Lago Titicaca

The bus ride from La Paz took 3.5h to Copacabana, the main Bolivian town on Lago Titicaca, and costed 30 BOB. When approaching the lake after 2.5h the views from the bus were really beautiful and it made you wanna see more of it. We also crossed a small passage by ferry until we eventually arrived at Plaza Sucre. I immediately walked to my single room apartment with shared kitchen and bathroom (55 BOB a night) which was just 7min walking distance.

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The next morning I used the opportunity to prepare myself a hearty breakfast which I had missed doing. Then I explored around town for ferry tickets to Isla del Sol and for bus tickets to Cusco in Peru. Since Copacabana is very easy to walk it did not take a long time and so I was able to use the afternoon to visit some close by Inca sites.

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Frankly, they were not spectacular. For the Pachataka (10 BOB entrance feer) I walked up for 15min a small mountain and found a small altar there. That was all. Much better were the views of Copacabana and Lago Titicaca!

And for the other Inca site, Baños del Inca, I rented a bicycle for 3 hours for 35 BOB and cycled east of town where I reached the site after 30min. Again I was a bit disappointed: The most interesting thing in the museum (10 BOB) was a mummy. From the small water channels around the museum, and the terraces on different levels one could derive that the Incas used to use this complex for agricultural purposes. The bathing apart from the running water was not as obvious.

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On my way back, I stopped by at one of the floating islands – basically a recreation area with a restaurant, trout fishing and pedal boats. I enjoyed the lake views while having a Pacena, a local Bolivian beer.

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The highlight of the day though was the ascent to the summit of Cerro Calvario (free) where one gets rewarded with 360 degrees view of Lago Titicaca and the area. Here I could see as far as Isla del Sol.

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In the evening I had a freshly grilled trout which Lago Titicaca is well-known for. I had it at one of the food stands at the shore. It was good and cheap (25 BOB) and came with rice, fries and salad.

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The next day I took the boat to head to Isla de la Luna and Isla del Sol (30 BOB one way). Both islands were considered holy by the Incas and they believed that their god Viracocha called the sun and the moon from the two islands. The boat ride to Isla de la Luna took us 2h and we were allowed to spend 50min on this small island.

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We visited Inca ruins which looked much better than the ones in Copacabana (10 BOB entrance fee) and enjoyed the views from the mountain top. 27 families inhabit this small island – all of them are Aymaras and they basically live off tourism and agriculture.

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After 45min on the boat we reached Isla del Sol where I stayed for two days. This island is much bigger than Isla de la Luna and has a much better coverage of hostels and restaurants. Plus it has a lot of hiking treks to offer.

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Upon arrival everyone had to pay an arrival fee of 10 BOB. My hostel, Hostal del Sol, was located at the top of the steep hill and it took me 50min to climb the 1.5km. Luckliy, I had stored my big backpack in Copacabana!

The views from the hostel’s backyard were very beautiful so I enjoyed them while taking a rest from the climb. I used the remainder of the afternoon to hike to two different lookout points in proximity of my hostel. The vistas were just amazing!

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After a good breakfast I headed in the same direction as the day before. I followed the “official” hiking trail towards the town of Challa which lies northern of Yumani, the town where I stayed. After 45min of walking I ran into a small hut with a sign saying “Boleteria”. An old Aymara woman approached me and told me I cannot pass since this is the red zone. When I asked why she was mentioning something about a conflict which I have heard before from other travelers. I asked whether tourists are part of the conflict and she said yes. When I asked what the conflict was exactly about she refused to answer. Anyhow, I had to turn around and pursue my plan B, namely hiking the southern part of the island.

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And that’s what I did for the next three hours. First, I visited two small beaches on the southwestern side of the island. These were one of the most tranquil spots on this journey and a great place to relax from noisy La Paz. Afterwards, I headed towards the southern tip of the island were I could spot the village of and as well Copacabana.

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On the way back to my hostel I passed by another Inca ruin (again no information available as in all other Inca sites in Bolivia!) and a small forest. Then I saw to my surprise one of the famous Aymara ships which had a lot from a vikings boat!

