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Bolivia 2013 trip report - independently using public transport

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May 9th, 2014, 08:38 AM
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Bolivia 2013 trip report - independently using public transport

Within August/September 2013 we have been to some Andean countries, esp. Bolivia but also some Chile and Peru, travelling independently and getting around by public transport. Our route included Lima, Arequipa; Copacabana, El Choro trek, La Paz,
PN-Amboro-northeast trek, Samaipata, Sucre, Potosi, Uyuni; PN Volcan Isluga, Iquique,
PN Pan de Azucar, and Santiago de Chile.
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When preparing the trip I also used information gathered at this site and all around the internet - to repay this help I have put a detailed report on our experience for others to use on the internet - internet - if interested check it out at my site:
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http://vaclav-trips-2.webs.com/bolivia.htm
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I am sorry to publish it with rather long delay but I seems to have problem nowadays to find enough time to write the report. In addition, I have not managed to get to the Chilean part of the trip at all so far. I am sorry about that but I need to start researching for my next trip now and will not be able to finish the report in near future. Still, as I believe our experience in Bolivia may be of some help for other travellers I have considered it useful to publish at least the unfinished report.
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Happy travels to everyone.
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May 9th, 2014, 12:38 PM
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I'm bookmarking your link to read when I have a bit more time - thanks for posting.
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May 11th, 2014, 03:05 PM
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Thank you very much for your wonderfully detailed report.

Do I conclude that you would not necessarily recommend a visit to Isla da Sol? Maybe the half day rather than the full?

I am trying to decide whether I need to see both the Salar de Uyuni and the Atacama desert, and if not, which. Your description of the salt flats is not especially inspiring....
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May 11th, 2014, 11:24 PM
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Hi, thanks for reading my report - I am certainly glad you guys found it useful.

As for Isla del Sol, I indeed consider it more a tourist trap than not. We actually took it mainly as an acclimatization - a little walk in a rather high altitude to prepare us for our high trek planned next.

As for Atacama vs. Salar: Well, Atacama is very different from Salar. The Salar is a special think not to be seen in too many places - the plain is completely white and somewhat photogenic; yet, the tours are definitely over-organized. Atacama desert is very different - really desolate with no vegetation and goin on and on, rather immense; some vegetation is just next to the sea, living on morning fog - we have been at the Chilean Pan de Azucar NP and this vegetated strip with some cacti is indeeed interesting; I would recommend a visit to one of these parks where you can see both the sheer desert and some special local vegetation.

In any case, have a good trip.

Vaclav
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May 14th, 2014, 03:19 PM
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I read your blog, it seems that doing the trip extremely cheaply and independently seems to be the primary objectives.

For those who wish to do a private tour of the Salar de Uyuni it is possible, if one buys the whole jeep.

When reading the blog, bear in mind the exchange rate is about 7 Bolivianos to the USD. So complaining about locals on Isla del Sol charging a fee of 75 cents to $2 for passage seems rather mean, given the high levels of poverty in Bolivia. Probably the attitudes of Vaclav is common among European travelers, in fact when I spoke to Bolivian locals (I actually do speak basic Spanish) they generally had a low opinion of Europeans as very cheap!
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May 14th, 2014, 11:07 PM
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Hi "mlgb",

Thanks for reading my report and your opinions. I am really sorry I disturbed you so deeply.

I indeed very much prefer to travel independently - the main reason for that is that I prefer to travel and not to be travelled, i.e. see what I want and when I want. Travelling independently also mean for me to travel as locals do - in my opinion, that is the only way how to really meet the country visited, see what is the life of local people. Of course, when travelling as local I also expect to pay local prices - and that is in fact no problem in Bolivia, the ordinary Bolivians seem not to ask any extra surgarges feom foreigners.

Of course, tourist services are different story. I understand why to pay for getting something but simply collecting tax for passing by, as it is done on Isla del Sol, is asking money for nothing. As for being "cheap", I just do not like to throw money around, In any case, the place where people try to live on tourists without trying to give anything back is hopelessly spoiled anyway. And it is indeed typical that people in such places has low opinions about foreign tourist - it is necessary for them to keep a good feeling about themselves: "we do ask money for nothing but those people are rich and bad and so let us rip them off". Of course, this is artificial environment and it is normally better to keep away from such places or ignore those people as much it is possible. Of course they are not going to love you for it - that is fine with me.

