Bolivia trip report
Replies: 16 - Last Post: Oct 8, 2012 3:36 PM Last Post By: ban_janti_return
Oct 3, 2012 3:44 PM
Bolivia trip reportI wanted to post my trip report - travel information, impressions, my humble opinions, and irreverent analysis of my observations. I hope this will be useful to any people considering travel to Bolivia. I was in Bolivia for just 8 days as part of a larger trip, and proceeded for two nights to Chile, and then to Peru. My travel was limited to the Western part of Bolivia: La Paz - Tiahuanaco - Titicaca - Sucre - Tupiza - Uyuni. I am not a backpacker and did seek out comfort (not luxury), which appears to be uncommon among travelers to Bolivia - the vast majority of them are on a shoestring budget.
A few thoughts on Bolivia... It is definitely not an easy country to travel in. Areas of majestic natural beauty are interspersed with often uncomfortable travel, garbage thrown around liberally, horrible public bathrooms and abject poverty. I speak Spanish fluently and while still having issues that has helped a great deal - I frankly can't imagine how I would be travelling independently through the country without speaking the language, although there are people who manage. If you are squeamish about things described above, and especially if your Spanish is not conversational, I would honestly recommend considering Peru or Chile first (depending on your interests). Having said that, overwhelming majority of people I was dealing with were honest, friendly and genuinely helpful. The country does possess areas of unparalleled natural beauty. The culture is fascinating. And I definitely will return sometime in the future to explore the Eastern half of the country.
If you wish, you may see my Bolivia photos on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28095414@N02/sets/72157631654893727/.
We arrived in La Paz early morning, and from the beginning I had to adjust and edit my plans - the mayor decided to declare that particular day "El Dia del Peaton" - a pedestrian's day. Transport was prohibited, and everyone was just walking around or riding bicycles. That was cool, but my time was limited in La Paz, and I missed out on seeing some sites that I wanted to see (such as Witches' market) because taxis were not working. Also virtually all restaurants were closed as well, and it became a problem to find a place to eat - after awhile we stumbled upon a pizzeria that was open. My recommendation to stay in La Paz would be the area called Sopocachi - it is nice, clean, quiet, has a number of what appeared to be nice restaurants (they were all closed that day :( ). There is an even more upmarket area further South called Calacoto, but it is very far for transport connections and tourist sites. We stayed at a hotel El Consulado near El Prado boulevard - a decent old hotel with a very very very nice restaurant. It has weird hours though, but if you are in the area around lunch, definitely try to drop by and try their food - simply awesome. There is an upmarket large hotel Europa next door also with a very upmarket restaurant - we had a dinner of trout (excellent!) with wine and tip for less than $25 - i.e. prices in Bolivia are indeed very low. La Paz is OK for two day sightseeing. Also keep in mind that you need to adjust to altitude, that your flight might be delayed, that your luggage might be delayed, etc., so I highly recommend budgeting two days for La Paz anyway. When you are considering a hotel, try to find one with central heating - nights in La Paz are VERY cold, and the portable heaters they give are barely adequate for the job. Most of La Paz is VERY poor and very sad as well; most of the city consists of unfinished brick buildings (owners save up money and build as they go), and the few that are finished are decorated truly garishly. Aside from the upmarket areas, there is virtually no vegetation, and the city is extremely dusty.
The one site near La Paz that I highly recommend is Tiahuanaco ruins. The ruins are not monumental, but very interesting and even mysterious - do read up about them before going. Titicaca lake was beautiful as well, but be aware that the route passes El Alto slums and particularly on the return leg it will be VERY cold - and it's likely that heating will not be on. The last buses from Copacabana leave around 7:30 if I am not mistaken, but that's the schedule - they often linger on hoping to pick up more passengers, so doing a one day trip is very doable. On the return leg you will be treated to a star gazing spectacle - it's possible that you have never seen so many stars in your life - you will see literally clouds of stars!
The flight to Sucre was spectacular - recommend sitting on the left for the best views. We flew with Aerocondor - super comfortable. Sucre is good for a few hours - nothing spectacular, but a pleasant town, a lot wealthier than any other town in Western half of Bolivia. The one thing not to miss is a dance show called Origenes - it is not "touristy" - most of the audience are Bolivians, either on a family outing, or businessmen entertaining other businessmen. Choreography, quality of dancing, costumes, everything was simply amazing, the show lasted for three hours, and it cost less than $15 pp. We stayed at hotel Samary - brilliant, with a nice garden in the middle, comfortable rooms, and very close to the Origenes show.
