Bolivia’s high altitude mountain landscapes, vast salt flats, sprawling deserts and teeming cities combine to make this South American nation a challenge for traveling. Nonetheless, it’s these same spectacular sites and scenery that more than make up for any extra effort. You can discover all of this and more on this 13-day/12-night tour of the essential “jewels” of this enigmatic nation. The treasures that you will experience include sites such as the country’s “two” capitals (Sucre and La Paz), modern Santa Cruz, the UNESCO-declared World Heritage City of Potosi, the Villamar handicrafts center, the magnificent Siloli Desert, the quaint village of San Pedro de Quemez, the jaw-dropping Salar de Uyuni salt flat, as well as Sun Island on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. During this South American travel experience, accommodations will be provided at 4 and 5-star hotels for the most part, though more basic lodging is only available in the remote areas of the country, such as the Siloli Desert. Notwithstanding – though perplexing, vexing, rough around the edges and occasionally taxing – this well-designed Bolivia tour will allow you to discover the superlative natural beauty of this nation: quintessential South America!
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AM: You will be welcomed at the El Alto International airport in La Paz, and driven to your hotel. PM: Visit the ethnographic and folkloric museum in the afternoon, in the beautiful colonial residence of the Comte de Villaverde. A complete collection of fabrics from the different ethnic groups in Bolivia is exhibited there. (Duration: 3 hours)
AM: We will meet at the hotel at 9 a.m. to go on a “discovery tour” by private vehicle to see the most spectacular viewpoints in the city. From the bottom of the Choqueyapu River canyon, in the background you will see the Royal Mountain Range “Giants” (the Huayna Potosi, Mururata and Illimani volcanos). This tour is particularly enjoyed by photo lovers. Start with the K´Illi K´Illi lookout point and the Laykakota Park (closed on Mondays) on the northwestern side of the city. We will then cross the Americas Bridge to go to the “Plaza de España” lookout point, in the colonial area of Sopocachi. From there, a steep descent leads to the “South Zone,” passing through Llojeta and the “Garden Cemetery,” and finally to the “Valley of the Moon,” a place where we can walk between psychedelic looking sandstone formations.
PM: In the afternoon, our vehicle will take us back to the city center and drop us off in the heart of La Paz’ colorful and animated Andean market. We will later return to the hotel on foot, accompanied by our guide.
AM: Leaving the hotel early in the morning, we will drive to Lake Titicaca. Once we arrive, we will board a catamaran for a cruise to Sun Island, the mythical birthplace of the Inca Empire. After breakfast on board the ship, we will disembark the vessel to visit Challapampa, a small isolated village on the north side of the island. The people of Challapampa receive visitors through an innovative program they have developed themselves, encouraging people to visit a typical home, school, chapel and a small museum they have organized. As a guest, you will be able to participate in authentic ancestral rituals, observe folklore demonstrations, and sail on board typical fishing boats.
PM: The program includes a walking tour of the Inca roads that lead to the Chinkana site. That evening you can also enjoy a romantic dinner by the candlelight on board the catamaran, where you will spend the night in one of its private cabins (with its own private bathroom).
AM: After a breakfast buffet, today we will continue sailing on Lake Titicaca and enjoying the majestic panorama to the south of Sun Island and the Inca Pilkokaina Palace. We will then visit the Inti Wata Cultural Complex, one of the main private tourist attractions in Bolivia. We will tour its underground Ekako museum, and a center of traditional medicine and workshop for building Totora boats, in addition to a number of other points of interest. You will discover the Inca Pachamama terraces and a variety of Andean camelids.
PM: In the afternoon, we will return to the city of La Paz along a scenic ground route, arriving there late in the day.
AM: You will be driven from your hotel by private transport to the airport in La Paz two hours prior to your departure on your domestic flight (La Paz – Uyuni). Upon your arrival, we will visit the “train cemetery” on the outskirt of town, as well as stop as various villages, including the modern Culpina K urban site. We have lunch in San Cristobal, where you can visit the beautiful colonial church, if it’s open. We will then traverse Rio Grande, the home to numerous vicuñas and ñandus (of the ostrich family), and arrive in the town of Villamar at the end of the day.
AM: We’ll head south for Laguna Colorada Lake. This body of water owes its intense red-brick color to the presence of light sensitive phytoplancton. We will keep heading south for an excursion at the Sol de Mañana Geysers (el. 4,850 m.a.s.l.), at a volcanic crater from which sulfuric fumes and heavy water escape. We will then stop for breakfast in Polques before skirting Laguna Salada (“Salt Lake”) and crossing the Dali Desert (named after the scenery reminiscent of that artist’s paintings).
