Thursday, June 14, 2012

A trip to Bolivia

Abhi and me decided to go on a vacation to Bolivia. In this post, I have written a few things that might help you if you are travelling to Bolivia. I have shared a few photographs of our trip. Facts about a place are always available on the internet.

Why we decided to go to Bolivia?
Both Abhi and me are academically inclined - we like science and history and exploring new places.We have already been to typical tourist places - amusement parks, casinos, beaches and the like. We wanted something different, something that would be a learning experience. We chose South America because we have always wanted to see many places there. We decided to explore only one country this time because neither of us had been to South America before and thus had no idea what to expect. An email forward had gotten us fascinated by the Salar De Uyuni. We had read a lot about it. During the reading, we also explored the map of the Amazon basin. A part of the rain forest was in Bolivia. So we decided to do both the Salar and the Bolivian Amazon.

How we planned our trip?
The internet has a lot of information. A number of package tours are available. But we wanted to be on our own. So, after a lot of surfing on the internet, we came across a site - boliviatravelsite . This site has information on tourist locations, hotels,  transportation, package tours etc. We planned our trip in Bolivia based on information from this site. We spoke to Vivian Blanco. She was extremely helpful and professional.   We made our payments through PayPal. They are legitimate and offer good services. For the amazon basin, the best place to look at is National Geographic. We found that Chalalan Ecolodge was one of the best. It is owned and managed by an indigenous community - San Jose De Uchupiomonas.
Knowing/ Learning Spanish is very helpful. It would be cool to have a Spanish translator on your phone.
You can get visa upon arrival in Bolivia. Make sure your to and fro flights have no connecting flights in nearby countries. You will not be allowed to board the flights without visas.

First look at La Paz. La Paz is at an elevation of roughly 3,650 m 
Where did we go in Bolivia?
Day 1 - La Paz City
If you are someone who travels with an academic curiosity to get the feel of another country and learn about its people and culture, then La Paz sight seeing will definitely be good. We visited the government buildings, the Plaza Murillo,the museums, the colonial streets, the moon valley and the witches market.If you have seen the Grand Canyon, then you may not find moon valley fascinating. The witches market is a must. We asked a Yaitiri to tell us our future.It was fun :-)
La Paz is at a high altitude. It is advised to rest a day to get acclimatized.
Moon Valley

Day 2 - Lake Titicaca, Copacabana and Inca Ruins
First look at Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. We went by boat and then by road to the small island of Copacabana.We visited the church .From there, to the inca ruins is again another hour by boat. There is something so mystical about the lake. Carry a few energy bars, cookies, biscuits, chocolate bars etc (specially if you are vegetarian/vegan) since it is a long trip and finding vegetarian food on Copacabana is difficult.

First look at the city of Copacabana
Lake Titicaca , The Sun island and the Andes in the background.
The Inca diety

Day 3 - Salar De Uyuni, Uyuni
Salt Pyramids at the Salar De Uyuni
Uyuni Town

Uyuni is a very small town with basic facilities. Internet and telephone are available at a few places. Do not expect hotels to provide you with wireless. If you have gone on bagpacking hikes or trips, you will be very happy with the facilities. If you are used to 5 star hotels and expect the same, maybe Uyuni is not for you! To get to Uyuni from La Paz, you can take the bus or the flight. We travelled by flight since it saves time and is also less strenuous. We heard from some European travellers that they had a hard time  travelling by bus to Uyuni since the roads were bad.
Hotel Cristal Samana, even the bed is made of salt!

We visited the Salar and the Inchuasi island.
 We stayed at Hotel Cristal Samana , a hotel made entirely of Salt. The staff at the hotels are extremely friendly and helpful. Being vegetarians, we had a tough time with food. You get bored with bread after a while. We had carried Maggi and MTR foods. The staff let us use the kitchen and cook. Carrying Sunglasses is a must, specially in the Salar. Warm clothing will help a lot.

@Salar De Uyuni

There are two seasons when you can visit the Salar. It is beautiful and breath taking both times.

1) When it is filled with water, although you may not be able to go to the Inchuasi island. (Nov to Feb)
2) When it is dry. ( May to October)

This time,we decided to go when it was dry since we planned to visit the Amazon basin too. Hopefully, we will be able to go to the Salar when it is filled with water :-)

Salar de Uyuni - the salt desert of Uyuni - is, as the name suggests, a desert of salt. Yes! A DESERT OF SALT! What makes it even more awesome is that it is entirely flat (some people also call it the salt flats). Another thing that is wonderful about it is that it becomes a mirror when it has a thin layer of water over it. We aren't that widely travelled, but we can guarantee that the Salar is one of the most breathtaking places on earth.
Giant cacti at the Inchuasi island.

