The Best of Bolivia

“What?!  You are skipping Bolivia?” a surprised friend exclaimed when I told her I was planning on visiting Peru, Argentina, Chile and Colombia when I was in South America. I guess she had a point, I was planning on visiting most of Bolivia’s neighbours but hadn’t really thought about actually going through the country. She quickly convinced me to at least see the famous Uyuni Salar ( salt flats) and colored lakes. I was excited at the prospect of taking some cool photos with my Canon Rebel so I decided to ‘pass through’ Bolivia on my way from Peru to Argentina.

I planned a few short days to cross the country starting from Puno, Peru  into Copacabana, Bolivia….But Bolivia had other plans for me. After a few short hours in picturesque vacation spot Copacabana, I realized that Argentina would have to wait.

I quickly learned that Bolivia has A LOT to offer and the tourists/backpackers that travel there are adventurous, open-minded and thrill seekers. Here is the route I took through Bolivia (which ended up being 2.5 weeks longer than I had originally planned yet so worth it.)

COPACABANA…Bolivia (not Brazil)

The clouds touch the water at Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable lake in the world. Although I went on a great Uros tour of the floating islands in Puno, the views of the lake were more picturesque in Copacabana. It was holiday season for Bolivians so the lakefront was packed with families picnicking, kayaking and paddle boating. The Monet-like sunsets were incredible from the surrounding cliffs and the huge white-washed cathedral in the main square was truly impressive. I took a day trip to nearby Isla del Sol ( Island of the Sun) and Isla de la Luna ( Island of the Moon) where I was met my villagers and was able to hike around the islands ( note: they do charge small island entrance fees)

Copacabana, Bolivia

Copacabana, Bolivia

Copacabana sunset

Copacabana sunset

LA PAZ

It was an interesting bus ride to La Paz from Copacabana as we had to disembark to let the bus cross in a raft of its own.

Bus crossings in Bolivia

Bus crossings in Bolivia

I was curious to see what people told me was the highest capital city in the world ( turns out people were wrong….as it isn’t the highest, nor the capital of Bolivia) but its high enough that you feel like utterly exhausted walking one block uphill. I only stayed one day in La Paz which was long enough in my opinion to wander the markets and bustling streets. I enjoyed some national museums and people watching in plazas before taking the overnight bus to Sucre.  It should be noted that many tourists come to La Paz as a jumping off point to bike the world’s most dangerous road….don’t worry mom, I didn’t do it. The torrential rains deterred me but I heard it’s the thrill of a lifetime (next visit!)

Streets of La Paz

Streets of La Paz

SUCRE

Surprise…Sucre is the capital of Bolivia! (At least it is the constitutional capital with la Paz being its second administrative capital.)  I had the most comfortable cama bus experience on the way the Sucre yet unfortunately with a broken bathroom on the bus, it turned out to also be the most unpleasant bathroom experience. I will spare you the details of emergency roadside bathrooms…on motorways, in the rain.

Sucre lured me in and I ended up extending my stay, twice. I stayed at a wonderful family owned hostel in the city where I met tons of interesting backpackers. I explored Sucre’s famous dinosaur tracks, the sunday village markets of Tarabuco and enjoyed sangria from hilltop Recoleta while watching the sun go down on this charming white-washed colonial city. Many foreigners stay in Sucre to take Spanish lessons or do volunteer work as it’s a place where one can easily feel at home. After a few days in the city, I had my favourite fruit and empanada stands at the market, danced salsa at the local Friday night hotspot, hit the hair salon and even had my annual dental check up! ( Note: there are TONS of dental clinics in this city. Apparently there’s a big market for dental tourism here. And the price is right. My Sucre dentist had more advanced equipment than my dentist back home.) The appeal of this city never fades and if I find myself in Bolivia again one day, I would definitely set up shop in Sucre.

