never heard of, they did ended up successfully finding the world’s largest mirror for us. In summary, we believe any of these three company will deliver the same result, so just join whichever one that has space.
In the end we were quite happy with our photos of the world’s largest mirror during our Sunrise Tour so we ended up cancelling with Brisa Tours, since we were still the only ones on their list in the morning. Sorry!