Day 4 - The many Lagunas surrounding Uyuni
Laguna Verda
We drove across the mountains, visited many lagos, saw an active volcano , saw flamingos and other animals. If you are not a big fan of dry lands, then maybe you could skip this tour because its a lot of travel by road. Specially on the mountains, you can hardly call them roads!! We had a roller coaster ride! We decided to stay another night since we had plans of heading to the Amazon the next day.We stayed in Hotel Tambo Aymara in the town of Uyuni. If you stay at Cristal Samana, you may not get access to telephone or internet because it is far away from the town and closer to the Salar.Also, remember to carry toilet paper on this trip - you may not find toilets for very long distances. :-)

Day 5 - Head to Rurrenbaque
Where did we land? ;-)

We took a flight from Uyuni ->; La Paz ->; Rurrenbaque. These flights go freakishly close to the Andes. You do get wonderful sights of the mountain ranges on this flight. Halfway, you start seeing the lush green forests and the long stretching and winding rivers. The Rurrenbaque airport, is a big surprise. You land in the middle of nowhere and then you start wondering if you actually landed in an airport :-)

Yeah baby! That is Rurrenbaque airport ;-)

A volunteer from the Chalalan community received us at the airport and dropped us at Hotel Oriental to rest for the night. Rurrenbaque is humid. Its exactly like Chennai - sticky weather. You feel like bathing every time you go out. If you are thinking of hanging out in shorts , trust me, you want to carry good insect repellents. You can get insect repellents in the town of Rurrenbaque also. You will get a bed , a fan, hot water and a western toilet in Hotel Oriental. Dont expect more than that. A few hammocks are available in the hotel.

Day 6 - First day of our Amazon trip
Matapala, our cabin at Chalalan
Brad Pitt and Di Caprio stayed here :-)

We went on a 5 hour boat ride across river beni and river tuchi and reached the Chalalan Ecolodge, situated in the Madidi National Park. The boat ride is upstream and if you are lucky you will find many colorful birds and butterflies on your way. Make sure you carry enough number of synthetic tracks and extra pairs of socks.Never forget to wear insect repellent in the Amazon basin. After the boat ride, we had to walk for half an hour to reach the lodge. We were allotted our cabins. The cabins are made of Mahagony wood and are extremely well made. The lodge is very well maintained and very clean. It is rated as one of the best by National Geographic. Nothing to worry about food and water. Make sure you carry a good torch because a few bulbs are available only in your cabins.The torch comes in handy on night hikes.

Jaguar Footprint
We went on a walk in the forest before sunset. The guide from the community explained to us about the different species of plants and animals that live in the forest. He explained to us about the vegetation and the habitat. We spotted  a lot of weird insects, a jaguar foot print, wild plants and berries, witnessed two giant ants fight, ant and termite nests .. and a lot of other things. I cannot explain the feeling of standing in the middle of the forest and listening to the sounds of the stream flowing somewhere nearby, a few birds chirping, monkeys jumping from tree to tree, ants and spiders scuttling away just next to your feet....

After sunset, we went on a night hike and spotted Tarantulas, wolf spiders, crabs, frogs, toads and a lot more! :-)
Tarantula, we saw it moving. It was freaky in the dark!

Day 7 - Hiking in the forest
Hiking in the amazon forest

We went on a long hike uphill and downhill and crossed streams. Make sure you are fit for this hike. If you have not hiked before, it would be good to exercise or go running for a few days before the trip.Make sure you wear water proof shoes and carry another pair of slippers/flip flops. Crossing streams/rivers in flip flops is better and advised. We saw a lot of animals on this hike. I cannot explain how I felt when the guide spotted  a green snake just in front of me. It was baby, but it was still scary!

The amazing forest and its vegetation!

After lunch, we went on a canoe ride in the afternoon where we spotted many birds and monkeys. The Chalalan lake is mesmerizing! After sunset we went on a canoe ride again, but to spot boas. The guide taught us how to spot Boas and Kaimans. We were lucky! We did spot boas :-)

The green snake in our path.

What do you think it is? ;-)

Abhi's favorite hand shake shot :-)
The beautiful Chalalan lake
The colorful stork

The boa we spotted on our night canoe ride
Kaiman - found only in the Amazon

The beautiful Amazon!!!
Day 8 - Head back to La Paz
Again, we had to come back by boat. This time it was downstream, so it was a lot quicker. Post lunch, we headed back to La Paz. From La Paz, back home :-) I should be honest, I was so glad to be back home :-) This time it was different- we were heading back to my home, hmmm .. no our home :-)

It was a fantastic trip! My Abhi bestest :-)


  1. soooooooper !!

    Like I said, I'm now so jealous that I want to get married just for the sake of going on a honeymoon like this! :D :D

  2. Finally saw the post ;) .. Awesome .. I can definitely say u had more fun and adventure compared to mine :). First of ur world trip destinations :D!!

    1. The Himalayas are mystical too. They have their own charm.I can't agree with your statement for sure because I haven't been to ManasaSarovar myself. From your photos, it seems pristine and breathtaking too.. :-)

  3. Found the the account absorbing. Wish I were younger to visit the places you have described so well. Anyway, got vicarious joy.

  4. Glad you're having such a good time. How have you been? :)

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  6. Wow ! Pics are themselves so amazing , i cant imagine how being there must've been. So About the salt hotel ... what if it rains there or something? just curious. :P

    1. Thanks :-)Haha, even I had the same doubt, the hotel manager gave us a long explanation in Spanish. Could not understand anything except this -"Hotel Cristal Samana mui bein" where 'mui bein' means 'very good'. :P