Dinosaur tracks in Sucre

Dinosaur tracks in Sucre

Sweet streets of Sucre

Sweet streets of Sucre

POTOSI

THIS is the highest altitude city in Bolivia (and Wikipedia says its no. 2 in the world!) Funny thing is that I didn’t realize it until I was half way down a mine shaft and completely out of breath.  Let me back it up a bit to tell you why I visited Potosi in the first place. Potosi was once among the richest cities in South America due to the abundance of silver mines in the area.  The mines are still the main source of employment in Potosi but the price is a heavy one to pay with life expectancy of a miner being 40 years of age. I had heard that taking a tour of the mines was not to be taken lightly. (You know it’s not exactly a museum tour when the guide makes you sign a paper acknowledging risks such as injury, dismemberment or death.)  Since I missed biking death road, I thought this was a death-defying must-do so I signed up for a tour of Potosi’s Cierro Rico. Our english speaking guide, an ex-miner, took us to the miner’s market where we could buy gifts for the miners. Gifts included staples such as water, juice, dynamite, alcohol and coca leaves. Yes, you read it right. We could buy dynamite ($2USD) for miners.  We suited up in boots, hard hats and oversized miners outfits and after a short visit to a processing plant, we walked into the mine. I ended up being the only girl in my Euro tour group which didn’t seem to be a problem until the guys tried to give me as a gift to the miners…twice. We had the opportunity to crawl through shafts, talk with miners and even shovel some rocks into a pit. It was hot, humid and the lack of clean air was apparent after the first 10 min. I have respect for miners as not only is it hard labour but it’s a dangerous daily job.

Don't do this at home kids

Don’t do this at home kids

After long hours in the mine

After long hours in the mine

TUPIZA

Welcome to the wild cowboy district of Bolivia! It was a scenic bus ride to Tupiza and I was quick to saddle up upon arrival. I took a wonderful 3 hour horseback ride through the outskirts of the city. After witnessing a French man being thrown off his crazy black stallion, I was slightly apprehensive to get on my brown pony. However, the guide stayed close behind me and I learnt how to communicate with my horse en espanol.  Within minutes, we were surrounded by towering red rock and cactus. We even managed to safely return during a torrential thunder storm. The adventure never stops in Bolivia!

Riding in Tupiza

Riding in Tupiza

Howdy!

Howdy!

Speaking of adventure, I had enrolled in a 4-day jeep excursion into the mountains to see the colored lakes en-route to Uyuni Salar, the famous Salt Flats of the region. On a rainy Monday morning, I jumped in a jeep with two French girls and two Isreali girls, our cook in the passenger seat with our trustworthy driver leading the way. It turned out to be an adventure of a lifetime as we drove through heavy rainfall, rivers, landslides and even snow!  Us six women had immense faith in our driver Luis who did an incredible job navigating through what was the craziest ride of my life. We teamed up with other jeeps to help when one got stuck in the mud or to test which way to cross a river via jeep.  Between long drives with our i-pod tunes to roadside gourmet lunches to freezing nights in basic huts, it was a true Bolivian adventure!

Heavy rainfall prevented us from seeing the geysers and most of the colored lakes ( I may have to return to Bolivia just for those) and unfortunately the famous Uyuni Salar was flooded however we turned every obstacle into a new adventure and had a blast!

Here are some candid memories of the journey:

 

Bottom line: Bolivia is an incredible country to visit! It has so much to offer and my transit through this country ended up being a memorable journey. Sometimes, the road you were not going to take turns out to be exactly where you should be.

By the way, if you are booking your plane ticket to Bolivia right now or are about to backpack through, feel free to drop me a line if you want any travel tips or recommendations.

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2 Responses to “The Best of Bolivia”

  1. AH!! I’ve recently heard SUCH good things about Bolivia and you’ve convinced me to add it to my ever growing list of places to visit!!!

  2. The Global Sponge The Global Sponge Says:
    February 15, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Joanne, you will love Bolivia! Let me know when you have your ticket and I’ll happily recommend places to stay, tours groups etc.
    P.S- keep that travel list growing!!

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