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Trip Report Trip Report..Bolivia (Titikaka, La Paz, Uyuni, Potosi, Sucre) Nov. 2011

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This report will neither be as entertaining nor as detailed as many here on Fodor's. But I hope that this report encourages others to cough up the visa fee and visit a fascinating and affordable S. American country.

Bolivia has appealed as a travel destination for as long as I can remember. It has that exotic sound, people tend to go "Oh MY" when they hear that you've been. During prior trips to Peru I heard glowing reports from other travelers. I love mountain and desert landscapes, artesania, local foods, cities and photography. Bolivia is a great bargain and therefore caters to my love of value for money, i.e. basic cheapness. Plus it is a good place to try out your "immersion" Spanish.

I used Frequent Flyer miles from LAX to Peru (only 35K r/t but that is another tale). I had previously been to Cusco et al, but never to Arequipa, Colca Canyon or Puno. As November is the start of the rainy season, and travel into Bolivia is never certain, I decided to reserve nothing other than a few nights in La Paz at Hotel Rosario, and to book the rest on the go. Two weeks were blocked out starting from Puno on Thanksgiving day. All of the rates quoted are for one person, other than the hotel in Potosi.

My routing was as follows

Puno (Hotel Qelqatani/ or Posada Don Giorgio, ) USD$37 per night.

Catamaran Transturin Day Tour (Puno to Copacabana to Isla del Sol to La Paz) USD$215 + taxes (Booked through Leon Tours in Puno) http://www.transturin.com/day.html

La Paz 4 nights Hotel Rosario ($68 per night) & Hotel Berlina, 250 Bs ($36). I had to add nights in La Paz due to blockades, which also caused me to fly to Uyuni.
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Taxi to airport arranged by hotel, 60 Bs. Flight La Paz to Uyuni on Amaszonas, booked online from La Paz $127 including taxes. The agent inside Rosario wanted $200 to book the exact same flight.

Salar de Uyuni standard tour 3Day/2 Nights in Toyota Landcruiser based on 6 passengers. Booked off the street in Uyuni on arrival, with Blue Line Service, www.salardeuyunitour.com Acceptable in the spirit of adventure, one could do far worse. 700 Bs ($100) including transport, shared basic lodging, 7 meals. Does not include admissions to Fish Island (30 Bs) and Eduardo Avaroa (150 Bs). FANTASTIC and for me the flamingos on Laguna Colorada were the highlight of my trip.

Uyuni to Potosí Bus from Hell (TransEmperador) 40 Bs DO NOT TAKE A NIGHT BUS. See separate report. Blue Line sold me a voucher and made a phone reservation for 40 Bs. In Potosi, A taxi is needed from the new bus station to central Potosí.

Potosí, 1 night, Hostal Cerro Rico Velasco. Quiet, great hot water, soft beds, good breakfast. Uphill from the center near a nice supermarket. Friendly staff. Triple Room was 450 Bs. No elevator. Recommended if you are okay with soft beds. We followed a Gecko tour group here, lucky they had a room. Book by email or telephone. In retrospect I would have added another night in Potosí .

Potosí to Sucre Afternoon Bus. Many choices,17 Bs. Allow time to get from hotel to the Potosí bus station out of town.

Sucre, 4 nights. Hostal de Su Merced. Highly Recommended. Rooms vary, ask to see a few if you have a choice I had #8. Quoted at 300 Bs per night, seem to be discounts (low season and booked direct, probably).

Tourist bus to Tarabuco from the Plaza de Armas is 35 Bs R/T ie, $5.

Aerosur flight Sucre to La Paz airport, booked using Teresita’s Tours (Sucre) for 553 Bs. It was cheaper than t online. TAM and BoA were both sold out.

Van shuttle from the La Paz El Alto airport to Plaza San Francisco for 7 Bs.

La Paz 1 night Hotel Berlina

La Paz to Puno via Copacabana and Tiquina crossing was 60 Bs. Diana uses Tour Peru for the Copacabana to Puno. I would recommend booking only to Copacabana and then arranging the Peruvian bus when you are there, or looking for another company. You leave at 8am, have at least an hour layover, and arrive in the afternoon at the Puno central bus station.

