In 2001 Rutahsa Adventures discovered a little-known secret: the wet season is THE time to visit Bolivia! The otherwise parched altiplano landscape is verdant and abloom with wildflowers, the skies are dramatic, and temperatures are pleasantly mild. Furthermore, an absolutely stellar attraction can be witnessed only in the rainy season: the amazing Salar de Uyuni acting as the world's largest mirror. In 2006 we not only visited this world of mirrors by 4WD vehicle, we chartered a restored DC-3 to see it from the air. As if this natural wonder wasn't enough, there is the also the fabulous folkloric carnival in Oruro!
We ran a wonderful Bolivia trip in 2001, and then improved it and took other groups of adventurers to Bolivia for Carnival in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006. In response to requests by numerous travelers for a Bolivia trip in 2007, Rutahsa Adventures is offering the following spectacular excursion in February, 2007. We will need 16 participants to make the trip go, and as usual, participation will be limited to just 16 travelers. If you are interested in visiting this little-known republic with so much to offer, please review the following itinerary carefully and let us know if you'd like to sign on to this trip.
N.B.: This trip is recommended by Frommer's!
THE BOLIVIAN ADVENTURES BEGIN...
DAY 1, Weds., Feb. 7: Morning: Land in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's major city in the Amazon lowlands. You will be met at the airport and taken to your lodgings at the four-star Hotel Asturias to get settled in and rest up a bit. For a preview of the Hotel Asturias, visit their website, then use your "back" button to return to this itinerary: Hotel Asturias.
[N.B.: By starting the trip in Santa Cruz and going into the Andes via Sucre, the hassles of soroche (altitude sickness) are pretty much avoided. There is no need to fly into Santa Cruz a day early for altitude adjustment, as there is with trips beginning in La Paz. Nonetheless, some travelers like to come in a day early just to rest up from the tiring flight south to Bolivia. If you wish to do this, let us know and we can arrange the extra night's lodging and the airport transfer service.]
Afternoon: City tour of Santa Cruz, a bustling modern city, home to Bolivia's ranching, tropical agriculture, and petroleum industries. The tour will include a visit to the botanical gardens of Parque Ivaga Guazú.
DAY 2, Thurs., Feb. 8: After breakfast (included) at the Asturias, you board a private bus to drive to the historic town of Concepción, passing through the smaller town of San Javier en route. Both San Javier and Concepción are famous for their beautiful Jesuit missions dating from the 1700s. These churches are two of a chain of missions established by the Company of Jesus in the 18th century for the conversion of the Indians. The architecture is a fascinating mixture of indigenous and European, and the mission decorations are stunning.
The trip to Concepción takes you through lush tropical lowlands dotted with palms, and where, with a bit of luck you may sight a rhea (South American ostrich). Lunch will be in San Javier, and, of course, the San Javier mission will be visited.
Overnight in Concepción, at the Hotel Chiquitos. The Chiquitos features traditional architecture, a swimming pool, an orchid nursery, and parrots on the grounds. (B,L,D)
DAY 3, Fri., Feb. 9: This morning's activities will include a tour of the Concepción mission complex, including its woodworking shop-- for this is an active mission, not just a restoration and museum. Then it's back to Santa Cruz and the Hotel Asturias. Free time after arrival back at the hotel. (B,L)
DAY 4, Sat., Feb. 10: AM: After another breakfast at the Hotel Asturias, you board up and go to the airport for the short flight to Sucre. Known as "La Ciudad Blanca" ("the White City"), due to the practice of whitewashing the colonial buildings in central Sucre, Sucre is universally acclaimed as Bolivia's most beautiful city.
You'll be picked up at the airport and taken to your home for the next two nights, the Hostal de Su Merced. This beautiful small hotel, in a charmingly renovated home, is where Bolivian presidents stay when visiting Sucre, and is our favorite hotel in all Bolivia. Great location, friendly staff, and excellent food. Check it out: Hostal de Su Merced.
