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Two of our returning customers, Mr and Mrs Chapman, returned to Bolivia late last year to explore Bolivia's hidden and off-the-beaten-track treasures. Both have kindly listed the highlights of their trip, which I hope inspire your own Andean adventures.
The salars and volcanoes of the Altiplano are, perhaps, the most familiar attractions of Bolivia to the foreign tourist, but there is so much more to see. We visited these in 2012 and returned to Bolivia a year later for a much longer trip which took us to several places not included in the usual itineraries. Here are a few highlights/suggestions.
Sorata: This is a small town with a dramatic setting in the heart of the Cordillera Real (Royal Mountain Range). Getting there is an important part of the experience! We started with a trip from Isla del Sol in a very small boat across a choppy and forbidding-looking Lake Titicaca, wondering what would happen if the outboard motor failed! After a minor connection problem, we met our driver on a small beach and continued to Sorata following a spectacular route along the flanks of Ancohuma(6427m) and Illampu (6362m).
Coroico: It’s all about the journey! We took the infamous ‘Road of Death’ from La Paz to reach this town in the Yungas (the transition zone between the colder highlands of the altiplano and the humid tropical lowlands). In truth, it’s not that bad since commercial traffic has now been diverted to a new road. The biggest danger is getting run-down by adrenaline-junkies on mountain bikes!
Trinidad: Bikes of a different kind are the main feature of this large town in the eastern tropical lowlands. The locals claim that there is a motorbike for every man, woman and child; we believe them ! However, it is a great base for experiencing a more relaxing style of travel. Theoretically, you could drift downstream by boat on the Ibare River and finish up in the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Amazon. You can also try camping on the riverbank, but the noisy neighbours, especially howler monkeys, make sleep difficult! River trips provide opportunities to explore forest trails , see spectacular butterflies and birds, creatures of the night and pink river dolphins which play hide-and-seek with hopeful photographers!
Torotoro: If you think geology is boring, this national park in the central highlands will change your mind! It is a full-day 4wd journey from Cochabamba and, in places, the route is definitely scarier than the ‘Road of Death’, but it is worth the stress when you arrive. Attractions include fossils you can’t miss, dinosaur footprints that could have been made yesterday, stunning caves, canyons and landscapes.
Potolo/Maragua: The Cordillera de los Frailes (img 2788) to the east of Sucre have been/are occupied by some fairly remote communities. Cave-paintings of uncertain age have been left by early inhabitants . The area is now the home of the Quechua-speaking Jalq’a people – famous for their intricate hand-woven textiles . There are basic tourist lodges in both villages which are great centres for hiking in the surrounding hills.
Tupiza: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their ends near here. It is easy to see the attractions from their point of view – a long way from the law in the American West and scenery just like home ! We took the overnight train from Uyuni ; cold on the station at 2.30am, but the carriages were more comfortable than expected. Sun-rise revealed spectacular views and this stretch of the railway is better than the more frequently-travelled tourist route from Oruro to Uyuni that we tried last year. Although you need a 4wd/driver to fully appreciate the scenery around Tupiza, you can also explore trails on foot by taking a microbus to surrounding villages. Who could resist a place called Canon el Magico?!
Bolivia is more than 4.5 times the size (in area) of the UK and its geography offers so much to the adventurous tourist. It incorporates massive contrasts from the High Andes in the west to the Amazon Basin in the east and everything in-between. The scale of the country is a challenge to the traveler; many roads are poor and slow, but we reduced travel-times by using internal flights where appropriate. Journeys that would have taken many hours by road, such as La Paz to Trinidad, were shortened to 90 minutes or less. Ticket-prices, like everything else in Bolivia, are very reasonable. We used three different airlines: all were punctual, baggage never went astray and the small airports were better places to be than, for example, Heathrow.
So, the bottom-line – 40 days in Bolivia is not enough!Keith Chapman