Bolivia - From the Lowlands to the High Andes
Bolivia - From the Lowlands to the High Andes
Often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbour Peru, Bolivia offers the adventurous traveller just about all you could want from a trip to South America, without the numbers of tourists that can be found in other areas. On this two week trip we journey through a variety of landscapes from the steamy jungles of the Amazon to the desolate and foreboding salt flats of Uyuni, nestled up against the border with Chile. With opportunities to meet and interact with indigenous communities that form such a strong part of Bolivia’s cultural heritage, we visit colonial cities with amazing architecture that transports us back to the days of the conquistadors. We also take time to delve into ancient cultures at Tiwanaku and embark on an adventure through the salt flats and mountains in the High Andes where the barren landscapes have to be seen to be believed. Bolivia is a hotbed of nature, adventure and culture that should be high up on any prospective traveller's list to South America.
Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●○○○○
- Relish the colonial architecture of the UNESCO World Heritage cities of Sucre and Potosi.
- Follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs at Cal Orck’o, the world’s largest paleontological site.
- Marvel at the stunning vista of the salt flats at Uyuni
- Catch your breath in the fascinating city of La Paz
Accommodation: Mix of comfortable hotels and a community stay.
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: 12
Start Point: Santa Cruz de la Sierra
End Point: La Paz
Transport: Private cars or minibuses, domestic flights
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.
Day 1 - Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Arrive in the atmospheric city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra where you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight at Hotel La Sierra or similar.
Day 2 - Chiquitania
After breakfast we spend the day exploring this little visited area of eastern Bolivia. We begin among the picturesque hamlets and unique Jesuit churches, including that of San Javier, considered the oldest in the area and continue to some of the traditional ateliers where a variety of local handicrafts and musical instruments are produced. From there we travel to Chiquita Nia and the Church of the Conception, which is among several designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, and finish the day with a visit to the cultural museum. Overnight at Hotel Chiquitos or similar (BLD)
Day 3 – Santa Cruz de la Sierra
This morning we return to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. On arrival we visit the Noel Kempff Natural History Museum, named after the Bolivian biologist and conservationist, to gain an insight into the fauna and flora of the Bolivian lowlands. We will also explore some of the other places of interest in the city. Overnight at Hotel La Sierra or similar (BL)
Day 4 – Sucre
This morning we transfer to the airport to catch the short flight south to “The White City” of Sucre (2.700m). Once there we will visit some of the historical monuments including the Museo Casa de la Libertad, the churches of San Lazaro and Saint Domingo, the convent of San Felipe Nery with marvellous views of the city from the bell tower, and Bolivar Park. Overnight at Hostal Sucre or similar (B)
Sucre is the official capital of Bolivia but has long been eclipsed by La Paz as the economic and political hub of the country. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is widely considered to contain some of the finest examples of colonial architecture within Latin America. Founded in the 16th century by the conquistadors, Sucre gained prominence and power due to the silver mines, located nearby at Potosi. Growing rivalry with La Paz over the years, led to a civil war in the late 19th century, in which La Paz became the de facto capital of the country. Sucre contains numerous elegant churches dating back to the time of the initial conquest, and strict building regulations have meant that the city has changed little over the last century, giving visitors a great insight into how many other Latin American towns once looked.
Day 5 – Dinosaur Footprints & Jatun Yampara
This morning we take the short drive to the impressive paleontological site of Cal Orck’o, and spend time exploring, before returning to Sucre for lunch. Later we will drive to Jatun Yampara a small community belonging to the ancient Yampara culture, which is one of the oldest on the continent. They have now divided into two groups, the Jalqas and the Tarabucos, and a cultural centre has been built to showcase Yampara traditions. These people are considered to be specialists in the making of Andean textiles. We will spend the night in local houses and before dinner we will have the opportunity to sample “Chicha”, the local drink made from fermented corn. Overnight in the Jatun Yampara community (BD)
The accommodation will be in bunk beds with toilet facilities housed in a separate building.
Cal Orck’o is considered the world’s largest paleontological site. Around 5000 dinosaur footprints, belonging to at least eight different species, can be found here originating from the Cretaceous period.
Day 6 – Jatun Yampara – Sucre – Potosi
This morning we observe some of the local textile processes and learn about the homeopathic medicines used by the community. We will take a short walk around the area and include a visit to the local school. We will then continue to Potosi City which is a journey of around 3 hours. Overnight at Hostal Colonial or similar (BL)
Potosi became one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world during the 16th and 17th centuries, a consequence of the insatiable demand of the Spanish, for silver from the mines nearby. Full of exquisite colonial architecture like its neighbour Sucre, Potosi’s buildings serve as a testament to a lucrative era, and it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are now fewer and fewer miners seeking out diminishing reserves of silver in the tunnels dug into Cerro Rico, or ‘Rich Mountain’, overlooking the city. The mines were worked by indigenous and African workers, subjected to appalling conditions which saw them stay underground for up to a week at a time, and in the three centuries that the mine was open an estimated three million people met their deaths there. The mines are now open for tours, guided by former silver miners, who know these labyrinthine tunnels intimately.