After lunch you'll have a guided tour of Sucre, the legal capital of Bolivia, and still home to the Supreme Court, although the rest of the government moved to La Paz years ago. Originally founded in 1538 as La Plata, Sucre was renamed in 1825 in honor of General Sucre, the first president of the newly independent Republic of Bolivia (which itself was named in honor of Simón Bolívar, the Great Liberator). The city is still largely colonial in architecture, has a lovely climate at 2790 m (9153 ft), and is a university town, all of which contribute to its delightful ambience.
The city tour will include some of the important colonial sites, such as La Recoleta monastery, the Casa de la Libertad (Bolivia's "Independence Hall"), or perhaps the cathedral, or the colorful central market. There are also museums and shops to visit. A very worthwhile museum is the ASUR Museum of Indigenous Art, where, in addition to seeing a fine museum collection of textiles, outstanding textiles can be purchased, and you can witness the art of weaving on the backstrap loom. (B)
DAY 5, Sun., Feb. 11: Those who have fallen under the spell of Sucre's charms may opt to spend the full day here strolling about the pleasant town, sampling a nice variety of eateries, enjoying the central park, and having a restful day. But for the more energetic, we have an outing planned...to go to the famous indigenous market at Tarabuco, about a two hour drive through the mountains from Sucre.
Tarabuco market is not huge, but it fills several blocks of streets, and is a very good place to buy beautiful handwoven textiles, and to see lots of traditional native costumes. The indigenous people in this region are Quechua speakers, an inheritance from the Inka Empire. You can expect to see men in boldly striped ponchos, and carrying chuspas (woven bags in which personal items such as coca leaves are carried), and women wearing the traditional axsu (heavy overskirt). You will likely see a variety of headgear. Married men and women may both wear a helmet-shaped hat, directly modeled after the Spanish conquistador's helmet, whereas unmarried young women may wear a shako-like hat with a fringe, decorated with lots of spangles, and worn at a jaunty angle. This market is definitely a colorful scene!
Lunch will be served at Jatún Yampara, a poor village between Tarabuco and Sucre with a fledgling tourism project. The friendly people here will show you their crafts, their crops, and welcome you into their homes. You may even participate in a blessing ceremony at their shrine to Pachamama. You will be both interested and touched by these good people struggling to better their community. And your visit with them will help their project move along.
Back in Sucre, you can enjoy a stroll through the central plaza in the evening, and sup at a nice restaurant before retiring to the Su Merced for the night. (B,L)
DAY 6, Mon., Feb. 12: AM: Free time to enjoy beautiful Sucre on your own, strolling, photographing, and bargaining for crafts in the shops or from street vendors. PM: Board a private bus and head out and up, crossing mountains and deep river valleys as the highway (one of the best in all Bolivia) climbs up to the Andean city of Potosí. At 3977 m (13,047 ft), this city is definitely a real high point in the trip. No activities are planned for after arrival in Potosí, as you will want to take it easy as you adjust to this very high altitude. Having spent the last two days at 9000 ft should make this transition easy, nonetheless, soroche is a real possibility if you over exert. Drink some coca tea, and take it easy!
The coat of arms of Potosí bears the legend "I am rich Potosí, the treasure of the world, the king of mountains, the envy of kings." According to legend, silver was discovered at Potosí in 1544 by an Indian, Diego Huallpa, who had climbed a mountain in search of lost llamas. After building a fire to warm himself, Diego noted molten silver streaming from a rock beside the fire. The Spaniards were quick to investigate rumors of an Indian with silver, took possession of the mountain peak-- soon to become known as Cerro Rico ("Rich Mountain"), and by 1545 the city of Potosí was founded. Within 25 years it was the largest city in the New World, with a population of 125,000. Riches poured out of the mountain into Spanish coffers, altering the financial structure of Europe. Potosí itself was awash in wealth; Spanish aristocrats in Potosí built themselves palaces and also dozens of baroque churches. But all this came at a terrible toll of human misery, as the mines were worked by enslaved Indians who died by the tens of thousands in the bowels of Cerro Rico.
