International Travel, Travel Photography

This is Not Bolivia: the Salt Lake You Never Knew About

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When it comes to vast expanses of salt, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is iconic and the best known. Americans may also be aware of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Chaka Salt Lake

But this is not Bolivia or Utah.

Instead, this is in Chaka, tucked away in the western Chinese province of Qinghai. The keen observer will notice from this picture that it’s really a salt lake instead of a salt flat.

Called the “Mirror of the Sky”, Chaka isn’t the only salt lake in the Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai province. It is the most famous, however, due to its immense beauty.

Chaka Salt Lake contains both solid and liquid salt, which has a mirror-like effect and creates picturesque panoramas against the azure skies and the mountains on the horizons.

Chaka Salt Lake pond

The Chaka Salt Lake park is located about 298 kilometers from Xining, the capital of Qinghai.

There’s a bus and a train that you can take from Xining to Chaka, but driving provides the best scenery along the way, and you can easily hire drivers in Xining. Most hostels and guesthouse owners will have cars and drivers for hire as well.

Once inside, it’s less than a mile from the entrance to the start of the park, and on a sunny day, it’s a perfect walk. (You can, however, pay to take a minibus or train if you’d prefer.) It’s a bit farther away if you wish to go all the way to the middle of the lake, but still accessible on foot.

As you enter the main area, you’ll be greeted with a Mongolian oboo and Tibetan prayer flags, as well as a stern warning to put on your sunglasses. Please do. Chaka is at more than 3,000 meters, which means UV rays are stronger, and the lake reflects, well, like a mirror.

Humongous salt sculptures are scattered as you walk toward the salt lake, giving way to one median of salt, lined with a railway track for the park train and flanked by the salt lake on both sides.

Chaka Salt Lake salt sculpture
Salt sculpture of Genghis Khan

While some areas are off limits due to the lake’s depth at that particular point, it is permissible to enter the lake at certain spots. And people certainly do.

If Instagram was allowed in China, Chaka Salt Lake would absolutely be an Instagram hot spot. Flocks of women in flowy dresses (red is the most popular here), waving colorful scarves, dotted the lake bed.

Chaka Salt Lake
No red dress here

So if going off the beaten path is more of your style and you’re interested in exploring China beyond the major cities on its eastern seaboard, I’d highly recommend the Chaka Salt Lake on a nice day. Red dress or not is up to you.

Chaka Salt Lake


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Chaka Salt Lake

14 thoughts on “This is Not Bolivia: the Salt Lake You Never Knew About

    1. I was completely fine but Chaka Salt Lake is at 3000 meters, or roughly 10,000 feet, so there were definitely folks experiencing altitude sickness. If you touch the salt though, it does dry your skin almost immediately and with great intensity. Most definitely needed lotion after that ?

    1. You should! Most people only go to the major cities on the Eastern seaboard, but there’s so much in more remote areas that are just blowing my mind as I’m travelling through them.

  1. Hi Rowena.. did you hire a private car coming here? If yes, did it take like 4 hours one way? Also do you remember how much did you pay to the driver? Please advice.. we’ll visit here next month! I hope we’ll have a nice weather just like you in the pictuuuures above ♥️♥️♥️

    1. Hi there! In this case we actually had a rental car and drove ourselves. Where will you be coming from? Lmk and I can let you know approximately how long it took.

      1. Ohh if only we know how to drive.. -_- anyway, we are coming from Xining city ? do you think a day would suffice for visiting chaka lake? I wonder if there is any nice spot along the way aside from this lake.. maybe you have suggestions .. ?????? thanks in advance!

        1. It’s doable. Chaka itself as a destination only takes like half a day, though the drive from Xining to Chaka can be long and windy, so if your group gets car sick, it can take longer if you need to make rest stops. There’s quite a bit of elevation change as well. We did Xining to Qinghai Lake and then stayed by Black Horse River that night. That made it so we could get to Chaka in the morning without having to drive all the way from Xining in one breath. In our case it was also good we didn’t try to get to Chaka that same day bc we got lost and took a really long roundabout way. In our case I believe it ended up taking us 4 hours to get from Xining to Qinghai Lake and then 2 hours to Chaka. But again, we did get lost at one point; hopefully with a hired driver you won’t get lost.

  2. GOT IT! so thankful that you responded to me now.. I almost booked a hostel in Xining! haha it’s really best and efficient to stay near Qinghai Lake then proceed to Chaka in the morning.. Thank you soooo much! I really appreciate it! More travels! <3

    1. Hi Haoyu,

      Great question. Unfortunately, I cannot answer you for sure. I believe it is indeed open in December, but I would suggest checking with a local tourism office given everything going on this year. It’s likely to be quite frigid though.

      As for the lake freezing, I would think it certainly can if it gets cold enough, but I believe the average Dec temperatures mean it will not have frozen over.

      Sorry couldn’t be more help!

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