We have to admit, Bolivia might be the least researched country of our world trip. Women with braids in wide skirts and hats (different length skirts and height of hats in every city), llamas everywhere, freezing cold (it was winter) and amazing vistas (mountain ranges, lagoons, volcano’s, geysers and salt flats). Bolivia is not very developed, with its ugly cities, poor and cold buses and not the best food. BUT, the people are wonderful the country is stunningly beautiful and travelling in Bolivia is mighty cheap.
We arrived in La Paz after an easy flight from Cusco. We checked in at our hotel and wandered around the city for a while, of course also visiting the famous witchcraft market (meh). Apart from herbs and Llama foetuses they sell the same clothes and accessories there as in the rest of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. As we couldn’t get train tickets arranged for the next day and we were still very tired we ended up spending our afternoon in a very nice café called Antigua Miami, owned by a young guy named Suko who makes the best coffee in Bolivia. Check it out if you are ever in La Paz!
Taking the train to Tupiza
In the morning we went with the cable car to visit the biggest market of South America, El Alto (at 4100m). A million stalls selling the same household and car parts, not so interesting for us, but nice to wander along the endless stalls. After that we went to the bus station and took a bus to Ururo, where we could get a train to Tupiza (a nice little town from which we would start a four day tour of southern Bolivia). Afraid that the train would be full, we arrived at the train station anxious. No worries, the helpful people at the train station told us there were still seats available. Deciding for a bit of luxury we booked 1st class tickets (23 Euros for a 14hr train ride).
The train was a great experience. First class is still only half reclining chairs in Bolivia, but we got blankets, a pillow and breakfast in the morning.
The night went by smoothly and in the morning we could enjoy the beautiful views as we slowly wound our way through narrow canyons and past little villages.
In Tupiza we met up with Sarah and Kyle (a couple from Canada who we had met on the Salkantay trek to Macchu Picchu) as we wanted to do a tour to the Salt flats together. We had a nice stroll through the city, ate lots of ice cream and arranged our 4 day tour with Torres Tours. At sunset we walked up to the hill and watched the amazing colours slide over the city and the surrounding mountains.
Oh, and not to forget, Tamar bought a Bolivian hat. What do you think?
Salt flats tour – Tupiza to Uyuni
It was amazing. We had a great 4×4, a Toyota landcruiser and our driver (Johnny) and our cook (Julia) were also very friendly and professional. Johnny spoke so clearly in Spanish that we all had the feeling that we became experts in Spanish as we understood everything he explained during the 4 days. We drove around the very south of Bolivia, coming within a couple of km’s of Chile and finishing on the last day on the famous Uyuni Salt Flats. We’ll just show some of the pictures we took each day and let them tell the story of this little cold adventure.
Day 1: Tupiza to Sol de Mañana
Day 2: Sol de Mañana to Villa Mar
Salar de Chalviri
Desierto de Dali
Paso del Condor
Laguna Verde / Volcan Licancabur
Villa del Mar
Day 3: Villa Mar to Hotel de Salar (Salar de Uyuni)
Valle de las Rocas
Anaconda river / Canyon
Random Railway Town
Day 4: Salar de Uyuni to Uyuni
Salt flats FUN!
As soon as the tour stopped at Uyuni we took the first bus to Pototsi to escape the terrible town (ugly and not friendly) Uyuni. So, Potosi. We thought the elevation of Cusco and La Paz was serious. Nope. With an average elevation of over 4000m, Potosi is one of the highest towns in the world. The following day we took a very lacklustre mine tour, which was still enjoyable. 12,000 people work in the mines, in conditions that haven’t changed a lot since the Spanish forced people to mine here in the 1500s. Leaving people living and working in the mines for 6 months in at a time. We were happy that we could walk out of the mine after 90 dusty and very short breathed minutes.
Indeed, Potosi was once the richest town in the world, by virtue of the immense amount of silver that was extracted. According to our shitty guide from Silver tours, ‘only’ 100 people die a year now, mainly due to toxic gases and being drunk in the mine and then accidents happen (usually the way). We saw so many drunk people in this town, not just a bit drunk, totally wasted. Ok now, if you take the conservative estimate of 100 people and multiple it by the number of years that the mine has been in operation, it means that at the very least, 50,000 people have lost their lives mining silver in Potosi. A sobering thought. Think about that next time you buy some silver jewellery, think about what could have gone into getting that metal out of the ground.
For the rest we didn’t do much in Pototsi. But we enjoyed our dinners at Dino’s steak house very much (big tasty steaks for 3 euros).
We went to Sucre specifically to relax and not do much. And Sucre is the perfect town to deliver that. A beautiful city centre with a European/Spanish feel, many nice cafés and restaurants. Plus a bunch of cheap street food. We spent a very relaxed few days here, before we headed back to Pototsi with the bus train.
There exists a little known way of getting between Sucre and Potosi. A train line connects the two cities. But this is no regular train. For some reason, the Bolivians modified a bus (leaving the steering wheel, gear stick and bus suspension).
So you are left with a thing that is neither bus, nor train, but a more fun version of both. It takes 7 hours on this thing, rather than 2hrs by bus. And is so much better. Here are the views from (and of) the bus train over this journey.
We spent a few hours in Potosi, waiting for our night bus to Copacabana. During this time there was a huge march/demonstration through the city, by miners.
Being Bolivia and these being Bolivia miners, they were letting off sticks of dynamite all the time. Car alarms were going off, the owner of the café we were in locked the front door and the dynamite was close enough the rattle the windows nearly to the point of breaking. Quite exciting. But, again, this being Bolivia, no one was worried. We ended our time in Pototsi in a bar with Pisco Sours which contained no Pisco…
Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol
We arrived rather tired after our long bus trip(s) from Potosi to Copacabana We booked ourselves onto a boat leaving for the northern, more tranquil end of Isla del Sol.
And so it was. People herding (small) sheep, cows and pigs along the village path and beautiful bays.
We got ourselves organised in time to walk a short distance for a gorgeous sunset. A delicious trout meal finished off this sunny day.
The next day, we went for a short walk, saw some amazing views and lay in the sun.
We later caught the afternoon boat back to Copacabana and from there the bus to Puno, Peru. Ciao beautiful but cold cold Bolivia!