Our lodgings in Potosí will be the Hostal Colonial (Frommer's favorite in Potosí), located just a block off the main square, within easy walking distance of the principal attractions. (B)
DAY 7, Tues., Feb. 13: This morning the adventurous-minded members of the group will fortify themselves with breakfast, including some strong coffee or hot chocolate, then head out for Cerro Rico, the mountain that made Potosí. This angry red peak, now stripped barren and plundered both inside and out, is still being worked by hundreds of miners. You will find out what it's all about by going underground into one of the working mines. This is a fascinating trip, and we recommend it highly, but note, it is not a trip for the faint of heart: expect some tight spots, some ladders to climb, some dust and water and perhaps a little mud. Expect to meet El Tío and make an offering to him for your safe return to the sunlit world!
First stop is at the miners' market to buy appropriate gifts for the miners and for El Tío: bags of coca leaves, strong black cigarettes, some soda waters and perhaps some raw liquor. You could even buy dynamite and blasting caps, if you fancy toting such items around on your person.
Next you'll suit up in hardhats, slickers and rubber boots, then drive up the mountain to the mine entrance. Here you'll be issued lamps...then it's duck your head and proceed into the underworld! Within the drifts you'll visit with miners working veins with hand tools, under conditions that are very 19th-century by modern mining standards, and which expose them to a variety of dangers, including the main miners' curse, silicosis. (Not to worry, silicosis results from years of breathing rock dust, and is not a danger from a single visit.) Dismal as these working conditions seem, they are still a far cry from the awful circumstances endured by the Indian slaves of colonial times.
Each of the many mines under Cerro Rico has a shrine to El Tío, the miners' god of the underworld, who must be placated if his mineral wealth is to be extracted and the miner to return safely to the world of sunlight above. This applies to visitors too, and you should save a portion of your gifts of coca and cigarettes to leave before the statue of El Tío before you exit the mine.
Back again in the sunshine and fresh air, you'll ponder the toil witnessed underground as you eat lunch and get ready for an afternoon walking tour of some of the important colonial sites.
[N.B.: Anyone who does not find going underground appealing may spend the morning visiting shops and the artesans' market just a few short blocks from the Hostal Colonial. The desk clerk can provide you a city map.]
Afternoon activities: Wending your way through narrow streets overhung by balconied colonial homes, you will visit La Casa de la Moneda, a colonial mint turned into a splendid museum (the grinning mask of Bacchus is an unexplained anomaly-- but it has been there for many years). Next, depending on how long is spent at the Casa de la Moneda, you'll move on to another site, perhaps the San Francisco convent with its crypts below and the best rooftop view of Potosí above. Or perhaps the Convento de Santa Teresa, with its religious museum.
One of the interesting things to note as you pass along the streets of Potosí is the variety of highly distinctive men's hat styles affected by the cholitas (Indian women who have adopted a highly stylized European mode of dress).
Second night at Hostal Colonial. (B)
DAY 8, Weds., Feb. 14: Today travel is by caravan-- in 4WD vehicles-- across mountains and valleys and windy plains following a good, all-weather gravel road from Potosí to the altiplano town Uyuni. Though drivable in 5 to 6 hours if you are just rushing through, we will allot the full day for this trip, with photo stops for mountain scenery, llamas, alpacas and vicuñas, sand dunes and a seasonal lagoon where flamingoes can sometimes be photographed together with llamas!. Stops will also be made to visit a nearly abandoned mining town, and to enjoy a picnic lunch en route.
The scenery is beautiful any time of year, but especially so in the wet season when the hillsides are green and flowered. This is one of our favorite drives, passing rustic villages, through a lovely little canyon surrounded by weird rock formations, by many herds of llamas and alpacas, and where colorful strata have been twisted and thrust towards the sky in the geologic upheaval that formed the Andes.
Shortly before arriving at Uyuni, you'll visit the historic town of Pulacayo where we will see relics from its silver mining glory days, including abandoned steam locomotives and a train said to have been robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
And finally, just on the outskirts of Uyuni is the cementerio de los trenes or locomotive graveyard, where dozens of rusting engines are silent reminders of Uyuni's heyday as an important railroad center. Steam train buffs will be saddened by the fate of these once powerful machines, but at the same time fascinated by the very unusual wheel arrangements on some of the British-built Garretts, including a couple of huge 4-8-6-8-4s! And the melancholy is relieved by the sardonic wit of an unknown desert grafitti artist.
