What can I say about Boliva?
It is perhaps the best kept secret, from US citizens, in all of South America. There are many reasons why people, especially United States citizens, choose not to go to Bolivia. There are many other interesting places to see, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia. Bolivia has the touristically unlucky proximity to Peru, one of the most famous destinations in South America and Chile and Argentina are two of the most expansive. This makes it easy for people to skip over Bolivia. A visa for US citizens costs 135 dollars. This is a lot of money when traveling abroad. It is more than the weekly allowance of most travelers and it can make it hard to justify the expense. They also have a rarely enforced requirement of a yellow fever vaccination certificate. This is a rule that I have never heard of enforced. For these, and other reasons, people tend to pass over Bolivia when anointing destinations worthy of travel.
This is madness.
Bolivia is home to some of the most beautiful mountainous regions in all of South America. The gigantic city of La Paz sits in the shadow of Huayna Potosi and the Codillera Real unchallenged by altitude. The city itself stands at 12,500 feet or 3640 meters.
La Paz is a city built for trekking tourists. The food is not as good as Cusco, which isn’t really a fair comparison, since Cusco has some of the best food in the area. It is the trekking that you need to take advantage of. Like Cusco, there are agencies everywhere.
Unlike Cusco, the agencies are actually affordable. And the variety of experiences is vast. You can mountain bike down 3,000+ meters, thats right 9,000+ feet) in about 3 hours ride time on the Death Road just outside La Paz. They even have single track mountain biking available for real mountain bikers.
You can climb Huayna Potosi about 6,000 meters.on a multiple day trip.
Also just outside of La Paz. The salt flats at Uyuni beckon, with 1-4 day options. You can paraglide, rappel, and bungee jump all in the same day. There are options to add ziplining and visits to animal refuges to a death road package. Jungle treks are available as well. Let’s not forget a visit to the Island of the sun, the most beautiful island on Lake Titicaca.
Each of these experiences can be done for half or less than the average trek that originates in Cusco. So if you are planning a trip to Peru and you have adventure in mind, visit La Paz. There are many options for Hostals. and your stay will be cheap. You can get by in Bolivia for about half or less of what you would spend for the same things in Cusco. And much less when compared to Chile and Argentina.
I spent the great majority of my 10 week trip in Cusco, but the two weeks I spent in Bolivia were worth it. I spent a week in La Paz. A few of my friends from Cusco came with for the weekend and we had a great time doing the death road trek. We rode mountain bikes from 4,700 meters to about 1,100 meters.
It was incredible. We started in the snow and ended up in the jungle below. The ride was easy and the bikes were pretty decent for the price we paid. With this trek you don’t have to be extravagant, but you can definitely ensure enough safety with a middle of the market priced tour company. The bikes at the bargain places may have issues, so steer clear of those.
While safety isn’t number one on this trek, they do give you plenty of gear to protect you in case of a fall and the guides take picture while you are riding. Tourists are banned from taking photos, because a few unlucky riders have tumbled off the road in the past. But as long as you aren’t an idiot the trek is very safe.
The death road got its name when it was the only road out of La Paz and was used by cars, which it is quite narrow for. There is plenty of room for bikes and there are no cars on the lower half, which includes the old road.
It was nearing the end of my trip, because this was the beginning of December. I was almost out of money. I needed something to help me out a little and I got pretty lucky. As it turns out the hostel I was staying at, The Adventure Brew Hostal in La Paz, trades rooms for bartending service. It makes a lot of sense, because they need people that speak english and a lot of business is done at night in the bar. The hostal is also unique as one of the few places that has a microbrew. The brew, called Saya, is pretty decent when it is not too foamy. It reminds me of simpler NW brews. They have Amber, Negra, Dorada (sort of like a Kolsch), and a lager. When I was there they only had Amber and Dorada. But it was the best beer I had in both Peru and Bolivia. And it actually came from the tap instead of a bottle like the beer in Cusco.
I worked for a week in the bar which made my trip a lot more cost effective. I had 3 night shifts and 2 day shifts, easy. The work was simple, the night shift could be pretty busy, but the day shift was slow. I usually spent most of the day watching movies or UEFA Cup matches. This is a great trade for anyone looking to stay in La Paz for a while longer. You can’t do a lot of trekking because you have to work, but it makes exploration of the city pretty easy. And you meet literally hundreds of people.
After my week in La Paz. I met my food buddy from Cusco, Amy, at the Bus Station and headed to Copacabana with Isla Del Sol in mind. My friend Javier from Argentina was the first person that told me about the island of the sun. After visiting Amantani on the Peruvian side of the lake, I thought that I wouldn’t get the chance to see it. My trip to Bolivia made this small dream a reality. And so I after arriving in Copacabana we ate some food, visited the ATM and boarded the 2 hour boat ride to the island.
More on the Island to come…