PM: This afternoon, we will reach the Blanca and Verde lagoons, at the foot of Juriques and Licancabur volcanoes (5,960 m.a.s.l.). What’s curious here is that the waters of Laguna Verde transform to a spectacular emerald color when the wind picks up. We will return to Laguna Colorada in the late afternoon. The road traverses the magnificent landscapes of the Siloli Desert and its famous “Arbol de Piedra” (Stone Tree), where you may be able to spot some rabbit-like viscachas.
AM: We will head north along the Chilean border along the scenic “Route of the Jewels,” which owes its name to all the lakes along its way (lakes Honda, Ch’arkota, Hedionda and Cañapa, sanctuary to three varieties of flamingoes). We will stop at the lookout point of the Ollague volcano, which is still active and shelters one of the world’s highest open-pit copper mines. The road then descends from 4,200 to 3,600 meters in altitude.
PM: We will cross the small Salar de Chiguana salt flat, located at the foot of Tomasamil Volcano (5,900 m.a.s.l.), before reaching San Pedro de Quemez at the end of the day.
AM: A 2-hour trip from San Pedro will take us to the awe-inspiring Salar de Uyuni salt flat (3,650 m.a.s.l.). The atmosphere here is special, as the horizon seems to have no any limits, and the feeling is overwhelming. We will later head north to the “island” of Incahuasi, which is a volcanic outcrop covered with stromatolites (fossilized bacteria that evidenced the first traces of life on earth) and giant cacti. On the way, we will visit the “Cave of the Galaxy,” whose stalactites resemble lace.
PM: In the afternoon we will head east to Colchani, on the way visiting the “Salt Hotels” (closed since November 2001) and the salt mining operations in Colchani.
AM: We will depart at 8:30 a.m. for Potosí (a 5- to 6-hour journey on a dirt road), crossing the Cordillera Frailes mountain range before reaching the Imperial city in the afternoon. On the way, we will stop in Pulacayo, a small town that during the 19th century was the second largest silver mine on the continent; today it’s practically a ghost town; nevertheless, we can visit a museum the tells of the town’s glorious past. The end of the day will be at your leisure in Potosi (with a visit to the Santa Teresa Convent recommended).
AM: At your hotel in Potosi, we will meet at 9:00 in the lobby to begin a tour of the Casa de la Moneda (closed on Sunday afternoons and on Mondays), where the Spanish used to mint the coins for the crown until the 19th century. Departure from Potosi by private vehicle, leaving the high plateau behind to descend into the Chuquisaca Valley and cross the Pilcomayo River (separating Argentina and Paraguay further south) on the interesting Sucre Bridge. We will arrive in Sucre at the end of the day (after a 3-hour drive on a paved road).
PM: Later in the day we will visit the Espacio Cultural Origenes, which is restaurant set around a large stage where a colorful, high-energy dance show is put on almost every night of the week featuring traditional dances from Sucre and the rest of Bolivia. The elaborately dressed dancers act out Bolivian folkloric scenes, such courtship rituals and the struggle between good and evil. There is even a touch of humor in the show, for instance in the mockery of the Spanish conquistadors. The dances are fast-paced and highly polished.
AM: We will with your English-speaking guide in your hotel lobby at 9 a.m. to head out on a guided tour of this UNESCO-declared World Heritage City. The sites we will visit include the ethnographic textile museum (ASUR), the Casa de la Libertad (closed on Sunday afternoons and on Mondays), the Recoleta convent, the cathedral and San Felipe Nery monastery.
PM: At lunch, you will have a chance to sample salteñas, is a type of Bolivian baked empanada. These are savory pastries filled with beef, pork or chicken, mixed in a sweet, slightly spicy, and sometimes also containing peas, eggs, olives, raisins, potatoes and other ingredients). Vegetarian salteñas are sometimes available at certain restaurants. Typically, salteñas can be found in any town or city throughout the country, but each area has its variations. Cochabamba and Sucre, though, claim to have the best versions.
AM: You will be welcomed at the El Alto International airport in La Paz, and driven to your hotel.
PM: After you have had a chance to get situated, you will meet in the hotel lobby with your guide at 2:00pm and then head out on a city tour of La Paz, a city located at almost 4,000 m.a.s.l. Some of the highlights will undoubtedly be Sagárnaga Street and its local handicrafts market (one of the most famous in South America), “Witches’ Street,” the San Pedro food market, the ancient area, and the historic-colonial district. Duration 3:00 hours
AM/PM: Three hours prior to your departure, you will be picked up from your hotel and driven by private transport to La Paz’ El Alto Airport for your international flight home.
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