At Uyuni, a windswept town in the middle of nowhere, you will be surprised and charmed by the rustic, but comfortable Hotel Jardines de Uyuni. (B,L)
DAY 9, Thurs., Feb. 15: A short distance from the town of Uyuni the great Salar de Uyuni lies gleaming, and you will explore this stunning natural phenomenon aboard 4WD vehicles today. According to conventional geologic concepts, what was once a great intermontane lake comparable to Lake Titikaka eventually evaporated away to form the remarkable salar: in the dry season it is some 10,582 sq km (4085 sq mi) of blinding snow-white salt overarched by a sky so big it looks like it needs some help staying up! But February is the wet season, and when the immense salt flat is covered with a thin layer of rainwater, it turns into the world's largest mirror. And that phenomenon is why Rutahsa programs its Bolivia excursions in this season.
As you approach the salar it is not unusual to see vicuñas, the smallest of the four Andean camelids along the margins of the salt flat, and occasionally flocks of pink flamingoes are seen in ponds along the railway, or over the salar itself.
Hard by the salar is Colchani, an entire village dedicated to the cottage industry production of salt for the rest of Bolivia's consumption. Fresh salt is first scraped off the surface of the salar and piled in conical heaps. Then it is transported into Colchani where it is dried, then bagged and iodized by workers in small co-ops.
Also near the edge of the salar is one of the world's oddest constructions, the Palacio de Sal, built entirely of blocks of rock salt quarried directly from the salar! A stop here for a visit is planned. Inside the Salt Palace everything is made of salt. The only exceptions: mattresses (thank goodness!), toilets (double thank goodness!!), stove and pool table. Truly an amazing, imaginative and unforgettable hotel. [On our 2001 Bolivia trip we stayed at this hotel, but in 2002 it was out of service due to local politics; in 2005-06 it was still in the process of being rebuilt at its new location. Unfinished or not, it's definitely worth a visit!]
During the dry season it is an easy matter to drive at highway speeds out across the hard flat salt. Eighty kilometers out on the flat is cactus-covered Isla Pescado, once an isolated island of basalt far from the shores of a vast lake. This island is home to several species of cacti, a variety of birds, and a small colony of vizcachas (imagine a short-eared rabbit with a squirrel's tail!).
Isolated by salt flats in the dry season, Isla Pescado can become a real island again during the wet season, when rains flood the salar to form a wide shallow lake. Incredible as it sounds, this does not always prevent visits to the island: if the water depth is less then 18 inches, intrepid drivers pilot their 4WD vehicles through 80 km of salt spray to deliver visitors to the island... but not at highway speeds...under these conditions it can take over three hours to reach Isla Pescado, but oh the vistas en route!
Imagine driving for miles across a gigantic mirror surface-- the sky and clouds reflected to perfection; volcanic cones soaring up in the distance also soar down into the depths; flocks of pink flamingoes flap slowly by overhead while their looking glass twins stroke in unison down below; rain falls down, rain falls up; when you drive across the salar you have the impression of flying, with clouds above and below. Or perhaps of being on another planet, the scene is so un-earthly. Or perhaps of having somehow fallen inside a gigantic kaleidoscope. And just like a kaleidoscope, the scene is constantly changing: the preceding six photos were all taken on the same day! It really beggars description-- you just have to see it to believe it. And for the best view of all, ride in the open!
It is precisely in hopes of experiencing this mind-boggling scene that Rutahsa Adventures has scheduled our 2007 trip for the wet season again...
You'll contemplate this bizarre and beautiful scenery as you eat your picnic lunch on Isla Pescado. After lunch begins the return to Uyuni, again slowly across the flooded portions of the salar. Timing is important, as it is necessary to be off the salar before nightfall (hard enough to tell where you're going in the daytime!), but one doesn't want to cut the trips short either, as sunset over the Salar de Uyuni can certainly be a lurid spectacle. Second night at the Hotel Jardines de Uyuni. (B,L)
DAY 10, Fri., Feb. 16: Today we have a truly special treat planned: an overflight of the Salar de Uyuni in a classic DC-3!!. The salar is spectacular on the ground, and equally so from the air-- a dream world of hazy pastels and reflections.
