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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
Famous stone tree in Siloli Desert
First glimpse riding in the 4 wheel drive through Incas Canyon.
Our driver – Samuel feeding the rabbit some bread.
“Don’t go chasing waterfalls” (Remember that TLC song?)
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!
Who’s pinkier by the way?
Soar like an eagle!
Familiar face spotted near the Black Lagoon (famous horror flick).
With Karla (tour guide) and Samuel (our trusty driver), sure gonna miss them!
Last glimpse of the little town area before leaving Uyuni.
Another thing to note are the visa requirements for Bolivia, I am not sure about other countries, but tourists from Singapore can apply for the visa on arrival in Bolivia, either at airports or land borders. This seems rather unique as most countries, one usually applies for the visa before arriving into the country. Before entering Bolivia, one needs to fill up a form which can be easily downloaded online, watching the following requirements:
Visa fee is (UFV 300) or US$ 91 paid in cash in Bolivianos BS.637, to enter Bolivia. Credit cards, traveler’s checks or personal checks are not accepted to pay the visa
Passport photo printed 4X4 without glasses
Passport must be valid for the next 6 months
Your travel itinerary in Bolivia
If leaving Bolivia by flight, please have a copy of E-tickets to hand
Yellow Fever certificate is required ONLY if you travel to risky areas which are generally not included in our programs. Tours to La Paz and Uyuni are not risky areas.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org