On a recent 16 day stint in Bolivia with my best friend, there was much adventure to be had! Here is some of the activities and places we went to in this beautiful country!
This tour was our first (and most disappointing tour). The ruins were worth seeing, but they were quite small. Part of the disappointment could have been because we had just gotten into La Paz a couple hours before and then hopped onto a 2-hour tour bus (after flying for over 24 hours, with 4 layovers) combined with the fact that our guide rattled off immaculate details of every artifact in both Spanish and English so that the tour of this small place took about 5 hours of talking….by that time I wanted to pass out from hunger and thirst. The ruins held a couple cool buildings and some statues (although our guide admitted the Bolivian government used to shoot at them for fun…which explains some of the conditions of the buildings). It was a good half-day trip…but that was plenty of time there.
Some of the coolest architectural structures were not related to the ruins at all. Perhaps they were abandoned buildings of previous inhabitants to the area?
Lake Titicaca and Isla Del Sol
Our next excursion out of La Paz was to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world…and it was magnificant! To get there from La Paz, we took a 4 hour bus ride to Copacabana (the city on the Bolivia side of Lake Titicaca), in which at one point we had to debark our bus and cross over on a motor boat…whereas our boat got its own ride over…
The bus dropped us off at noon, which left us the whole day to check into our hotel, Hotel Utama (which I strongly recommend!) and meandor around the small town,which has a pleathora of shops and restaurants of very good value.
Of course one can only explore a small town so long before “happy hour” hits….which started in the afternoon for us and lasted until sunset…
The next day we took a boat over to Isla Del Sol. Our tour dropped us off in the North Part of the Island and we were supposed to walk to the South part and get picked up at the end of the day by the same boat. This was before we realized our guide only spoke Spanish…and he had an uncanny resemblence to every other guide that came to Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun)…luckily we got to be friends with some bilinguial Europeans on our tour…Besides that fact, the island was spectacular! We got a tour of the Incan ruins on the island (all in Spanish of course so I can’t share any interesting facts) and then it was a three hour hike over to the South end of the island. I highly recommend doing the hike…very beautiful and not overly challenging (although you are hiking at 12,000 feet elevation). Muy bonito!
Salt Falt Tour
The salt flat tour is a must-see for anybody that goes to Bolivia and is probably the most popular trek. Its quite a jaunt to get there (and quite another jaunt to get back as we found out the hard way). To get from La Paz to Uyuni (the start of the salt flat tours) is an 10 hour bus ride that goes overnight and arrives in the morning (or whenever it feels like it) just in time for the 3 day salt flat tour odassey. From there you hop in a land rover and spend the next three days exploring salt flats, colored lakes, strange rock formations, and volcanoes and sleeping in very very cold hostels made of salt. We knew it was going to be a great tour when we were the only ones on the tour who spoke English…but we saw very beautiful sights!
The first stop was the train cemetery…and what I got from it was that the town lost money to fund the railroad that transported salt from the flats…but my Spanish is subpar so could be quite a few variations of that…nethertheless it was very intriquing and mysterious…
The rest of the day was spent out into the dazzling world of the Salar de Uyuni: the world’s largest salt flats…and they are huge! One of the best things about the salt flat is that it seems to be devoid of perspective in photographs…so we spent hours and hundreds of photos later trying to be as humorous as possible…here is just a few from this escapade…
In the middle of the utopia of the salt flats, was a bizarre island full of catus. It was here we explored the island and then got picnic style lunch…
We arrived at our hostel close to when the sun was going down…and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the entire hostel was made of salt…even the tables…and chairs…and beds…I’m glad we brought our sleeping bags!
We got up at the break of dawn…around 6 am to be exact to start another full day of traveling!
Today we moved South from the salt flats into the Atacama desert near the border of Chile. We stoppped at various stops along the way taking photographs of beautiful lakes, bizarre shaped rocks, volcanic mountains, and lagoons filled with flamingos…just to name a few. . .
That night we stayed in a hostel in the absolute middle of nowhere in one of the higest deserts in the world. All my clothing layered upon me plus hat, gloves, and a scarf were still not enough. When we woke up at 5 am (there was no light in the hostel) it had to be well below freezing. The morning was spent looking at geysers, hot springs, and bubbling pots (all in very quick succession because it was freezing!). We didn’t partake in dipping in the hot spring although it was popular among the tourists…it was just too much work peeling off the hundreds of layers of clothing on my body…
When the sun came out, the temperature rose a bit, and we proceeded onward with the journey…in a loop that eventual brought us back to Uyuni….along the way were a couple of my favorite lakes of all time….who knew there was such a thing as a red lake?
We got back into Uyuni at about 5 pm, so we had some supper. It was here where we realized that we really don’t know Spanish at all. Under the ‘hot drinks’ menu, all Sarah wanted was a caffeine fix….and then she got a pancake…hmmm?
At 8 pm our bus was scheduled to leave back to La Paz (another 10 hour journey). However, there was fireworks going off in town and nobody could explain to us in English what was going on. Then we got a translation: all the buses to La Paz were on strike (I guess bus strikes are frequent?) and they didn’t know when the buses were going to be back and running…hmmm….so we were stuck in a town that looked like North Korea (maybe?) and it was now dark out and we had no place to stay…
We went to an internet cafe and tried to figure out our options: Option A was to wait for the next bus (which could be up to 3 days in a small town in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do). Option B was to take the train (which only left twice a week…next train was in 2 days) and Option C (take a plane?). We weren’t really sure if their was flights out of Uyuni until we were walking around town looking for someone to talk to when we saw a bright sign: Amazonas: new flights to La Paz! We caught them right before they were about to close and sealed the deal on a flight that left tomorrow for La Paz. Granted we had to pay quite a bit more..and it was here where Sarah realized she had lost her debit card..but we were going to get out of this town! Next up was finding a place to stay…for three dollars we found something similar to a concentration camp that had a whole family of crying babies and a stuffed cat at the reception…but after a bottle of wine we slept pretty good there!
