A Travellerspoint blog

Hello Bolivia: South and Southwest

From the Red Rock Desert of tupiza, to the high altitude Salar de Uyuni…


“My ass is bruised. I smell like horse. My jeep mates smell too. My body is covered in mosquito bites from the Amazon, and my hair could use a good wash. I’m sunburnt and cold, and I’ve been rotating the same clothes for 4 months. But I'm in heaven as the scenery we pass is incredible and I wouldn’t change places with anyone right now.” Welcome to the Southwest of Bolivia.


I started my tour with a 2 day horse ride in Tupiza, on a dainty mare called Shakira, galloping around the desert sands with the red rock canyons looming above me. The landscape is truly surreal, like entering into an old western film. After a while everything started to look the same, but the landmarks which stood out included the Cañon del Duende, Puerta del Diablo, and bedding down in the small town of Espicaya.


The two days went really quickly, and before I knew it I was off the horse and into a jeep to start a four day tour to the salt flats of Uyuni. Of course the initial scenery was pretty similar, save for the rock formation at el sillar, formed by years of torment from the wind and rain, with stops at miradors to see more landscape.


The weather was highly temperamental during the 4 days, with bouts of sun, rain, wind and snow causing confusion when choosing which clothes to don. But the company in the 4 X 4 was always in high spirits, with the constant blast of nostalgic 80s and 90s tunes keeping the mood light.


There were some sights which we missed due to poor weather, but having caught some amazing sunsets, and had numerous opportunities for photos of the pink flamingoes, we couldn’t really complain.



Our third day was by far the best of the four, as we were blessed with mild weather to see the Arbol de Piedras (tree of stones), Valle de los Rocos, and of course make a stop at the Cemeterio de Trenes, an old graveyard of used and rusted trains of the past turned into a playground for tourists.



Finally, one of the highlights was staying in a hostal of salt for the night, and being able to watch the last sunset on the salt flats, with its mirage of colors filling the skies. It was a great photo opportunity, especially since it rained most of the next day. I think it might be worth it for me to come back during the dry months, to take completely different pictures of the amazing salar, the largest in the world at 12,000sqm, and the highest at 3650m absl.


Overall this part of the country has had some of the most amazing landscapes I’ve seen, and it was a great tour with good food, and fun company… what more can you ask?


Quote of tour: Do u mind if I throw my legs over my head and try to fart?

Posted by jessho 13:00 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Sorata: Unplanned… Unforgettable…

Everything is Greener in Sorata


So while I do like to read ahead and plan a rough itinerary, I do have a lot of time on my hands, and when I hear an interesting suggestion, more often than not I take it. I know… I’m easy.


Once I heard that the group I’d hooked up with in La Paz was taking a side trip to the small countryside town of Sorata, it didn’t take much to convince me to tag along. The small picturesque town was a mere 3 hours from La Paz in a small collectivo, and offered numerous trekking opportunities through mountains, rivers and caves, along with a tranquil hypnotic atmosphere throughout the whole town. Famous through word-of-mouth not for its hiking routes, but more for its liberal distribution of marijuana and hidden legendary fields, the small pueblo attracted visitors of all kinds, mostly hippy-type nomads and backpackers looking to stay awhile to relax and unwind. After the irritation of the clouds of mosquitoes in the Amazon, it was just what I needed to inhale a breath of “fresh” air and zone out for a couple of days.


In the midst of my time-out period, I did manage to find the time to do the “Gruta de San Pedro” trek to the cave. Having said that, I must admit that the 4 hour trek did actually take us 8 hours to complete, after taking numerous stops to enjoy the scenery and visit the cave.



The walk itself was very pleasant, consisting of a small gravel road that wound its way around the green mountains and farm pasture. At the end of the trek you were rewarded with a giant cave, housing numerous types of bats, as well as a decent sized lake inside.


The hostal itself was one of the highlights, with several balconies and terraces to socialize, a friendly atmosphere, and blank space to draw on the walls in the rooms. Overall an amazing side-trip to nowhere, where time flies and everyone is happy.