The aircraft is a lovingly and completely restored 1952 Super DC-3, owned and operated by Capitán Canedo and his sons, who pilot the beautiful vintage plane. The ship is immaculate, both inside and out, with leather seats, and window seats for everyone. This flight is a real joy!
Following the overflight of the amazing salar, we will fly on for an hour in our charter to Oruro, with volcanoes, sand dunes and lakes stretched out below us. [N.B.: In 2006 we enjoyed a wonderful flight that all agreed was one of the highlights of the trip. However, when we first attempted this charter in 2005, the flight had to be canceled due to weather conditions. This is always a possibility in the wet season, and obviously, safety trumps other considerations. Should the flight be canceled for any reason, travel from Uyuni to Oruro will be by 4WD seeing more altiplano scenery up close en route. In the event the flight is canceled, Rutahsa Adventures will endeavor to secure a refund for each traveler, which we did successfully in 2005.]
Founded as a mining town in the 16th century, Oruro later became the principal center of the Bolivian railway system, now sadly largely defunct. Today Oruro's main claim to fame is the Carnaval de Oruro, the most spectacular of all Bolivian festivals. It is a huge and famous event, yet one that remains purely Bolivian, virtually unaltered by tourism or other outside influences. Lodging will be in the Gran Hotel Sucre, a somewhat funky old place, but excellently situated just about three blocks from the main plaza, which should be a pretty busy place as the town makes the final preparations for the big event of the year to start tomorrow morning! (B)
DAY 11, Sat., Feb. 17: Carnival begins early with a spectacular entry procession called La Entrada, starting at 7 AM and passing along a 5-km route, ending at the Church of the Virgin of the Socavón. Rutahsa's group will have reserved grandstand seats on the main plaza. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of teams of dancers perform. Many dances feature elaborate costumes, some with grotesque masks, the most remarkable being La Diablada, and all with incredible color. Music is supplied by innumerable blaring brass bands, each trying to out-do the next. Some of the dances, such as La Diablada represent Aymara folk legends related to the dangerous lives of the Indian miners. Historical reality, such as the introduction in colonial times of a black population to work in the mines, is depicted in one of the most important of all carnival dances, La Morenada. Dances also graphically depict slavery. You may see dancers wearing authentic costumes that date back many generations, such as this elaborate feathered headdress witnessed a century and a half ago by the American diplomat-archeologist George Squier. Both history and today's reality are represented in dances like La Llamerada (the dance of the llama herders), and the dance of the tinkus which ends in a mock brawl, recalling an ancient Andean tradition in which neighboring communities fight an annual ceremonial battle (a custom still honored in a few Bolivian communities). There are also dancers costumed as dancing bears (representing another legend), there are live llamas, and even the cars get into the act! The parade goes on for hours, but box lunches will be supplied at the grandstand seats so you don't have to miss a thing (other than for the occasional necessary break).
La Entrada is just the beginning of a week of revelry and abandon. Tonight there will be lots of celebrating, live music, dancing, and happy inebriation. Foreigners are welcome to join in, but of course, some discretion is advised. Second night at Gran Hotel Sucre. (B,L)
[N.B.: One thing to be on the watchout for: water bombs! This is a carnival tradition, and you can just about count on having a water balloon lobbed at you sometime today or tomorrow. The best responses are either: 1) wear a light rain poncho, and ignore it, or, 2) arm yourself with water balloons purchased from one of the street vendors and get even! In any case, it's all in good fun!]
DAY 12, Sun., Feb. 18: For early risers (or if you can't sleep due to the music), you can get up at 4 AM and make your way up to the Church of the Socavón, where a sort of battle of the bands takes place for El Alba, the bringing in of the dawn with more music and revelry.
