The Andes is a magical place. With striking landscapes and traditional communities that live and thrive here, it is the heart of indigenous South America. Nowhere quite compares to the mountain villages nestled between the looming volcanoes in Ecuador and the picturesque town of Otavalo, home to one of the largest handicraft markets and the most beautifully dressed locals on the continent. Our last visit to the Andes was at the tip of South America in Argentina, and the last time we had experienced such colourful cultural customs was in Bolivia and Peru back in October 2012. It was a refreshing change of scenery to arrive back in the Andes. We were so excited to be a part of this world all over again.
Our arrival into San Pedro de Atacama came with a bit of a come down ending in a bump – a bump the size of a Volcano. After the confusion we had gone through with Oscar and Dennis, at the Bolivian-Chile border at the end of the Salt Flats Tour, we finally found our ride to San Pedro, only to learn they had one less seat than we needed. Travelling in a group of four (including our tour buddies Laura and Phil) there was only 3 seats left so one of us had to make do with a cool box/esky as a seat, Phil volunteered for the cool seat.
At 3600m above sea level, the Salar de Uyuni is the highest Salt Flat in the world, and at over 10,000 square kilometres it is also the biggest. The Salt Flat was formed many moons ago as a large ancient lake dried up leaving behind the whitest, flattest expanse of salt you have ever seen. The only way to experience the Salt Flats is by jumping in a 4x4 with a bunch of fellow travellers and driving across it. We organised our trip to launch from Tupiza with our new friends Laura and Phil. You can read more about organising the trip in our Tupiza post.
If Bolivia were to have a wild west, Tupiza would be the location; an arid landscape of jagged, rocky mountains of dark red earth covered in giant Cacti, this is the place you imagine cowboys riding through the canyons on their horses. It is even claimed that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, of train robber fame, met their fate near Tupiza, giving the town that real old time outlaw edge.
There really aren’t many nice things to say about Potosi, a dry, dishevelled mining town 10 hours south of La Paz. The Spanish settled here over 300 years ago when they heard of a mountain made of silver. The Cerro Rico Mountain looms like an ancient worn out monster over the city. Once the richest city in the world, we expected Potosi to have an element of grandeur on the scale of Ballarat in Victoria Australia, instead we were welcomed into a rough and run down city, much like a neglected ghetto on the outskirts of La Paz.
A few hours north-east of La Paz there lies a road, a long, narrow, windy road, hugging the steep sheer mountains as it edges it´s way deep into the untamed Bolivian jungle. The road is so narrow that a passing truck, bus or car, has nothing to protect it from the dark depths of the jungle valley some 800m below. To embark on a trip along this road means the very real possibility of not making it to the end. This road is called the DEATH ROAD. Are you scared yet?
La La La Paz, what a crazy city! Our first view of La Paz was spectacular. High on the mountain the bus was squealing around the corner when the city suddenly appeared below. Nestled ever so tightly within the gorge, the cites central area sits at the bottom, while the lego-like houses of the suburbs are stacked and sprawling in chaotic order up the sides of the steep gorge walls.
Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake, at 3910m above sea level it is approximately 200km long by 60km wide, it’s really really big! The Lake spans the border of Peru and Bolivia, both countries claim to own 60% of the Lake, however the maps clearly show Peru has the majority share.