This country seems to be on everybody’s ‘To Do List’ and to be frank it has a right to be there! It is an amazing culture rich country with varied terrain spanning Andes Mountains, the Atacama Desert and Amazon Basin rainforest. Bolivia is also a home to many places with ‘the highest’ next to its name i.e La Paz is world’s highest capital city at 3660m; Potosi is the highest situated town at 4070m; Lake Titicaca is the largest high altitude lake in the world at above 3800m. You should travel Bolivia soon!
If you enter the country from Paraguay, as we did, the winding Andean road offers you the most tremendous views. Majority of it was just a sandy path that had space hardly for one bus not to mention two vehicles so prepare yourself for an adventurous ride. I was ‘lucky’ to sit on the cliff side of the bus and had to hold my breath every time the bus came too close to the edge. It is part of the adventure, right? Would have done it again, though…. if only for the perfect sunset over these mountains.
After touring the country we have this picture of Bolivia in our mind: rough, dry, desert-like terrain with sandy roads and colourful people. Yes, the colourful comes to mind immediately. Surprised? Let us explain why.
#1 The Markets
You can find them in every town really and they burst with colour and vibrancy. Some are very famous and get a fair share of visitors just like the Sunday Market in Tarabuco Village. It is a huge tourist attraction but also it is a very nice cultural experience. There are plenty of ways to get there from Sucre, but to avoid agencies and make it very easy for ourselves we took a tourist bus organized by our hotel (30B/4$).
We really enjoyed the day and it was not full of tourists at all. After visiting Paraguay every place seemed touristy but Tarabuco was just fine. We wandered around, checked plenty of market stalls, bought some nice, colorful cushion covers and blankets and then just spend hours observing people. We walked much further from the artesanas and checked around stalls with day-to-day produce, watched locals barter and even had some lunch at the market eatery with villagers staring at us. You would think they were used to the sight of gringos, right? A lot of people we met considered street food unsafe and thought that restaurants offer edbetter … Unless you have seen their kitchens you cannot really be sure haha
One of La Paz’s major attractions is the Witches Market, which for us was a little bit too touristy. We saw some interesting things over there though. We think that La Paz is an excellent place to buy some souvenirs and with loads of artesanas to choose from you can get what you want for how much you want, really. We bought some table clothes and Tom got one of those alpaca (lama) sweaters that everybody wears around. La Paz is also full of museums but we really wanted to see only 2 of them: Coca Museum (fantastic and very informative) and Folklore Museum (even more fantastic). We have learnt so much about Bolivian culture and traditions.
#2 The People
The first day we spent in Bolivia, it became clear to us how poor Bolivia is when compared to other countries. Sucre, for instance, looks very pristine and wealthy but its people don’t always match that view. In the villages you see even more poverty. Everything is extremely basic – the houses people live in, the streets and the clothing they attire themselves in. Their smiley faces are so tired by sun and harsh mountain weather that it’s hard to recognize their age. It reminded us a little bit of Mongolia, actually. We saw a man missing one eye, who stuck some paper in his empty eye socket … practicality over looks, I suppose … have never seen anything like that.
What is to be loved about the people is how traditionally they still dress. There is only a few countries left in the world where modern fashion did not replace the traditional folklore. The colours and styles may vary from region to region but it does also depend on how rich or poor a person might be. If you happen to be as lucky as us to take part in a local festivities, you will be treated to an abundance of colour and variety of outfits.
La Paz in the place where Bolivian women wear the splendid traditional attires. They dress to perfection in beautiful fabrics, matching scarves, hats and shoes. Everywhere you look you could see one wearing different color or pattern of their clothes. I loved it and could not get enough of it.
#3 The Street Art and Architecture
You can find many examples of colourful towns in Bolivia, our favorite being Potosi. We just couldn’t get enough of the colorful architecture of it and we found its little streets and alleys really enchanting. Very carefully we climbed up on the rooftop of the Franciscan Convent and just admired this place. When they said rooftop I was convinced it would be no more than a terrace or something but we actually walked on the old roof of this astonishing building. Another thing we have never done before so quite interesting. Potosi is so much different to Sucre and we actually loved it more. Sucre seems very pristine, governmental and posh while Potosi looks more latino with its colourful villas and shady plazas.
The old town La Paz is very colourful in many ways. Although is not as preserved as Sucre or Potosi, it has its charms. It is chaotic, colorful with a blend of everything. There are sellers of Chinese crap, sweets, fast-food and amazing French rolls on the street as well as modern malls and restaurants around them.
If you are interested in folklore this is the place to be. We sometimes would just sit and watch people go by their daily routines. They seem to be quite sensitive about a camera so it was not easy to get a nice pic of them but the image will always stay in my mind.
#4 The Nature
It was also quite shocking to us how dry Bolivia is. Similarly to Atlas Mountains in Morocco or deserted hills of Jordan we previously visited, there was hardly any green spot around and definitely no shade for animals and people to hide under. However you can see some colourful spots in nature and the Tupiza to Uyuni tour is probably one of the best nature tours we have ever done. Spread over 4 days, our time was a magnificent adventure of riding through massive canyons, valleys, mountain tops, lagoons, geysers and finally the majestic salt flats.
Tupiza region is just breathtaking and we can now understand what others meant by saying that you can miss a lot when taking a tour from Uyuni. We drove from a lagoon to a lagoon, all of different names, colors, sizes and shapes. The only thing we could not get enough was the sight of flamingos. There are 4 different kinds of them living in the park and they are all gracious and beautiful.
The highlights of the trip were of course the astonishing Laguna Colorada, which was once enlisted for 7 Wonders of the World and sunrise at Uyuni Salt Flats. When you are there, you just feel like staying for hours and smiling.
We can strongly recommend Tupiza Tours them for this particular trip. They are experienced; they know what they do and how to do it to make it right. With all the horror stories you hear about agencies dealing with Uyuni tours it is important to choose wisely. We cannot stress enough how important experience is in this area. On our second day we met people stranded in a canyon because the car suspension broke and they could not move on. Tupiza Tours sends another car in an event like that and we did not see those people in a village where they were supposed to arrive at night so maybe they had to sleep there – scary. Our driver drove in a very safe way, stopped when we asked for it and tried really hard to spot animals on the way. He always made sure we got best accommodation available (they cannot be reserved and work on ‘first arrived, first served’ basis). Our cook was fabulous too. She was getting up every day around 3 am to cook us fresh lunch, made us snacks, gave us lollipops and food was plenty and delicious, really. We thought water allowance was enough as well and we know that people often complain about this.