When the opportunity arose to visit Bolivia. I could not be more excited! South America is the only continent I hadn't visited and I'd heard great reviews from past clients about the vibrant streets of La Paz, the stunning skyline on the pristine waters of lake Titicaca and the almost alien beauty of the Uyuni salt flats. I couldn’t wait to experience all this for myself.
This trip was for a jam-packed 10 days excluding flight times, beginning in Santa Cruz (the commercial capital), flying internally to Sucre (the traditional capital), on to thePotosi silver mines, then driving via 4WD vehicle to Uyuni Salt flats before a couple on lake Titicaca and finishing up in La Paz.
I was pretty tired upon arrival in Santa Cruz and the slightly confusing method of trying to retrieve my luggage in the airport was not a highlight of the trip! Santa Cruz is a city that is expanding very quickly, with contemporary buildings being constructed in between the traditional buildings. We stayed in the fantastic Camino Real Hotel before heading to the Guembe Biocentre - a wildlife sanctuary which houses the world's largest butterfly sanctuary and a huge bird collection. I also saw my first real life sloth here!
After Santa Cruz, we took a short flight of 50 minutes across Bolivia to Sucre. Our first stop was at the main square with views overlooking this fantastic city - this was the image of Bolivia I'd had in my head before my visit; a stunning, almost untouched Spanish colonial city with ornate architecture and narrow, cobbled streets. Sucre is not a 'touristy' place and only has a few hotels, but I would definitely recommend it.
I can say that Sucre is my favourite city in Bolivia and we had a very authentic experience there. I stayed in the Parador Hotel and somehow got upgraded to the Presidential Suite. The nightlife was good fun and there were a lot of local students out and about. We went to a fantastic dinner show with traditional Bolivian dance and music, then headed out on the town and found ourselves in a bar called Jetlag that I would highly recommend. All the locals were very friendly and wanted to chat and I didn’t feel at all unsafe.
The salt flats are unbelievable! Imagine being on moon terrain… except with endless blue sky and small islands with 15m high cacti. Our group had five 4WD vehicles with local drivers and we spent the whole day - including having lunch in the middle of the flats. I managed to take some great video footage by hanging out of the sun roof!
The sun is really strong as you're at such a high altitude so remember to take some factor 50 sun cream. The sunset is another incredible experience but take some warm clothes as the temperature drops by 20 degrees within two hours of sunset. We stayed in one of the salt hotels (entirely built from salt!), which are certainly worth the extra expense. They are based right on the edge of the flats for easy access and are at a very high standard - I would love to go back for another stay.
Sun Island is the largest island on lake Titicaca and is seen as birthplace of the first Incas. There are three major communities and about 800 families living on the island, with no motor vehicles or paved road. We trekked along the hillside to get to the town and stayed overnight in a little Spanish hacienda overlooking the Alps, which was a very relaxing experience. Moon Island is a much smaller island east of Isla de Sol and according to legend, is the place where the moon was released into the sky. There is only one small community next to some Incan ruins which have recently been restored after being destroyed to build a political prison on the opposite side of the island. A very interesting tale and definitely worth a look.
Haha! Llama trekking sounds a little more interesting than it is, however the trek was still an interesting experience. When we arrived on Sun Island, it was about a 45 minute walk up to our accommodation for the evening. We were accompanied by Gerald and his mother (both Llamas!) who we took turns to lead and in turn they helped carry our bags!
La Paz is unlike any other city I've seen! From above when we flew in, it looked like a huge crater hidden beneath a layer of cloud. On arrival at the edge of the city you begin to realise there is a sprawling city hidden in this valley and it is quite a sight! Starting at nearly 4000m at the edge of the city, you eventually descend to nearly 3000m at its lowest point. Locals joke that the more money you have, the lower down you live. The city is worth a few days' stop and I'd also recommend a visit to Moon Valley if you have a few hours - it's strange landscape of eroded rock which has formed a hillside maze.
Tradition is very important in Bolivia with many customs being observed. It is very much a mixture of Incan spirituality and appeasing Pachamama (mother earth) combined with Christianity which was introduced by the Spanish. We spent some time with a witch doctor who explained some traditions and answered our questions by looking to the spirits for guidance and using Cocoa leaves to read our future - very enlightening.
I don’t think I have ever visited a country with such diverse, stunning landscapes and friendly respectful people. I would go as far to say that it shouldn’t just be a stop on a round the world journey but is worth an extended trip just on its own.
If you'd like to visit Bolivia as a stopover on your round the world trip, as part of a South America multistop or as part of an overland journey through South America, I can help you plan a great itinerary! This trip was organised by Crillon tours, who can help us build a bespoke itinerary to meet your preferred style of travel and budget, whether you want to travel overground or use internal flights like I did - simply call us or request a quote by email.