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In the evening I had an excellent Filet Mignon and went to bed early in order to return to Copacabana with the earliest morning boat (30 BOB). Back in Copacabana I prepared everything for my next day’s journey to Cusco, Peru. Hence, this was my last full day in Bolivia – what an action-loaded country!

Lago Titicaca does not seem to be overrun by tourist and it’s nice to spend a couple of relaxed days at the highest shippable lake of the world. Day temperatures were nice for hiking th ough the nights got quite cold (around 5 Celsius). I’d say it’s worthwhile a visit if you have enough time and wanna get out of busy La Paz. But it is not as spectacular as I had expect it to be.

La Paz

I took an early morning bus from Arica, Chile, to La Paz, Bolivia, after having arranged all the paperwork with the car dealer in Arica about Oscar’s sale. It was nice to enjoy the views from the bus as passenger. We passed by two beautiful national parks with several volcanoes on the Chilean and Bolivian side en route: Parque Nacional de Lurca and Parque Nacional Sajama. Bolivian customs were straightforward and I received 30 days. At the border I donated most of my food to an Aymara women.

I arrived at La Paz’s bus terminal in the early afternoon and headed to the closest hostel – The Adventure Brew hostel and got myself an empty 8-bed dorm for 69 BOB. The room was clean and the bathroom as well and there was free hot coca mate available. Also there was a pool table and an on-site bar available. However, there was too much party going on at night time and my room was just above the bar ;( I immediately bought ear plugs the next morning 😉

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La Paz is a busy city with a lot of traffic and emissions. Due to its altitude at 3600m the air is already quite thin and it has to breath when walking up La Paz’s steep streets. Talking about steepness: It is just breath-taking to see how the entire city was built into a valley and houses are clustered are clustered onto steep hills (“boiler”).

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On day one I walked around the barrio of San Pedro where most of the tourist agencies and Alpaca shops are located. I booked the Death Road mountain bike trip with No Fear Adventure on Calle Sagarnaga since they had good reviews and did not overcharge single persons as other agencies did (380 BOB per person). Further, I decided not to head to Madidi National Park in the Bolivian Amazon since the itineraries were to similar to the ones I had in the Brazilian Amazon and Pantanal. At late afternoon I walked up to Parque Mirador Laikakota (3 BOBs cover) to enjoy amazing view of La Paz – highly recommended!

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My dinner choice this evening turned out to be a very bad one. After nearly eight months of travel I was starving for a different food flavor. Hence I picked the successor of Delhi Curry Lounge (don’t remember the name) where I ordered Indian food: Naan, a yogurt based cucumber dip, a chicken curry and a mango lassi. It tasted well but was a bit overpriced (105 BOB). However, the worst thing happened afterwards. I could not sleep all night and had to spend half of the night on the toilet – food poisoning! I should have heard to the one Tripadvisor review which talked also about food poisoning!

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Fortunately, I was able to postpone my bicycle trip by one day.

The starting point for the Camino de la Muerte (Death Road) was at 4700m, ca. 1:45h outside of La Paz (northeast of it). I was picked up at my hostel at 7:50 and got all the equipment (pants, jacket, helmet) provided by the agencies. We were a group of 11 in the minivan. At 4700m we became our instructions about the road and the bikes and took some pictures of the beautiful valley.

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Then we headed down the first 18km of the road which was paved and was not considered being officially part of the Death Road. We stopped here and there for pictures of the surrounding mountains and hopped also for 10min on the bus to avoid an uphill sections.

After 1.5h we reached the gravel part of the trip which was also the official start of the Camino de la Muerte. The trail started off relatively wide such that two cars could fit next to each other. But after 8-10km we reached the narrowest parts of 2.5m – unbelievable that this path was the main route to connect the Yungas with La Paz until 2006! It’s not hard to understand why the Development Bank named this road the most dangerous road of the world!

During the ride downhill we had to stick most of the time close to the sharp drops on the left-hand side. This rule was introduced such that cars going downhill could see their left front and rear wheels better when passing by traffic on the opposite site. Quite a scary undertaking!

Among the highlights of this trip were the multiple waterfalls on the way and the magnificent views of the valley when going downhill. The double suspension bike were reliable although my breaking pads had to be replaced twice on this 50km trip. However, the guides were pro-active and careful enough to take care of it before I brought it to their attention.