The photos
L. Titicaca https://picasaweb.google.com/kiwifann/LakeTiticacaPeruAndBolivia
Salar de Uyuni https://picasaweb.google.com/kiwifann/SalarDeUyuniTrip
La Paz, Potosi, Sucre https://picasaweb.google.com/kiwifann/Bolivia2011

More to come....

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    Mlgb - our last day in Puno our guide pointed to some snow capped mountains and said "Aren't they beautiful. Don't tell anyone. They're in Bolivia. It's really beautiful over there."

    Look forward to your report.

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    Thanks cold and crellston, I am encouraged to proceed.

    First, the preliminaries.

    Two months ahead (when my housesitter finally returned to town), I booked FFlyer tickets (American/LAN and United), at a “bargain” rate of 35K miles total. Had to pay about $75 in taxes and fees. I was able to include Lima to Arequipa on my inbound flight within 24 hours of arrival. All travel between Peru and Bolivia was booked after I arrived.

    Checked in with Kaiser’s travel advice service, was prescribed a chickenpox blood test, then a chicken pox vaccination, and a supply of Diamox and Azithromycin (instead of Cipro). Stocked up on a month's supply of Pepto Bismol, Immodium and old lady medications.

    My primary guidebook was Footprint’s Bolivia (older version) ordered on ebay for $5. I also used the Bolivia section in Fodor’s South America, which helped narrow down sightseeing and hotel choices. I read a lot of hotel reviews on TripAdvisor and corresponded with a few Bolivian tour agencies, although none wound up impressing me enough to book ahead. Made a few hotel bookings via email and booking.com. Cancelled about half and rescheduled directly by email.

    Applied in person at the Los Angeles consulate for the $135 Bolivian Visa. (I did this only a week before departure).

    Had to buy a new “good” camera, an Olympus PEN “E-PL1”. Bought Amex Trip Insurance for lost or delayed baggage (mostly for peace of mind about new camera).

    Luggage & Packing. Since there would be no backpacking at 3800 to 4000 meters, I went with a 20” Heys polycarbonate roll-on, a shoulder-sling camera bag, and a big canvas tote. This worked out well. It was easier to drag my luggage uphill rather than carry it. (Also good dust protection when strapped to top of the jeep for the Uyuni trip). In La Paz I bought a duffle for checked luggage, and filled it with souvenirs.

    Things I was glad I packed, in no particular order:
    Allergen barrier pillowcase & small down pillow. Expedition parka. Superfine merino tops. A plastic spork (with knife edge). Microfiber towel. Extra earplugs for my poor Uyuni “roomies”. Hand sanitizer. Industrial strength sunscreen, sunglasses, & a travel umbrella. Flip flops and duct tape. Bathing suit for hot springs. Lightweight stuffable bucket hat. Extra camera battery. Good 9-LED flashlight. Pens and paper pads. Extra padlock. Hair ties for gifts. Binoculars (but I want some lightweight ones). Ziplock bags. Visa credit card, no fee debit card and a card-sized nylon zip bag. Backup USD cash. A neoprene “waist trimmer” to conceal and secure the money belt that likes to flip upside down and spill everything from the unzipped section. Also makes me look better in photos.

    Things I didn’t need to bring:
    Platypus bladder system (for water!). More than one Spanish phrasebook. Knee brace. Gloves and knit cap (buy them there). Second pair of ugly hiking/travel pants. Shorts. Excessive quantities of toiletries. Diamox. Insect repellent. Rain parka. A computer or a cellphone. Traveler’s checks. The money belt that the money belt that likes to flip upside down and spill everything from the unzipped section.

    What to bring next time: More Pepto Bismol, lighter weight binoculars, and a sturdier umbrella.

    Next up: Lake Titicaca.

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    My first morning in Puno, I set out to book my transfer into Bolivia. I had waffled on whether to book one of the extortionate “cruise” options, spend a night on Isla del Sol and/or Copacabana, or to take a cheap and fast bus transfer via Desaguadero into La Paz. It looked to be a blue sky day, and was Thanksgiving, so I splurged on Transturin's one-day cruise/tour with an Isla del Sol stop. The rillon hydrofoil wasn’t an option since they were booked out to a exclusive tour. Luckiy I had my Bolivian visa in hand, or Transturin also would have said “no”. There weren’t more than a dozen on the tour, and I was the only Yank.