Posted by jessho 15:08 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Hello Bolivia: North and West

Cruising Lake Titicaca, Zooming down death road, and Braving the Amazonas...

So I guess after being on the road for about 4 months has taken its toll… Laziness has finally set in, and instead of creating posts on each place I’ve been, this time I’ve divided the country by regions. So far I’ve entered the high altitude country of Bolivia through the Western Lake Titicaca, and have ventured further inland to the capital La Paz, and then North to Rurrenabaque, gateway to the Amazon Basin. In a week or two I will have made my way South to the desert lands and horse country of Tupiza, and the spectacular Salt flats of Uyuni. But that’s next week.

Copacabana and Isla del Sol.


Having met some Argentinians on my tour to the Colca Canyon who were passing through to Bolivia through Copacabana, I decided to tag along and enter Bolivia through Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest altitude lake at 4000m absl. Crossing the border proved to be a painless experience, and the journey from Puno (Peru) across to Copacabana (Bolivia) took a mere 3 hours on a bus for just 10 Soles (USD4). From Copa, we caught the ferry across to Isla del Sol, an island where the Incans apparently discovered the sun. Finding a place to stay was easy, as the island was littered with numerous options, the only catch being that you had to lug your bags up the hill, not an easy feat at that altitude.


The plan was to head off for some trekking to the North of the island, and try to make it back to the South again in one day, however being that I was traveling with 2 Argentinians, who let’s just say were more than a little high more than most of the time, we of course started our trek a little later than expected. Knowing it would be at least a 6 hour round trip, we brought our headlights with us, realizing that we would get caught in the dark, but not expecting what more was to come.


After enjoying the view of the sunset across the water, we made the decision to continue North, and try to find a place to sleep there for the night. Using only the map on the back of the park ticket, we of course got a little lost, and after the skies turned black, we even caught sight of the lightning storm on the mainland fast approaching. I guess I wasn’t too worried, knowing that if I was going to get stuck in the wilderness it was a good thing I was with two doctors… although I admit I might have been even less concerned had they not been high the whole time.


In the end everything worked out. We found the village, and a place to stay, and the journey back the next day was more than pleasant, creating the perfect end to a great adventure.


La Paz and the Death Road

The big busy capital of La Paz was infinitely different to the small towns I had been passing time in, but it was a welcome change for New Years. I managed to head out to a local bar for the countdown with some friends I’d met at the hostal I was staying in, and decided to take the new year with a big bang and head out to bike the death road. Maybe it might not have been the best idea to bike down the 64km, 3.5km vertical drop gravel road, otherwise known as the world’s most dangerous road, tired and maybe a little hung over, but it was an amazing experience nonetheless.


The start of the bike trip was easy, requiring just a quick scoot down an even paved road… I guess it was more to test and get used to the bikes and equipment. The next part was challenging, maneuvering the bicycles downhill on a loose gravel path, no bigger than the width of a sedan, with the edge of the road ending in a deathly vertical drop. Being that it is rainy season in Bolivia, the journey might have been a little more challenging than normal, especially during the brief hail storm at the beginning of the ride.


The views were amazing, on the occasions that I’d dared to take my eyes off the path to enjoy it. At several points we also had top zip through some shallow waters, and under some gentle waterfalls. Altogether a thrilling experience and a great way to start the new year!


Note to Self: New Years resolution 2013? Live on the edge…




Figuring that it would be a shame to travel South America and not reach the Amazon, I decided to take the trip up north to the sleepy jungle town of Rurrenabaque to check out tours to the amazon basin. After the horrible 22 hour bus ride, bumpy enough to have churned milk into butter in that time, I decided to book myself on a 3 day tour to the pampas, and then return to La Paz via airplane.


The tour itself was great, consisting of many daily activities, as well as a night time boat trip to look for animals (Look for the reflective eyes by torch, red for alligators, blue for the caimans, and green for the anacondas!). We encountered many different types of birds during the day, as well as numerous sightings of river alligators and Amazonian caimans, monkeys and capibaras (enormous Amazonian guinea pigs), as well as ample opportunities for swimming with the playful pink dolphins.


