Leaving Argentina and Chile was bitter sweet – waving goodbye to great steak, great wine and huge, sweeping vistas. Almost immediately Bolivia felt different – and it wasn’t just the cholitas carrying bundles of baby llamas over the border. Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador have a totally different feel to their Southern neighbours, and they require a different style of travel. But you know what? This is the kind of travel I absolutely love… and they did not disappoint.
We only had a short week in Bolivia but – wow – what a place. It was more than long enough to make me fall absolutely in love with the country, and definitely wanting to go back for more.
This is going to be a picture-heavy post, because even my best words can’t quite convey the weird and wonderful scenery that we encountered here. It often felt like visiting another planet – perfect, of course, for this sci-fi lover.
Our first stop in Bolivia was the mining town of Potosi, once the biggest and richest city in all the Americas. The reason? Cero Ricco or ‘rich mountain’ – a mountain that basically funded the Spanish empire with the wealth of silver buried within its rocky depths. A really informative mint museum in the centre of Potosi put it into context – the Potosi symbol (a jumbled PTSI) stamped on silver pieces of eight became the dollar sign we all know today $. Unfortunately, the mountain has been so over-mined there’s almost no silver left and the mountain is collapsing from the top down. Even so, miners continue to work there every day, in treacherous conditions. As tourists, we were able to go and visit the mines and witness their way of life. It was an experience that made me deeply uncomfortable – both claustrophobic (which is rare for me, but I really felt the weight of the mountain) and to see the hardship that the men and women there endure. We were able to bring in soda and coca leaves for the workers, but I still left feeling shaken.
From Potosi, we travelled to Uyuni, the launching point of tours to the Salar de Uyuni or Uyuni salt flats – probably Bolivia’s most famous tourist destination. This was always destined to be a highlight of our trip but it REALLY lived up to our expectations! In this case, it was all because of our awesome guide, Luis. He was an absolute pro at helping us take epic perspective photos and gave us some real insight into the history of the salt flats.
Probably the coolest thing for me was Cactus Island, an awesome ‘oasis’ in the middle of the salt flats that clearly demonstrate its once underwater origins. We were essentially clambering over an ancient coral reef – with evidence of the coral all around. Of course, the thousands of cacti everywhere made for a totally unique landscape and great photos!
Our last stop was a train graveyard as the sun was setting. So cool!