Chacultaya: The World’s Highest Ski Resort (before the glacier completely melted)
Although Chacultaya goes after the moniker that it is the highest ski resort in the world, three years ago all the snow melted and the lifts shut down. What really can’t be erased from global warming is that it is one of the most beautiful vistas that can be seen with relatively little effort (or so we thought before the day ended). We got a tour bus to take us up to the base of Mt. Chacultaya, where we took two hours to climb to the top (somewhere around 17,000 feet, which you could definetly tell!), which we took slow and peacefully because of the altitude. It was utterly fantastic! We took some time to just sit at a vista point and revel in the scenery (it was at this point when my passport holder was taken out of my bag and forgotten to be put back in….which I’ll explain later how that one turned out)…
We were just about to leave on the tourist van back down to La Paz (a 2-hour drive down on very very windey roads) when I realized that my passport holder (with my passport, our only remaining debit card between the two of us, my credit card, and my medical card and all my cash) was not in my bag….that was when I remembered I had taken it out…at the very very top of the mountain to get chap stick from it…and then forgot to put it back in. I decided to trek back up…or run back up…which is never advisable ever at 17,000 feet with a drop off (off the side of mountain) on one side. Lo and behold! My passport was still chilling up there…Mother nature thought I was giving her a donatation…she gave me a couple donations back: the worst altitude-induced headache of my life and our tourist van not being there when I got back down…Oh Bolivia!
El Choro Trek
Next on the itinerary was a 3-day hike along the El Choro trail, an old Incan pathway that spans from the high Andes to the tropical Yungas rainforest. It was a fantastic hike and one that I totally recommend!! Although it was medium in length (about 50 miles) it was fairly easy in technical and physical ability, being that about 90 percent of it was downhill. The views were astonishing in every part of the trail. The first day we hiked in the Andes and passed peaceful little villages and ancient Incan ruins. It started out at about 4700 meters (about 14,000 feet) so it was quite chilly, but with the strong sun it warmed up very quickly.
After 12 miles of hiking, we arrived at our campsite for the night…which happened to be in a cloud forest. We had a guide for this trek (which could probably easily be done with out….just more convenient to have a guided trip) so while we laid out and listened to the river, we were getting a nice warm supper prepared for us.
Day 2 was a longer day of hiking. We had the choice of walking another 12 miles or doing another 17; this way, the third day would be shorter when the hike is the hottest. We chose to do the 17 miles and we were definetly worked by the time we arrived at our campsite; but the views kept get better and better!
Day three was a short hike but by far the hottest (and we were much sorer than when we started). We got up early to beat some of the heat of the rainforest and were rewarded with some amazing views of the sunrise peeking over the mountains! What a wonderful trek through the wilds of Bolivia!
Biking the World’s Most Dangerous Road
Another of Bolivia’s famed attractions is the world’s most dangerous road…a road that spans approx. 70 kilometers from the andes to the rainforest….therefore on a bike its all down hill. Although it is no longer the world’s most dangerous road…mostly because they opened a by-pass in 2006 and the road is mostly used by locals and a pleathora of biking companies.
We signed up with Barracuda bicycles…a company with a great reputation, high quality bikes, and English speaking guides (which are few and far between in Bolivia). And the guide told us stories of all the bikers that had died on this road AFTER we had finished the ride.
The ride itself was very enjoyable. for anyone that has experience mountain biking (which both my friend and I had) the ride really isn’t that technical. The road is quite bumpy, but with full suspension bikes it wasn’t that bad. I wouldn’t recommend it for people that haven’t rode a mountain bike before because all the death stories I was told (there has been 24 deaths in all on bicycles in about ten years) were people who got scared, slammed on their brakes and flipped over their handlebars. Luckily that didn’t happen in our group (which consisted of my friend and I and our awesome guide).
Afterwards, we were treated with a huge plate of pasta and some relaxing time. On the way back, we drove back up the road that we biked down and got to really appreciate the hair pin turns, awesome scenery, and stories of dying bicyclists. The world’s dangerous world is also, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful roads!
Horseback riding through Devils Tooth
Our last adventure in Bolivia was horseback riding; which is always in its own little way an adventure. I grew up with horses and find that the stories I can tell about horseback riding seem to be endless….let’s just saw I got bucked off a lot…ran through trees and bushes…stepped on…and the list goes on.
The great thing about this tour, which started in the South part of La Paz was that it was exciting. Some horse back tours I been on have been one horse walking lazily behind the other. This combined the beautiful scenery of the Devil’s Tooth area with a high spiried gallop across a mountain plain. Well worth the money!
While we ate lunch, we dismounted our horse, took their bridles off and let them graze peacefully while we ate. Then they ran away….it took the guides a half hour to chase them back to us…then they ran the other way. Long story short, our 3 hour horse back riding tour turned into more like a 5 hour tour! Horses…no matter what country they are from…always speak the same language!
Now: time to get started on some new paintings! Adios!