After around 6 hours our trip ended at 1200m at a restaurant where we were served chicken, rice, fries and salad to refill our energy. We also got the chance to jump for a couple of minutes into their pool. This was very refreshing but also not too cold at this altitude. At the end of the day everybody received a “Survivor Death Road” T-shirt and everyone was happy that no one got injured or died. These things still happen as one could see from the amount of crosses on the way down. The bus brought us back to La Paz in around 3h. For me it was a fun day and I liked the company and can recommend them.

The next day I joined another tour: 3 days and 2 nights to climb my first 6000er – Huayna Potosi. I booked it with All Tours Operator (1000 BOB for the trip plus 50 BOB for a good sleeping bag) since they also got good reviews and had already a group scheduled which I was able to join. The agency provided all the necessary clothes and equipment. This included in particular snow boots, crampons and a helmet.

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The trip started off with a breakfast at an adjacent restaurant which was nice (eggs, coffee and cereals). Then we tried on clothes to ensure proper fit and stored most of our stuff at the agencies‘ storage room. I brought the big 100l backpack and a small 15l one. We left in a minivan towards the base camp and arrived it after two hours.

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The base camp was a very basic hut with two dorms and dining room with a table and chairs. The six of us, Matt from Scotland, Rory from England, Marjolein from the Netherlands, Christin from Germany and Eran from Israel, moved altogether into one room. First, we were served chicken and rice for lunch which was ok. Then we went off with our guide Felix to train with the equipment on the Glacier.

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It was a bit disappointing that we had only one guide for this as we were promised always a ratio of two persons per guide. Anyhow, we walked around 30min in foggy conditions to the glacier where Felix demonstrated to us how to walk uphill and downhill with the crampons. All of us figured it out pretty quickly. Also we learned how to use the ice ax. After spending 45min on the ice we returned to the base camp. We were served a yummy dinner (vegetable soup, llama and noodles) and sat around with hot mate de coca to get to know each other better. Around 9pm we put on multiple layers and hopped into our sleeping bags. Outside temperatures were at -5 Celsius! To my surprise I slept pretty decently.

The next morning we had breakfast and packed our big backpacks to hike up to the high camp which sits at 5200m. The bag was very heavy (15kg) and the air got thinner and thinner with each step. The views of the glacier and the mountains at the horizon were really rewarding though. 15min before the high camp we even had to use ropes and climb some rocks in order to reach the sleeping place for next night. This was a tough part but we all made it.

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The lookout was very beautiful here and we enjoyed the free afternoon to acclimatize. Immediately, a strong headache hit me – the high altitude effect! Rory helped me out with some painkillers and I chewed on my coca candy. After an hour or so I had overcome it. We had lunch and dinner here and were joined by two more guys – a Swiss couple who intended to climb Huayna Potosi in two days. At 18:45h we went to bed since the next day was supposed to start at midnight.

We “overslept” and were woken up at 0:30am. I did not sleep at all – I assume it was the height and the cold feet I was fighting against for hours. Not the best preparation for the next 900m in altitude!

We went up pairwise accompanied by a guide. My partner was the Dutch girl Marjolein and the guide’s name was Herman. Rory felt really bad this morning and started to throw over shortly after we started our ascent at 1:30am. I felt bad for him since he hiked so well the prior day! But to all our surprise he forced himself to continue! What an attitude!

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The ascent was steadily steep which was super-exhausting. I was hoping permanently for flat parts which hardly ever came. It was a struggle from the first minute on. Initially, we just stopped every 40min for a short break to drink water and eat some chocolate. After 4min the guides forced us to continue to not get cold and to make it in time for the sunset to the summit.

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I wore 5 layers in total and was fine with it. The only freezing parts were my feet (I wore two pairs of woolen socks, no thermals though) and from time to time my fingers – one glove layer did not help against an outside temperature around -10C. The moon and the head lamps were our only sources of light and hence good pictures needed to wait until sunrise.

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After two hours the first hikers started to give up and returned to the high camp. So far no one from our group was among them. The climb up to the summit was supposed to take around 5-6 hours. After 3.5 hours we reached the “middle mountain” at 5750m. I was already super-exhausted and the first serious thoughts about returning came to my mind. I continued. And all the others from our group as well.

