Our Bolivian adventure began at the southern La Quiaca/Villazon border, where, despite having all our documents printed and ready to go (visa application, visa application confirmation, hotel itinerary, exit flight, yellow fever card, and our bank statement, plus $160 in US cash), it still took us more than six hours to get the actual visa stamp. But we prevailed, and at last we had our 30 day visa for Bolivia.
We immediately headed for Uyuni, where we booked a tour with Discovery Colored Lagoons for a three day, two night tour of the Salt Desert. What am interesting area! On the first day of our tour, we visited the old train cemetery, where rusted locomotives that once extracted Bolivia’s mineral wealth now rest. We saw the Dakar rally monument from the years that the race passed through this part of the continent . We visited the Salt Flats, and took fun “perspectives” pictures. And that night we stayed at a hotel made of actual salt bricks.
For the next two days, we drove around the desert with our tour group, visiting several lagoons, looking for flamingos, vicuñas (wild llamas), and viscochas (wild, long-tailed rabbits). Ringed by volcanoes and mountains, the altiplano desert in Bolivia is stunning. The second night of our tour, after dinner, we soaked under the stars in a natural hot spring, while our guide pointed out the Milky Way and the Quechua constellations. Wow! A night to remember, for sure.
After our tour, we went to Potosí, home to a silver mine (Cerro Rico) that has been in constant active use for more than 500 years. This small Bolivian city once had more inhabitants than Paris or Madrid! The backbone of the Spanish empire’s mineral extraction, Potosí was home to hundreds of silversmiths. We went on a tour of the Museum de Moneda- which was really fascinating – as well as a tour of a working mine (booked through Koala Den). Well, Chris did. I only made it 20 minutes before I had to leave the mine- claustrophobia really caught up to me! In addition, being one of the highest altitude cities in the world, it was hard enough to breathe outside, let alone inside a mine deep in a mountain.
After Potosí, we took a bus to Sucre, where we spent New Year’s Eve. The day before the holiday, we went to the Parque Cretacico, home of more than 5,000 dinosaur prints preserved from 65 million years ago in limestone. It was a fun outing! On the bus ride there, we met a gal from our Facebook travel group Every Passport Stamp (for super nerdy travelers like ourselves), as well as two Kiwis that we wound up spending New Year’s Eve with. It was nice to share the holiday- and a meal at a French restaurant- with some new travel pals.
I could not face a 12 hour bus ride from Sucre to La Paz, so we found a quick flight and arrived in record time. We stayed three nights in a beautiful, 400 year old building that once housed a monastery. La Paz is… a busy, crowded, bustling city. Technically not the capital of Bolivia (constitutionally, Sucre is), La Paz is viewed as the administrative capital of the country. The best thing I can say for La Paz, and it’s sister-city El Alto, is they have a pretty cool cable car system. With 28 stations and 8 lines, it’s a fun and easy way to get around the two cities, without spending hours in traffic breathing in the fines from the trufli in front of you.
Several travelers we had met along the way had encouraged us to go to Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, which is just three hours from La Paz. We bussed out to Copacabana, at the edge of the lake, and spent one night there. The next day we took a boat to the Isla, which is considered to be the birthplace of the Inca Empire. This simple, peaceful island has no roads or cars, and only about 800 families live there. We spent the next two days hiking along the Inca Camino, visiting the Roca Sagrada, and looking at 500-year old ruins of a small Incan village. The main town of the island, Yumani, site at 4,100 meters above sea level- while the days were warm, the nights were cold! We huddled under our alpaca wool blankets at our hostel, the Palacio del Inca.
After Lake Titicaca, we were nearing our time to leave Bolivia. Our exit flight was from Santa Cruz airport, in the eastern sub-tropical part of the country. We flew there (rather than taking a 17 hour bus), and spent our last 3 days in Samaipata, a small village in the hills just outside of Santa Cruz. Peaceful, walkable, surrounded on three sides by Amboró National Park (also called the Cloud Forest due to low-lying fog), this town was a treat to relax in. The hammocks at the Andorina Hostel were the perfect place to read a book, write a blog, or take a nap. On one day we walked into the hills to visit an animal rescue park, but mainly we just… chilled out.
And then it was time to leave Bolivia. We were ready for a break from our travels, and wanted to codon friends and family in the US for a bit. In a month we’ll continue our South American adventures, probably starting with Brazil. Stay tuned!