original plan was to spend at least a month in Bolivia as
practically very person we had met who had visited Bolivia had
loved it, and some even said it was the best country in South America.
Well, what the hell did we miss? Besides the
extraordinary trip we took through the Uyuni region in the south,
we found the people cold, the places filthy and the food
forgettable. It just goes to show that you can't take anybody
word for anything...including ours! A person has to see a place
with their own eyes so they can make their own judgment. We have
found again and again that every person has a different experience
and sees and feels things in their own way. This is especially
important to remember when reading travel books...it is only one
We met a few nice
people along the way but for the most part the Bolivians we met
were not overly friendly or helpful. Which really shocked us as we
have met Bolivian people in other countries and have always found
them to be extremely friendly and nice. It was one of the few
places in South America where we had problems with people trying
to cheat us on prices.
Things to Know
The currency used
is called Bolivianos and we found prices to be quite cheap. For
example, we stayed in a great hotel in La Paz and paid around
twenty US per night. The backpacker places were likely a lot
cheaper than that but it was worth it paying more to stay in a
decent, safe hotel.
To us, Bolivia
appeared much poorer than any of the surrounding countries -
desolate treeless countryside, more beggars, more garbage and a
lot more rough looking people.
The prices of
hotels seems to vary quite a bit depending on location. For
example, we paid about five dollars a night for a decent hotel in
the border town of Copacabana. A week later we were stung for
forty-five dollars for a similar quality hotel in this disgusting
town called Oruro. We didn't really stay at any backpacker
places because we just didn't come across any in the safe looking
areas. And our experiences
in South America have almost consistency shown that hotels don't
cost much more, if any, and are almost always better and safer.
One thing to consider is that it is usually better to book ahead
or even to get a cabbie or a tourist company to take you to a
hotel as the walk up rates are always very high and they normally
exception, the food we ate in Bolivia was forgettable. I had one
meal of llama that was quite nice, but this was from one of the
fancy restaurants in one of the better hotels in La Paz. I'm
afraid you are on your own for this one!
Things to See and Do
We spent a total
of about ten days in Bolivia and the highlight was definitely the
Uyuni tour in the south of Bolivia. We did not go to any of the
areas north of Bolivia but it is possible to do tours of the
jungle which are likely quite nice. Since we had already visited
the jungles of Suriname we were quite sure we weren't going to see
anything new so we skipped it.
The City of La
I will always
remember the drive to La Paz. We took a bus from the town of
Copacabana, which is on the shores of Lake Titicaca in the west of
the country. We drove through miles and miles of eroded, lifeless
plains, occasionally passing through brown dirty villages,
identical in almost every depressing way including old Bolivian
men relieving themselves on the half-finished dirty dwellings
lined up beside the highway. Eventually the villages became more
and more frequent until it merged into a continuous blur of
brownness and poverty. We drove through this huge slum for ages
and just as I was giving up hope of ever arriving, we passed over
a hill and to the right side of the bus a huge valley opened up
far below us, and this valley contained La Paz. It was an impressive sight, not least because of the high
altitude of the city which is nearly five thousand metres! We
then drove down a long circular highway which eventually looped
its way into the city. Upon arrival, it appeared much like any
other South American city...noisy, dirty, and polluted - and
plenty of activity. The most interesting part of the city for us
was the market area, especially the witch markets where they sold
magic charms, dried llama fetuses, and strange smelling evil
herbs. There were also many shops which sold musical instruments
Bolivia. I bought a charango, which is a ten stringed instrument
which looks somewhat like a mandolin.
and the Isla del Sol
If you travel to Bolivia
overland from Peru, Copacabana will likely be your first stop as
it is just across the border and a nice place to take a break.
The town itself is quite small but has a lively main street with
lots of restaurants, cafes and bars. Don't expect anything too
flash, they are just basic little places but quite nice compared
with what you will find in most other towns. We broke our rule
and stayed at the hotel where the bus dropped us off. Normally a
bad idea, but this time we were pleasantly surprised at the
quality of the place. We also went on the half day trip to the
Isla del Sol, which is the supposed original birthplace
of the first Incas. We got on the ferry with a hundred other
tourists and spent about 90 minutes getting to the island.
The ride was quite pleasant but as we were getting off the ferry,
one of the workers told us we had only 45 minutes to look around
then had to be back at the boat to leave for the mainland!
That gave us enough time to walk up this old Inca staircase, snap
a quick picture of the view, then walk back down and have a warm
beer. Needless to say, we didn't see much of the island.
If you really want to see the island, skip this tour and do a
proper two day tour.
The Uyuni Tour
This tour really
made our trip to Bolivia worthwhile as we saw some sights that you
will surely not see anywhere else in the world. And the price was
unbelievably low. For four days with all food (not too bad) and
accommodation (from fair to horrific) included we paid around
seventy US dollars each.
The packages are sold at most travel
agencies in La Paz
- the one we went with was called Colque Tours.
To actually get
to Uyuni, which is the starting point for the tour, you need to
take a bus from La Paz to Oruro then a train from there to Uyuni. You report to the
tourist office and are then introduced to your driver/cook/guide
and the vehicle he will be carrying you around in. I don't want
to tell you too much but some of the sights you see include a
giant dried out salt lake with an island in the middle which is
full of huge cactuses, flocks of flamingos, natural hot springs
and geysers, volcanoes, and a giant mountain of 'botox'! By the
end of the trip everybody is exhausted, dirty, sleep deprived, and
ready to get somewhere clean. I wrote a little story about
Uyuni trip that
you may want to read when you have a few moments. It was
quite an adventure!