Salinas Grandes: The Great Salt Flats

Ever wonder where your table salt comes from? Me neither! But if you live in Argentina there’s a good chance that the salt you eat came from the Salinas Grandes in Salta, the northwestern province of the country.

This region is unlike any other part of the country. There are deserts, high valleys, llamas, and Incan ruins. The drive from Purmamarca, the town nearest the Salinas, is breathtaking as you ascend 4500m (about 14,700 ft) up into the mountains.

On the drive to the salinas you might see a herd of wild llamas living at high altitude
The road we took over the mountains

Once you get into the mountains, you dip down to 3500m (about 11,500 ft) where you’ll find the salt flats. Long ago there was a lake here and when it dried up it left this unique landscape.

Even though the surrounding area is desert, it rains fairly frequently here which forms a thin layer of water over the salt and keeps it from blowing away in the wind.

Some parts of the salinas are dry and cracked
And some parts are flooded with a half inch of water

Being at the salinas is like being on a different planet. First of all, it is incredibly bright with the sun in a cloudless sky reflecting off the water and the white salt. Also it is hard to breathe because of the elevation. Even doing simple things like walking or bending down would leave us out of breath. Of course none of this stopped Jenny from showing off her signature handstand.

Jenny with some of the day’s harvest

The salt is about one meter (1.5 feet) thick and is harvested by cutting long rows out of the ground.

Salt is harvested from these long rectangular basins
Salt harvesting equipment reflected in the water

There are more salt flats in Bolivia, not too far from here, which people say are bigger and more grand. I guess we’ll have to save those for the next trip!

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