This morning will be free time, with wandering and watching being what most will choose to do. Today is the day of the Gran Corso del Carnaval, another spectacular parade of the same tireless dance groups, only this day they make one concession to comfort, dancing mostly unmasked, and there is more audience participation. Aside from watching the Gran Curso, you might want to walk up to the Church of the Socavón, where there is an underground mining museum accessed from inside the church, for a small fee. Or visit the mask shops on La Paz street for some really unusual souvenirs!
After lunch the group will head out for a change of scenery...Sajama National Park near the border with Chile.
Sajama park is centered on the sacred mountain Volcán Sajama, which, at 6548 m (21,483 ft), is the highest peak in all Bolivia. Although the five hour drive to the park is mainly on good paved road, the park itself is rugged, so travel will be by 4WD transport again. Lodging for tonight and tomorrow will be the rustic Albergue Tomarapi, located in a picturesque, semi-abandoned village at the foot of snow-capped Sajama. (The lodge is a project run as a local co-op to provide employment for locals and attract outside income to this impoverished area.) The rooms here are plain but perfectly adequate, with private baths and hot water (but sometimes you have to let the management know that you need hot water as the system is not without its defects). (B,D)
[N.B.: Due to its location in the heart of a llama and alpaca herding region, meals at the albergue rely heavily on llama meat, which is an excellent low-fat meat. If you are vegetarian you need to be sure to advise Rutahsa of your dietary needs when you fill out your trip application!]
DAY 13, Mon., Feb. 19: Get up early today and enjoy the incredible sight of the towering snowy mass of Sajama as it catches the first rays of dawn and becomes bathed in fire. Then come back in to the warmth of the lodge for a hearty breakfast before starting out on a full day of four-wheel touring of the park's scenic wonders.
The park is a high arid region inhabited by herds of llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas, some of which may even pose for you. Here too, you have a good chance to see vizcachas. In addition, there are suris (rheas, or "American ostriches"). We got lucky and saw four in 2005, and saw two close up in 2006). And the Andean lakes boast flamingoes and other waterfowl.
Among the noteworthy plants to be found in the park are the rare large keñua trees, and the strange dome-shaped yareta, which serves the natives as fuel. Other park attractions include hot springs and geysers, and strange ancient man-made lines, calling to mind the famous Nasca Lines of Peru. And there are scattered villages peopled by herders eking out a living from this harsh but awesomely beautiful land.
Second night at Albergue Tomarapi. (B,L,D)
DAY 14, Tues., Feb. 20: After a final breakfast at the albergue, it's mount the jeeps one last time to head in to the city of La Paz, four-hour's driving time. However, there will be stops along the way for photos and to see ancient burial towers known as chullpas, plus a short side trip to the town of Curahuara de Carangas to see its colonial church, famous for its colorful primitive murals. A stop will be made for lunch, too.
In La Paz, lodgings will be at the Hotel Rosario, a charming little hotel located right in the area of the great street market and the famous "Witches Market". The Rosario is one of our favorite hotels in Bolivia-- nice and cozy, very friendly and helpful staff, and good restaurant for breakfast and supper. Check it out: Hotel Rosario.
After settling in to your new digs, you can go out and get acquainted with this fascinating part of town-- a great place for shopping for souvenirs. Pick up a city map at the front desk and go for a roam and start to learn your way around the incredible market complex where block after block of shops, booths, and street vendors offer an amazing and bewildering array of items ranging from wonderful woven goods of alpaca and llama wool, musical instruments, antiques, foodstuffs, hardware, in different market sections downhill and uphill from the Rosario. Most of the traveler-oriented shops are downhill on Sagárnaga and Linares streets, and most of the ordinary market goods are uphill behind the hotel. Both areas are worth visiting. (B)
DAY 15, Weds., Feb. 21: This morning you can enjoy an excellent buffet breakfast at the Rosario (included), as you fuel up for the day's activities: a La Paz city tour, and visit to Valle de La Luna (Moon Valley).