The next day we went to Potosi, but didn't really visit the city - we were tired. We stayed near the city at the Hacienda Cayara - a real colonial-era hacienda, converted into a hotel. The staff was super nice, the food was delicious, and in the end we were given a personal tour of the premises by the owner himself - very interesting, and the library he has is simply amazing, with numerous centuries old books. Then we took a bus ride to Tupiza - a small town near some very spectacular scenery. Near our hotel (Mitru) there were two pizza restaurants (there was nothing better) with walls covered by notes written by fellow travelers swearing these restaurants had the best food they had tried in Bolivia - which made me think: Where else did those pobrecitos have to eat? :) The food was blah at best, but it sustained us. The hotel was also blah, but the tour they organized was great. The scenery was simply spectacular with numerous canyons, varied landscapes and multi-colored mountains, and the driver was super nice. Then we took a train to Uyuni which unexpectedly was heated - and excessively so. We got to Uyuni late at night and were picked up by a lady with Natour agency where I had previously arranged a tour of the Salar.
Uyuni is a forelorn dusty town with zero vegetation, but it is next to some truly spectacular scenery, so it is unavoidable. We stayed at Le Petite Porte hotel run a by a French expat. The hotel was super comfortable, warm and clean, and had a great French toast. The tour was predictably spectacular - the Salar and the Incahuasi island impressed us beyond words. But when you are going on those tours try to arrange so that you are picked up first; otherwise, you will be relegated to the last row with limited room and comfort.
Well, the next morning we flew to La Paz and took a bus to Chile. Like I said, Bolivia is spectacular, but definitely not for everyone. If you do go, try to be flexible and not squeamish; otherwise, the negatives will overwhelm you and will prevent you from enjoying the positives. If you do not speak Spanish, you will have major difficulty - very few people speak English, this is not Peru.
Oct 3, 2012 4:48 PM
Oct 3, 2012 5:49 PM
2I thought #1 was generous. One of the main sights you wanted to see in La Paz was the Witches Market and you missed it because it was hard to get to? Its a cheesy tourist trap and is right in the centre, where did you manage to get to in La Paz? Sucre is nice for a few hours, you didn't really go to Potosi! You sort out comfort not luxury and most people who go there are on a shoestring budget?
Mate I think you just went to the wrong country, stick to tourist resourts in future.
Oct 3, 2012 7:37 PM
3To respond to #2. I was in La Paz for 1.5 days, and the first day was after virtually not sleeping on the red eye flight. And as I mentioned, transport didn't work on top of that. My airline cancelled the flight, and I lost a day that I budgeted for La Paz. And we had to change a hotel midway through that. So we just had time to walk around the center, the aforementioned Sopocachi area, visited a museum. That's it unfortunately.
Sucre is indeed good for a day. It is rather small. We managed to visit the whole city in one day despite getting there on a late morning flight and wasting over an hour in a particularly slow restaurant. It is pleasant to visit, but I don't see a point in spending there more time.
As for Potosi, well, I was with a woman, she was tired, I had issues with my business in Miami and had other things on my mind that day. I wanted to visit it, but we chose to just relax that day.
I don't understand your comment about visiting a wrong country. There were things I wanted to see there, and with few exceptions I did see them. I am glad I went. You are taking something I said personally, and I am not sure what exactly, nor why. Happy travels, mate.
Oct 3, 2012 11:00 PM
4Great trip report OP, thanks for sharing!
Can you tell us if you had considered doing the Salar tour from Tupiza prior to taking one from Uyuni?
From various opinions, it appears many travellers have favoured tours from Tupiza than Uyuni for various reasons such as tour direction, quality of operators and less crowded. I am planning a trip to Bolivia and will be arriving from the south in Argentina, so I'm considering doing the Salar tour from Tupiza.
Oct 3, 2012 11:08 PM
5Well, Tupiza was definitely a highlight of our trip, so highly I recommend visiting it regardless of the Salar tour. We just did a 1 day tour out of Uyuni, but based on what I know the multi-day tours out of Tupiza work out a bit more expensive than done out of Uyuni; however, you obviously save time and money spent otherwise on traveling from Tupiza to Uyuni. The tour operator we used - Tupiza Tours out of hotel Mitru does offer multi-day tours, and while I was not excited about the hotel, the tour guide was excellent, and prices were very reasonable.
