My coworkers and I had a long weekend off and decided to pay a visit to our neighbor, Bolivia. We did it the cheapest and quickest way possible, so this itinerary is best for the “been there done it crowd” and for people on a budget. With the help of Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring book, I managed to get a glimpse of three main highlights of Bolivia: Isla Del Sol, The Yungas and the Salt Flats in less than a week.
First, we took a night bus from Cusco to Copacabana, which was only 50 soles ($18USD). Copacabana is a quaint little town on Lake Titicaca. However there is not much to do there because it is more of a transportation hub for the surrounding islands and La Paz.
From Copacabana, we took a private boat to Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). There we were greeted by stunning views and children, a.k.a. eager porters who wanted to carry our bags up the steep 200-stair climb that allows you to enter the island.
We stayed at a hostel called Inti Wasi Lodge ($25 Bolivianos) with a picturesque view of Lake Titicaca and the surrounding islands. Then we indulged ourselves with trucha (trout) and wine in one of the several cliffside cafes and reveled in the beauty of the sunset.
This day began like most days. We took in the sunrise over the snowcapped mountains bordering Lake Titicaca on the terrace in front of our hostel, while watching llamas graze in the fields below and the locals of the small island wander by with donkeys in tow. After a solid “Americano” breakfast consisting of eggs and coffee, we set off on a leisurely stroll to some ruins located on the south end of the island.
We hiked back down and took the ferry for $20 Bolivianos ($4 USD) back to Copacabana. Once there, we ate lunch and caught a bus to La Paz. From La Paz, we took a combi (taxi van) to Coroico, a small jungle town in the Yungas. The weather was agreeable and we stayed in a lovely hostel with a view of the plaza.
In the morning, we hiked to the Tres Cascadas (three waterfalls) on the outskirts of the town. Despite the scattered tractors, and whistling men in the passing combis, we enjoyed a swim at the base of the falls. We got a ride in a combi back to town, then took a bus back to La Paz, and finally boarded a night bus from La Paz to Uyuni.
Uyuni is a strange town with an eerie feel that makes you feel as though you’ve just walked onto the set of The Hills Have Eyes. We spent the morning relaxing in our hostel. Then we made the mistake of paying 100 Bolivianos to go to some nearby “hot springs,” consisting of a concrete walled off area full of dirty water and naked locals. Needless to say we chose to pass on them and climbed some nearby hills instead. Despite the odd vibe of the town, it is worth the stop to see the visually astounding salt flats that are nearby.
We set off on our one-day salt flats tour with visits to salt mounds that look like giant ant hills, a cactus island surrounded by salt, several wide open spaces where you can see salt for miles, and a train cemetery. The only obstacle was when our car broke down due to an unexpected llama crossing and we spent 40 minutes patiently waiting for our driver to fix it. The rest of the day was surreal and we felt like we were on another planet. After hours of photo shoots of some successful and some failed optical illusions, we called it a day and headed back to La Paz on yet another night bus.
Once back in La Paz, we spent the day wandering around the city and visiting the witch market where they have an assortment of taxidermy llamas and preserved llama fetuses. La Paz is an extremely beautiful city from afar, however its beauty is overshadowed by chaos once you are in the center of it. Despite the endless traffic, and imminent threat of being robbed, the city has a certain charm similar to Cusco. The snowcapped mountains peak out beyond the infinite hills and not a single spot seems to be missing some form of architecture. In the afternoon, we boarded our final night bus back to Cusco.
Overall, Bolivia was well-worth the $135 visa! The Yungas were a breath of fresh air. Isla del Sol was a dream that reminded me of a Latin version of the Amalfi Coast in Italy. The Salt Flats were beyond epic and an excellent finale to our adventure.
Top photo by Matthew Straubmuller (Creative Commons)