La Paz, with a population approaching a million, is the de facto capital of Bolivia, which is to say that although the much smaller city of Sucre to the south is still the legal capital of the republic, most of the government offices are located here in La Paz, and most government business is done here. You will get oriented in La Paz by visiting a small park overlooking much of the multihued city, then visit the Plaza Murillo with its government palaces and cathedral. Next you'll visit the gold museum in an attractive area of colonial buildings. And the tour ends near the Hotel Rosario with a walk through the "Witches Market". Here you will see all the items a well-supplied brujo (witch doctor) might need, including herbs, potions, and, of course the ever-essential dried llama fetuses. Your local guide will explain the uses of some of these items.
In the afternoon a short drive out of La Paz brings you to the Valle de La Luna (Valley of the Moon), where a sort of badlands erosion has produced a grey and tan landscape of bizarre towers, knobs and spines. For a close-up view, a short hiking trail wends its way through the hoodoos. Weird and scenic.
Supper will be at a peña, a restaurant where Andean musicians play and sing folksongs featuring panpipes, charango, quena and other traditional instruments, accompanied by dancers. This special supper, show and cultural experience is included in the tour cost (drinks extra).
Overnight again at the Hotel Rosario. (B,D)
DAY 16, Thurs., Feb. 22: Lake Titikaka is the destination today, and please note you can travel light: Take just what you need for the next three days and leave the bulk of your luggage in the Rosario's secure storeroom, where it will be awaiting you upon your return on Saturday.
You'll leave La Paz early in a chartered bus headed north to the lakeside town of Copacabana. Upon arrival you'll check into the Hotel Rosario del Lago, sister hotel to the Rosario in La Paz, and equally nice. Hotel Rosario del Lago. Next: lunch in the hotel, then a visit to the town.
"Copa" is a town focused on tourism, but mainly Bolivian tourism, rather than international. Bolivians enjoy lakeside resorts and watersports, but more importantly, Copacabana is the most important religious site in all the country. Prior to the conquest this site was sacred to the indigenous people, and in typical Spanish conquest fashion the site was later taken over by the Cathoic church. A huge and impressive Moorish-style church was erected 1610-1620. Today the basilica houses the image of the Dark Virgin of Copacabana, venerated by the faithful who come here from all over Bolivia and other countries as well. While most of the pilgrimages are made for standard religious reasons (i.e., to show devotion or to petition the Virgin for a favor), one local practice does seem strange to most outsiders: the blessing of the cars. Bolivians bring newly purchased cars, decked out in streamers and flowers, to be sprinkled with holy water and blessed by the priests, the doused with champagne by the proud owners.
Across the town from the great church is the hill El Calvario with its long flight of breath-taking (literally, at this altitude) steps ascending past the Stations of the Cross to a marvelous overlook. We recommend this site for enjoying sunset across Lake Titikaka and a lovely view of the toy town bathed in the rosy glow of twilight.
Another good option for those who like to hike would be a visit to the Horca del Inka, a short hike up a little mountain of picturesquely eroded igneous rock, and where the keen-eyed may spot some archeological remains.
Copa boasts a number of restaurants, but you'll be hard pressed to do better than dine at the Rosario. (B)
Day 17, Fri., Feb. 23: After breakfast you'll be taken to the little port to board the modern catamaran Consuelo that will transport the group in style across the beautiful and grand lake to Isla del Sol (Sun Island). While at the port you should note the Bolivian Naval Base (photos are not allowed), with its impassioned slogan proclaiming Bolivia's right to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia was not always a land-locked nation, but once had a Pacific coast, which it lost to Chile in the "War of the Pacific" in the 1870s. Bolivians still feel very strongly about this issue.
After the catamaran gets under way you can watch the scenery glide by from the comfort of the spacious main salon lined with picture windows. Or you may want to go up on the sun deck atop the vessel. Titikaka, famous as the world's highest regularly navigated lake at 3856 m (12,651 ft), is stunning, and you will be amazed at the extent of ancient agricultural terracing evident on the hillsides all around the lake. While some terraces are still in use, the majority are abandoned, and give mute evidence to the belief that the Lake Titikaka region supported a denser population in pre-Conquest days than now.