I generally prefer to go to places where people take me just as another human being. Unfortunately, it is becoming difficult to find such places within short holiday, as I sadly "cannot" ignore all local special attractions. Still, it is always very refreshing to get "off the beaten track" and meet with people without being considered just a source of money.

I any case, "mlgb" enjoy your ways of travelling, whatever those may be.
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May 15th, 2014, 04:50 AM
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An interesting blog vaclav, even if I do disagree with a number of your comments and observations. Everyone has there different style of travel budget etc. But, I do sort of agree with mlgb's comments with the penny pinching attitudes of many tourists as I have seen many times younger backpackers particularly, boasting how they saved 50censt here or there without a thought as to what that 50 cents might mean to the local people. I could take exception to the generalised comments re Europeans being tight with there money but I am. English so don't really consider myself European . Anyway the. Bolivia people are probably only comparing Europeans with North Americans who are renowned for over tipping and so probably do appear mean

As for your trip to Salar de Uyuni the problems are of overcrowding and poor quality trips fro Uyuni are well documented and a little research beforehand could have alleviated some, if not all of the problems. 7 people to a jeep is ridiculous but is what happens if you go for the cheapest possible option.

Also, it seems you just went to the Salar? If so, you missed out on some of the arguably, even more impressive sights in the region, the Lagunas etc. It is well worth doing a 4 day tour is possible.

Surcharges for "foreigners" are almost inevitable and annoy the hell out of me but we are visitors to these countries so you sort of implicitly accept these issues by visiting. You are right in that in Bolivia it is not too much of a problem however Peru's insistence on increasing/ introducing bolleto Turistico charges for attractions is in danger of going over the top and putting off tourism.

As visitors to developing countries where many of the people still live in poverty, I believe we all have responsibilities that work in two ways; not to splash money around in terms of giving to beggars, over-tipping etc. and, of equal importance, not to squeeze every last cent out of every price negotiation. Just my opinion!
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May 15th, 2014, 04:55 AM
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I travel independently as you do, enough to recognize that even backpacking tourists have an impact (unless you chose not to drink water, defecate, recharge your electronics, or dispose of trash along the way).

I could also point out many other differences that I have with your perceptions but that is largely a matter if personal taste and making an effort. Eg, finding meals more interesting to eat than chicken or pizza on an extreme budget is eadt but requires a little effort and fitting your schedule to the way locals eat..main meal at lunch at the markets , or restaurant lunch menu which runs out if you haven't arrived by 12:30!. Then a snack such as a saltena or humitas in the evening.
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May 15th, 2014, 06:03 AM
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crellston we were posting at the same time and no I do not equate British with European! Altho American I do not like to overtip where it isn't custom (unlike my countrymen) and agree that the boleto turistico thing is getting out of hand in Peru. But Bolivia is a different case. It easy to start thinking a BOB is equal to a $ and get pissy about a 15 BOB charge. Then you realize it isn't even the price of a cup of coffee back home but means quite a bit to the person receiving it. Quite the same in parts of Peru off the beaten path (especially the north coast) and 1 sol means a lot.. bread for the day. I took my cue from a taxi driver there.
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May 15th, 2014, 07:33 AM
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Just a final comment re the standard group Salar tours from Uyuni. I think part of the reason they can be so difficult is actually due to so many of tourists being of the penny pinching backpacker type. It is a bit of a chicken and egg syndrome. They complain about spending so much but then also complain about going on a fixed route with others and being packed 7 to a car (actually it is more likely 5 or 6 plus a driver). The vehicle is nearly always the Toyota Landcruiser because apparently they are the ones that survive the altitude and conditions the best, you travel up near 5,000 meters at the south end. Well the truth is that the drivers generally own their own vehicles and driving on the Salar is very tough on tires and undercarriages. There are not service shops on every corner. If something breaks (and you are not carrying it) that means a long drive to the nearest town to get a replacement. So you better hope that another vehicle comes along and is willing to carry you there. This is I think partly why the tours tend to run together, so that tourists can be shuffled to another vehicle, or there is help for repairs (my driver seemed to be one of those with some repair skills). Services are very scarce, usually limited solar power and not a whole lot of running water...it is the middle of nowhere!

