Sucre/Potosi/Uyuni itinerary advice
Replies: 12 - Last Post: Oct 4, 2011 11:25 AM Last Post By: jackmyr
Feb 15, 2008 7:12 AM
I have a couple of questions.
For one, is the altitude change going up from Sucre to Potosi going to be a problem, given that I'll have spent a few days acclimatising in La Paz beforehand?
For another, how long would you think is a reasonable amount of time to allow for this leg? I was thinking 6/7 days including the Salar, probably travelling overnight from Potosi to Uyuni if possible. That would give me about another 5 days to get back up to La Paz in time for my flight home.
Feb 15, 2008 10:29 AM
1Since there's only a few ways commonly used to get in & out of the country (By land to Peru, Chile, and Argentina, and by air to la Paz or Santa Cruz - yes, I know there's more, but ya gotta admit most people use these same routes & towns), and because the road routes are often slow, you'll find many people have taken a nearly identical route to what you've proposed.
AeroSur runs flights from La Paz to Sucre for around $80 American, and its quick and comfortable and well run. There's many bus runs from Sucre to Potosi. The run from Potosi to Uyuni is almost six hours, and many bus companies leave around 11:00 am from Potosi. All the bus routes are completely affordable. You can do the Salar tour in less than a day, but to get the most out of it, you'd want to include the desert & reserve, the lakes & volcanos, etc., which makes it a 3 or 4 day (your choice) tour. Look for TT posts by schmuck on the Uyuni car wash & salar tours for great advice on getting the most bang-for-the-buck for your tour, or if you want to go wild & splurge, then go on a custom tour and stay at the Tayka hotels instead of the hostels and have better meals, guides & vehicles. An executive bus runs from Uyuni all the way back to La Paz (all the buses leave around 8:00 pm and run overnight to La Paz), but even with a great suspension and semi-cama seats, the portion of the ride from Uyuni to Oruro makes riding bucking broncos across the same route attractively comfortable by comparison (the 2nd stage from Oruro to La Paz is great though). Or you can take the train around 3 days a week (can't recall) from Uyuni to Oruro, then get a bus for the last leg.
Here's the important catches:
Travel in Bolivia depends so much on the environment, but also the degree of unrest (and that could just be one union wanting a raise and so blockading a road), that you seriously have to allow for some unplanned delays. Or, your tickets better allow no-charge changes (and the fact, for whatever reason, you may not have access to a phone to call them in advance for a several hours). The range and degree of how things can change is part of the amazing experience of travel in Bolivia.
I would allow yourself a lot more time. Not only are you expecting things to run like clockwork across a myriad of terrains and communities, but you're not giving yourself enough time to really enjoy what these towns have to offer. That, and the fact that there's so many other things that you're not even including (Rurre & Madidi, Tupiza, Condoriri & the Yungas - there's so much more than room to list).
As far as altitude: Where are you coming from? I came from 150m altitude at home direct to La Paz, and certainly felt it when climbing hills & such, or even just overdoing regular walking many hours with a load in Potosi. Much of the reserve is very high altitude too, and even higher in places. But a fellow from work arrived at a much lower altitude and had to get back on a plane & leave immediately. Other people I met were in far better shape than me and were hit hard - while others were unbelievably out-of-shape and weren't affected in the slightest. If you've never been to a reasonably similar altitude before, I would seriously investigate taking precautions (there's lots of posts on this site about handling & preparing for altitude sickness). Diamox, one of the drugs most prescribed (it's in the sulfa family though - a common allergen) also has 'normal' medical applications, so if you have health coverage and purchase it separately, the insurer won't know you're taking it for travel, and will probably cover most of the cost; otherwise its pretty pricey- you can get it when you arrive, but that's too late to start taking it and find a pharmacy.
However, I'm glad you're making the trip - It's an amazing place, and I hope you have an incredible time. I've left off -soooo- much out here, and had to ignorantly gloss over things - keep doing your research on this site (I see you have done some already), and you'll figure out pretty well how long you'll need, where to stay, and what to bring.
Feb 15, 2008 11:10 AM
2Hi. Thanks for the incredibly detailed response.
