Bolivia is the hidden jewel of South America: stupendous Andean vistas with exotic, other-worldly features like the Salar de Uyuni; lush jungles teeming with wildlife now protected by vast parks and reserves as yet little-known to the outside world; peopled by a fascinating mix of indigenous cultures still preserving their age-old native traditions (Aymara, Quéchua and many others), with Europeanized modern Bolivians living in cities that also reflect the nationwide mix of the traditional and the flamboyantly modern.
We at Rutahsa Adventures believe that Bolivia is on the cusp of being "discovered". But it hasn't really happened yet-- So NOW is the time to go to Bolivia. Foreign travelers remain relatively few in number; the costs of traveling in Bolivia are quite reasonable (meals are especially inexpensive); and Bolivians in the tourism industry are especially friendly and eager to please. Furthermore, the infrastructure has been sufficiently improved in recent decades so that Bolivia is no longer the hard-to-get-about-in country it once was famed to be. There are now quite a few reliable providers of in-country services for travelers.
Rutahsa Adventures has worked with several Bolivian tour providers since 1999 and we have made arrangements through them that allow us to book their services at reduced rates. We are able to provide customized services such as lodging, transportation and guided excursions for our travelers, and at a savings. Not only can we help you arrange the trip you want, we can do it at costs less than what you would pay if you made the reservations directly through the Bolivian agencies themselves.
Two of the best known Bolivian travel companies are TRANSTURIN and MAGRI-Turismo. These two companies both offer comprehensive services-- They can get you to almost anywhere in Bolivia you want to go, in private or group transportation, reserve hotels from three to five stars, provide bilingual guides, etc. Rutahsa Adventures can book almost any service offered by MAGRI-Turismo at 10% off their price to the public. We can also offer Transturin's many services at similarly discounted prices. For Lake Titikaka crossings we recommend Transturin, as they own a fleet of modern catamarans complete with excellent food service and cabins for overnight cruises. To learn more about these two agencies and what they offer, visit their websites:
Take a look at Tranturin's varied services. The company owns a fleet of modern catamarans and can can offer both day trips and overnight trips on Lake Titikaka, featuring visits to their well-done cultural complex and museum, an Aymara village, Inka ruins and Aymara shamanic ceremonies on Island of the Sun. You can contact Transturin directly through their website and enquire about any services you need, but return to Rutahsa Adventures to book the same services at a savings.
MAGRI's website lists their extensive Bolivia travel services, from day trips to lengthy trekking, and provides a link for you to contact them for details of the particular trip or trips that interest you. Take a look at their offerings, find out the details, but come back to Rutahsa Adventures for a booking at a lower cost.
We also use a smaller company, Turisbus, which we have found to be well-run and offering competitively priced services. Because of their pricing structure we cannot discount all of their services, but we can discount a variety of their services up to 5%, especially their La Paz and Titikaka area services. Their website is:
SOME OF THE PLACES and SERVICES WE RECOMMEND:
N.B.: This section is not yet complete. More information and images will be added in the near future...all we need is time!
If you are flying into Bolivia, it is likely your trip will begin in the city of La Paz. This metropolis of nearly a million inhabitants seems to have been poured down into a deep gorge, with its gleaming new skyscrapers struggling to soar up and out of the canyon, but in fact only the poorer barrios actually climb up the canyon walls to spread out on the altiplano in the sister city of El Alto surrounding the international airport. It is an interesting and very colorful city.
If you are entering Bolivia by land from Peru, we highly recommend a visit to Copacabana and then crossing Lake Titikaka by catamaran to reach La Paz-- We'll detail this in a later section.
In La Paz, our favorite hotel is the 3-star Hotel Rosario. The Rosario is quite nice, and very well run, with colonial style construction adding to the relaxed ambience. They have a good restaurant (breakfast is included), free e-mail, and the location is great: very near the famous "witches market", and just a three block walk from the Prado (main street in La Paz). Their website, if you want a peek, is: Hotel Rosario.
Should you want to book your lodging here, just let us know what kind of room(s) you want and for what dates, and we will get you a discounted room rate.
EXCURSIONS in LA PAZ and VICINITY:
LAKE TITIKAKA EXCURSIONS:
Lake Titikaka is famed in Inca legend as the birthplace of the Sun and of the first Incas; in more modern times it has been hailed as the "world's highest navigable lake". For these and a multiplicity of other reasons, this stunning lake should not be left out of any Bolivia or Peru itinerary. The best way to visit Titikaka is to plan a several-day visit which might include overnight stays on the Island of the Sun or another of Titikaka's islands, an overnight on one of Transturin's luxurious catamarans, and/or an overnight in the charming religious/resort town of Copacabana, with its great Moorish-styled basilica.
