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Bolivia Brazil Chile Itineraries Monthly Round-Up Peru South America

Three Months on the Road in South America – Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru

November 13, 2017

Another month in South America is behind us and for the life of me, I don’t know where the time’s going!

As we have in previous months, this post is designed to give you a summary of our recent adventures and help those of you considering a similar trip plan your route and budget.

We’re a bit late on getting this month out so let’s not mess around – here goes!

If this is the first monthly round-up you’ve read, you may like to check out itinerary and costings for the first and second month we spend in South America first.

Ilha Grande, Brazil

Not much more than a stone’s throw from Rio, Ilha Grande is an island lying just off the coast.  Boasting gorgeous beaches (though due to the lack of beautiful sunshine, we didn’t manage to see them at their best), it’s a great option for some R&R.

Accommodation:  3 nights in a 6-bed dorm at Hostel Refugio @ BLR45 each/night (USD13.70/NZD19.80).  A good hostel with a substantial breakfast included.  A little walk out of town but as the centre is so small, it really isn’t far from the action.

Activities:  We booked a day trip island hopping out to Paradise Island and back along Ilha Grande through Equipe Athos (and were put on a boat with Tubarão Tour).  We were promised snorkeling gear and when it was withheld from us and we were instead greeted by a fairly aggressive skipper, it’s fair to say the day soured.  Most of the spots we visited were over crowed and as snorkeling was the main aim of our day, it’s fair to say it was a pretty big disappointment – at least we had our friends with us to make the day a good one!

Onwards travel to Paraty:  We booked a private transfer for BRL50 each (USD15.35/NZD22.10) whilst on the boat heading over to Ilha Grande (with Easy Transfer).  In retrospect, we could have arranged our own transfer ourselves but with absolutely no Portuguese and limited time, we were happy with our decision.

Paraty, Brazil

Our own private paradise, we stayed just out of the colonial centre of Paraty in a secluded bay, accessible only by boat.

Though we visited both Ilha Grande and Paraty, in our opinion one would generally be sufficient.  We personally liked the laidback nature of Paraty and would pick it as our preference between the two spots.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Happy Hammock Eco Guesthouse (dorms are also available).  Transfers in and out of the guesthouse are organised by Patrick and the team – contact them for further details.  Happy Hammock was a real highlight of our time in Brazil!

Activities:  From the guesthouse, we popped out on a number of free excursions – a hike to the neighbouring beach for lunch, swimming, snorkeling at night with bioluminescent plankton (wow!) and a day trip to the historical centre of Paraty.  Not to mention all that hammock time!

Onwards travel to La Paz:  Public night bus from Paraty to Sao Paulo on Reunidas Paulista (BRL92.60/USD28.25/NZD40.80 each) and then a flight from Sao Paulo to La Paz on Boliviana de Aviacion (BRL821/USD250.45/NZD361.85 each).

La Paz, Bolivia

We’d heard mixed things about La Paz – it seems it’s a place people love or hate.

Fortunately, we loved it!  It’s a little grimy and a little mad but it’s got a whole lot of character and a neat buzz about it.

Accommodation:  3 nights at House Wonderful @ BOB60 (USD8.30/NZD12) each/night.  The reviews online for this hostel were fantastic but unfortunately, reality didn’t match for us – when we returned to La Paz we found a different (and much better) place to stay so couldn’t really recommend a stay at Hostel Wonderful.

Activities:

Death Road Biking

The main reason for our visit to La Paz, the Death Road did not disappoint!  Hurtling down what used to be the most dangerous road in the world is not for the faint of heart but those that give it a go are rewarded with a tremendous sense of achievement.  We’re yet to meet anyone who’s done it and didn’t love it!  We rode with Barracuda and unreservedly recommend them.  BOB570 each (USD82.50/NZD119.15).

Red Cap Walking Tour

Walking tours can be a great way to help find your feet in a new city and with Bolivia’s intriguing political history, we decided to explore the city with the help of a local.  Red Cap are professional and affordable and do a great job of showing off the diversity of this unique city.  BOB20 each (USD3/NZD4.30) plus a tip (and please do remember to tip, otherwise the guides don’t get paid).