Time, unfortunately, is what I'm lacking - I arrive on the 21st and leave on the 7th, which is as much time as I could afford to take off work. I'm happy to stick to the Altiplano this time around, particularly as I don't think this will be the only trip I ever make to Bolivia, for reasons that are too irrelevant to go into just now.
Flipside is that I don't mind paying a bit more, so am happy to fly more if it means I'm more likely to keep my schedule. Do you think that it would make more sense to fly back to La Paz from Sucre?
I'm flying in from London via Miami. I'm expecting to suffer a bit of soroche, and will be taking gingko to try to manage the symptoms. A mountaineer I know who suffers very badly from soroche says it helps him. I'm hoping the cardio work I do for my cycling will help me cope, but maybe I'll suffer all the more for it. I'm planning to spend a few days acclimatising in La Paz before I move on, and I've already sussed out which hotels to head for if I need to get lower quickly. I'm just a little concerned about coming in high to La Paz, dropping about 1000m to Sucre, then going up 1500m to Potosi, within the space of 5 or 6 days.
Feb 15, 2008 11:51 AM
3I don't believe altitude problems are related much to physical fitness, so no one is sure whether they will be effected or not. Short of going somewhere higher in altitude to acclimatize, there certainly are things you can do to prepare yourself and gingko does seem to hold promise. I don't think it will work as well as Diamox. This drug has been reccommended in the past by the US state department for flights into La Paz. As above this is a proven sulfa drug that does work. It needs to be done correctly though. Don't wait till your at altitude and suffering to try it. It should be started before going to new altitude, 2 days then continue 2 more days at new altitude. I live at almost sea level and used to fly into La Paz occassionaly. Also was a smoker then. This was tough sometimes and I'm positive the Diamox helped as I tried without it, then with it and I not only felt better, I slept better as your breathing slows during sleep at night and that is some of the worse time with altitude, it disrupts your sleep cycle.
Many persons get off the plane and are already dehydrated from the recirculated airline air and lack of water. This is a big part of the altitude problem, less moisture higher in altitude and even breathing you loose water. Many swear by coca tea for altitude. This includes plenty locals though medically speaking there never has been any link found. It does contain a bit of pain killer and you will feel better using it as well as adding warm water to your body. Water is extremely important, especially if you do take Diamox as it is a diuretic. Alcohol and caffiene are also diuretics and will cause you to pee more and dehydrate as well. Get rest the first couple days and take it easy. La Paz is up and down and not much in between. Taxis are very cheap. Eating lite meals low in fat and high in carbs will help. I would expect after the La Paz stay you should be ok a couple days later in Potosi as it is a bit higher, especially at the mine entrance, but your first encounter in La Paz will tell you a lot. Absolutely include extra time for travel. Bolivia can be very disfunctional at times.
Feb 15, 2008 6:40 PM
4Thanks, that's very helpful. I'll talk to the nurse tomorrow and see if I can get a few days worth of the stuff.
The burning question that I still have, though, is this - should I get a return flight from La Paz to Sucre? I was previously quite set on the idea of taking the train back up from Potosi - I heard the landscape was quite beautiful, and I have s soft spot for trains - but by what people are saying here, should I go for the quicker option?
