SOUTH BOLIVIA. FIRST PART: VILLAZÓN – SAJAMA NATIONAL PARK

This tour through the purest Andes will provide you with the most authentic landscapes of the Bolivian altiplano. It will also allow you to know the populations that live there, highlighted by their deep indigenous roots, especially Quechua and Aymara cultures. This can even be appreciated in big cities. Here are some amazing places you should visit:

 

  • Potosí

  • Sucre

  • Uyuni *

  • Sajama National Park

 

* Note. To find out about Uyuni click here.

Potosí

The capital of the homonymous department lives and breathes history and Andean magic. On the one hand, it is extraordinary to walk through a city of these dimensions in such a high mountainous area watching how its (mostly native) inhabitants live. In fact, its approximately 200000 residents have the record of living in the highest city in the world (4067 meters above sea level).

 

On the other, the historical part is dark and revolves around the discovery of silver by the Spanish (mid-sixteenth century) in Cerro Rico, the legendary mountain that rises above the city (adored by the Inca king Huayna Cápac). For a century it was neither more nor less than the largest silver mine in the world... Which resulted in Potosí, born out of nowhere as a mining seat, became in a few years one of the largest and richest cities in the world. Of course, this was achieved in the usual way: mine exploitation using native labor while the invaders were enriched and filled the churches of their empire with the precious metal. The “operation” was such that shortly after recession began (and thus the prosperity of the town)... Until its near extinction. Even today the mine, rich in other minerals (in fact, what saved Potosí from becoming a ghost town was tin production), is still open, and many continue to work here (perhaps in search of the “lost” silver). Although to many it will seem the least questionable, at present there are touristic agencies in the city that offer guided tours to the mine. Out of moral considerations, I recommend it, because you can experience firsthand the agony of meandering through those narrow tunnels, talk to the miners and listen to the stories (yes, many of them horrible) that one day lashed those lands.

 

Things that can be done in Potosí:

 

  • Visit the mines in Cerro Rico 

  • Walk through the center, of colonial architecture. Baroque churches and elegant mansions, now converted into museums, remain a living reminder of the Spanish era 

  • Casa de la Moneda (the Mint of Potosí), a museum and documentary center that offers history, especially linked to the "fever" of silver and keeps historical archives. Very interesting 

  • Visit the markets (food and crafts) 

  • Excursion to the Eye of the Inca, an amazing lagoon of semi thermal waters in a beautiful environment

Sucre

In addition to be the capital of the department of Chuquisaca, Sucre is the historical and constitutional capital of Bolivia. It is probably the cleanest, greenest and most beautiful city in the country, full of historic (and government) buildings, squares, spacious avenues and colorful markets. Colonial history and architecture are evident in every street and corner. It deserves your visit.

 

Things you can do around here:

 

  • Stroll through the historic center. To emphasize: the cathedral, the churches and the convents; the House of the Freedom (La Casa de la Libertad in Spanish); the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore; the Indigenous Textile Museum...

  • Visit the Cretaceous Park Cal Orcko (5 km north of downtown), an immense paleontological site, where there are traces of 293 species of dinosaurs of different species of the Upper Cretaceous. It is the most important site with dinosaur footprints in the world. How lucky the dinosaur lovers!

  • Excursions into the surrounding valleys. Highlights include: the Inca Trail, the path to Siete Cascadas (Seven Falls), visiting Yotala village, Maragua crater.

Sajama National Park

A not very well-known gem of the Bolivian altitudes, north of the department of Oruro. This Park, in the heart of the Andes, not only houses the highest peak (volcano) in the country (the Sajama Nevado, 6542 meters)… The community in the middle of the desert, at the foot of the volcano, with an authentically Aymara population, the llamas grazing and crossing rivers, the creek of thermal waters in which you can soak and relax or its spectacular hiking trails so close to the sky are some of the other reasons for every self-respecting traveler to come. Really, this place is awesome. There is a hike of several days that begins (and ends) in the village, surrounding the mountains and leaving behind dream lakes. Camping in these area is the best.

 

To get here you can do it from Oruro city (about 8 hours away), or from Chile (Tambo Quemado pass). On the Chilean side, the Reserve in the altiplano continues with another National Park: the Lauca National Park. If your next destination is the south of Peru this is a good way, since it is close, and the landscapes are gorgeous. That is what I did: Sajama - Putre - Arica – Tacna (Peru).

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