    I was picked up at 6:30 am and we consolidated into our tour bus near the port. (Kudos to Qelqatani for providing a breakfast at that early hour.) We had an entertaining guide, Eduardo, for the Peruvian leg from Puno to the border. There were a few stops and pullouts, including the Sunday livestock market where we saw sheep strapped on top of roof racks on their way to….new homes?. We stayed on the bus here, perhaps wise since the people of Ilave lynched their mayor in 2004. Also saw Titicaca trout pens, and stopped briefly in the 17th century town of Pomata with a splendid Dominican church. I tried to keep a low profile while photographing Aymara women in their fantastic bowler hats. There was a short detour onto a section of unpaved road through a farm near the border, but for the most part the route is in excellent condition as the major trans-border route from La Paz.

    At the crossing, Eduardo advised re the best spots for WC & currency exchange (on the Peru side). He said we would not be queried about coca, food or other purchases and that photos are allowed. A bigger concern is smuggling black market electronics into Peru without paying import taxes. We disembarked and walked uphill between Yunguyo, Peru and Kasani, Bolivia, getting the required exit & entry stamps and papers. The same bus and luggage were sent around the barrier into Bolivia, where we said farewell to Eduardo and where we reboarded with our new (and not so great) Bolivian guide.

    A short while later we arrived in Copacabana, where we had time to visit the main part of the cathedral, and walk through the town to the docks. There were a group of men in the Basilica plaza, who were on an annual pilgrimage to be blessed for a successful season at the Oruru festival. On my return trip to Copacabana, I also saw the side chapel & I'm still not sure if I saw the "real" Virgin, as I later found out that she's on a rotating stand that flips back and forth between the main altar and the side chapel.

    We then boarded our catamaran for the crossing to the Isla del Sol.

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    OK then, I'll keep going! I also didn't much here on Bolivia, but there is wasley's report floating out in cyberspace.

    For day-trippers, Transturin takes you from Copacabana to Yumani, ie the "south end" of Isla del Sol, birthplace of Inti the sun-god. At Yumani, you're greeted by a gaggle of souvenir-sellers and 200+ steps up through the terraces, starting at 3800 meters mnsn. I tried to reach a count 50 steps between rest stops. After maybe 10 minutes, I was at Inca fountain (said to be pure water, but I wasn't about to test it) and fantastic views of deep blue Titicaca. We passed a few llamas and schoolchildren along the way. The latter have an unfortunate practice of begging for caramelos, but I was armed with hair elastics instead, and they seemed just as happy with those.

    The tour trail goes to Transturin's Inti Wata Ethno Eco complex. It includes a labeled garden, some demos such as weaving and the Andean footplow, and a Kallawaya blessing ceremony complete with Pachamama bonfire (I like the way the colored sugar things fizzle). I was glad I had packed my little brolly for protection while we sat there baking in the sun. I enjoyed the fine little museum where photography is permitted. After some coca tea and a snack, we return to the Yamani dock. Some of us played the fool taking turns rowing the reed boat wearing chullo hats and ponchos. We had a view of the Pilkokana Inca palace, but I don't recall entering. Altogether it was a pleasant few hours on the island,, and I didn't feel especially deprived that it was not more time.

    The next leg was a relaxing 3-hour catamaran cruise including a memorable Thanksgiving buffet of Titicaca trout and native sweet potato. At the final port of Chua, we boarded Bolivian side minivan for the final 2-hour transfer to La Paz. Along the way we had views of the snow capped Cordillera Real, high desolate puno, bustling El Alto and the first unforgettable sight of the city of La Paz.

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    Yes it was, ncounty! I am so glad I was forcefed high school Spanish.

    Next chapter, the fascinating city of La Paz. Loved the cholitas and the shopping! Plus one great museum and a bit of a scare with a demonstration.

