Andean Bolivia itinerary
This tour through the purest Andes will provide you with the most authentic landscapes of the Bolivian altiplano, many of them of great tourist importance, such as Lake Titicaca or the Salar de Uyuni. 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 like La Paz or Cochabamba. Here are some amazing places you should visit:
Salar de Uyuni & Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve
Sajama National Park
Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), Lake Titicaca
La Paz and surroundings
Death Road & Coroico
Torotoro National Park
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 200.000 residents have the record of living in the highest city in the world (4.067 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 "Ojo del Inca" (Eye of the Inca), an amazing lagoon of semi thermal waters in a beautiful environment.
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 cráter.
SALAR DE UYUNI AND EDUARDO AVAROA ANDEAN FAUNA NATIONAL RESERVE
We are facing one of the most famous attractions in the country/continent. Nobody wants to miss this unique salt desert in the middle of the Bolivian altiplano. There are two ways to know the biggest and highest salt desert on the planet: with a tour, or on your own. Although the clear majority choose the first, some adventurers decide to travel this peculiar area in their own car, by bicycle or even on foot. If you are one of these guys inform yourself as much as possible and go well prepared, with compass, map and warm clothes, because the extension of the territory is vast (it is not difficult to get lost) and at night the temperature drops sharply. Also take plenty of coca leaves for altitude sickness (sometimes you will exceed 5500 meters elevation). Despite adversity, undertaking this adventure independently must be brutal amazing, enjoying each place as long as you want and sleeping wherever you want, under the stars.
If you do it through an agency it will be easier. Arriving in Uyuni you will see a hundred different companies offering the same services. That is, excursion to the salar and the Wildlife Reserve in jeep (usually includes meals and accommodation). Take your time to negotiate/bargain and see which one is best for you. The tours range from one day (round trip to the salar) to one week, even going into Chilean territory (you can go as far as San Pedro de Atacama and stay there if your next step is to travel through Chile). Surely all you can see in a week will be worth it, but you should also take your budget into account. On the other hand, the day trip means losing many remote treasures. It is worth investing in this wonder of nature, even if you travel with little money. I recommend a trip of three or four days. So, hop on the jeep and let yourself go!
What you see and do in those three days in the Salar de Uyuni and the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve:
The Salar de Uyuni and its small green oasis (islands) of cactus. Incahuasi Island is the most famous.
Hellish landscapes, with geysers and fumaroles.
Beautiful lagoons, highlighting Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde (full of flamingos).
Deserts, highlighting the Salvador Dalí Desert.
Mountains and volcanoes.
Interesting rock formations (such as the Stone Tree).
The Train Cemetery (near Uyuni village).
Andean fauna sighting: flamingos (lagoons), vicuñas, foxes, vizcachas, llamas...
Stays in hotels/hostels of salt.
Bath in hot springs.
And last but no least: take pictures of yourself playing the fool in the salar.
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).
ISLA DEL SOL (ISLAND OF THE SUN), LAKE TITICACA
This legendary lake in the department of La Paz is a must-see for anyone who comes to know Bolivia. More than 4000 meters high, this huge mirror of water extends as if trying to merge with the sky. The tranquility and energy emanating from its waters and lands are unmatched, as well as the authenticity of its locals. To get to Isla del Sol, you only have to go to the port of Copacabana, from where the boats depart. Once on the island, make the most of this unique gift that can be explored on foot. In addition to its peace, you will discover some other archaeological secret. You can also visit other small islands floating on the Titicaca.
LA PAZ AND SURROUNDINGS
The capital of the homonymous department and seat of government (only legislative and executive power, Sucre retains the judicial) is a diamond in the rough. It is indeed something unique. A huge city at 4000 meters (the highest capital in the world) that enjoys an amazing cultural heritage (indigenous and colonial). As if this were not enough, it is relatively close to many points of interest in the country (Lake Titicaca, Coroico, Oruro, Sajama NP, Cochabamba).
What to do:
Stroll through the streets enjoying its buildings and its people. Highlights: Plaza Murillo (or Plaza de Armas), the Government Palace (also known as Palacio Quemado), the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Temple and Convent of San Francisco, the bohemian neighborhood of Sopocachi and its mound (good views).
“Climb” to El Alto by cable car (the longest and highest cable air transportation system in the world) to get a great panoramic view of the city with the imposing Nevado Illimani (6400 meters) and the rest of the mountain range guarding the city.
Browse the wonderful markets.
Visit some museum. There are many museums (art, history, indigenous roots, etc), but, given its originality, I would highlight the Museum of Musical Instruments (incredible exhibition of local and world instruments) and the Coca Museum (focused on the importance of this plant in the Andean culture, mainly).
Excursions around: Valley of the Moon (10 km from La Paz), Lake Titicaca, Coroico through Death Road, Tiwanaku (ruins of Tiwanacota culture that represent the most important archaeological site in the country, 70 km west from La Paz), climb a mountain (like Huayna Potosí). It is full of places to suit everyone’s tastes!
DEATH ROAD AND COROICO
This road once frequented by many vehicles (especially trucks) is today closed to traffic due to the high number of accidents (hence its name), but paradoxically has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. It is a downhill bike ride from the highlands to the Yungas. If you manage to survive you will have witnessed some incredible scenery and, above all, you will have experienced one of the most intense emotions of your life. There are many agencies in La Paz offering this tour, taking you and your bike all the way up to the top by van. Try to do it with a good one (not the cheapest), because nobody wants to have their brakes fail in a descent like this... I think it is also possible to do it on your own if you have your own bike.
The tour ends a few kilometers from Coroico, before returning to La Paz, but, since this is an interesting place to visit, you can stay there and walk to the town. Best of Coroico, northeast of the department of La Paz, is that you will experience the amazing Yungas. That is, the transition between the high Andes and the Amazon rainforest. This pretty village is in a valley immersed in a cloud subtropical landscape of wooded hillsides. There are several trails nearby for hike, which include waterfalls and hill ascents.
In the center of the country at 2500 meters above sea level is this interesting and lively city (university city), capital of the department of the same name. It is one of the oldest cities in the country, with a colonial layout of beautiful buildings, squares and wide avenues. The nature of the surrounding area is remarkable, including several relatively close National Parks: Tunari, Carrasco and Torotoro (the latter not so close).
TOROTORO NATIONAL PARK
About four hours south of Cochabamba, already in the department of Potosí (right on the border), is this interesting Park, a paradise for geology and paleontology lovers. Its karstic caves, plateaus and mountains, spectacular canyons and, above all, the finds of dinosaur footprints and fossils (from the Mesozoic era) are calling out for some room on the travelers' agenda. On the other hand, it also features the Inca ruins of Llama Chaqui and cave paintings. The town itself worth a visit. A very different place to visit in Bolivia.