Onwards travel to Uyuni:  We’d heard horror stories about the night buses down the line so jumped at the opportunity to pick up reasonably priced flights.  Boliviana de Aviación (BOA) @ BOB536 each (USD77.55/NZD112).

Uyuni (& the Salt Flats), Bolivia

The jumping-off point to the world-renowned Bolivian Salt Flats, Uyuni doesn’t offer a great deal to travellers but its surrounding area certainly does.  Let me put it this way, nobody ventures down to Uyuni for the town itself.

Accommodation:  1 night in a triple room at La Rocka @ BOB50 each/night (USD7.20/NZD10.40).  The rooms here were comfortable but the toilets weren’t kept particularly clean – more a reflection of the few other guests staying there but not very pleasant all the same.  For the price though, we were happy enough.

Activites:  We booked a 3-night/4-day tour of the Salt Flats with Jukil de los Andes and were very happy with our decision. The addition of an additional night (most people seem to book 2n/3d) meant we got a lot more time on the Salt Flats and our volcano climb provided us with the most amazing views out over the flats.  Salt flats, train graveyards, cactus islands, volcanoes, lagoons, flamingos galore and more – these tours are diverse and so, so much fun.

Onwards travel to San Pedro:  The tour dropped us at the border between Bolivia and Chile and included a mini-van transfer into the city at no additional charge.

Arica, Chile

A quick stop on our way further north, Arica is a lovely seaside city.  Their weather is nice, the people are friendly and though we didn’t spend much time exploring, we did get a good feeling from the town.

Accommodation: 1 nights in a private room at Residencial Tres Soles @ ARS202.50 each/night (USD11.60/NZD16.40)

Onwards travel to La Paz:  Local bus @ CLP8,000 each (USD12.65/NZD18.25) including a delicious lunch – the first proper lunch we’ve been served on a bus (and still, the only one to date!)

La Paz, Bolivia

Our second visit to La Paz, this time we weren’t there to tick off activities but to recharge our batteries and soak up the city.  Our newfound hostel was a big improvement on the last one so we’d definitely recommend staying there.

Accommodation:  2 nights at Landscape – International B&B in a private double room @ BOB67.37 each/night (USD9.75/NZD14)

Activites:  We caught the red cablecar up to the El Alto markets (BOB3 per person/per ride) and though it was a way to fill the time, it really didn’t compare to the Chichi Markets in Guatemala.  The markets are worth a visit if you’ve got time on your hands but, to be honest, we preferred the tourist markets in the middle of town… that is unless you’re in the market for car parts, badly-made knock-off clothing and general household supplies!

Onwards travel to CopacabanaBolivia Hop.  This is a great service provided for travellers – for a set price, they’ll generally pick you up from your accommodation and will drop you at your next home-away-from-home.  We picked up the full pass which includes our transport all the way from La Paz, Bolivia through to Lima, Peru (with the exception of one side trip up to the Amazon).

Copacabana, Bolivia

A cute little lakeside town, Copacabana doesn’t offer a heck of a lot more than relaxation but it does it well.  It’s a nice place to spend a night or two and due to its size, it’s super easy to get around by foot.

Accommodation:  1 night in a private room at Hostal 6 de Agosto @ BRL40 each/night (USD5.75/NZD8.30).  Basic accommodation but good value for the price – we had a private bathroom with warm(ish) water and relatively comfortable beds – be sure to take singles for everyone in your group though as the double beds weren’t as good.

ActivitesAfternoon trip to Isla del Sol.  We caught the Bolivia Hop ferry over to what was known as the birthplace of the sun during Inca times.  The island itself was beautiful but the one hike from our dropoff point to that of collection was relatively quick – if you’re interested in seeing the island properly, we’d probably suggest spending a night there.  BOB70 (USD10.15/NZD14.65)

Onwards travel to Puno:  Bolivia Hop – they collected us from the big white anchor statue on the lakefront.

Puno, Peru

Puno was so much bigger than we’d expected!  It’s not a particularly memorable city but did have a busy main street serving up reasonable food (a ‘tourist menu’ will get you three courses for approximately PEN20 (USD6.15/NZD8.90) and it serves its purpose well, acting as the jumping off point to the floating islands.

Accommodation:  1 night in a private room at Suite Independencia @ PEN30 each/night (USD9.25/NZD13.35).  This was a special price availed through our Bolivia Hop passes.