    One of my mates on the Transturin bus persuaded the guide to allow us newbies a quick (and illegal) photo stop from the edge of the Autopista highway. The canyon rim at El Alto is at 4100 meters, and 500 meters below is the city center. Housing climbs the canyon walls, one wonders how it stays there. It looks like Los Angeles plopped inside the Grand Canyon. Above is snow-capped Illimani (over 21,000 feet). Is there another city in the world that remotely resembles La Paz?

    Transturin dropped me at Hotel Rosario just as daylight was fading. I was sleepy and full from the cruise, so I read, caught up on emails and went to bed early. Rosario is a Fodor’s Choice with a nice lobby, fine for a night or two, but it wasn’t an “MLGB Choice.” After a while I was over it--no elevator, 3 of 4 guest computers on the top floor, expensive for La Paz, and the most unhelpful reception staff encountered in a month’s travel. Never have been a fan of hotels that skimp on rooms in favor of lobby décor. After 3 nights I moved one block to Hotel Berlina. It was half the price, with an elevator, lovely owner, and a fabulous view from my room and the rooftop.

    My first morning at Rosario, I tried to arrange a Salar de Uyuni tour, but that didn’t go well. I tried Turisbus agency inside the hotel. Although the staff was friendly, their markup was obscene. ($70 on a $130 plane ticket?) I decided to book only an overnight Panasur tourist bus to Uyuni for the Saturday. By afternoon the local news was making clear that there would be “bloqueos” between La Paz and Oruruo. The agency and bus company didn’t seem to know anything about this. Silly me, I had worried about the weather causing delays! However I asked nicely, mentioning that they probably shouldn’t have sold me that ticket, and I got back most of my money (which was only about $30 total). I self-booked online for Monday’s Amaszonas flight to Uyuni (by then all the weekend flights were sold out). I later heard from my Uyuni Jeep-mates that they detoured 18 hours on a horribly bumpy route around the blockades. I was glad I went with the scary puddle-jumper Amaszonas flight through heavy crosswinds instead (I don’t have a fear of flying, although I now have a fear of Bolivian bus drivers.)

    That decision reversed, I was ready for shopping and lunch! My first stop was the “witches market” at Linares and Sagarnaga, for the obligatory llama fetus photos. Along the way I passed a few coca sellers and decided to stock up for the trip to Uyuni and Sur Lipez. A small bag costs about $1. I was obviously out of my element. A nice gentleman making a similar purchase offered assistance. He also got permission for one of my favorite photos, a green-tinted Mama Coca. We conversed en Espanol & I asked where to find an authentically picante lunch. What ensued was a guided tour of money changers, banks and restaurants on the east side of the Prado. By the time we had settled on a restaurant and were seated with our beverages, they were SOLD OUT. Lesson learned, if you aren’t there by 12:30, there will be no more “almuerzo familiar”. The backup restaurant was Pollos Copacabana, “the best broasted chicken in La Paz”. It was fun having an impromptu Spanish conversation class, while my guide brushed up his English (He lived near DC for a few years). I couldn’t have asked for a nicer introduction to La Paz and validation for traveling solo.