Upon docking at Isla del Sol, the legendary birthplace of Manco Capac, the first Inka, and his sister-consort Mama Ocllo, you will transfer to a craft made of totora reeds for a short sail to a very well done visitor's complex owned and operated by the same company that operates the catamaran. Here you will climb a steep flight of Inka stairs, see Inka stonework at a sacred spring, and Inka terraces with many native crops and medicinal plants. Sometimes there is a demonstration of the Andean footplow. And always there is a visit an excellent museum, crafts and boat-building demonstrations and a chance to see llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas up close.
Reboarding the Consuelo, you next sail around to the opposite end of the island. A fine lunch will be served during the cruise to the Aymara village of Challapampa. The villagers here welcome visitors with music and dancing. From the dock at Challapampa you will board rowboats and some of the wonderfully sturdy Aymara fishermen will row the group to the end of the island for a visit to an Inka ruin near the spot where Inti (the Sun) is supposed to have been created by Viracocha, the Inka creator god. Here an Aymara kallawalla (shaman) will perform a blessing ceremony for your safe journey home once the Bolivia trip has ended. Afterwards, you will walk back along ancient trails to Challapampa (about an hour and a half of hiking, mostly downhill), surrounded by the glories of Lake Titikaka at sunset.
Inasmuch as this is the week after carnival, it is possible that upon returning to Challapampa the village will be turned out en masse and dancing in the streets with great spontaneous energy-- this is their fiesta, not a show for tourists (when it comes to holding their traditional party, they ignore the presence of visitors!).
Once the group is all back aboard the catamaran, a candlelight supper will be served in the main salon, and entertainment will be provided by dancers from the Aymara community. After supper, if the weather is favorable, sitting and conversing in fresh air and moonlight on the upper deck will be a pleasant pastime before going to bed in your cabin below decks. Check out the Southern Cross! (B,L,D)
DAY 18, Sat., Feb. 24: The Consuelo gets under way around 7 AM, headed to the tiny port of Chua at the opposite end of the lake. You will enjoy an extensive buffet breakfast, then settle your bar bill, finalize your packing and set your luggage out in the hallway to be taken ashore by the crew upon docking at Chua. But there should be plenty of time for this and for going up on the sun deck to enjoy the scenery, too.
At Chua you disembark from the Consuelo and again board a charter bus to head back towards La Paz by land, enjoying scenic altiplano vistas all along the way.
Before reaching La Paz, the driver will turn back towards the lake on a different highway to visit the impressive pre-Inkan ruins of Tiwanaku. This site is famous for its monolithic gateways and giant idols. Tiwanaku was the capital of what many archeologists believe to have been the longest surviving empire of all the pre-Columbian Andean civilizations, flourishing for over a thousand years. Later Inka rulers visited the site of Tiwanaku and are thought to have been inspired by its monumental ruins. Before visiting the archeological complex, a late lunch (included) will be served in a restaurant near the ruins.
Back in La Paz at the end of the day, you'll settle in for one final night at the Hotel Rosario. (B,L)
DAY 19, Sun., Feb. 25: Time to head for the airport, board your flight home, taking with you a million memories of unforgettable wonders seen, new friends made, and the determination to return some day to Bolivia.
COST OF THE TRIP: The cost for this 2007 trip is $2844 per person, based on a group of 16, in double room accommodations. For a group of 13-15 travelers the cost is $3003 p/p. For a group of 11-12 the cost is $3131 p/p. Single room accommodations cost $275 additional.
NOTE: The charter flight from Uyuni to Oruro is, of course, subject to weather conditions, and the state of the gravel airstrip at Uyuni. Should the flight be canceled for any reason, ground transportation in 4WD units will be provided, and Rutahsa Adventures will request a refund of the cost of the charter. In 2005 the flight was canceled due to weather; a refund was successfully obtained and distributed to the participants after the trip.
The Tour Conductor will be Ms. Gloria Maldonado who has guided for Rutahsa many times and who has also served as Tour Conductor for us before. You will like Gloria-- she is very knowledgeable, dynamic and enthusiastic, personable and caring. She will take good care of you!
HOW TO GET ON BOARD: Let us know you are interested by e-mailing Dr. Ric Finch at Rutahsa Adventures. We will be happy to send you an application blank or to put you on our mailing list for trip up-dates, as you request.