Best of Bolivia – the must sees in Bolivia for first timers

The best of the best sights in 48 hours in Bolivia (5 - 8 Sep 2017)
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In my follow up post from last year’s feature on my top few wanderlust locations – the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, I find it an absolute must to let you all know the Best of Bolivia if you are visiting this exotic country for the first time, given it’s not such an easy place to get to for most folks like me and Y.

First some necessary basics about Bolivia to prepare yourself for. Start taking some altitude sickness pills before getting in here. With the airport at La Paz at just a ‘mere’ altitude of 4100m and even our overnight hotel at Atix Hotel was at 3100m , it takes some getting used to, even despite us taking some medication 2 days before arrival into La Paz in Bolivia. Your appetite may be poor in the first day or so, and digestion we were told by our guide can get poorer in high altitude, which no wonder poor Y puked out her whole dinner on the first night in La Paz.

Bolivia flag at Plaza Murillo

Witches Market (Mercado de las Brujas) in La Paz

This can be a done in a quick 1 – 2 hours depending on how much you wanna see or buy. If you like to really see and take pictures of the local culture, this is a great place to immerse yourself, wandering around some of the old cobbled streets, some which we even heard have houses that have problems renting out because of supernatural beings. The highlight for us was going with our tour guide into one of these shops (you see in pictures below) where they sell offerings ranging from stuffed dead Llamas, herbs, statues to worship their Mother Earth known as Pachamama, who has a huge following in Bolivia. These shops even sell potions to help you in love, or cursing someone you don’t like. Fascinating indeed! I couldn’t help but be rather disturbed with the poor dead Llamas hanging above me.

Sit the longest cable car system in the world here at La Paz 

This was the first thing we did when we arrived, which could be not so ideal if you are still getting used to to the altitude. The Mi Teleférico is a pretty neat and impressive ‘subway’ system in the sky, to address the geographic challenges La Paz faces, and cut down the travel time for many of the locals who used to have to meander through the mountaineous roads and bad traffic between La Paz and the mountaintop of El Alto. It’s a great way for tourists to enjoy the landscape of La Paz.

Enjoying the city views of La Paz

Cute local Bolivian boy happily posing for me.

Local Bolivia woman with the iconic Bowler hat.

Valle De La Luna (Moon Valley) – La Paz

Situated 10 km away from downtown La Paz, Moon Valley is a unique area of bizarre geographical landscapes made mainly of clay and sandstone, caused by erosion of the mountains by wind and rain over time. It’s definitely a sight to behold and almost doesn’t look like it belongs to the nearby La Paz city, it could almost look like some foreign planet when you are there. And yes you might also see some rather suggestive shapes, let your imagination do the talking. The tallest point is the Devil’s Point which might take you up to 45 minutes to get up there, otherwise for just some quick photos of the whole area, 20 – 30 minutes is more than sufficient.

Don’t have funny thoughts!

Where’s Lovey (like where’s wally?)

At this point you might be wondering, why do the Bolivia women wear such interesting bowler hats? Apparently in the past, when women of higher social levels wanted to show that they can be on the same level as men and command the same amount of respect, they wore these hats as a form of protest but overtime it became part of the norm and trickled down to other women in society. And I have to say I am super impressed with their balancing skills. You could play a game with yourself and your friends on how many bowler hats you spot.

Just one of the many ladies with bowler hats spotted.

We spent the next 36 hours in Uyuni. Uyuni is located in the south western part of Bolivia and surrounding it is a desert like landscape, the famous salt flats, with a mere population of 3000 people. You may be wondering are there other things to see here other than the Salar de Uyuni. Yes there are, here are the highlights to visit for Uyuni!

Train Cemetery

Cemetery?? Also known as Cementerio de trenes, these are all abandoned locomotives used in the past to transport silver from Uyuni to Chile, and they got abandoned after no one could figure out how to fix them since they were all imported from places like UK, Germany and USA. Somehow, the Bolivian government didn’t think of investing and training the people to be equipped with relevant skillsets to fix these trains then. It’s a great place for picture taking, and could almost look like a movie set for Star Wars. It’s a great place to stop by since it’s just 3km away from the town, and is on route to Salar De Uyuni.