Travelers en route from Peru into Bolivia and vice versa should plan a crossing of the lake, which can be done in a single day or, much better, with an overnight stay en route. A good plan is to leave Puno, Peru, at the north end of the lake in the morning, headed for Copacabana, just inside the Bolivian border. At Copa one can board one of Transturin's catamarans and head for the Island of the Sun for a visit at an archeological site and cultural complex that includes native plants, a chance to see vicuña up close, reed boat building demonstrations, a fine museum, and an Aymara shamanic ceremony. It is possible to continue on to La Paz in the afternoon, or to overnight at Island of the Sun and continue to La Paz the following day.
Rutahsa Adventures strongly recommends a multi-day stay in the Lake Titikaka area to appreciate the dramatic lake and its many scenic, historic, and cultural treasures.
COROICO and the YUNGAS:
Coroico is a small town, picturesquely sited on a jungle-covered mountain ridge low on the eastern flanks of the Andes in the region known as the Yungas. It is reached by what has been widely reported as the "world's most dangerous highway" and dozens of crosses along the way testify to the bad luck of many travelers over the years. However the road is not so dangerous that it prevents thousands of people from making their way safely between La Paz and Coroico every year, and it is indeed a thrilling ride. A paved highway leaves La Paz and climbs through dramatic, bleak alpine valleys to the high pass of La Cumbre at 4725 m (15,502 ft). Here the pavement ends and a gravel road plunges downwards, quickly entering a world of waterfalls and lush greenery on the wetter Amazon Basin side of the Andes chain. For a number of kilometers the road has been reworked, but then comes the exciting part where downhill traffic must keep to the outside (so the driver can keep a better watch on how close he is to the edge), and pull over in tiny "wide" spots to allow up-bound traffic the right-of-way. In places waterfalls cascade down on top of vehicles, or completely over-arch the road where it is hacked out of the cliff face.
The trip to Coroico is one where getting there is definitely at least half the fun! Rutahsa Adventures recommends private transportation (which we can book for you, naturally) so that you can stop and take photos whenever you wish. But if economy requires you to take public transporation, then we recommend that you purchase an extra seat on the minibus so that you won't be crowded. Note: This road will soon be a thing of the past, as a new highway is currently being constructed to replace it. The new road will eliminate the most exciting parts of the old road by passing under the mountains through a long tunnel. So if you are interested in this trip, you ought to make it soon.
In Coroico we recommend the Hotel Esmeralda, which is quite nice, located just above the town (about a five-minute hike from the plaza) and has rooms with spectacular views. They have recreational facilities and a good food service with an optional full board plan that is very economical. Here's their website: Hotel Esmeralda. And once again, Rutahsa Adventures can make you reservations at a discount.
Things to do in Coroico: The main attractions are the town itself and its physical setting. At a mere 1760 m (5774 ft) above sea level, it is blessed with mild temperatures and tropical vegetation. It is a nice place to just hang out. There are a number of day hikes from the town, and several local tour operators who can take you on more extended trips. One interesting excursion is to visit a coca plantation; Coroico is in the heart of Bolivia's legal coca growing district.
The dazzling Carnival de Oruro, with its spectacular processions of dancers in colorful costumes takes place every February. The dances have pre-conquest origins, and some of the costumes, such as those in the Diablada, defy description. Carnival is a three full days of music, dancing in the streets, good-natured mayhem with water bombs and spray foam, serious consumption of cerveza, and religious ceremonies, too. You gotta be there to believe it! Reservations for lodging during Carnival have to be made and paid early (Oruro has little to offer travelers except Carnival, and for this reason there is not a plethora of hotels, and they all fill up for Carnival).
While in Oruro for Carnival or at any other time, be sure to visit the colonial mine museum inside and underneath the Church of the Socavón. Also, the early 20th-century mansion of the "Tin Baron" Simón Patiño, now the Casa de La Cultura is well worth visiting. To see live condors up close, and also the hairy Andean armadillo, visit the Oruro zoo.
SALAR de UYUNI:
We hardly know how to begin to describe the Salar de Uyuni as this other-worldly feature is surely Bolivia's most unusual natural wonder. In dry scientific terms, it is the world's largest salt flat, extending over 9000 square kilometers (10,582 sq km by some reports), occupying the bed of a lake that dried up after the last glacial stage. In speculative terms it possibly represents the future of Lake Titikaka if the warming trend continues. As for descriptive terms, we must consider two different seasons. In the dry season the salar is a dazzling expanse of blindingly white salt. In the wet season the salar becomes covered with a thin layer of water and is transformed into the largest mirror on earth (in the solar system?) and the salar is truly kaleidoscopic and mind-boggling.
By far the coolest place to stay when visiting the Salar de Uyuni is the Palacio de Sal, a rustic hotel out on the salar and built entirely of rock salt. In the wet season the Palacio may be surrounded by and mirrored in shallow salt water.
In the dry season you can roar out across the salt flats at highway speeds to reach Isla Pescado some 80 km from the Salt Palace. In the wet season it's slower going, as the drivers of the 4WD vehicles have to take care that not too much salt spray gets up into the engine compartment (if the water gets over 50 cm deep most drivers will not cross the salar), and it may take two or three hours to reach