ActivitesAfternoon visit to Uros.  Here we visited locals living as they have for generations (more or less) on floating islands made of reeds.  I’m not entirely sure what I made of the experience to be honest – although the islands themselves were intriguing and we snapped some lovely photos we did feel very much like we were only welcome on the island if we spent up large.  As with any experience like this, I would have much more interest in interacting with the locals than simply being seen as an ATM.  Would I recommend others to visit?  Probably, as I do think I’d have been disappointed if I’d not experienced the community for myself, but I’m not 100% sold on the experience.  We’ll let you make up your own mind.  PEN35 each (USD10.80/NZD15.60).

Onwards travel to Cusco:  Good ol’ Bolivia Hop, by way of an overnight bus.  Once we arrived into Cusco, they organised taxis to take us to our individual hostels.

Cusco, Peru

The cultural capital of Peru, Cusco offers travellers so much – delicious food, unique cultural sites, unbeatable trekking and lots of adventure – it’s hard to tear yourself away!

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Magic Cusco Hostel, followed by a break to visit Machu Picchu and another night upon our return.  PEN20 each/night (USD6.15/NZD8.90).  I returned from Machu Picchu unwell and Esperanza very kindly let me sleep throughout the day at no extra charge.  She doesn’t speak a great deal of English but was very patient with us and incredibly kind.  Though the hostel’s a little way out of town, Uber is cheap and it’s worth staying out of the city to experience her hospitality (and to get a real duvet – oh my goodness!)

Activities:

Machu Picchu

Though there are plenty of reasons to visit Cusco, Machu Picchu really is the grand-daddy of them all.  This incredible site reveals more and more of its secrets each year but so much is still unknown.

There are numerous ways of getting to this historic site, from a comfy train to challenging, multi-day treks.  We opted for something in the middle – what we would consider the most exciting way to get to Machu Picchu – the Inca Jungle Trek.

We booked through Peru Andean Hop where our fee of USD240 each (PEN778/NZD348.45) included mountain biking, rafting, ziplining, accommodation for three nights, guides, food, transfers, entrance to Machu Picchu (along with a guided tour of the site) and the train back.

After biking, rafting, zip-lining and hiking our way to Machu Picchu (part of it along the original Inca Trail) we opted to catch the bus up to Machu Picchu (lining up from 3.30am – ouch!) for USD12 each.  It was a fairly costly bus ride but considering we arrived at the top feeling fresh and in time to make our 6.10am tour, it was well worth it.  At the end of our visit, we hiked our way back down the steps and our choice was totally reaffirmed – there’s no way I would have made it up all those steps at 5am!

With a new timing system recently introduced, we picked up some helpful tips (and almost came undone in the process) – stay tuned for our Machu Picchu post where we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know.

Onwards travel to Puerto Maldonado (the Amazon):  After returning to Cusco and spending a night recuperating, we caught a night bus (the best salon cama we’ve experienced so far!) with Excluciva @ PEN50 each (USD15.40/NZD22.25).

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Toilet paper is not a given.  We’ve found hostels and guesthouses in the cities supply toilet paper but as soon as you get out of a city, it’s not guaranteed.  We’ve always travelled with a little toilet paper as a backup but here it is sometimes an absolute necessity.
  • Hot showers in Bolivia aren’t always so hot.  Most showers in Bolivia employ a little electric water heater right on the shower-head.  Aside from the risk of electrocution, they’re unreliable at the best of times.
  • You do get used to putting your toilet paper in the bin!  I didn’t think it would happen, but it kind of has.
  • Bouncing around different currencies is difficult.  Even as I write this, I find it hard to convert between Soles and Bolivianos – thank goodness for XE.
  • We can afford to eat out again!  Bolivia and Peru are both significantly cheaper than our original destinations (Chile, Argentina and Brazil) so we can finally afford to eat out.  A good sized meal can cost as little as PEN8-12 each (USD2.45-3.70) if you look in the right places and even less in Bolivia.  We had initially planned on cooking for ourselves sometimes but we’ve actually found it really difficult to source fresh meat here so it’s not happening at this stage.