Day 7 – Potosi
This morning we will travel by bus to visit the mines of Potosi. After donning appropriate clothing (helmet, torch etc.) we take a short ride to the Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain). Every day the miners celebrate the ritual of the Challa with offerings to Tio, the demon who is said to own the underground mineral riches. This afternoon we visit the Money Museum with its artefacts of a bygone age including machinery, utensils and coinage. Overnight at Hostal Colonial or similar (B)
Day 8 – Potosi– Uyuni
This morning there is free time to explore the city, and after lunch we travel by road (approx. 4 hours), to the town of Uyuni. Overnight at Hotel Tambo Aymara or similar (B)
Founded in 1889 and standing isolated in a desert-like landscape, Uyuni is in the southwestern corner of Bolivia. Despite the harsh conditions, it is a cheerful town and the gateway to the Salar de Uyuni. Uyuni remains an important military base, and mining plays a significant role with the world’s largest lithium reserve – about 100 million tons – lying beneath the nearby salt flat.
Day 9 – Salt Flat of Uyuni – Quemes
This morning we take a short journey to visit the “graveyard of trains” a collection of historic steam locomotives and railcars, dating back several hundred years. We continue to the village of Colchani and witness how the locals transform the natural salt to edible salt using rustic ovens and tools. Colchani is the entrance to the fabulous salt flat of Uyuni, and we will take an impressive 3 hour cross country drive across the salt flat, with only track ways as points of reference. We stop en route at Incawasi Island to explore an area of giant volcanic ash rocks accompanied by hundreds of giant cactus rising up all around. Our journey across this remote area is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip. We finally move out of the salt flat towards the hamlet of Quemes. Overnight at Tayka Hotel de Piedra or similar (BLD)
Salar de Uyuni
Covering an area of 10,580 sq. km and situated at over 3000m, Salar de Uyuni is the largest and highest salt flat in the world, its white surface resembling an immense glacier. The scenery here, high in the Andes, is out of this world – vast expanses of white desert that stretch as far as the eye can see, bordered by jagged peaks and littered with conical pyramids of salt. With few settlements and only occasional llama herders to be seen, travelling in this landscape feels like travelling in the very farthest reaches of the earth. The surrounding area contains lakes, hot springs and geysers and is home to good populations of birdlife.
Day 10 – Desierto Siloli
Today we pass by the lava flows of Ollague, and a series of colourful lakes (Chiguana, Hedionda, Honda), which are home to great concentrations of Andean birds. On the approach to the Siloli Desert (Ojo de Perdíz) stand huge Aeolian formations of surreal figures, before the shrubby vegetation disappears completely, giving way to dunes. After a journey time of around 6 hours we arrive at a country hotel in the middle of the desert where we will sleep at 4600m. Overnight at Tayka Hotel del Desierto or similar (BLD)
Day 11 – Laguna Verde
This morning we drive for around an hour and a half until we arrive at Laguna Colorada which is a burnt orange colour as a result of algae in the water. Generous mineral deposits line the shores and sustain a large concentration of flamingos. We continue to the extreme south west of Bolivia passing by the geysers of Sol de Mañana, before arriving at the hot springs of Chalviri for a late breakfast, with some time for bathing. We reach stunning Laguna Verde passing the Salvador Dali desert en route, and stop for lunch in Verde, before returning to Ojo de Perdíz for a second night. Overnight at Tayka Hotel del Desierto or similar (BLD)
Day 12 – Uyuni
Today we have a 5 hour drive to Uyuni following a more direct route. We should arrive by mid-afternoon where you will have some time at leisure. Overnight at Hotel Tambo Aymara or similar (BL)
Day 13 – La Paz and Tiwanaku
This morning we catch a flight to La Paz and transfer to the city on arrival. This afternoon we travel to the archaeological ruins of Tiwanaku to explore the temples and palaces originating from Pre-Inca times. Overnight at Hostal Naira or similar. (B)
In its heyday, Tiwanaku was the centre of an empire that stretched across the region, and was home to 50,000 people. Founded around 1000BC, it expanded to include the whole of the area surrounding Lake Titicaca within its domain, but mysteriously fell into decline and disappeared before the first Europeans came to the area, leaving behind a mystery that has not been definitively solved. The main town is thought to have covered some 11 sq. km, but most of the houses were built of mud so collapsed with time, leaving only the temples and palaces that were built with stones. These include the Kalasasaya temple with its ornamental stonework believed to have been the sacred heart of the city, as well as the semi-subterranean temple, sunk into the ground with its representations of gods and idols. Tiwanaku still holds immense significance for the local Aymara people who come here to perform religious rituals.
Day 14 – La Paz
A day at leisure to discover the amazing city of La Paz. Overnight at Hostal Naira or similar (B)
At 3636m in altitude, La Paz, formally known as La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora de La Paz, claims to be the highest capital city in the world, despite the fact that Bolivia’s ‘official’ capital is actually the city of Sucre. Founded in 1548 by Spanish colonialists, it became a centre of colonial power for the Spanish Empire in Latin America and quickly established itself as a major centre of commerce within the region, growing rich from trade in minerals and coca. With a population of over a million people it is Bolivia’s largest city attracting immigrants from around the country, and visitors here will notice the melange of age old indigenous traditions and ever encroaching European influence. Overlooked by the snow-capped Mount Illimani, La Paz is a set against a backdrop of spectacular scenery, and is within easy striking distance of some of Bolivia’s most enigmatic sites including Lake Titicaca and Tiwanaku. The city’s streets are often thronged with market stalls, with the indigenous Aymara population selling food and clothing as well as some intriguing and unrecognisable items used in traditional religions.
Day 15 – Depart
At your convenience we transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
Arrival and departure transfers
Services of English speaking guides
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Any airport taxes