    Since I was already on the east side of Prado, I headed to Plaza Murrillo, only to find it barricaded with controlled entry. No tourists. A few blocks away was the church of Santo Domingo, the original cathedral of La Paz. While inside, I heard an approaching demonstration and small explosions! The students were starting a multi-day protest, the explosions intended to keep them moving away from Evo's house. A few days later it got more serious with blockades up on the Autopista. After waiting a bit and peeking thru the windows to assess the crowd’s mood, I slipped out and around the corner to the excellent Museo National de Etnografia Y Folklore, MUSEF. There was an admission fee of 15 Bs, although most guidebooks say it is free. I wasn't taking photos, but there are lots online at http://www.musef.org.bo
    The next day was Saturday, and the barriers were down. I was able to walk through the Plaza Murrillo, although didn’t attempt to enter any of the government buildings. Over the weekend I did a fair amount of shopping around Sagarnaga, buying from some of the Tarabuco men on the sidewalk, as well as from Komart Tukuypaj at Calle Linares. I walked up toward the market area above Plaza San Francisco, where you can buy everything from toothpaste to baby formula to potato chips to camera batteries to jeans. I was looking for aguayo fabric squares and found the pattern I wanted for $5 a square. I nearly missed out, as the vendor was about to break for lunch. I had to help her “human mule” load up a 4’-ft tall stack of fabric, we both had to give it a push to get it up on his back. It was amazing, that guy was built of steel! I was allocated the vendor’s stool to carry around the block to a storage room where the family was about to have lunch. Luckily I wasn’t strangled or kidnapped and was happy to save all of 105 Bs ($15) on my big purchase. The head cholita even gave me a tip on the best spot to hide my spare cash (tucked under the arm instead of in front). I somehow managed to find the restaurant from Friday, and arrived in time for my “picante de lengua” and a delicious cazuela de pollo (Restaurant 14 de September). On Sunday, I walked a long way down Ave Arce to the Puente de las Americas. There was a street fair along the way and the weather was sunny, although the wind on the bridge finished my umbrella. I wimped out on the way back uphill, and instead took a minibus from Plaza Isabel la Catolica . Earlier that day I was looking for some dancers that my favorite Tarabuco vendor had promised near Sagarnaga. When I got off the minivan, I followed my ears and found a 16-man band and dancing round a small plaza. I found that I have a low threshold for 16-piece bands, but I could still hear them from the Hotel Berlina. I sorted out my luggage and asked the nice receptionist at Hotel Berlina to arrange a morning taxi to the airport for my flight to Uyuni.

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    Salar de Uyuni, the highlight of touring Bolivia.

    The Salar de Uyuni is the must-see sight for most travelers to Bolivia so I'm going to go into a lot of detail here. For most, this is a 3 day/2 night shared 4WD tour from the town of Uyuni, usually 5 or 6 passengers and a driver in a Toyota Landcruiser. The multi day tours include a loop through the Eduardo Avaroa wildlife reserve and return to Uyuni. There is a lot of angst on travel boards about Uyuni tour agencies. They have poor reputations for drunk drivers, bad food, dodgy lodgings, etc.

    Selecting a Tour Company.
    The alternatives to Uyuni are to leave from Tupiza which adds at least an extra day plus travel time, or the high priced (but not luxury) Fremen tours which lodge at the Tayka hotels. The Fremen tour wasn’t an option for me due to high cost for a solo traveler, as well as a routing that tends to short-change Laguna Colorada in favor of the Salar. Tupiza companies have a slightly better reputation although cost about twice as much for the same level of comfort. I had been leaning that way until the blockades effectively shut off access from La Paz.

    For anyone trying to decide, things to consider include: 1) from Tupiza, the first two nights lodging are above 4200 meters; 2) the extra first day is just “wild west” type scenery; 3) Tupiza makes sense if you’re entering from Argentina and traveling with a small group; 4) breakdowns are a crapshoot no matter who you go with; 5) the food isn’t all that bad if you go from Uyuni, and it isn’t all that great if you go from Tupiza; 6) from Tupiza you visit the Salar at sunrise on the third morning, which many prefer; 7) if you’re going to Chile, the better routing is from Uyuni.

    Flying to Uyuni from La Paz.
    An improved airport runway opened this year in Uyuni, permitting commercial passenger service as an alternative to overland travel. As of November 2011 the options are TAM Militar (www.tam.bo) and Amaszonas (www.amaszonas.com). TAM doesn’t go every day, and doesn’t have an online booking option, reservations are by telephone during open office hours. The TAM plane looked a lot sturdier than the Amaszonas Fairchild Metro III prop plane. My Amaszonas flight was delayed due to weather around Uyuni *(I was glad couldn’t completely understand the captain’s announcement in Spanish which I think included the phrases “high cross winds” and “I hope we will be able to land.”) The flight arrived at about 11:50 am. An inexpensive bus makes the transfer to town center. If you don’t have a tour agency pickup, there is no need to hire a taxi. The bus waits for everyone, including the Amaszonas employees.

