Bolivia is one of our favourite countries in South America. It might have its minuses like the lack of heating, hot water or WiFi in hostels, but in the end it all doesn’t matter. Bolivia’s warm people and its stunning nature will take your breath away. The country is experiencing many problems, most of them political and economical. It’s a place full of natural resources, but unfortunately many industries are not well supported by the government. For us it was also one of the cheapest countries to visit in South America, but don’t forget – what’s little for you can be a lot for locals.
In Bolivia we visited Uyuni, Potosí, Sucre, La Paz and Copacabana. You can read how we spent a day in Uyuni in the article about Salt Flats and in a short piece about Uyuni. Here is a small recollection of the rest of our time in Bolivia.
Normal route for people passing through Bolivia would lie through Uyuni, Sucre, maybe Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Tupiza, La Paz and Copacabana. Potosí sometimes makes a list, but very often it doesn’t. A small mining town, which used to be very wealthy and busy, is going through much tougher times today. The air is hugely polluted, big part of population is under the poverty line and many die in mines even today.
Most tourists come here for mining tours. This is slightly controversial topic, because some tour companies don’t care about miners. Not all employees are necessarily happy with people taking pictures of them while they work, breathe through the thick air, sweat and try their best to feed their families. So if you choose to do the tour, pick the agency that shares their profit with miners. This is the best way to ensure that you are doing something positive for a community, not just looking at people like at animals in the zoo.
We didn’t do the tour for other reasons, but you know what? We really liked Potosí. This town has many signs of its former glory, which are sort of supplemented by overall Bolivian awesomeness. Beautiful buildings, parks, churches -such a charming vibe! It’s also a great place to try some spicy local food. We found a tiny home restaurant, where the owner made food for us in her own kitchen while playing with her kids. It tasted great and came together with Bolivian news on TV. For city views, if you don’t make it to Cerro Rico, try going to Mirador Torre de la Compania de Jesus. When you arrive to Potosí, don’t let your first impression cloud your judgement and this city will amaze you!
What makes you like or dislike a city when you travel? Maybe you had amazing time there like we did in Rio. Maybe the city is simply beautiful and you feel at home there, like it happened for us in Buenos Aires. Or maybe you found lots of activities to do around the place, like in Queenstown. Our time in Sucre was not specifically spectacular. We stayed in a hostel, which was very cold (or should I say freezing?) at night and had a terrible WiFi. We had to figure out our next steps, so we spent some time in a Joy Ride Cafe to book our accommodations and use some internet (great place by the way). But here’s what we enjoyed about Sucre:
1. It’s beautiful city. Architecture style, worth any Instagram account. For overview of the city, go to the Recoleta viewpoint. But, next to the viewpoint you can find Casa Kolping hotel, which has a terrace with even better view! They normally let people come and take a look, but be nice and ask if that’s okay.
2. Goblin Bar for craft beer. Owner of this place sort of expanded his house with a brewery. He brews just a few types per week and it’s enough for these few days they’re open. The family is very friendly and beers taste great (my favourite one was Oscura).
3. La Quimba for food and life music. It’s not exactly a budget place, but food is really good and place has special ambiance. Besides, they often play live music, so it’s a lovely place for dinner and/or drinks.
4. After discovering dinosaur footprints in Sucre, they decided to make it into Parque Cretacico. The park is not big, but it features a lot of footprints of different species. While they are waiting for the UNESCO approval, they offer guided tours in Spanish-English that are included in your ticket price. By the way, if you want to take pictures, you’ll have to pay additional 5 Bolivianos for the permission to use your camera.
While Anders was way too unimpressed with the city, I would definitely give Sucre another chance. I do think it’s a beautiful place and if we weren’t half-sick, cold and visiting around Easter when some places were closed, our experience might have been very different.
First things first: when in La Paz, go on a walking tour. La Paz has so much history and color that if you don’t plan to stay there for a week, there’s no chance you’ll find it out on your own. We took a tour with the Red Cap tours and didn’t regret it! They taught us so much about the city and Bolivia, both nice and uncomfortable things. You visit a local fresh market, witches’ market, you learn about a famous prison, cholitas and Bolivian politics. These guys offer other tours, like extended walking tour, foodie tour and more, but we didn’t have time to try them all.
In South America we met quite a few people who have been to La Paz. None of them were impressed with it. Why? We don’t know. Some said it was polluted, others said it was messy. And yes, the air wasn’t cleanest, but we’ve already been to Potosí so it didn’t bother us that much. We really loved La Paz! And one thing we regretted the most is that we have only spent two days there. La Paz has great markets: the city center is one huge never-ending market. They use cable cars as their public transport – how cool is that? There is some nice food to try a plethora of museums to see.
If you’d like to try something super-cool around La Paz, consider riding your bike down the Death Road. See Clare’s experience at the Death Road at ilive4travel blog.
Tips: For avocado sandwich go to Mercado Lanza. For amazing views of the city – Mirador Killi Killi.
Moral of the story: don’t spend two days in La Paz. Stay longer.
Second Copacabana we visited, just like the one in Rio, was definitely worth a stop. While making our way from La Paz to Cusco, we decided to see lake Titicaca. The most popular ways to explore it is to either stop in Puno on Peruvian side or in Copacabana on Bolivian side. You can also just do both! We decided to go with Copacabana – and no, we weren’t disappointed. It’s not a big city, but you can spend a very relaxing day there.
One of the popular things to do in Copacabana is to take a tour to the Isla del Sol, the Sun Island of Incas. Incas believed that this is the place where the sun god was born. Try to have more than an hour at Isla del Sol. You can spend a night on the island, but prepare that it might be cold and expensive.
If you take a day tour and come back to Copacabana, there are few things to do. As always (we’re so happy!) there are few hills to climb and a market to visit. For trout, freshly caught in lake Titicaca, head to the kiosks at the beachfront – try the lemon trout. Later, you can head to Costa Zul at the Avenue Costanera for drinks and sunset. If you want to stay at the local hostel – check out Hostal Florencia. The owner is absolutely adorable, and her dog Pepe will steal your heart away.
We sincerely hope that you will love Bolivia as much as we did. One day we will come back to explore more of this wonderful country. Let us know what was your favourite place in Bolivia – leave your tips in the comment section!