Pueblos Mágicos de Los Lipez (PML), a community-based tourism initiative, is enabling tourists to Bolivia the opportunity to experience the largest salt desert in the world, Salar de Uyuni, and its surrounding areas while supporting indigenous communities.
Local families from four small villages located in Uyuni Salt – Culpina K, San Cristobal, Vila Vila and Rio Grande – founded PML in 2015 to offer services such as homestay, local crafts, gastronomic tours, and adventure and activities tours with local certified guides.
Salar de Uyuni, which was formed by prehistoric lakes that evaporated thousands of years ago, is one of the most visited attractions in Bolivia. The salt flat, which covers some 10,500 sq km (some 4,036 sq m) and is located at about 3,600m (11,800 ft) above sea level, is visited by 70,000 international and national tourists every year.
The Salar is also considered the world’s most important deposit of lithium, a valuable metal with multiple uses such as in batteries, phones and electric cars.
The flat white expanse of salt was one of the key filming locations for Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi. Since the area made its Star Wars debut, the Bolivian Tourism and Cultures Ministry has heavily promoted Salar de Uyuni as the “epicentre” of the country’s tourist attractions and last year hosted a festival, Salt Fest, on Incahuasi Island.
PML offers an alternative way for visitors to visit the salt desert than the many tour groups that come from Chile and other Bolivian destinations on bus tours. The services provided by PML enable travellers to learn about Salar de Uyuni in a way that respects the locals, the guardians of the land, who are most knowledgable about the terrains and the history, while enabling the local communities to earn an alternative source of income to salt gathering and mining.
The community-based tourism initiative says through responsible tourism, it has helped the communities of San Cristobal, Vila Vila, Culpina K and Rio Grande “discover a good alternative for local development” that allows for economic alternatives to mining.
PML says: “It allows us to improve the quality of life, preserve our traditional activities and preserve nature; In turn, we generate employment by achieving our well-being in the future.”
Since 2015, 107 community-based tourism enterprises, mainly led by women, have opened in the area, generating 171 new jobs and $341,976 income from visitors.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com