    Arranging a Salar Tour on Arrival.
    When you arrive in Uyuni there are dozens of agency offices. Most budget travelers do a reconnaissance and book for the following day. I had assumed I would be doing the same. At the first agency office, Andes Salt, I didn’t like the ‘vibe’ but they gave me a price to shop, 700 Bs plus admission fees. The second stop was Blue Line Service (http://www.salardeuyunitour.com/ ) the agency used by Turisbus. The owner asked 800 Bs and I countered with the Andes Salt price. She offered to match the price if I was ready to leave immediately!! The plan was to take a taxi and catch up at the train graveyard. She couldn’t find a taxi right away, so she flagged down a 4WD and talked the driver into taking us by a crazy shortcut through the trash strewn desert. When we arrived, her driver was gone. She finagled another driver into taking me to the next stop, Colchani. Well, Blue Line driver was gone again, but no worries, you can have lunch with us and we’ll find your car at Hotel de Sal. This worked in my favor as I had a superior lunch of grilled llama vs. cardboard beef for the Blue Line group. So Tip#1, ask what’s for lunch, and try to get Cochani and the llama. It tasted like a cross of lamb, goat and beef..I loved it!

    We caught up at the Hotel de Sal, the new group was 3 Kiwis, a Frenchie, a Scot and myself, 5 women for one lucky guy! They were just finishing lunch and ready to depart. I was disappointed to miss the “ojos de sal” which they had done before I arrived. However we were one of the first groups at Incahuasi Island. This is the cactus-covered petrified coral reef that protrudes from the Salar, one of the tour highlights. The petrified coral provides good traction, so even “VC ass-sliders” can manage the climb back down without much difficulty. Beautiful springtime cactus flowers attracted a black-hooded sierra finch who sat still for a quick snap. I had a close encounter with a vizcacha, the odd-looking chinchilla cousin. The view from the top was worth the climb. Tours allow plenty of time (over an hour for us, enough for slow pokes or those needing an adult beverage or toilet stop). There is a small exhibit and the toilets are good. A bit later we had time for “funny photos” out on the salar.

    The lodging for Night1 was a salt hotel. It was supposed to be at San Juan but it may have been elsewhere nearby. There were three other tour groups in our hotel. The agency sold the tour as double rooms but we were 4 to a room. The restrooms were shared, and could have been better maintained. There were several choices of “hotel” so perhaps our driver was skimming, or perhaps our extra photo stop caused us to lose out on the better options. Dinner was acceptable, soup and either chicken or beef, can’t recall. The available showers were cold, not hot, and yucky, so I used them for about 15 seconds and didn’t pay 10 Bs for the “privilege.” There was a recharge station for cameras, as far as I know, no one paid extra to use it.

    Day 2 was my favorite, as it included volcanoes such as steaming Ollague, and the high altitude colored lakes with flamingos (Lagunas Hedionda, Canapa, and Colorada). Between Hedionda and Canapa, the driver pointed out an Andean fox, said “He’s hungry” and tossed him a leftover bread-roll from lunch. At some point he also pointed out a Puna Rhea at a distance (he called it an avestruz) At lunch we had a decent chicken cutlet until a sandstorm blew through our picnic shelter adding a bit of crunch to the food. There was an “apple lottery” for dessert. This day included the stop at the Arbol de Piedra formation. We were able to spend nearly an hour at Laguna Colorada. I only left when the wind kicked up and blew borax dust all over us. Everyone said I was white as a ghost, but that may have been from hiking from the lake shore back up to the parking lot at elevation 4300 meters (14,100 feet). I was ecstatic that we had dozens of flamingos and that the lake changed color to a darker red when the wind picked up.

    We reached our lodging at about 5:30 pm. There was a beautiful subtle desert sunset, and the Frenchie and I followed two grazing alpaca with our cameras. Our cook was late for work, she showed up at 6:30 pm and it was nearly 8 pm by the time we had dinner. This is the location of the infamous dinner of spaghetti with tomato sauce and stinky cheese, and bad Bolivian wine. We offered the driver a small glass, and after tasting ours, we understand why he drank it like a tequila shot. I think we had to one of the better lodges available with fairly decent shared toilets. (I heard others spent a night in a campground, which shouldn’t have happened). We were told that we would be getting up at 4:30 am, which caused tipsy grumbling amongst the Kiwis. I handed out the rest of my supply of my earplugs to my roommates who had suffered the prior night.

