Thanks in part to its harsh mountain landscapes and thick Amazonian jungles, Spanish conquest and large-scale European immigration were impeded in Bolivia. Consequently, this land has suffered few changes, as shown by its indigenous peoples who have managed to hold onto many of their traditions, and isolated villages that have remained virtually untouched for centuries. The result is that Bolivia is often dubbed the most quintessentially South American country. You can discover all of this and more on this 17-day/16-night panoramic tour of this enigmatic nation. The treasures that you experience will include sites and cities such as the country’s “two” capitals (Sucre and La Paz), modern Santa Cruz, charmingly well-preserved Concepción, 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, Copacabana and 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 and the Salar de Uyuni tour of that salt flat. Nonetheless, while such conditions continue to make Bolivia a challenge for traveling, the country’s spectacular scenery more than makes up for any extra effort. Indeed, this Bolivia tour can be extremely rewarding.
“I enjoyed the scenery and the exotic wildlife on the islands very much. The airport transfers in both directions went smoothly and the service on board was very good.”
PM: Transfer from Santa Cruz airport to your hotel. We will meet at the hotel at 2:00 p.m., to then go on a city tour of Santa Cruz, visiting the Plaza of 24 de Septiembre, the cathedral, the Casa de la Cultura, the museum of contemporary art, the zoological park, and the Noel Kempff Museum Of Natural History (if some of the museums are closed, we can substitute them with others such as the butterfly museum). Return to your hotel at 6:00 pm.
AM: Departure from the hotel at 8:30 a.m. by private vehicle to drive to San Javier, the first stop on our 3-hour route. Once arriving, we will see the country’s first Jesuit Mission, founded in 1691, which also hosted the first music school. We will also visit a workshop dedicated to the crafting of violins, harps, harpsichords and other instruments.
PM: After lunch, we will head to the village of Concepción, 70 km to the east (1h30), with a stop at the “Piedras de Paquió” (Paquio Stones), which are geological formations of balanced rocks. Free time for the rest of the day.
AM: In the morning, we will visit of the town church and the mission’s museum, located in the birth house of General Hugo Banzer (a former dictator and president of Bolivia).
PM: Lunch in Concepción. We will then return to San Javier and head back to Santa Cruz at the end of the afternoon.
AM: Transfer from the Santa Cruz airport with guide for a domestic flight (Santa Cruz – Sucre). Landing at the airport, you will be picked up and driven to your hotel. After meeting in the hotel lobby, we will head out for a guided visit to the Casa de la Libertad (“Freedom Houses”), where you will hear a lot about the history of Bolivia and its independence.
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: Departure from the hotel at 8 a.m. by private transport (1½-hour) to an area dominated by the ethnic Tarabuco people, who are renowned for their fabrics. Every Sunday, one of the most renowned and animated markets of indigenous handicraft is held. Don’t miss the festive atmosphere of the market, with the sound of the “charango” and the sights of campesinos wearing their leather headdress (like those of the early conquistadors) and bright clothing.
PM: We will return to the vehicle to go to the village of Candelaria (a 1-hour drive), in the middle of Tarabuco country. This charming village has retained its authenticity (in fact, most of its inhabitants only speak Quechua). We will visit the small museum in the company of a weaver who will open the doors of her workshop to us before we slowly make our way back to Sucre. Return to Sucre around 6:00 p.m.
AM: Departure from the hotel by private vehicle. We will cross the Sucre bridge, with its anachronistic design, over the Río Pilcomayo River (which separates Argentina and Paraguay further South). We will then leave the Chuquisaca Valley to climb the Potosí Plateau (4,100 m.a.s.l.), where we will arrive 3 hours later by asphalt road.
PM: We will meet at hotel lobby before beginning our city tour of Potosi, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
AM: We will spend the whole day discovering Potosi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Starting at 9:00 am, we will head out to visit the Cerro Rico mines, where you will see the miners at work. (Note that they don’t work on Sundays, and that mine activity is greatly reduced on Saturdays and Mondays.)
PM: In the afternoon, we will visit 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.
AM: Departing the hotel at 9 a.m. in a private 4WD, we will cross the Frailes Mountain range to reach the village of Uyuni, a small town lost on the shores of the vast Salar de Uyuni salt flat (5 to 6-hour drive on a dirt road).
PM: 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. Arrival in Uyuni at the end of the day.
Cold lunch (included). For your dinner, we recommend the bar-restaurant La Loco.
AM: We will depart at 9:30 a.m. to visit the famous “train cemetery” on the outskirts of town. We will then head south, on the way visiting various villages, including the modern town of Culpina K.
PM: We will have lunch in San Cristobal, where we should be able to visit the beautiful colonial church (if it’s open). We will then cross the Rio Grande, area home to numerous vicuñas and ñandus (of the ostrich family), arriving in 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 llama-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: Departure in private car from the hotel to the airport for a domestic flight (Uyuni – La Paz). We will be picked up at the airport and transferred to your hotel. After meeting with your guide at the hotel, we will go on a guided visit of the city’s archeological museum. This museum holds manly pieces from the Tiwanaku culture, though it also possesses a few items from other pre-Columbian cultures. In any case, here you will find a fascinating collection of ceramics, mummies, tapestries and domestic objects.
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. Slightly further is the Plaza Murillo and the Art Museum, which is a building worth the visit in itself. A beautiful collection of colonial paintings is found here, as are some modern paintings of the Bolivian indigenous movement of Guzman de Rojas and Rimsa.
To finish the day in beauty, we will visit of the "Tambo Quirquincho," where the city was founded and which now hosts the contemporary art museum …the building is superb.
Note: Remember to bring some kind of ID to leave at the entrance of the ethnographic museum.
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: Return to the center for lunch and free time in the afternoon.
AM: Departure from the hotel in our private vehicle for a trip to the Tiwanaku archaeological site (1h30). We will go on a guided tour of these pre-Colombian ruins, considered the most important on the continent.
PM: We will then drive along the shores of the Lake Titicaca and the Cordillera Real to the city of Copacabana.
AM: In the morning, a motorboat will take us to the northern extremity of the Isla del Sol (“Sun Island”) on a 2- to 3-hour trip, depending on the weather conditions. We will visit of the Inca site of Chincana and the Sacred Rock of the Incas, from where the mythical Viracocha god gave birth to his son, Manco Capac – the first Inca. We will make a short hike on the island to the village of Challapampa and the Marka Pampa Museum.
PM: Our boat will then take us to the Fuente del Inca (“Fountain of the Inca”) and the Pilkokaina site, in the south of the island. Return to Copacabana by boat in the afternoon. We will then return to La Paz by private transportation (about 3½-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.
“We loved the time at the lodge in Cuyabeno. It was so genuine and natural there and the crew was so knowledgable and helpful. Thank you so much for the recommendation of the real Amazonia-experience.”