First glance at the impressive train graveyard. 

Had such great fun climbing in and out of the trains, playing peekaboo. 

Cochani and Salar De Uyuni

Cochani is the gateway to the salt flats with a small population of only 400 that lives here. Many salt miners live here, and it was definitely fascinating to see how they process the salt by hand from the time it’s collected in the lake to it becoming table salt. We felt it was only right to buy some salt to support them, after we saw the hard work they put into making the salt. It’s shocking how long the process is to make salt and one packet sells for an equivalent of only US$0.25. And as you can see in detail on my other post – How to Enjoy the Amazing Bolivia Salt Flats in 24 hours on visiting the Salar De Uyuni, this is definitely a highlight not to be missed. Nothing beats having a picnic meal on the salts flats, complete with a glass of wine, remember to request for that if your tour guide hasn’t planned that in.

Snippets of what goes on in the salt warehouse or factory.

The salt flats as the sun sets.

Enjoying some wine as the sun sets at Salar de Uyuni.

Incahausi (otherwise known as the House of the Incas)
Located in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, at an elevation of 3,656 meters, the Incahuasi is entirely covered by millennial cacti and composed of coral. This island is a reminder to us that the salt flats used to be part of a gigantic lake, as it felt wierd otherwise that we were just standing on a large land of salt and then the next thing we are located in a land of coral. This used to be a point of refuge for the Incans crossing the salt flats, hence the name. Our tour guide Karla explained to us that in the wet season viewing of the Incahuasi island is not permitted , as the island area is highly conductive due to the minerals and can electrocute someone! Prior to visiting Incahuasi, we also visited the Mirador Volcan Tunupa (a volcano which has been dormant for 25 million years), which wasn’t that wow to me or considered a must visit, as I was creeped out by the mummies in the cave there (which by the way is also a sightseeing spot). The only salvation there was taking photos of the cute llamas surrounding the mountain.

Start of the climb, and love the juxtaposition of the cactus against the salt lake!

I look composed but am seriously a bit breathless walking up to the top here. 

At Mirador Volcan Thunapa – catching some cute Llamas to play with.

Many colored lagoons in Avaroa

Uyuni is also home to many different colored lagoons as we found out, located in the National Andean Fauna Reserve Eduardo Avaroa. We started with the Laguna Blanca (White lagoon), which is white due to the calcium and magnesium in it. What made it special would definitely have to be the heart-shape, provided you stand in the same position as me, we were lucky to have Karla our tour guide to tell us where to get that perfect shot! Next, there’s the Laguna Verde (Green lagoon), which had such a pretty color, which comes mainly from the high magnesium content, which also makes it dangerous for us to go in, given it’s high arsenic content. Nevertheless, the landscape around here is really pretty. My favourite lagoon is definitely the Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon), with the most intense colors of red which look like hues of pink blending with the blue shades, against the white islands of borax and the mountains behind. Planktons live here and due to the solar energy they receive in the afternoon they exude a red hue. There are tons of flamingos who live here too – Chilean and Andes species included. In the past, they used to be hunted by miners, as they believed the flamingoes can cure lung and skin cancer, but thankfully they are now protected species. Generally, speaking, these lagoons look more like large lakes to me, rather than the big lagoons I remembered seeing in Iceland.

White lagoon – do you see the heart? 

Green lagoon.

Red Lagoon.

Geysers at Sol De Manana
An hour drive from the Red Lagoon lies several geysers – known as Sol De Manana also known as “Son of the Morning”, a volcano site which has many geysers with bubbling mud and sulphur boiling at 125 degrees celsius! The altitude here is 4900m, so take extra care when walking around here, and try not to stay too long here as inhaling the fumes may also cause nausea and dizziness.

Sol De Manana – home to many geysers.