I remember when Machu Picchu felt like a distant thought on our Latin American journey so to not only have visited but to have it behind us now feels totally surreal.  We have lots more excitement on the horizon though with some more amazing hikes in Peru lined up and the most amazing cruise through the Galapagos.

Sometimes it’s hard not to pinch ourselves!

Check out our Recent Posts

EcoCamp Patagonia – Reviewing Torres del Paine’s Bucket-List Glamping

Pedra de Gavea – Just How Difficult Is Rio’s Highest Hike?

Salar de Uyuni Tour, Day 1 – So Much More than a Salt Flat

The Complete Guide to Paraty, Brazil – Paradise is Only a Bus Ride from Rio!

Our Previous Months on the Road

A Month on the Road in South America – Chile and Argentina

Two Months on the Road in South America – Chile, Argentina & Brazil


Planning your own trip to South America?  Pin this post to come back to it…

Your guide to South America - Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru.  Accommodation, transport, activities and costings for everything from Machu Picchu to the Death Road.  The Salt Flats to the beaches of Brazil. Your guide to South America - Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru.  Accommodation, transport, activities and costings for everything from Machu Picchu to the Death Road.  The Salt Flats to the beaches of Brazil.


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Bolivia Eco Tourism South America Uyuni Salt Flats

Salar de Uyuni Tour, Day 1 – So Much More than a Salt Flat

October 26, 2017

Uyuni, a remote part of Bolivia, draws tourists into Salar de Uyuni to take all manner of creative, perspective-bending photos of its seemingly never-ending horizon.  Whether in the dry season, when the salt flats crack and splinter, or the wet season, when reflections make it difficult to tell land from sky, there’s much more to this region than we initially realised.  Find out how we spent our days with Jukil de los Andes on our Salar de Uyuni tour…

For those looking to explore the salt flats, a range of tours are offered from Uyuni, with something to fit all timeframes and budgets.  The most popular tour from this desert town covers off the major sights over the course of three days/two nights, but everything from a single day trip to four days plus are available.

Though we were initially booked on a three day tour, we added another day at the last minute and couldn’t have been happier with our decision; it resulted in a lot of additional time on the salt flats, an opportunity to snap some gorgeous reflection shots and gave us a birds-eye view our over the expansive Salar de Uyuni after climbing one of the local volcanoes…

More on that later though – first up, let’s take a look at our first day on the salt.

Salar de Uyuni Itinerary – Day 1

Train Cemetry

Though trains once used to run between inland Bolivia and their port town, the country’s rocky history with Chile rendered the railway all but useless many years ago.  With their seaside land commandeered, Bolivia unwillingly become a landlocked country and their trains that once lead to the ocean, now lead nowhere.

This is where those trains came to die.

Fortunately though, the Uyuni tours have brought these old locomotives back to life (so to speak) and if you’re lucky like us, you’ll find yourself there with the majority of the tourists gone and the place practically to yourselves.

Last Minute Supplies

Before stopping off for lunch, we had time for a spot of shopping; everything from souviner salt and plastic dinosaurs (for that perfect salt flat photo) to lama jumpers and knock-off sunnies was available at surprisingly reasonable prices. 

If you’re looking for a little llama or Godzilla prop for your photos, it’s certainly not worth dragging your own around from home when you can pick one up on the spot for BOB15-20 (approx USD2.20).

Entering the Salt Flats

Once you’ve put a fair bit of salt-laden ground behind you, you’ll come across the two first major Salar de Uyuni attractions; the Dakar Rally monument and the infamous international collection of flags.

I must admit, I wasn’t expecting to be particularly blown away by either of these sights but when you’re standing in the middle of what feels like an ever-reaching salt flat, it’s hard not to pinch yourself.

Yes, they’re touristy but they’re also pretty amazing to see!

Salt Flats – The Main Attraction

The crowning glory of these tours, who hasn’t seen a creative salt flat photo online by now?

Salar de Uyuni seems to stretch on endlessly and, thanks to its incredibly flat surface, provides great opportunities to take mind-bending perspective photos.  Be warned though, its bumpy, cracking surface is like sandpaper to the skin and whoever is photographing your group is likely to spend a large amount of time laying flat against the salt – we suggest you wear jeans and a fleece to offer your skin some protection.

Stay tuned for our photography guide to the salt flats so you too can take perfectly focused perspective photos!