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The next 150m in altitude I was struggling so much that I had to stop every 5 meters to take a deep breath. I was not the only one struggling, however I was definitely slower than my partner. At 5900m I decided to quit: It was another very steep ascent of more than one hour and my battery was completely discharged. It was much more pain than pleasure and that’s why I took the decision to give up.

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Marjolein got attached to Eren’s and Matt’s group and I started to descent with Herman. On the way, I met Christin and Rory who still fought to reach the top – amazing! Just at that moment the sunrise started and finally I got see what crazy ascent we had brought behind us in the last 4.5 hours.

Initially, I was very sad that I was not able to make it to the summit. While descending though I said to myself that this was a good test to test your personal limits. And this was part of the idea why I actually participated in this tour – to see what my body is able to accomplish. Ultimately, it was the first time in my life that I made it over 5000m and up to 5900m – still a good reason to be proud.

After around 2h we reached the high camp and I lay down for an hour to relax. After another hour my group arrived at the high camp – they all had made it. What an accomplishment! They were very proud of themselves which they should be. After another hour we started the descent to the base camp with the heavy backpacks. We reached it within 1.5h and were brought back to La Paz by bus where a nice farewell lunch awaited us. For me personally, it was a great experience to learn about myself.

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The last morning before leaving La Paz I passed by the beautiful Plaza Murillo surrounded by some government buildings. Then I visited the Coca Museum (15 BOB) which is quite informative if one is interested in this topic. The exposition is a little bit confusing but the German guide book which I was offered helped a lot to follow the history and development of coca leaves in Bolivia. One of the things which surprised me was the name Coca Cola stems from the coca leaves and that it’s still nowadays a flavor ingredient to it. I completed the visit with a yummy coca beer 😉

Overall, La Paz is a really good base for diverse activities in the region and hence it is definitely worthwhile visiting. The city itself overs programs for a couple of days such as riding the impressive telefericos 🙂 And sometimes you even get the chance to bounce into traditional Aymara dancing 😉

Uyuni & Reserva Nacional Andina Eduardo Avaroa

We reached Uyuni within four hours from Potosi. Again due to the high altitude the route was very scenic. Due to Potosi’s thin air we were happy to descend 400m which helped a lot in terms of sleeping quality. After filling up our tank with two rounds of 10l for the local price 🙂

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After checking into our hostel (300 BOB for a family room with three beds and a private bathroom) we went straight to the office of “Salty Desert Aventures” the tour company we picked for our 3 days / 2 nights expedition into Salar de Uyuni and Reserva Nacional Andina Euduardo Avaroa (RNAEA) . They were recommended to us by a British couple in the Amazon lodge. There are uncountable many tour companies in Uyuni and the choice is not an easy one although most offer an almost identical itinerary. What often makes a difference is the quality and state of the driver. There are a lot of reported drunk drivers and Salty Desert Adventures received in this respect good reviews on Tripadvisor.

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We paid the negotiated 800 BOB per person (initially 850 BOB) – a fair price for two nights of accommodation and three days of food. However, it was the first time in South America for us that the kids had to pay the full adult price.

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We met the next day at 10am at the office. We brought snacks, sun screen, warm clothes and three bottles of wine which all were clever choices 😉 It was just the six of us in the car plus our driver Wilder. We refrained from booking extra an English speaking guide (USD 150 extra) and hence our driver turned out to be our driver and Spanish speaking guide which was fine for us. We took the two child seats with us and off we went in our Toyota Landcruiser with our driver Wilder.

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The first stop was the cemetery of trains, a collection of decommissioned vapor driven trains from the 1940s and before. Our group had mixed feelings about this visit – some liked it and some not. Nevertheless, the mountains in the background gave pretty good motives together with the trains. Furthermore, there was a small Bolivian clothes market where Julia and Irina could not resist from purchasing scarves 🙂

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Next we visited a small village where a small salt plant was located. The kids liked it it a lot and tried to grain the salt themselves. We bought some salt as a souvenir for our parents and this time Leonard and Lothar could not resist from buying some Alpaca clothes from the adjacent market. The salt is taken from the salt flat and is mainly consumed nationally.