The driver I had had worked in the Bolivian mines for several years to save up for his vehicle, so that he could be his own boss.

At the time I went, the cost was $100 or 700 Bobs per person (off season) for the standard tour and it was 6 per car plus the driver). Which included transportation for 3 days, meals and unheated lodging in shared rooms/shared bathrooms (with extra charge for a shower if available at all). I guess I was lucky as no one wanted to sit in the front seat with the driver so I can't comment on the comfort of the back seats, but luckily we did not have a complainer in the bunch.

There are a few upgraded hotels and one can pay for that privilege, along with the option to hire a second person as an English speaking guide. I think crellston has quoted the cost of a private tour leaving from Tupiza in his blog.
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May 15th, 2014, 07:46 AM
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The cost of the private tour 4 days, 3 nights was 5000 bobs for two people leaving from Tupiza. Given the service and the experience,I think this was exceptional value for money. Even more so when you get chatting to the guides and find out how much they have yo borrow to fund the purchase of the vehicles and maintain them.

I think you have hit the nail on the head re the cost v experience - chicken and egg.
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May 15th, 2014, 08:01 AM
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After reading crellston's blog I am definitely thinking of basing in Tupiza rather than Uyuni.
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May 16th, 2014, 08:53 AM
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thursdaysd, one of the things to figure out is the geometry/routing of your trip.

If you plan to go from Peru via La Paz and then to Argentina, the tours that start in Uyuni can get you efficiently to San Pedro de Atacama.

If you are coming from the border with Argentina first, then starting in Tupiza makes more sense, ending in Uyuni.


Now you can fly between Uyuni and La Paz which saves the uncomfortable land journey.

Another thing to consider is the timing of when you want to be on the salt flats. Doing a standard 3/2 Uyuni tour you re on the flats for half a day, from lunch onward, with lodging off the flats. From Tupiza you can usually be on the flats in the morning.

There is also an option of a "luxury" tour with a tailored itinerary from either direction.
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May 16th, 2014, 08:56 AM
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Sorry, I know San Pedro de Atacama is in Chile..re Uyuni to SPdA!!!

As crellston mentioned there are also transfers possible between Tupiza and Uyuni. I think if you want to go to Chile, and base in Tupiza, all that happens is they drive you up to Uyuni on day one and you follow a standard Uyuni to SPA routing from there.
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May 16th, 2014, 03:21 PM
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My first thought was to go south to north, finishing in Colombia. However, I think that would put me in Colombia after the rains start, so now I am thinking of going north to south.

The trouble with a "luxury" tour, which is attractive, is that there is only one of me, putting the cost up. I am more interested in the other sights that crellston wrote about than I am in the salt flats.
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May 17th, 2014, 03:00 AM
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I took a very long time to decide which route to take around the Bolivia/Chile NW Argentina. In the end we decided to return to Tupiza with our driver and cross into Argentina at Villazon and then go to SPdeA from there. If we hadn't of want a return trip to NW Argentina we probably would have gone the usual route from Uyuni to SPdeA .


NW Argentina is definitely worth the detour and it to has its own Salar "Salineras Grande which you pass by on the bus between Salat and SPdeA - smaller, much less famous, but equally impressive.and nuch more accessible. We drove across the Salar in our own rented car.

One important factor in visiting the Lagunas etc. From Tupiza is that we arrived at each sight a couple of hours before the jeeps from Uyuni turned up so in most cases we had the places entirely to ourselves which was wonderful. Only at the hostals did we meet other tourist and even then, our driver managed to get us there ahead of anyone else so he could secure the best room for us. Tupiza Tours was not the cheapest option but IME they seemd to treat their guest much, much better than some of the others we met. They limit number per jeep to 5. The food was not just good, it was excellent ( they even asked and took notice of, any dietary preferences). Perhaps most importantly their drivers do not drink - unlike many others we saw. Apart from Tupiza tours, La Torre in Tupiza have a good reputation and I have read good things about Red. Planet out of. Uyuni.

One other factor is that it is important to hit the coloured lakes at the right time so that the colours are accentuated by the angle of the sun. We seemed to manage this at just the right times
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May 17th, 2014, 05:06 AM
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Thanks crellston, that's a valuable recommendation. From your blog it did sound like a good tour.
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