Oct 4, 2012 4:54 AM
Oct 4, 2012 5:59 AM
7Definitely go from Tupiza. Also consider paying a bit more to just have 4 people on the trip. It seams a lot more in Bolivianos but when you think in your own currency it is not much more. Make sure you have confirmation you get a driver and a cook, ask to see the vehicle and make sure there is a spare tyre (our 4wd blew a tyre fortunately we just chucked the spare on and headed to the next tow to get a new one).
Oct 4, 2012 9:31 AM
8I agree with a #7 regarding a vehicle. Almost all vehicles are Land Cruisers (or their Toyota/ Lexus variations) that are imported used, probably from the US. However, some are old and well-used, while others are brand new. I was just doing a 1 day trip on the Salar, so that was not critical, but if you are doing a multi-day trip insist on a newer vehicle. When we were on the Incahuasi island I did see a bus (!) though retrofitted for off road use. I guess they wanted to maximize the cash flow :).
Oct 4, 2012 2:58 PM
9All that in 8 days? Sounds exhausting. I think you would have enjoyed the country a lot more if you slowed things down.
Regarding poverty, obviously Bolivia is a poor country but I think anyone with experience traveling in the third world would not find it too "squemish".
The gringo trial is fairly well established in Bolivia so travelers with only a very basic level of spanish can travel easily enough between the tourist centres.
A major reason why there are so many unfinished buildings is because the owners get nice tax exemptions on their property up until they are fully constructed. It's a ridicules law that could only exist in a country like Bolivia. I agree this does make certain neighbourhoods look pretty ugly. Personally I'm more annoyed at the huge amount of really bad graffiti that spoils any half decent building.
Oct 4, 2012 3:21 PM
Oct 4, 2012 3:25 PM
11I didn't see too much graffiti in La Paz, but now that you explained about the tax exemption, the unfinished buildings begin to make sense. While the fact that Bolivia was poor was not a surprise, just the extent of it, perhaps combined with the harsh climate prevalent there did make an impression. And while obviously there are foreign tourists traveling there without Spanish, I think it would be a lot more difficult to get by like that than in say Peru or Chile. The vast majority of people we came in contact with didn't speak English, and that included taxi drivers, tour guides, waiters, people selling bus tickets, etc. I guess that most tourists who don't speak Spanish have to rely on tour agencies and that costs money and time. Or as our driver in Tupiza told me, in a group of tourists there will usually be somebody who can explain himself in Spanish, so he didn't feel that it was necessary for him to learn English.
Well, I could not really allow more time. I am self-employed, and every day I am away costs me money and often lost clients. And on top of that we wanted to see Peru as well. I didn't mind the pace while there, but then when I returned I wanted to have a vacation from a vacation, and just do nothing for a few days, and didn't really have that option :)
I definitely will return sometime in the future to see the Eastern half of the country, by that time hopefully there will be tourist facilities in the Kaa-Iya park - apparently if you go there you are virtually guaranteed to see jaguars, and other wildlife as well, but there is no infrastructure there at this time as far as I know. And then there is Samaipata area, Madidi, Toro Toro canyon, pampas, etc. Still a lot to see and do in that country for the return trip.
Oct 4, 2012 3:42 PM
I'm too (selfemployed) and for me that means more freedom and more time for travel. I can take upto six weeks off at a time, only at a risk that a few bills will become overdue. Of course that's individual, each time different.
Internet and mobile phones make things much easier these days.
Oct 4, 2012 4:06 PM
13I just have no clue why on Earth have you travelled from Tupiza to Uyuni on the train...the main reason going to Tupiza is to start you SE Circuit tour from there as is notably better (and a bit longer)
If you just did one day tour of only the salar itself in fact you've lost the best parts of it, Salar is not the highlight of the tour at all
Otherwise nice tip on typical gringo trail, next time try to visit Oriente, you'll see different Bolivia...
Oct 4, 2012 6:26 PM
14There very little real poverty in Bolivia, "poverty" can be defined as lack of access to medical care, education etc. But most campesinos (in exception of those living in really arid climate) is doing quite well with their herds of lamas, sheep and chickens. There is really almost no one starving here
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