The tour also included a trek to search for the elusive anacondas, although we didn’t find any in the end, and a few hours of fishing for piranhas, after which we also enjoyed them grilled with lime for dinner.


On the way back to Rurrenabaque, our group convinced the driver of the jeep to make a quick stop in the nearby town of Reyes, as the local folk were celebrating their town’s anniversary with a “local” rodeo, complete with a bull-riding ring, and more than enough Gauchos riding around on horseback.


  • Tips:

Avoid the bus during rainy season, as many will get stuck along the way… it’s worth the few extra bucks just to take the flight.

There are more mosquitoes in the Amazon than there are trees, so bring lots of deet: although they’ll still get you inevitably, and they can bite you through your clothes too!

You can bring snacks, but avoid chocolate… you’ll just wind up with a mass of melted cocoa in your bag… It’s the Amazon… it’s hot out there.


Posted by jessho 05:56 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

AREQUIPA & the Colca Cañon

Welcome to Arequipa, land of volcanos and canyon country.


Arriving early in the morning, I spent just one day in the city, staying close to the Plaza de Armas, with an amazing rooftop view of the plaza’s main cathedral, with Volcan Misti looming behind. The city itself had a lot to offer, and I choose to spend my day at the famous Monasterio de Santa Catalina, as well as shopping for a tour to the Colca canyon.

The monastery was spectacular, resembling a small city on its own, with its numerous alleyways and various quarters for the nuns of the past and present. Famous for their baked pastries, each quarter hosted its own kitchenette, complete with traditional brick ovens. The streets in the monastery were cleverly color coded depending on the area, and even boasted several boutique shops for antiques and a quaint little cafeteria for homemade goods.



The morning after, I left in the wee hours of the morning on a 2 day trekking tour to the Colca Canyon. After a quick stop in Chivay for breakfast, we managed to make it to the mirador in time to catch several sightings of the famous condors swooping through the skies, as well as spend time admiring the depth of the canyon.


The condors were spectacular, with their wingspan of up to 3.5m long, flying as low as 3-5 metres above our heads, with the mountains and canyon as a backdrop creating the final touches to a perfect view, almost taking your breath away.


After this, it was a mere 4 hour downhill hike (hell on the knees) to our lunch spot in San Juan, and after another 2 hours over an “Inca Flat” to bed down in the Oasis Sangrelle.

  • Inca flat isn’t really flat, you still go up and down hills, and it’s just not as steep as other Incan treks.


Once at the Oasis, we were able to take time to relax by the pool, and view the changing lights of the canyon as it turned from sunset to dusk, with the light of the full moon creating an eerie effect on the sides of the canyon.


The next morning the 8 of us started our trek back up to the top of the canyon, a mere two and a half hour uphill climb. Compared to my previous hikes, this one was not too bad, with a clear cut path and a finite end to the climb. After breakfast in Cabanaconode, we had a liitle time to sit and admire the view of the small town before returning to Chivay, where I continued on to Puno, Lake Titicaca, and the crossing to Bolivia.


The Good: The views from the mirador, the sighting of the huge birds, the sunset and full moon, and the company of the amazing people I met in our group.

The Bad: The heat of the sun during the day for the descent, and the chill of the wind in the canyon at night.

The Ugly: The condors. Zoom in to their heads and they made turkeys look like goddesses.


Posted by jessho 11:32 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Cuzco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

Christmas week and the end of the world…


As usual, I wound up spending more time than expected, this time in the region of Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. After meeting Uncle Geoff for my first day, I moved across to the small colonial hostel Indigo in the San Blas area of Cuzco. Considering it was a rainy day, I took the time to relax, acclimatize, and stock up on necessities such as wet wipes and a portable can of emergency oxygen for my upcoming Inca trail hike.


On my first day of the highly anticipated hike, the guide from Peru Treks picked me up promptly at 5.30am. After meeting the other 15 trekkers in the group and a big breakfast at Ollaytaytambo, we proceeded up the first trail from km82, taking several leisurely stops at the few scattered ruins along the way, as well as for lunch.


