My July 2016 second visit to La Paz, Bolivia, included mountain biking Death Road, zip-lining over valleys and partying in the high altitude city. My first stay in La Paz ended with me needing to escape to a lower elevation due to altitude sickness. Not this time.
This great view of La Paz from Pirwa Hostel’s patio did not beat Death Road’s scenery
North Yungas Road, also known as Death Road* (Ruta de la Muerte in Spanish) was named by Inter-American Development Bank in 1995 as the world’s most dangerous road. The road’s 64 kilometre length, steepness, amazing scenery and infamous reputation make mountain biking down it a must-do day trip for adventure-seeking visitors to La Paz.
From the amazing Brazilian Pantanal I needed to get to La Paz, Bolivia. With no direct flights and one-way flights ridiculously expensive, the best mode was overland.
Leaving the excellent Hostel Road Riders in Corumbá, Brazil, Dana, Ela and I took a taxi to the Bolivian border. As an Australian, I obtained my Bolivian entry stamp easily. Not so Israeli passport holders Dana and Ela. Border officials shunted them around, asked for itineraries and bookings and treated them with disdain.
The Corumbá-Quijarro border crossing from outside a shop on the Bolivian side where I waited for Dana and Ela
After a few hours Dana and Ela still had not received their visas so I left the border for Puerto Quillaro’s La Brasilena train station. There I met New Zealanders Kyle and Anna who also wanted to buy a ticket on the Death Train to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Continue reading →
Unlike the journey to Potosi, travelling to Uyuni was a straightforward bus ride. Uyuni the town is a dusty place with little to note except for one thing – it is a major starting point for tours to the giant Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni). Salar de Uyuni and other landscapes in Bolivia’s south west are must-sees on the South American tourist trail.
I wanted to take the same Red Planet 3 day tour as Aubrey (and her friend Jenn), one of several friends I met at the wonderful Beehive Hostel in Sucre. I arrived to Uyuni on the evening of the 1st of April and, after checking in to my accommodation, looked for a restaurant. At a chicken restaurant, upon asking for a menu, I was told in Spanish, we have fried chicken. Obviously no menu was needed. Every local in the restaurant (all other patrons were locals) ate their chicken, chips and fried plantain with knives and forks – no finger-licking-good here.
The next morning I visited the immigration office to receive my post-dated Bolivian exit stamp, saving the need to queue at the border. Checking in at Red Planet’s office, I was delighted to be placed in the same vehicle as Jenn and Aubrey, along with a British couple. We travelled together in convoys of two Landcruisers. The five of us along with six women in the other car made for a great tour group.
The first tour stop was the Uyuni train cemetery, where trains built in the late 19th century lay abandoned.
In late March I arrived to Potosi from Sucre. Founded in 1545, Potosi, Bolivia is famous for its world heritage listed colonial city centre and its mine. The silver production from Potosi’s mine was so prolific that it financed a large part of the Spanish empire.
During Spanish colonial times, Potosi’s silver was mined by a combination of paid and slave labour. Local indigenous and imported African slaves performed much of the most dangerous work. One estimate has 8,000,000 people dying from mining or related work over the centuries.
The Potosi Mint was first established in 1572. Although the current mint museum is based in a later building, it tells a very impressive and depressing story.
A display in the Potosi Mint Museum showing indigenous and African labour working in dangerous conditions to process silver oreContinue reading →
From Sucre in late March I wanted to visit Potosi, home of the silver mine that financed an empire. My original plan was to take the ‘train’. The train between Sucre and Potosi more closely resembled a bus-on-tracks. People asked why I wanted to take the train instead of the bus or shared taxi as the train is slower and runs less regularly (three times per week versus several departures per day). I’ve always enjoyed train travel and views from rail are generally better than from road. The novelty of the single-carriage Sucre-Potosi train also attracted me.
The service to Potosi, Sucre’s only train, departs from El Tejar Terminal. I wished to catch the Wednesday, 30 March train, scheduled to depart at 8am. Waking up early, I farewelled the wonderful Beehive Hostel and hailed a taxi to what I hoped would be El Tejar Terminal. Instead, the driver left me in front of a semi-grand building that was formerly another train station. Realising I was in the wrong place, I took a second taxi. The second driver also didn’t know where El Tejar Terminal was, needing to ask other people. Eventually, I made it to the station, only to be confronted with an empty railway siding.
I was lucky enough to be in Sucre for the third weekend of March. On this weekend, Tarabuco hosts the Pujllay Festival commemorating the defeat of the Spanish in the 12 March, 2016 Battle of Cumbate. Tarabuco is a town located 65 kilometres from Sucre, making a very pleasant day trip.
On Sunday the 20th of March I caught a bus from Sucre’s Plaza 25 de Maya to Tarabuco for the 2016 Pujllay Festival. In Tarabuco groups of locals, many wearing outrageous costumes, paraded from the town centre to an open field for further celebrations.
The 2016 Pujllay Festival parade in Tarabuco’s main square (the multicoloured flag is Bolivia’s second national flag and represents Bolivia’s indigenous)Continue reading →
Founded by the Spanish almost 500 years ago, Sucre’s historic rise and decline was linked to the Potosi silver mine. With its year’s round mild climate and lower altitude (2,800 metres), Sucre was the preferred place of residence for the wealthy involved with Potosi’s silver trade.
Sucre is Bolivia’s constitutional capital and home of the high court (La Paz is Bolivia’s seat of government). Sucre is also the capital of Chuquisaca Department. With its historic buildings, museums, good restaurants and pleasant climate, Sucre is a popular place to visit and stay. After Santa Cruz, Sucre became my home for four weeks this March as I took Spanish lessons (gracias Faby!) and enjoyed the atmosphere of the city in general and The Beehive Hostel in particular.
Sucre’s Mercado Central (Central Market) was a regular destination with its fruit and vegetable, general produce and juice stalls.