If you’ve always thought the water in your body was essentially freshwater, then today could be the day when your world turns on its head. Each cell in our body is like a small ocean containing salty water. Ever seen those wildlife documentaries where elephants trudge miles searching for salt to lick?
For those living in a landscape made up almost entirely of salt, 25 billion tons of it (give or take a billion tons or so) covering over 10,500 square kilometres, the fundamental importance of salt to their very existence is not so easy to overlook. Ask the people who scrape a living on the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
Living on top of salt that’s several metres thick, surrounded by the world’s largest salt flat is going to call for some ingenuity and imagination. Even though they are high up in the Andes (over 3.5 kilometres above sea level), these salt flats are so flat that they are one of the best places on earth to calibrate the altimetres of satellites orbiting the earth. Varying in height by less than a metre across its whole expanse, this white landscape where the earth seems to join the sky is inherently beautiful.
There is a serious ecological side to this fragile area though, and the co-operative that mines the salt is very careful to keep the extractions within sustainable limits. The salt flats also cover more than 50% of the world’s lithium deposits: hugely significant with the ever-increasing use of lithium batteries in modern day gadgets and phones. Now an even more unusual economic activity has been added: the Hotel Palacio de Sal.
You could imagine that the original thought process went something like this:
Q: Is this a place of natural beauty and interest?
Q: Should we build a hotel?
Q: What shall we build it from?
A: Salt of course.
A: Yes, salt.
The Hotel Palacio de Sal was created from around a million salt blocks: its salt walls are held together by a salt and water cement; the roof is made of salt; inside, even the bar, tables, chairs, sculptures, floor covering and pool table are made of … salt! It looks very impressive, even if essential maintenance can be extreme: new blocks have to be added to reinforce the exterior of the building after rainfall.
Built on strong foundations, the hotel offers the facilities any traveller would expect to find in a good hotel including dry and wet saunas, whirlpool baths and a saltwater pool (of course).
Visitors describe the Hotel Palacio de Sal as magical. But just remember the key house rule: don’t lick the walls. Although to be honest, wouldn’t that be the first thing you did when you reached the privacy of your own room?