Valle De Dali 

You will definitely pass through this endless landscape of desert sand, when visiting the lagoons I mentioned earlier. This desert area named Dali after Salvador Dali (one of my favourite painters in this century) was so named due to the similarities to some of his abstract paintings although he’s never visited this place before. It’s super windy, dusty sandy in this area, so I remembered it was not the most comfortable sitting in a car without aircon and driving through this area with windows up.

Dali Desert

Arbol De Piedra at Siloli Desert 
One of the most famous natural rock formations in Uyuni lies this 7m tall formation that has taken the form of a delicate looking stone tree, due to the constant wind blowing in this area.  Definitely a photo moment!

Famous stone tree in Siloli Desert

Incas Canyon
After checking out from the simple desert hotel – Tayka El Desierto, on our last day in Uyuni, we traveled through the more hidden area – Incas Canyon, which is an interesting valley area of eroded rock formations, soil, with river meandering through. It was once used by the Inca people to travel to Chile. I don’t think it’s for everyone, unless you really like nature and love to hike, this might be an interesting place to stop through. For sure, it definitely felt very off the beaten track and hardly any tourists come here. The highlight was standing next to the waterfall and trying to feed the cute long whiskered rabbits we spotted here.

First glimpse riding in the 4 wheel drive through Incas Canyon.

Our driver – Samuel feeding the rabbit some bread.

Munchie munchie…

“Don’t go chasing waterfalls” (Remember that TLC song?)

Flamingoes watching at Canapa Lagoon
No trip to Uyuni would be complete without at least one glimpse of a few flamingos up close and one of the best places to see this is at the Canapa Lagoon, a salt water lagoon situated in Potosi, close to the Hedionda (smelly) Lagoon.
The Canapa Lagoon doesn’t really bear any specific color but has an amazing scenery here, with the large water mirror and a backdrop of mountains behind, surrounded by Andean flora and beautiful flamingoes. Here, you can see already see three flamingoes species of of six in the world – the Chilean, Andes and James. My favourite has to be the James, with its sexy red legs!

Flamingos galore! 

Who’s pinkier by the way? 

Volcanic rock formations at Ollague
Ollague Volcanois a massive andesite stratovolcano in the Andes on the border between Bolivia and Northern Chile. There’s a majestic rock formation formed from more than one million years ago! Enjoy hiking up to take some fun shots like me.

Valle De Rocas (Valley of the Rocks)
This area is another fantastic example of what erosion does to stones all made out of frozen lava. An amazing area showcasing impressive formations in a desert area.  I had fun climbing up the eagle like rock standing at a fantastic vantage point to get some great photo ops.
Nearby to here, is a black lagoon, which honestly isn’t worth to visit, unless you want to see the interesting rock formations there which look like some human faces.

Soar like an eagle!

Familiar face spotted near the Black Lagoon (famous horror flick).

And that’s a wrap of the top sights to visit in La Paz and Uyuni in my Best of Bolivia recommendations, and there’s still much more to see, according to Karla our guide. In the 36 hours in Uyuni, we travelled over 900 km to see the salt flats, desert areas, rock formations, lagoons and flamingoes and other nature. I definitely felt a certain sense of nothingness being here, given everything here felt so untouched and so raw, and it was quite a blessing to see all this nature.

With Karla (tour guide) and Samuel (our trusty driver), sure gonna miss them! 

Last glimpse of the little town area before leaving Uyuni. 

How we got here and tips

First we flew into the La Paz International Airport in Bolivia from Lima in Peru (yes more on that in my next post). Did some sights in La Paz and stayed here overnight before heading the next morning on a short hour flight via Bolivia Airlines (BOA) to the Uyuni Airport, also known as Joya Andina Airport. Then the sightseeing begun over the next 3 days 2 nights! We stayed at Luna Salada (near the Salt Flats) and then moved on to the desert hotel Tayka Del Desierto for the next night. We booked our whole Peru and Bolivia trip with Lightfoot Travel, but otherwise you could try to connect with their local partner Rutas Del Sur. Remember to ask for Karla as your guide! She’s amazing. Website address: http://www.rutasdelsur-bolivia.com/, Email: info@rutasdelsur-bolivia.com

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