landscape2_swbolivia

Road Tripping in Southwest Bolivia

After our interesting border crossing from Argentina, we continued through Bolivia's barren altiplano to Tupiza. This is the poorest country in South America and evidence of this was everywhere. Tiny ramshackle houses, many abandoned or in various states of disrepair confronted us everywhere that we saw life. The rest of the landscape was dry and dusty. Huge cactus dotted the high plains against a copper mountain backdrop. We weren't in Argentina any more.

Futbol (soccer) is the most popular sport in Bolivia.

I've never seen cactus this big before.

We reached Tupiza just after sundown and didn't get much of a chance to explore it. The town is best known for being the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their ends at the hands of the Bolivian Army (though this actually happened about 100 km north of there). The pleasant little town gave us our first taste of the Bolivian people: warm, gracious and curious, they always had big smiles for us.


Our journey continued the following day to Potosi, stopping in a tiny community for snacks and a restroom break. A merchant showed us his rabbits while a local woman tended to a huge pile of corn. It was nice to rest because the next segment of our trip was rather unpleasant. The paved road from Tupiza to Potosi is in progress and we gazed at it from alongside the horrendous bumpy road we were stuck with for a couple of hours. The vehicle filled with dust at one point, choking us (yes, all the windows were closed). When we finally arrived, our packs were covered in Bolivian earth as well.

READ  Awash In Salt: Photos From Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

Potosi is the highest city of its size in the world at 4070 metres and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Suddenly we were dealing with altitude, which means some slight adjustments to diet and expectations. John and I had been taking the altitude sickness medication, Acetazolamida since our last night in Salta to prepare, but we still felt short of breath after any little bit of exertion. We're reasonably fit, but even climbing a small hill took effort. That night we ate llama for the first time, which was interesting. It tasted like smoked sausage with the texture of beef.

A young family on the streets of Potosi

We were, of course, headed to Uyuni to see its famous salt plain. This stretch of the journey was the most interesting as we travelled through different rock formations and past tiny villages. The sand became redder and the cactus were smaller with white tips. Road works are everywhere in this part of Bolivia. Mining is huge there: minerals, silver and lithium (Bolivia has the largest reserves of the latter in the world) need to be transported over land. We had to rough it a bit travelling on the terrible dirt roads, but future travellers to the region will likely have a smooth passage.

A village between Potosi and Uyuni

Have you been to Bolivia? What were some of your first impressions?

41 comments

  1. Laura 2 June, 2011 at 21:22 Reply

    Bolivia is fantastic, the salt flats are incredible and I really enjoyed La Paz. I also spent some time in Santa Cruz and Samaipata, both of which I would highly recommend. The altitude in La Paz was a bit difficult to adjust to and bus travel was challenging at times, but overall a great experience. 

  2. Nicole 2 June, 2011 at 11:04 Reply

    That blue sky and sunlight is really making me envious. Too much gray where I am. Love the photo of the llamas and the woman with the corn, but all are really great.

  3. Juno Kim 1 June, 2011 at 22:04 Reply

    great..! This is so vivid and live! Great photo series. Yes, really, sometimes we just have to be there to see and learn.

  4. Megan 1 June, 2011 at 19:49 Reply

    This looks amazing – gets me so excited! Can’t believe I’ll be there in just a couple of months.

    My biggest tip for altitude (as I discovered in Tibet!) is water – drink as much as possible (and even better if it’s gatorade or similar). At those altitudes you need about 4L a day. The pounding headaches mostly come from dehydration and so long as you’re eating and drinking that should keep them at bay :) Not sure if the meds are designed to do something similar (never took them) but water always helped for me.

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 2 June, 2011 at 12:35

      Thanks for sharing your tips, Megan! We took altitude sickness tablets and try to drink plenty of water all the time – only trouble for us was the fact that we were travelling by road so much that there isn’t really anywhere to stop. Get used to the great out doors for bano =) The tablets actually increase the amount of oxygen you’re getting, so they help a lot and we never really got any headaches. The side effects weren’t really bad. Avoiding alcohol helps too.

      Hope you have a wonderful trip! Can’t wait to read about your thoughts on the country =)

  5. Sherry 1 June, 2011 at 14:11 Reply

    Looks like a fabulous time, even with intense sand and rough roads.  Bolivia was never in my itinerary, but after seeing these photos, it might be worth the effort. Landscapes are amazing.

  6. Kyle 1 June, 2011 at 07:37 Reply

    I really want to go to Bolivia but I’m scared! This post simultaneously made me want to go more/scared the shit out of me more. When we went to Breckenridge, CO, it was pretty high altitude and it really didn’t bother me, aside from when I was exercising, but Seba got pretty sick. I’m worried he’d be miserable if went to Bolivia! But we have to do that trip eventually!!!

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 1 June, 2011 at 08:25

      We’ve been taking altitude sickness pills and didn’t get sick…just a little bit of (can I be gross?) blood when you blow your nose. And you get out of breath quick. Going overland gradually really helps instead of flying in. Hope you do get there because it’s fantastic! We enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would =)

  7. Cam & Nicole 1 June, 2011 at 00:56 Reply

    Looks beautiful – great photos! We only made it as far as Copacabana when we were traveling through Peru, would have loved to have spent more time in Bolivia but sacrifices needed to be made

  8. Detective Bayliss 1 June, 2011 at 00:33 Reply

    I wonder if they have McLlama burgers at Maccas? Johnny reasonably fit?? Haha that’s a good one!

  9. Detective Bayliss 1 June, 2011 at 00:33 Reply

    I wonder if they have McLlama burgers at Maccas? Johnny reasonably fit?? Haha that’s a good one!

  10. metsbwd 31 May, 2011 at 18:42 Reply

    Love the photos, especially the corn one!  It’ll likely be a shame when the new road opens…as poor as these villages are now. I hope the new road at least is still close / goes through them?  Could be bad for these already poor people who rely on the few tourist dollars that show up to lose those too due to the new road.  Looking forward to your salt flats photos too!  (And would love to try that llama as well!)

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 31 May, 2011 at 22:18

      Thanks so much! =) The new roads may actually be good for the prosperity of Bolivia, as they are more for miners and transporting salt and minerals than they are for tourist dollars. We were told that unlike in Peru, Bolivia depends on mining first and tourism second. Because it has the largest amount of lithium in the world (a resource so far untapped), Bolivia’s propserity could increase if it is managed correctly. Will be interesting to see what changes come as a result of this. Stay tuned for the Salar de Uyuni photos on Friday =)

  11. metsbwd 31 May, 2011 at 18:42 Reply

    Love the photos, especially the corn one!  It’ll likely be a shame when the new road opens…as poor as these villages are now. I hope the new road at least is still close / goes through them?  Could be bad for these already poor people who rely on the few tourist dollars that show up to lose those too due to the new road.  Looking forward to your salt flats photos too!  (And would love to try that llama as well!)

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