A Travellerspoint blog

Bolivia

La Paz

City of cable cars and witches


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

From Uyuni, we took a comfortable overnight bus to La Paz. La Paz lies in the altiplano at 3’650 meters above the sea and is often said to be the world’s highest capital, though its status as capital is a little complicated. La Paz is the location of the Bolivian parliament and the seat of the Bolivian president, but according to the constitution the capital of Bolivia is Sucre, where the country’s highest court is located. Therefore, La Paz is often called the de facto capital. Of course we did not have any problems with the altitude, since Uyuni is more or less at the same level.

La Paz has one of the most unique public transportation systems in the world. Since the steep terrain is unsuitable for a subway system and the roads are notoriously jammed, Bolivians came up with the crazy idea of building a system of cable cars on top of the city. In 2014, the first three lines were opened and today, there are already ten. We actually found Mi Teleférico, made in Austria with the cars made in Switzerland, a fantastic way of getting around the city. It is cheap, fast and offers spectacular views over La Paz.

Mi Teleférico in La Paz

Mi Teleférico in La Paz

We spent one of our three days in La Paz on a day trip to Tiwanaku, where we visited the ruins of the Tiwanaku culture. The way there was half of the fun, as we shared the local bus with many Bolivians dressed in traditional colorful clothing and eager to talk to us in Spanish. Few other people were there when we visited, even though the site was fascinating. Not much is known about the Tiwanaku culture, but the site we visited was built around the 8th century, long before the Inca culture emerged. Their stonework is fascinating, with cuts and smooth surfaces in laser-precision. To this day it is not known how they managed to attain such precision.

Tiwanaku archaeological site

Tiwanaku archaeological site

Statue of the Tiwanaku culture

Statue of the Tiwanaku culture

Close-up of Tiwanaku statue

Close-up of Tiwanaku statue

Human face in stone at the Tiwanaku archaeological site

Human face in stone at the Tiwanaku archaeological site

Alien face in stone at the Tiwanaku archaeological site

Alien face in stone at the Tiwanaku archaeological site

Close-up of precise stone cut at the Tiwanaku archaeological site

Close-up of precise stone cut at the Tiwanaku archaeological site

Another interesting visit was the one to the La Paz cemetery. The relation of Bolivians with the dead is very interesting. They visit the graves of loved ones very often until five years after the death. After that, they stop visiting and try to forget about the person, as only in this way, the soul can move on to the next world. There is also a large black market for human skulls, called ñatitas. Many Bolivians keep a ñatita in their house for protection from bad spirits. Skulls of former doctors and lawyers are especially valuable. The La Paz cemetery is also an open art gallery, with lots of interesting death-related paintings on the walls.

Wall painting at the La Paz cemetery

Wall painting at the La Paz cemetery

Wall painting at the La Paz cemetery

Wall painting at the La Paz cemetery

Wall painting at the La Paz cemetery

Wall painting at the La Paz cemetery

There is lots of indigenous culture to explore in La Paz. For example the witches markets, were dead baby llamas, llama fetuses and many different herbs are sold. All for the purpose of making offerings to Pachamama, the main god of the indigenous. These shops are not just there for tourists, but are actually part of the local customs. Throughout La Paz, traditionally clothed women can be seen. The Cholitas, as they are called, wear many layers of colorful skirts and rugs and the characteristic small Charlie Chaplin hat. One evening, we went to see the Cholita wrestling show, though that was quite a touristy affair.

Baby llamas and llama fetuses at the El Alto witches market

Baby llamas and llama fetuses at the El Alto witches market

Cholita wrestling

Cholita wrestling

We did not have very high expectations for La Paz and were very positively surprised by the city and by Bolivia in general. Culturally, it is a fascinating place and the landscapes in Bolivia are beautiful too. You can also travel very comfortably here. There are good buses, hotels and restaurants and everything is very cheap.

Posted by samandmarta 21:12 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salar de Uyuni

Fun on the world’s largest salt flat


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

After our long stays in Chile and Argentina, it was time to move on to a new country. Our bus brought us across the border to Bolivia and over a bumpy unpaved road to Uyuni. Bolivia immediately felt different from previous countries. The Andean culture and traditions are strong here, compared to the westernized Chile. Many women in Uyuni wore traditional colorful clothing and a dark skin color was the norm among the local population. Uyuni is a fix point of most tourist itineraries through Bolivia because of its proximity to the world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni. After one night’s rest in town, we also departed on a two-day tour of the awesome salt flat.

