YOUR ULTIMATE BOLIVIA ITINERARY
Nothing could have prepared me to travel Bolivia. One of the most beautiful, challenging and memorable adventures of my life. From La Paz to the Uyuni Salt Flats, this travel guide to Bolivia will get you ready for your visit.
Katy and I partnered with a tour company: Bolivia Milenaria, and I’m really glad we did. You could probably explore La Paz without a guide, however other areas like Uyuni and the south of Bolivia, you need a driver and a guide; you really need that local expertise. I also think by law you have to have a driver when visiting Uyuni. Bolivia Milenaria organized every step of the way, from the moment we stepped into La Paz to the moment we left for Chile; they took care of all our drivers, food and accommodation, we didn’t have to lift a finger.
Because it’s advised you take a guide around the country, this makes visiting a little more costly. However, if you’re looking to visit on a budget, join a tour group instead of a private tour like Katy and I did. Or even a day tour - although this may feel a little rushed.
We had some pretty delicious meals in La Paz, but as we started to become more and more remote, the food definitely declined in quality. From my experience, I really didn’t see food as a huge selling point for Bolivia, but I am ready to be proven wrong on my next visit.
WHEN SHOULD YOU VISIT BOLIVIA?
If I was a little more organized, I would have visited Bolivia in the rainy season (January - April) as my mission was to find the ultimate reflection at the Uyuni Salt Flats, but instead, I visited in August; and spent the time chasing what little water was left. Although visiting in the dry season has its perks, the weather is milder with little rain and if you want to see other sights near the Salt Flats, such as Laguna Colorada, then the best time to see these is in the dry season - so I leave that up to you.
LA PAZ - ALTITUDE 3,640M
La Paz, the starting point of your Bolivian adventure, is the highest administrative capital in the world at 11,942ft; I felt the lightheadedness pretty quick off the flight! One of the best ways to get to know La Paz is to hop on the tram (cablecar) that runs over the city of La Paz (45minute tram = 2 USD). One of the really cool things about this tram is that it isn’t necessarily for tourists or for visiting a viewpoint, this is how people commute to work every day.
In most countries, the rich commonly choose to live higher up in the mountains, but in La Paz, the preferable living conditions are lower down where it’s a little warmer and has more greenery. Another interesting thing about La Paz is that the majority of the homes are brick and look unfinished and that's because they have a regulation that when you don’t paint your home or finish it, you pay fewer taxes; a little silly but true.
Visit a local cafe and grab a tasty coffee. Bolivia is quite well known for its coffee beans, and it’s pretty cheap for a really good latte! Also, if you’re hungry, grab a salteña to try - a bit like a pasty/empanada. To eat it the Bolivian way, you shake it, bite the tip off then sip out the ingredients; very delicious.
Just outside the south of La Paz, is this incredible landscape, full of crazy rock formations called the Valley of the Moon. Apparently it’s named this because Neil Armstrong saw it and he compared it with the moons formations.
Take a look round the Witches Market (El Mercado de las Brujas). It’s not your typical market - with vendors selling strange products. You’ll see a lot of things that might make you feel uncomfortable; particularly the sacrificed llama fetuses (apparently they only sacrifice the llamas that are already dying), said to bring good luck, among other unique sites. A place a lot of people might not want to see, but it’s a local tradition and shows a very unique side to the city, that I don’t think I have seen before.
You’ll see Cholita, the indigenous people of Bolivia, wearing top hats; a fashion statement brought over from England. A lady apparently brought over extremely small hats, meant for children, but they didn’t like them and one day, for whatever reason, it became super in fashion for the Cholitas to wear these little top hats.
A must visit during your time in La Paz is Gusto Restaurant - not a cheap spot but well worth it. It’s a fine dining experience, with 10 courses per person and everything produced locally. We paid 110 USD per person for dinner and drinks. The overall experience was incredible and definitely an amazing spot if you’re looking for a memorable meal while in Bolivia.
At first, I thought La Paz would just be a layover destination but really quickly I realized it was one of the main destinations itself, it was so unique. Next time I visit, I’ll definitely spend more time in this city. La Paz was a very surprisingly unique place to visit.
Extra Locations to Visit
We didn’t have time to explore anywhere else, but if you do, stop off at Sucre and Potosí, two incredible looking cities in the southern highlands of Bolivia.
UYUNI - ALTITUDE 3,700M
Hop on a one-way flight to Uyuni, drop your bags off at your hotel and head straight to Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats. On route, look out for the wild ostriches; something I definitely wasn’t expecting. The Uyuni Salt Flats cover a span of roughly 12,000km² and is the largest in the entire world; an incredibly beautiful sight. Being this size, we hoped to have a chance of spotting water, somewhere!
A must when visiting the Salt Flats is to pick up some ridiculous props to get creative with - what we like to call Hollywood on a budget. If you go to the Salt Flats and don’t take dumb videos and photos, did you really ever go?