Feb 15, 2008 10:48 PM
5If I understand correctly you are wondering about a RT ticket to Sucre from La Paz? The time needed for La Paz to Sucre by bus is like 14 hrs. I recall a couple times I got a bus to Sucre, I had to go to Potosi and have a layover. If you bus to Sucre make sure you get a direct. So yes obviously flying is the way to travel if time is an issue. My wife is Bolivian and thinks it absurd to go by bus just about anywhere in Bolivia when you can fly so cheap and so much faster. Then bus from Sucre to Potosi then on to Uyuni sounds good as your breaking the bus trip up, and giving your body more time before the tour to adjust to elevation, though above has different scenario possibilities. The buses arrive in the morning if I recall correctly and you can be off pretty quick as there isn't much to Uyuni. The issue of return presents a couple options. As far as the RT, to me, it doesn't make a lot of sense to bus back to Sucre to catch a flight back to La Paz if you were there already, unless flying back to Sucre as above. Granted the bus back to La Paz is a torturous affair as far as Oruro, but I think still about 14 hrs. total, which isn't much longer than return to Potosi and then Sucre by bus(11 hrs.?). So it is 6 of one and half dozen of the other type issue. The train would be from Uyuni after the Salar tour and the schedule is a bit erratic still I think? and I believe not everyday same direction. I have not bothered with Bolivian trains though I see posts that say this is better than the bus trip if it works out time wise for you. As above your adding the bus trip onto your already sore bone tired body from the Salar if you leave directly after. I expect it comes down to the amount of time you have left before return to La Paz and what you can work out. Check this in La Paz when you first get there. I do agree with schmuck that only months of high elevation can really make a change in your body for higher altitude. The purpose of Diamox though is for adaptation to rapid ascent as it acidifies your blood to make more oxygen available.
Feb 16, 2008 12:49 AM
6Schmuck - I really don't have very many choices with my route. I'm not on a gap year, I don't have a flexible ticket - I've wrangled myself a few weeks' break before starting a new job. I'm two weeks on the ground, not one week.
I have a flight from London to La Paz (via Miami), I have a feeling they'll chuck me off the plane if I insist on sitting there to get to Santa Cruz. I also don't want to go to Santa Cruz!
I was contemplating flying to Sucre because I thought it would be quicker than going overland from La Paz to Potosi via Oruro. I've also read on these boards that Oruro is a pretty unwelcoming place, so it seemed worth skipping. I want to spend a day or two in Potosi to see the mines.
Steve - I'm flying to Sucre because there's a flight to Sucre. I figure if I'm there, I'll spend a day looking around, but really I'm doing it because I thought it was a quicker way to get to Potosi from La Paz. I want to go to Potosi, and I want to go to the Salar.
To make it really clear, this is what I'm currently thinking:
1 Arrive early morning La Paz. Get hotel, drink tea, do very little
2 La Paz
3 Fly to Sucre
5 Bus to Potosi
7 Bus to Salar
11 Bus/train/plane back to La Paz, somehow
12 Probably travelling
13 La Paz (buffer time for delays)
14 La Paz
15 Fly home.
Feb 16, 2008 5:37 AM
Feb 16, 2008 4:18 PM
8jacksat gives very good advice. ie: get out of LaPaz ASAP to the lower altitude of Sucre. Altho Sucre is a lower altitude of 9,000 feet. ElAlto / La Paz airport is 12,500 feet and Potosi is over 13,000. So the least amount of time you are in La Paz on you arrival the better so your body does not need to adjust so fast to that hi altitude. Then land travel when you go to Potosi will be gradual - relatively speaking. You should have no problems at Sucre because it is below 10,000 feet, just don't over indulge. You shouldn't go to Colorado and immediately run up Pike's Peak either.
Feb 17, 2008 3:23 AM
Feb 17, 2008 5:28 PM
10I agree with #9 and #10. Spend time in Sucre. It's a nice, quiet college town with various churches and museums to visit. Then, head up to Potosí, but by that time you should be accustomed to the altitude of Sucre. You will feel some effects, but nothing real bad (e.g., headaches, etc.). Just take it easy running uphill. Things like that. Then, continue on your journey. When you get back to La Paz, you should be able to get out and see the plazas, museums, etc. without the need for much adjustment.
Have a great trip!
Jan 7, 2011 6:39 AM
I know this topic is 2 years old, but a friend and I are going to Bolivia tonight. I was wondering if anyone could help me with info about transport from Sucre to Uyuni and later on from Uyuni to La Paz. as in is there regular bus service from Sucre to Uyuni? as far as I understand the bus would go through Potosi, right?! please reply as soon as possible!!
thanks... and from Uyuni to la Paz you would suggest which companY?! is there a train that goes from uyuni to la paz maybe?!
Oct 4, 2011 11:25 AM
12Ok in two minds, skip Tupiza or Sucre? Best thing to do to avoid the buses??
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