All tours have more or less the same itinerary, so despite the fact we booked a private tour, our first stops were full of people. The first stop was at the train cemetery a few kilometers outside of Uyuni, where trains were discarded in the middle of the 20th century when the local mining industry collapsed. After that, we stopped in Colchani where the salt extracted from the salt flat is processed. All these stops were so crowded that it was hard to enjoy.

Sam standing on an old train outside of Uyuni

Sam standing on an old train outside of Uyuni

Train cemetery outside of Uyuni

Train cemetery outside of Uyuni

It all changed as we drove out on the salt flat. The place is so enormous, that we quickly lost sight of anyone else and found ourselves alone, surrounded by nothing but whiteness below and the blue sky above. The Salar the Uyuni spans more than 10’500 square kilometers (more than a quarter of the area of Switzerland) and is still growing every year. It is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt, among with roughly half of the world’s known lithium reserves (the stuff in the battery of the device on which you are probably reading this), though there are currently no large-scale mining efforts. We spent half an hour biking on the Salar, before we stopped for our private lunch in the middle of the salt flat. A truly awesome place to eat lunch.

Marta riding a bike on the Salar de Uyuni

Marta riding a bike on the Salar de Uyuni

Sam and Marta eating lunch on the Salar de Uyuni

Sam and Marta eating lunch on the Salar de Uyuni

A must when on the Salar de Uyuni is to make some funny photos, as the uniform whiteness of the surrounding make it easy to play with perspective. Here are some of our favorite photos:

Marta shooting small Sam with a slingshot

Marta shooting small Sam with a slingshot

Sam and Marta sitting on a giant wine bottle

Sam and Marta sitting on a giant wine bottle

Sam and Marta on the Salar de Uyuni

Sam and Marta on the Salar de Uyuni

The next stop was Incahuasi island, which had again more people. The small island in the middle of the salt flat is notable for the giant cacti that grow there. They grow only around one centimeter per year, so they are not just very tall (many are over 10 meters), but also incredibly old. Besides the cacti, it is also the best place to grasp the size of the Salar de Uyuni, as we could see far away in all directions.

Sam looking at a giant cactus on Incahuasi Island

Sam looking at a giant cactus on Incahuasi Island

Incahuasi Island

Incahuasi Island

Incahuasi Island

Incahuasi Island

The Salar de Uyuni has two very distinct appearances depending on the season. We visited right at the start of the dry season and saw most of the salt flat dry and white. However, we were very lucky to also see the salt flat in its other state, as one area was still covered with up to 10 centimeters of water. When the Salar de Uyuni is covered with water, it turns into the world’s largest mirror. For the end of the day, we drove through this wet part of the Salar de Uyuni and witnessed possibly the most beautiful sunset of this trip.

Sam and Marta on the wet Salar de Uyuni in front of the setting sun

Sam and Marta on the wet Salar de Uyuni in front of the setting sun

Sunset reflecting in the wet Salar de Uyuni

Sunset reflecting in the wet Salar de Uyuni

Perfect reflection of the colorful sky in the wet Salar de Uyuni after sunset

Perfect reflection of the colorful sky in the wet Salar de Uyuni after sunset

We spent the night in a hotel built mostly out of salt. The walls and even the bed frame were made completely of salt, as were the chairs and tables in the restaurant where we ate dinner. The next morning we started very early and drove almost three hours to some hot springs in the middle of the Bolivian altiplano. It was great to have the place all to ourselves and we did not see another soul the entire morning. After the hot bath our guide served us breakfast there surrounded by nature.

Sam in a natural hot pool in the middle of the Bolivian altiplano

Sam in a natural hot pool in the middle of the Bolivian altiplano

Landscape of the Bolivian altiplano

Landscape of the Bolivian altiplano

For the rest of the day, we stopped at multiple volcanoes and lagoons, many of which were filled with flamingos. Overall, the second day was less worthwhile than the first, as we have already seen very similar landscapes in Chile. It was also quite tiring since we spent in total 10 hours sitting in the car on very bumpy dirt roads. There are also four-day tours from Uyuni that visit even more sights of the altiplano, but we were happy to have chosen against that. For the salt flat itself, no more than one day is needed.

Two flamingos in Laguna Hedionda

Two flamingos in Laguna Hedionda

Hundreds of flamingos in Laguna Hedionda

Hundreds of flamingos in Laguna Hedionda

During the second day of the tour, we saw numerous herds of llamas. The llama is Bolivia’s most common camelid. Unlike vicuñas and guanacos, llamas are domesticated animals, so they are never wild. They are used for their wool and their meat, which we found quite tasty.

Llamas

Llamas

Llama

Llama

Posted by samandmarta 15:18 Archived in Bolivia Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]