Having more than 3 weeks free from office struggles (called: holidays), we decided that it would be a great opportunity to travel further than easy to reach Europe or even Asia. Decision about your trip destination, as well as amount of time that would be reasonable to spend there is always a tricky one, when you don’t have enough knowledge about the place and about how easy you will be able to commute between the points. Therefore Bolivia was a natural choice: not touristy, great treks and 6k mountains within our reach – somehow both of us were extremely attracted to test ourselves on higher altitudes 🙂
I’d like to share with you the plan we created before leaving Europe. Why? Because we planned it quite smartly, I must say, and as a result managed to do exactly what we aimed for and did not touch buffer days. We spent them at the very end of our trip on a 2-day trip to Coroico in tropical yungas.
Bolivia itinerary of 3 weeks:
We started our trip on November 11th and finished on December 2nd.
|Day 1||Arrival 6AM/La Paz/ Meet Illimani Guide|
|Day 2||La Paz/ start Condoriri trekking|
|Day 3||Condoriri trekking|
|Day 4||Condoriri trekking|
|Day 5||Condoriri trekking /Back to La Paz|
|Day 6||La Paz rest day/ meet German to check out Illimani gear|
|Day 7||La Paz/ morning departure to start Illimani ascent|
|Day 9||Illimani ascent and descent. Evening-back to La Paz|
|Day 10||La Paz – rest day|
|Day 11||La Paz – Oruro – Uyuni (train to Uyuni at 14:30 from Oruro)|
|Day 12||Salar de Uyuni morning departure|
|Day 13||Salar de Uyuni|
|Day 14||Salar/San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 15||San Pedro de Atacama/San Pedro de Atacama – Uyuni|
|Day 16||Uyuni – Potosi|
|Day 17||Potosi silver mine/ Evening Sucre|
|Day 19||Sucre/La Paz night bus|
|Day 20||Buffer day: spent in Coroico|
|Day 21||Buffer day: spent in Coroico / Evening back to La Paz|
|Day 22||Departure to Europe 7AM|
First of all, remember that transportation in Bolivia is not trivial. The country is bigger than it seems. In order to understand it’s size we embed Poland map into Bolivian borders below.
There are is virtually no rail infrastructure and the roads are in pretty bad shape. As a result, to get around for longer distances you can mainly count on overnight buses, with just a few exceptions. These buses offer semi cama (semi reclined) and full cama (fully inclined). Forget about the former. If you want to be alive the day after, the only solution is to go for a full cama. But stay alert – quality of transport services may greatly vary from company to company. The sellers want to trick you into buying a full cama seat – at their counter they will show you pictures of comfortables beds, but in reality what you will get is a seat that reclines to 140-150º. Enough to survive a night, but not enough to be totally comfy. Before each journey we recommend to search at TripAdvisor for the company with real full cama beds. It’s not a myth – they really exist! We bought our tickets from El Dorado for 130 bolivianos per person. The seat was very comfortable. The bus broke in the middle of nothing and we had to wait like 5 hours for a replacement, but this is a different story.
Getting from La Paz to Uyuni
We went for a hybrid bus-train approach: a bus from La Paz to Oruro (this town reeeally feels like middle of nothing) and a train from Oruro to Uyuni:
- Bus form La Paz to Oruro: Buses depart roughly every 30 minutes from the bus terminal in La Paz. The ride takes approximately 3h. Trans Omar, Panasur and Todo Turismo provide a much more tourist-focused service than other companies, providing their customers with a small meal and hot drinks, heating, toilet facilities, and English-speaking staff members. Unfortunately, we took a random provider.
- Train from Oruro to Uyuni: 4 services per week
- Oruro-Uyuni: Tuesday and Friday at 14:30, Wednesday and Sunday at 19:00
- Uyuni-Oruro: Wednesday – Saturday at 00:05, Monday and Thursday at 01:45
Below is the schedule and price list we found on the page of Bolivian railways. To our surprise, it was accurate and up to date. We went for salón tickets and we didn’t regret – they cost half the price of ejecutivo, while the standard is on par.
Finally, use colectivos (small private buses) when being in the city. These 12 seaters are everywhere, hence the ticket costs literally 2 bolivianos per person. There are no schedules nor itinerary plans. Worry not – they are everywhere and all the time, so you will find the one that suits you the best. Ask a local to be sure which one to take to reach your destination.
We spent ~2000$/per person for more than 3 weeks itinerary in Bolivia. We saved some money on Couchsurfing and by organising trekking ourselves, but we can’t say that we were saving intentionally by refusing ourselves a good food and service. A total of 2000$ per person splits as per below:
- Flights from Paris: 800$
- Salar de Uyuni 3 days jeep tour: 190$ pp
- Illimani Guide: 300$ pp
- All the hostels in Sucre, Potosi, Coroico, Uyuni town: 140$ pp (Very low, since most of our time was spent in the tents or couchsurfing in La Paz)
- Food, Transportation, Others: 600$ pp
Our top places to visit in Bolivia:
- Witch Market – Mercado de las Brujas for suvenirs and coca leaves
- Trip to El Alto (4150) by Teleferico – yellow line (better views) or red line (direct connection to the El Alto market). Take it before the sunset to see Illimani mountain
- Stay at: Couchsurfing
- Eat at: Mercado Lanza next to Plaza San Francisco with plenty of good and cheap options (we were visiting this place almost every day for fresh pressed juice/smoothie and avocado sandwich), for breakfast try street food Salteñas, and get some traditional bolivian lunch (will not kick your ass, but is very different from what we ate before) at Api Happy Chain together with afternoon corn api drink (you will see most people enjoy api with a pastel – sweet Bolivian pastry). Coffee only at Anticafe Chucuta Cafe.
- Central Market: on top of very nice setup, it has plenty of good and cheap food options. If you think you are a hardcore traveller, go there late in the evening and grab a salchipapa or hamburguesa. I did both and miraculously survived.
- Plenty of better restaurants next to Plaza 25 Mayo, where they serve something more than sillpancho 🙂
- Stay at: Charming, swiss run Hostal CasArte Takubamba for 40EUR/night/room, worth the price
- Silver mine visit for adventurous. We arranged ours at The Koala Den
- A walk in the old town
- Stay at: hostel The Koala Den, 20EUR/nigh/room
Salar de Uyuni:
- Take 3 days extended trip to see more than just Salar. Potentially combine it with Chilean Atacama dessert (easy to have even a day off in Atacama and come back the next day with any of the Bolivian jeeps at the border – we did and it was worth it!)
- Uyuni town: It’s a place you can’t probably avoid when planning Salar, but spend in the town itself the least time possible. Restaurants as well as sleeping options are touristy, with poor standards and inflated prices
- A gate to organize your Death Road outing
- Eat: street food at the main square – this is probably the best and the cheapest option. Other places are very tourist focused
- Stay at: Sol y Luna at the top of the mountain and great view. Just be prepared for some uphill walks or taking taxi
Mountains, mountains, mountains.
In order to fully enjoy Bolivia, please plan at least a week to see Andes and be part of their unspoiled beauty.
- We can highly recommend 4 days stunning Condoriri trek (DIY version of course)
- 6000 peaks: Huayna Potosi for beginners; either Illimani (see our post) for rather intermediate climbers/mountaineers or Sajama, if you fancy climbing a volcano and the highest mountain of Bolivia