Reluctant to give up on the search for the reflection, we left our beautiful salt hotel (Hotel De Sal Luna Salada) at 5 am in the hope to find what we traveled all this way for. It may have been dry season but we weren’t going to let mother nature tell us what we can expect. We were prepared to drive some distance to find some water, but instead our new driver Henry had already spotted some water just 10minutes away from our hotel! The reflection was unbelievably beautiful against the sunrise, well worth the early start. One of the most beautiful moments of my entire life. It just shows, whatever season you visit in, you may be lucky enough to see this incredible phenomenon.
Other must-see spots while in Uyuni is Cementerio de Trenes, (the Train Graveyard), essentially loads of abandoned trains in the middle of nowhere; a really cool sight. As well as, Isla Incahuasi, an outcrop in the middle of the Salt Flats, filled with beautiful cactuses on it. We were in such a rush we didn’t even stop for a photo there - so make sure to give yourself enough time.
Tip: It can get really cold at the Salt Flats, especially if you get up before sunrise (it hit -17°C while we were there) so make sure to wrap up warm.
EDUARDO AVAROA ANDEAN FAUNA NATIONAL RESERVE - ALTITUDE 4,200 M - 5,400 M
Bolivia is not only known for the salt flats but along the 100km drive of dirt, gravel, loose terrain and rivers, from Uyuni to the Bolivian - Chilean border, are coloured lagoons, flamingos, alpacas, mountains, volcanoes, so much incredible natural beauty.
En Route, we stopped off at Hotel Jardines de Mallku Cueva, a local run quaint hotel. At this point, we were 12,000ft above sea level, and with that, we were experiencing some minor side effects. My nostril was so solid, it was hard to breathe through it; I’d recommend bringing some nasal spray to keep it moist because it just drys out and also the lack of oxygen makes it really hard to sleep, it’s exhausting.
After driving through what felt like Mars, we arrived at Laguna Colorada (The Red Lagoon), the landscape blew my mind. It has a red colour because of minerals in the water reacting with sunlight and wind - but the best thing is, there are hundreds of flamingos in there!
Sol de Mañana
The next spot was Sol de Mañana within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve. A geothermal, volcanically active site. It’s completely open to view and walk between, with no fencing, so you have to be really careful where you step. It’s a seriously dangerous spot, where people have unfortunately fallen in and died - you will instantly melt the moment you hit that liquid at 250°C. Such a beautiful spot, but powerful and you need to respect it. There was no one else here when we visited - a hidden gem!
Termas De Polques
From Sol de Mañana, about a 30 minute drive is a beautiful natural hot spring, known as Termas De Polques. This is a lovely warm swim spot, with minerals in the water said to relieve arthritis symptoms. At around 29°C, it’s not the hottest hot spring I have been in, but a relaxing contrast to the outside temperature.
Termas De Polques has changing facilities costing roughly 1 USD; they are very basic but all that you need.
Salvador Dalí Desert
Drive through the beautiful Dalí Desert, an extremely barren valley; named after Salvador Dalí, a Spanish artist known for surrealist paintings with bare backdrops. The mountainous surroundings in the desert reminded me of Rainbow Mountain, a famous Peruvian mountain.
Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca
From Dalí Desert, stop off at Laguna Verde (Green Lake) and Laguna Blanca (White Lake) divided by a narrow path at the bottom of two volcanos, Licancarbur and Juriques. Laguna Verda gets its emerald colour from the minerals in the subsoil mixing with the water and the wind. Laguna Blanca has its white colour from the large numbers of minerals suspended in the water. Similar to Sol de Mañana, respect the lakes as they are filled with poisonous arsenic.
Bolivian - Chilean Border
From the lakes, head to the official customs office, a small building in the middle of the desert. Grab your stamp to enter Chile and make sure to have a driver waiting for you.
We compiled what should have been at least six days exploring Bolivia, into three and I wish we had more. Don’t do this itinerary in reverse order, the reason being is that it’s best to go from the lowest altitude to the highest. I was told of some extreme cases where when people have done the opposite order, starting off in the highest altitudes and become extremely sick. There is literally nowhere in the world I’d rather find myself sick or hurt than in these remote regions of Bolivia, with no cellphone reception and no medical centers insight.
In summary, price is high, food is average and you’re not going to sleep much because of the altitude and early mornings, leaving Bolivia feeling exhausted. But why do you put up with these things? Well because Bolivia is one of a kind, and as far as adventure travel goes, not luxury comfort travel, it’s one of the best destinations I have ever seen. The country blew me away. Definitely look into Bolivia as a potential next adventure if you’re keen to get off the beaten path.
Make sure to check out the Bolivia Travel Guide video showing you our amazing three days in this incredible country.
And remember, let’s get lost in the next one!