Then finally we entered the sand desert! The road changed from a dusty and rocky brown to a shiny white. There were we: Salar de Uyuni 🙂 Our first stop was at a decommissioned salt hotel which functioned as our lunch spot. Our driver Wilder brought some yummy Quinoa, potato mince casserole and salad.

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In front of the salt restaurant stood a huge memorial of the Rally of Dakar which took place here in 2015. When asked why only once our driver told us that the salt caused to much trouble to the vehicles 😉 Apart from the statue we came across natural springs which were to our surprise cold:

After lunch we continued our drive through the salt desert and stopped in the middle of it for a funny picture session. All drivers and guides are well-prepared for this part and we had a lot of fun posing with beer and wine bottles, escaping from dinosaurs or playing dwarfs in the hands of our beloved ones. Through the unique white (salt) and blue colors (sky) and the lack of contrasts this all turned out to be pretty authentic 😉

At late afternoon we visited Isla da Incahuasi (35 BOB per adult), a bizarre island in the middle of the salt flat. It’s basically a huge rock covered with sand and cactus. Apparently, the Incas used it as a hideout for a night to rest when crossing the desert.

Shortly before the sunset we crossed a part of desert which was partly flooded and where a good suspension and good tires were really helpful. It was the first time that we thought that we did not try it with Oscar. In the car mirrors we could see how the sun slowly started to set and as it began to hide behind the surrounding mountains we stopped in order to watch it.

It was an amazing sunset with reddish colors on the mountains and a mix of magenta, white and baby-blue on the other side. Magic! Some brave ones even stepped into the ice cold water!

With the sunset the temperatures immediately dropped and hence we continued to our salt hostel in a small village. We got lucky and got one of the better rooms (kids bonus!) although the owner refused to open the private bathroom without paying extra. We denied. The rooms themselves were quite authentic and cozy though there was no heating but sufficient blankets. The night was cold and all of us had dry mouths the next morning – clearly the salt effect 😉

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The next day we headed to RNAEA. The route led us through a dry desert which was surrounded by volcanoes. We stopped at railways and took again fun pictures with great perspectives in the back. A couple of miles south we reached the main road to the Chilean border. From here it was just a couple of minutes to Valle de Rocas, a weird landscape of ancient volcano rocks. In the back we observed steam ascending from volcano Lincancabur.

Later we stopped at huge rock in the middle of the desert and saw a species of animals we had never seen before: Mountain viscachas, some kind of XXL hamsters 😉

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Then we drove up a very rocky path which finally convinced us that it was good that we had not tried it with Oscar 🙂 We arrived at two beautiful Lagunas Altiplanicas (Laguna Colorado) where we were able to spot many flamingos. The mountains showed themselves in the reflection of the water – a mind blowing picture!

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At the second lagoon we had lunch and then continued to Laguna Rojo. This lagoon resembles red due to the sun beams which shine on the alga contained in the water. Another magnificent view!

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Then we headed to our hostel which was quite basic and again the night got quite cold (below 0). But that’s the price you pay if you want to experience something special.

The next morning we had to get up super-early at 4:30am in order to see all things according to the itinerary. The sky was super-beautiful and one could even see the milky way! First, shortly before sunrise we arrived at a field of geysers which was nice but not spectacular. Much nicer was the stop at the Termas de Polques where we had to bring ourselves to jump into the warm waters at an outside temperature slightly above 0! It was worthwhile the effort and very rewarding 😉

The next stop was Desierto de Deli, an obscene desert with red=brown mountains. Afterwards we visited Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde which due to the lack of wind unfortunately hardly looked white or green – a bit of a disappointing stop.

Before heading back to Uyuni we got to see two more things: A weird rock formation created by strong winter winds called “Arbol de piedra” and a beautiful, hidden lagoon  where we even got to walk to for a couple of minutes. Finally, we had lunch and got very close to some Alpacas:

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Around 5pm we were back in Uyuni and fully satisfied. Salar de Uyuni and the Reserva Nacional are very special places and definitely among our top 5 on this journey! A must-see when in South America!

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