We kept our time to a minimum in Bolivia because we didn’t have a lot to spare, and had heard from pretty much everyone that you get sick a lot here. Considering how much illness I’ve suffered on this trip we decided to heed this warning and choose our destinations wisely. Our entry point was Lake Titicaca and exit would be after the Uyuni salt flats expedition. In between that, the only place we heard about that seemed worth visiting was Sucre, Bolivia’s second largest city. We thought it would be rude not to visit the capital, La Paz which was en route, and from Sucre to Uyuni we made a cursory stop in Potosi giving us a total of 5 steps in 2 weeks in Bolivia. Here’s the run down on Bolivia’s cities.
We’d heard mixed reviews about this city, but honestly I don’t know why anyone likes it. That’s my objective opinion. I believe most people come here to do the famous “Death Road”, a narrow mountain road with beautiful views and killer turns. Ok so only 17 people have died on it, but that’s enough to make me think twice. Obviously some people come here and do it dangerously which we never would, but still, I had no interest in earning the “I survived death road” t-shirt, mainly because it costs you around £50. We had a beautiful mountain biking experience in Popayan, Colombia for a fraction of that price so I was contented with that. For those of you looking to survive death road, just make sure you go with a good company and test those breaks well before you leave.
We stayed in a quieter suburb of La Paz called Sopocachi, with beautiful views of the mountains and great food nearby. Our hostel was Landscape BnB, run by very friendly young guys but owned by a narcissist who likes to brag about how much money he has and how intelligent he is. If you can stomach this at breakfast you’ll be rewarded with excellent showers, wifi and a homely feel to your stay. We ate delicious Vietnamese food at Vinapho, although it was really more Thai in my opinion it still tasted great. We also chilled out in Blueberries cafe and indulged in blueberry pancakes. I also had the worst plate of carbonara IN MY WHOLE LIFE at Sancho Panza, it was basically tasteless scrambled eggs with spaghetti mixed in. It was so gross that I sent it back. This is what happens when you go to the only place open on a Sunday with no customers in it, shame on us.
We braved the traffic fumes and ventured into the centre of La Paz on one of our two days in the city, only to be greeted with a depressing “plaza” that paled in comparison to that of Cusco or Arequipa. We also found the tourist street selling tourist tat that we didn’t want, and decided to make a swift exit back to Sopocachi for some donuts and coffee. I do think that other people could really love this city if they gave it a chance, I guess after the joys of lake Titicaca we just weren’t feeling it, I do concede that it could have been better if we’d given it more of a chance. But this happens sometimes, you can’t force it!
From La Paz we got an overnight bus to Sucre, and managed to pay just 100 Bolivianos (£10) for a full cama bus with Trans Copacobana, reduced from 180! I do love to haggle and so do the Bolivians.
We arrived in the morning to the beautiful CasArte Takubamba hostel which was way out of our price range but in a lovely setting with huge comfortable beds. We would have left after one night of luxury if it weren’t for he fact I got sick again and was bedridden for 2 days. After I was better we moved to Condor BnB which had a much more central locations and lovely rooms for a fraction of the price. We spent a day exploring the city hand in hand, which is such a lovely thing to do in a beautiful city like this one. We started with delicious falafel in Condor Cafe then headed to the Plaza that I’m pleased to say made up for all the lackings of La Paz, and then to the park where oddly enough we found a miniature Eiffel Tower to climb, followed by the Cemetery- a weird choice I know but so many people said how beautiful it was and they were right. After that we went for a cocktail at the mirador on the other side of town. The next day we went to the Cretaceous park, because, well who doesn’t like dinosaurs?! It was so much better than we expected because not only do they have life size dinosaur models, but they’ve discovered actual dinosaur footprints there too! The area nearby used to be a lake where dinosaurs would drink on their migratory path. Each season they would come here, and each season the footprints would be covered with layers of mud and dust. After the dinosaurs died out the Andes were created by tectonic plate shifts, causing the land the footprints were on to become part of the mountains. Twenty years ago construction workers were digging got material to make cement with and they accidentally discovered this amazing insight into the past. It really is a sight to behold, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Sucre was a beautiful city that I would happily spend quite a long time in if I had the chance. A lot of people decide to take Spanish lessons here, indulge in some extreme sports or do treks to the nearby waterfalls or dinosaur relics. There’s so much to do here that I definitely recommend setting aside a good amount of time to enjoy the gem of Bolivia.
We decided to break up the 12 hour journey to Uyuni with a visit to Potosi, the old silver mining city that was once the most prosperous town in the whole of South America. Unfortunately after the mining boom it sank into poverty which is much more apparent now than its previous glory. Most people opt to do a tour of the mines here but we decided against it as it can be very depressing and highlights the terrible conditions that the miners still work in today, not really my thing. Instead we decided to explore the town and have a nice relaxing day. Although it didn’t exactly start that way. You see the bus from sucre and anywhere else in Bolivia drops you at their shiny new terminal, all buses except for Uyuni buses. This makes no sense whatsoever. I had it in my head that we would casually find out the bus times for Uyuni the next day before heading to the hostel. When there was no Uyuni buses there, we decided to head to the old terminal to find out the times, despite the fact that we’ve always just turned up at the bus station whenever we wanted and got a bus that was leaving soon. Sometimes we do things that don’t make sense I guess. We got a minibus collectivo to what we thought was the old terminal and was actually a market inconveniently named “Uyuni market”, and when we asked for directions to the terminal kept on being told “it’s four blocks that way”. Hmm. Half an hour later we still weren’t there, clearly lost and it started to rain. I was feeling very foolish because really there was no need at all to go to the station anyway. Luckily we were saved by….. Rotisserie chicken! If ever you’re tired and weary and you see tasty looking chicken, don’t think twice, just eat.
Once we had full bellies and happy hearts we found the terminal, booked our tickets and headed to our hostel on another collectivo. We were clearly feeling very adventurous today! After dumping our bags and the very friendly Casa Blanca Hostel we went for a walk to see the sights of Potosi, which it turns out aren’t that exciting. We still enjoyed our time, mostly because we spotted one of the many table football tables dotted around town had become free, and rushed over for a game, the father and son next to us had other ideas and invited us for a game which was the most fun we’d had in ages. The little boy couldn’t have been more excited to be playing table football with us, his new friends, actually I think he just enjoyed spinning the handles round and round while he screamed with joy no matter who scored. Good wholesome fun.
That evening one of the guys that worked at the hostel decided to make a meal for everyone, the tastiest stroganoff I’ve ever had. Everyone gathered round the table for a declicious home cooked meal and cocktails, and for the first time in ages I really felt at home. So while Potosi may not have been the most beautiful or exciting city on our journey, it certainly was a lot of fun. It just goes to show that sometimes the best experiences aren’t the ones you pay through the nose for that everyone on the gringo train is expected to have but instead it’s the ones that happen by accident when you just say “yes!”