Just outside the Salar de Uyuni salt flats lies the quaint salt-processing village of Colchani. This tiny village of just over 600 people is home to Bolivia’s largest salt-processing cooperative. Years ago, the inhabitants of Colchani used to exploit salt to exchange with other indigenous communities. Every year packs of llamas would travel incredible distances (up to 560km to Tarija) carrying salt, returning with coca, maize and other goods not produced in the Altiplano. This has since changed with the improvement of transport infrastructure and the salt is now sold by the cooperative in Bolivia and Brazil.
The Salar de Uyuni contains an estimated 10 billion tonnes of salt, with an impressive 25,000 tonnes of it excavated and processed at Colchani annually. During your stop in Colchani you can see handicrafts made of salt, and textile art made of llama and alpaca. This is the perfect opportunity to buy authentic Bolivian souvenirs to bring home.
The tour also includes a visit to a traditional salt factory where a local will teach you the process of extraction and refinement of salt. Despite this tour of the salt factory being free, those who take it are expected to give the local a donation for his time and effort. The tour is highly recommended if you’re interested in learning about how salt ends up on your kitchen table.
A visit to the Salt Museum is also popular among those who stop off at Colchani. This tiny yet picturesque space consists of salt bricks and a multitude of carved sculptures. It isn’t your typical museum as it takes no longer than 5-10 minutes to see all that it has to offer which makes it the perfect quick stop off for those passing through the town. Colchani is one of the first stops for all Salar de Uyuni tours.