Road Tripping in Southwest Bolivia

May 31, 2011

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.

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?

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  • http://travel-for-love.com/ Laura

    Aren’t the landscapes there amazing? I can’t wait to see your photos of the Salar!

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      LOVED it! Stay tuned for the Salar pics on Friday =)

    • http://2backpackers.com 2 Backpackers

      I couldn’t agree more.  Bolivia did have the greatest landscapes.

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      So gorgeous! Wish we had more time there…

  • Anonymous

    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!)

  • Anonymous

    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!)

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      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 =)

  • Detective Bayliss

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

  • Detective Bayliss

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

  • Detective Bayliss

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

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Lugging a 25kg backpack makes you fit, Pemby. I did try llama kebabs in a restaurant and they were good!

  • http://twitter.com/travelcanucks Traveling Canucks

    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

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      We missed out on everything around Lake Titicaca because of violent protests in Puno, which caused riots and the border to be closed…thanks for the comment, guys! =)

  • Lenche

    Stunning photos :)

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Lenche! Wait til you see the salt flat pics on Friday =). Xo

  • http://www.kylehepp.com Kyle

    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!!!

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      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 =)

  • http://ordinarytraveler.com Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    Great photos. You have really captured the essence of Bolivia. 

  • http://ordinarytraveler.com Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    Great photos. You have really captured the essence of Bolivia. 

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Christy! =)

  • http://www.thetravelchica.com The Travel Chica

    Gorgeous photos!  I cannot wait to see Bolivia for myself.

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      It’s so nice – definitely don’t skip it =)

  • Sherry

    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.

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      It’s still very unspoilt, which makes it very worth it. And the people are really nice. You should go just for Salar de Uyuni alone (pics coming on Friday) =)

  • http://vagabond3.com Jade

    As always, gorgeous photos- the corn photo is just beautiful for some reason.

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Jade – that was a tough one because the sun was shining right on her…looks like hard work!

  • http://www.onmywayrtw.com Megan

    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.

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      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 =)

  • http://northernnomad.com/ Carolyn

    Beautiful photos!  I’ve never been to this part of the world, but would love to visit someday.

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Carolyn – highly recommended! =)

  • http://www.vagabondquest.com/ Dina VagabondQuest

    Amazing photo collection, guys! I’m looking forward to going there myself and got trapped in the middle of cattle :)

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Dina! =) Cattle and llamas feature heavily on the Bolivian landscape, but they didn’t get in the way much

  • http://twitter.com/RunawayJuno Juno Kim

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

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Juno =) Bolivia is certainly a colourful country!

  • http://twitter.com/Technosyncratic Christy & Kali

    Wow, such stark landscape.  It looks so beautiful, though!

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      It was gorgeous! Best scenery we’ve seen so far in South America while travelling overland =)

  • Nicole

    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.

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Nicole. We’ve had amazing weather here – pretty much since we left Chilean Patagonia in early April. It certainly makes for a better time =)

  • http://twitter.com/OverYonderlust Erica Kuschel

    Very much looking forward to Bolivia – awesome guys!

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Thanks, Erica – you’ll love it – so unspoilt =)

  • Laura

    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. 

    • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

      Wish we’d had more time to see the other areas you mentioned…we did rough it at times, but definitely worth it. Thanks so much for the comment =)

  • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

    Bolivia was so incredible! We really enjoyed it =)

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