Pink Skies and Pink Birds – Sunset Magic

One of the main highlights of extending our Salar de Uyuni tour to four days was to be found as the sun started going down.

The three-day tours gap it from the salt flats pretty quickly, not only limiting your time to take the perfect perspective photos but robbing visitors of the opportunity to take beautiful reflective photos by the lagoon bordering the salt flats.

In the rainy season, the salt flats become an incredible expanse where it’s hard to tell what’s ground and what’s sky.  Clouds reflect in the water, with colours as vivid as the real things.  Unfortunately though, not everybody gets to experience this amazing phenomena… unless of course you book a four-night trip to get a sneak peek of it!

Stargazing

With the city lights a distant memory, we made our way back onto the salt flats and soon found ourselves enveloped in absolute darkness.

I thought I’d seen stars clearly before in the past – I was wrong.

The Milky Way instantly popped out in front of us, as clear as day.  Countless stars twinkled away above us in a moment of pure magic.

Between the stars and the sunset, you have reason enough to ensure a stay out on Salar de Uyuni – believe me, racing off after you take your daytime salt flat photos will mean doing yourself out of an amazing experience.

Reviewing the Finer Details

Accommodation

Though the accommodation provided on our tour was basic, it was adequate.  It certainly didn’t rival some of the amazing places we’ve stayed in the past but the beds surprisingly comfortable and the rooms warm.  As we selected the entry-level tour, we weren’t expecting 5-star accommodation (and nor did we get it) but we were fairly comfortable.

Our first hostel was well located right on the side of Salar de Uyuni so we could make our own way down to take beautiful sunset photos.

The trade-off though?  We were left without any showers and bathrooms that couldn’t exactly be described as clean – especially in the morning when we awoke to find the water had been shut off (to prevent pipes from freezing) all sorts of interesting remnants in the toilets.  Eeeek!

Food

Lunch

Having expected a packed lunch of sandwiches on the road we were pleasantly surprised when we were dished up quinoa, beef, roasted potatoes and steamed veggies for lunch, along with Coke and water.  The fact that we all went back for seconds (and thirds and fourths in Nathan’s case) speaks for itself!

Dinner

With our standards raised from lunch, dinner wasn’t quite as memorable. 

Perfectly cooked pasta was accompanied by an onion-heavy vegetarian bolognese sauce and parmesan cheese. 

Anyone that knows me well knows that onion and I aren’t the best of friends (that’s the understatement of the year!) so I ended up eating cheesy pasta (which was actually better than it sounds). 

Fortunately for us the group next to us couldn’t eat all of their sausages and very kindly offered us some. 

Pro Tip:  If you’re headed out on this tour and meat is a substantial part of your diet, we’d recommend asking if it will be provided or if it’s possible to supply your own to be cooked.

Driver & Car

Having heard horror stories about unsafe driving and cars breaking down left, right and centre, we knew that choosing a company with reliable cars was essential.  We certainly weren’t interested in wasting half a day waiting for our 4WD to be repaired.

It was with caution then, that we checked the Land Cruiser over trying to find fault.  We couldn’t though!

For the duration of the tour, Ivan, our lovely Bolivian guide, drove with caution and care.  He didn’t speak a great deal of English but with our friend Becky on hand to relay what she could and Google Translate filling in the gaps, we made it by just fine.

It would have been great to have had a better idea of exactly what was coming up the next day so we could have dressed appropriately but with our gear on the roof, it was never far away.

Though we thought we knew what to expect from our Salar de Uyuni tour, we were pleasantly surprised by just how diverse and stunning all of the sights were.

There’s no doubt in our mind that booking the four-day itinerary was the right decision for us.

Keep your eyes peeled for the highlights from the following days on the salt flats!


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How long should you spend at the Bolivian Salt Flats? Find out why we recommend the four-night itinerary at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Flamingos, reflections, salt for days and perfect perspective shots - a must for your South American vacation. Day one at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.  Find out why we recommend a four day itinerary and what we got up to on the first day of our visit to this amazing region in South America.


Thank you to Backpacking Becky for supplying a couple of her beautiful photos.  A massive thank you also to Jukil de los Andes for hosting us on this tour – as always, all thoughts are our own.

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