Bolivia was a surprise package for me, having recently come back from a trip with Chimu adventures, I was in awe. I first arrived into La Paz, this was only my second time at altitude. If you can call a day visit to Jungfrau, the top of Europe, on a Contiki tour my first. At almost 4000m above sea level, La Laz is the highest capital city in the world. The altitude literally takes your breath away. It takes some time to adjust to the thin air and lack of oxygen this high up. Taking the stairs or walking up a hill can feel like you have run a marathon and leave you gasping for air. Advice was to take it slow and drink plenty of water, which I did but never quite got used to it for the whole duration of my stay there. Slow and steady was my coping mechanism, and even things like rolling over in bed had to be done in this manner. Oxygen tanks are at the ready in all hotels, tourist buses and tourist locations as it is a common issue for visitors to this area to feel the effects of the altitude.
La Paz itself is hectic. A very busy city built into the sides of the Andes mountain ranges, the city seems to fill every last spot in the valley, with dwellings even built hanging over the sides. It is full of life with colour and noise. There are lots of street markets and hundreds of mini vans vying for space on the roads, there is always something to look at in this crazy city.
The ladies still dress in traditional clothing, wearing bowler hats and full colourful skirts usually with a shawl and apron for even more vibrancy which is a stand out for tourists. Their form of ‘handbag’ often was another piece of material like what we would use as a table cloth or sarong that they carried their items in across their backs, this added even more colours to the ensemble.
The public transport in La Paz has taken to the sky with several gondolas criss crossing the city offering a cheap and easy way to commute avoiding the busy streets. This also makes for a great tourist attraction and a fabulous way to see the city from above. The colourful mini vans also form part of the public transport network with codes in their front windows stating where they are heading. To us it seems like there are no set routes and they are almost like a shared taxi.
In La Paz it seems like a lot of business is done on the side of the streets, with vendors setting up on many street corners to sell anything and everything. There are set places like a flower market, a fish market, a fruit and vegetable market and even a witch’s market, where they sell various herbs and remedies. In La Paz there is something on offer for everyone.
In stark contrast to the busy streets of the city, I also ventured out into the countryside of Bolivia to view some of it’s natural wonders. These too did not disappoint. Our first stop was Lake Titicaca. This is also accessed through Peru, where you might find a floating island or two. However, we accessed this from Bolivia and visited various Inca ruins along the journey.
The magical lake is a place of peace and tranquillity with a rich history. Staying at Ecolodge La Estancia on Sun Island, I was able to experience some of the magic within this local community which was very special. It’s a hike to get there, up a hill, it is steep and it is at altitude but that makes it feel even more worth it when you are warmly greeted upon arrival. The mode of transport on this island is your own two legs, no cars, no mopeds, just the peace of your own thoughts. Farming is still done here using the tiered systems of the Incas. It is a laid back way of life that is very humbling.
Heading back to the main land there are several natural wonders to be explored. Starting with the Uyuni salt flats. I am talking about salt as far as the eye can see. Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat at 11,000 km2 and up to 250m deep in places. We prepared with our sunscreen, hats sunglasses and clothing protection as we headed out for the day exploring this natural wonder. The reflection was intense off the white surface. We had some interesting experiences as we drove across the salt. The first one being that we drove for several kilometres across the salt with only views of the salt and distant mountain ranges and then bam, a marching band, literally in the middle of no-where. What a site to see. I can’t promise that they will be there next time but it was just a random highlight we came across and shows how unique Bolivia can be.
We stopped at an island sprinkled with enormous cacti for our lunch. A little bit of Llama (yes, they are pets and food) and then off to explore the isla inca huasi. A climb to the top of the island proved difficult again. The altitude at 3655m above sea level made it a slow journey but the climb to the top was worth the effort. The view of the salt flats in all directions made it feel like you were in the middle of nowhere, well I guess we kind of were.
Our Bolivian exploration continued across the countryside by 4WD. Once we past the salt flats it was pretty much rocks and dirt. Throughout the Bolivian countryside lies some rather beautiful and unique sites that are just waiting to be discovered. All are very remote, very peaceful and serene and offer nature lovers tranquillity as a reward upon their arrival.
One beautiful wildlife experience on offer is Laguna Colorada, home to thousands of pink flamingos. Driving up you see the vibrant red lake in the distance and the closer you get you can make out the flamingos standing in the shallow waters feeding. It is a calming site as you stand and listen to their various calls of the wild. They seem genuinely unbothered by our presence as we watched them interact and snapped thousands of pictures of this magnificent scene.
Other natural wonders along the way include Laguna Verde, a green lake, geothermal geysers in action, amazing rock formations, volcanos, snow capped peaks and of course the llamas, vizcachas and vicunas which are the other local animals. All make for a fascinating, yet bumpy drive.
We leave Bolivia by crossing the border into Chile and I reflect on what an amazing experience this country has been. Far different to any of the countries I have visited before. It is probably not on the top of the list for somewhere you think about travelling but the country holds some very valuable gems and is definitely worth the trip to experience them. It can easily be combined with other South American favourites to make for the perfect adventure holiday. For more information I am always available to discuss your dream holiday at any time at KB 4 Travel & Cruise. Sign up to my newsletter by clicking on the link here- KB 4 Travel WEBSITE