    Day3’s proposed wake up is at 4:30 am, with departure by 5 am to reach the Sol de Manaña geothermal basin (4850m) as early as possible for best viewing. The Kiwi girls went on strike in order to annoy the driver who never gave us a wake up knock as promised. We were the last to leave, but nearly everyone else was still at the “geysers” when we arrived. It was pretty cold and I was glad I packed my expedition parka. The breakfast stop was at the Polques hot springs (4400 m). Most of us were up for the soak, and it was perfect, not too hot and not too cool. There was a gravel bottom and the water looked clean, although that cannot be said of the rest stop loos. Even after I asked for a cleanup (after all we were paying!) they were still too smelly for me to use. Final breakfast was pancakes, two per person, but our jam had mysteriously disappeared and we had to borrow.

    After breakfast the tour goes through the Salvador Dali Desert. Next was was Laguna Verde. Tinted by chemicals, it was like a mirror, but with no wind it was closer to blue than green. We agreed that the reflection was better than a greener color. The Kiwis decided to stage another sit-in until 9:30 am, the official end time of their tour. They were on time for their Chilean border transfer at 10:30 am, and I had warned them that any produce or opened foods would be confiscated, so they were passed on to the remaining four.

    The car was a lot quieter, our driver wanted to know why was everyone else sad? I replied that we were tired from having to get up so darned early. We retraced our route back through the colorful desert and to the hot springs. We were a bit perplexed when the driver stopped along the way to buy tuna for lunch? Perhaps he bartered away our main course, along with missing jam and eggs from that morning? However looking at the beef on another table, I was glad to have a healthier lunch of tuna, chopped tomato and cucumber, and my leftover lemon and corn nuts from Arequipa. The final leg of the tour included more lakes, a rocky hilly pass, where we had a tire change and passed a local truck out of engine oil. We stopped briefly in San Cristobal which has a small market, a 17th century church, and an option to have a slice of pizza (reported to be pretty good). Our driver pointed out the San Cristobal mine as one of the world’s top sources of silver & zinc. It is owned by Sumitomo, their investment includes community improvements as well as a processing plant to support local employment.

    I arrived back in Uyuni at about 6 pm, in one piece and able to catch the evening bus to Potosi. This was a bad decision. I should have spent the night and avoided the bus ride from hell, see my report from the field, elsewhere.

    Final impressions
    In the end, the cheapie Uyuni tour was a good decision for me. Our driver was a safe & sober and apparently one of the better mechanics. He had a decent selection of music on MP3 player although he had NO photography skills when it came to taking the funny photos (a source of amusement in our room on night 2). Everyone in our group and other groups in our lodgings got along splendidly, no one had a bad attitude and no one got sick. The lodging was far more comfortable than anticipated, helped by traveling in the warmer month of November. Yes, there was cross-checking at mealtime, ie theirs looks better than ours, but the food wasn’t that bad, considering you’re paying $100 for the whole tour. It reminded me of the typical meal in Costa Rica that costs you $12 a plate. Bringing hot sauce, extra protein snacks and supplemental water is a good idea. The scenery was stunning, I saw my red lake, vizcacha, fox, rheas and flamingos, and I LOVE a bargain!

    No regrets!

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    I'm glad you are thinking about it. If you like Death Valley, the southwest it is a bit like that, of course the Salar is huge, and there aren't any red lakes with flamingos!

    La Paz is fantastic if you like crazy cities, I felt safe enough walking around on my own.

    Bolivia is more challenging than Peru for travel, road conditions and frequent protests need to be taken into account and there isn't any such thing as a fixed itinerary. You need a bit more wiggle room and the right attitude.

    But I found it very rewarding, well worth the visa expense.

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    Great report mlgb. I love your comment about the pilot. Sometimes I can't make out what they are saying in any language. I go by the tone of their voice. To me it always sounds like they are saying we have five minutes to live. Thanks for picking us for your final flight.

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    Following up with a few tales of our jeep driver, inspired by cold's trip report.

    Transiting the Salar, I was concerned that he was nodding off. My father used to do this on long desert drives. I reflexively punched driver on the shoulder, lightly. (My roomies thought it hysterical: did she really just do that?)