Aside from the fact that I was hiking through the sacred valley, the most impressive fact for the day was the way the porters scooted past our group, carrying 20kgs of packed goods on their backs. As it was, I had decided not to use an additional porter for the trek, carrying a mere 6-7kgs, which made me admire them all the more.


The second day was the day we all dreaded. Not only do most reports of the hike online scrutinize this part of the hike for its steep ascent and high altitude, but we had also been warned repeatedly by the guides how difficult it was going to be. Deciding to play-it-safe, I made the decision to share an “unofficial” porter with some of the others, allowing me to offload around 2.5kgs for the hardest day. Doesn’t sound like much, but whether it was real or psychological, it made a difference.


Perhaps it was the fact that I’d acclimatized properly, or the fact that I’d already made it through the Huaraz trek, but it was surprisingly easy enough to reach the highest point of the second pass at 4215m (dead woman’s pass), and of course it was a truly exhilarating feeling to know that the hardest section of the next few days was over. We reached the second campsite at Pacamayo around 1pm, with plenty of time for lunch and a well-deserved siesta.


The third day was quite an enjoyable walk, with a quick stop to see the ruins of Sayacmarca, then a 5km downhill run to our third and last campsite Wiñay Wayna. There we had our last dinner as a group, with a big homemade cake for dessert to celebrate the end of our struggle and the Mayan’s end of the world (21 Dec 2012).


The next day was easy compared with the previous few, as we started once the gates opened at 5.30am, reaching the Sun Gate (Intipunku) around 6.30 to take in our first views of Machu Picchu. It was another 20-30 minutes before arriving to the Watchmen’s hut to take our “After” group photo, making it just in the nick of time before a heavy downpour.


Needless to say our tour of Machu Picchu itself was a rather wet one, and it was a little disconcerting to have sweated for 4 days, only to witness busloads of chubby tourists with their “I climbed Machu Picchu” shirts waddle their way up the hill. However altogether I thoroughly enjoyed the trek, and would highly recommend it.


After travelling back to Cuzco, I headed out to check out the lights of the Plaza de Armas at night, as well as go to a local club Mistika for a fusion of reggaeton, cumbia and house music. The night of the 23rd, the Plaza took on a whole new look, with locals sleeping on the streets to “reserve” their spot for the big market the next day.


For Christmas Eve, I started my day with a trek up to the ruins of Sacayhuaman and the San Cristobel Blanco statue, and spent the next 3 hours cantering around the countryside of the back of a traditional Paso Fino horse. I explored landmarks such as the Temple of the moon and Xzone.


On the way back down, I came across an old lady on the hill, her exact age even she didn’t know. She claimed to have remembered her 90th birthday some time ago, but since then as her memory faded, she lost count of her age.


There was also a great market in the main square, with the locals from different regions around Cuzco selling different items such as souvenirs, food, herbs, and other Christmas-related goods.


Having met some great people on the Inca trail, I decided to change my bus ticket and stay an extra 2 nights in Cuzco, so I could spend Christmas dinner with them. The dinner was mediocre, but the company was amazing, and after dinner we ran out to the Plaza to see the fireworks. They weren’t traditional fireworks, mainly just locals who bought a wide variety of different fireworks and sparklers in the afternoon and set them off simultaneously in the main square. Still, it made for a nice end to the night.


Making up for the below-average dinner the night before, I treated myself to a great little lunch at Jack’s, and then prepared for my bus ride to Arequipa and the Colca Canyon. Stay tuned for next week!

Tips for the Inca trail:
- Acclimatize in Cuzco for at least 2 days before the trek
- Bring Coca leaves and sweets to chew along the way
- Pack light. There are no showers, so you might as well take wet wipes, leave the toiletries at home, and shove your hair in a cap or beanie. And deodorant. Lots of deodorant.
- Don’t be afraid to take breaks. Our group used the code “Oh, look at that flower…” each time we had to stop. 


Posted by jessho 15:11 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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