    The next day I decided a better approach to driver alertness was to share my coca stash, with portion control. I was schooled on local technique for destemming the leaves between the front teeth. Then you consolidate the tender bits of leaf remaining in your mouth.This contrasts with the prissier Peruvian technique which involves counting, alignment and bundle-rolling, and eliminates the need to spit out the stems.

    Our driver was barely into his 20's. He went in to the army on obligatory service at a young age. Some go as young as 15. He followed that with 3 years hard and dangerous work as a miner, to save up to buy his car. He said the sacrifice was worth it, to become his own boss. In Bolivia a boy becomes a man at a young age. I liked him more after that conversation.

    We think the he had a crush on our Scot. We were doing funny group photos with a toy stegosaurus, with driver directing the group position. He kept moving the Scot closer and closer. It made absolutely no sense for the photo alignment, and all of the pictures on 6 different cameras were fuzzy. We think he was just looking at her up close and personal through the telephoto lenses!

    Lasting memories, for sure.

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    Thanks guys. I'm not going to go into much more detail on Potosi and Sucre, since I doubt few Fodorites will get there, other than a few do's and dont's on attractions.

    Potosi, the Mint is a must-see. They are closed for lunch. It's mandatory to go on a tour, so be at the door when they reopen. Otherwise you will be stuck in line waiting to pay and be late for the tour in language of your choice. There is a separate camera fee (common in many Bolivian museums). Watch out that the cashier doesn't slip you a counterfeit note..the only place I was passed one! (Now it's one of my favorite Bolivian souveniers, worth $3 USD.)

    Sucre, the new Dinosaur Park is a waste of time unless you want to see life-size dinosaur sculptures. You're no longer allowed to get close to the wall with the dinosaur tracks (and have to pay extra to use the binoculars). You're actually just as close from the parking lot. They charge extra for foreigners, too.

    Sucre has a nice market with good food in the comedors. I tried the traditional mondongo (which is basically chili colorado made with pork). I think it's perfectly safe if you get something like a stew or soup during lunchtime.

    There is an excellent folklorico show and dinner (I think about 2 years old), called Origenes Bolivianos. Well worth the admission and dinner is good, with a fair number of choices. There are three different shows, the recommended one is on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, opens at 8 pm. More info and clips on their website, www.origenesbolivianos.com .
    At some point they welcome everyone by name and nationality, when they said I was from United States, everyone went ""oooooooH!" I felt like a celebrity. At the end of the show the dancers try to get the audience up on stage to dance a bit.

    I enjoyed visiting the Tarabuco Sunday market from Sucre. There really are people wearing their traditional attire and the hats are awesome!

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    I think it's both nature and nurture with me, my mother and both grandmothers were solo travelers and adventurous for their times. I descend from an ethnic group that was forced to move around a lot. Not Gypsy, but who knows what genetic material was inserted when they were in Spain. One grandmother spoke 7 languages, another earned her way out of Russia by telling fortunes. I consider myself a wimp compared to those two!

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    Mlgb - Just read this from beginning to end. Fantastic report with a huge amount of useful information. Essential reading for anyone considering travelling io Bolivia! I am bookmarking for future reference. Thanks once again.

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    Hope it helps crellston. You will need to get updated information about the situation at the south end of the "REA" (where the Salar tours visit the Laguna Verde). There have been ongoing protests and sometimes the tours have not been able to cross into Chile by this route. Not sure what is the current status.

    A good resource that I may not have mentioned is Kanoo Tours in La Paz. They should know what is happening since they book Salar tours for a lot of the backpackers coming in to La Paz.

    www.kanootours.com

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    Thank you soo000OOoOoooo very much for posting this. You have replied to a few of my pasts regarding Bolivia, and this post answered many of my questions. The biggest thing that I am planning is to just roll with the flow. I never wanted to have a fixed itinerary in the first place, and on top of knowing that buses and flights and everything else is super unpredictable, just encouraged me to get less focused on a plan. I have nine months to be there and a number of places I want to see, and trust that in that time I will get to all of them. Also being a single female traveler myself it is encouraging to see that well...you survived :)

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