Bolivia recap

Originally, Salar de Uyuni was the main pull for me in Bolivia, but I learned that the country has so much more to offer. It has diverse, incredible landscapes and charming towns. Locals were understanding when I fumbled with my limited Spanish. Neighbors like Chile and Argentina have more tourist infrastructure, but Bolivia is significantly less expensive. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to South America.

Below is a summary of the locations, accommodations, and transport from my time in Bolivia.

Bogota, Colombia (October 27)

  • Accommodation: Hotel Habitel
    • After flying from NYC, I had about ten hours to kill in Bogota before a late-night flight to La Paz. I wanted somewhere comfortable to lie down for a few hours, and Hotel Habitel met my needs. It was just a few minutes from the airport, and a free airport shuttle was available.
  • Transport to Bogota:
    • Five-hour flight from NYC
  • Transport within Bogota:
    • Free shuttle between the airport and Hotel Habitel

Sucre (October 28 to November 4)

  • Accommodation: Villa Oropeza
    • The outdoor space is the best thing about Villa Oropeza. The hostel had a spacious garden and a rooftop with a hammock. The rooftop was the perfect place to enjoy sunset. My dorm had large lockers, and the bathrooms had hot water (not always guaranteed in Bolivia). The wifi was reliable. The hostel served as a good base while I took Spanish lessons.
  • Transport to Sucre:
    • 3.5-hour flight from Bogota to La Paz and then an hourlong flight to Sucre.
  • Transport within Sucre:
    • I stuck to the city center, which was easily walkable.
  • Activities:
  • Blog post:

Potosi (November 4 to 6)

  • Accommodation: Hostel Casa Blanca
    • I stayed in a private room, which had a set of bunk beds and a double bed – plenty of space for a solo traveler. There was also a small sun room, although I didn’t spend much time there due to the cooler weather. The shower had hot water. The hostel had great wifi, which I wasn’t expecting in Potosi. Breakfast wasn’t free, but it was only 15 BOB ($2) extra.
  • Transport to Potosi:
    • Four-hour bus ride from Sucre
  • Transport within Potosi:
    • I walked around the city center and took taxis to get between my hostel and the bus terminal. Transport to the mines was included in my tour.
  • Tour:
  • Blog post:

Tupiza and salt flats (November 6 to 11)

  • Accommodation: Hostal Butch Cassidy
    • The staff was very kind and prepared an early breakfast on the morning I departed for a salt flats tour. I had a private room with an ensuite bathroom, both of which were clean. A convenience store was attached to the hostel, which made it easy to pick up snacks and supplies.
  • Transport to Tupiza:
    • 5.5-hour bus ride from Potosi
  • Transport within Tupiza:
    • Tupiza is a small town. My hostel wasn’t in the center, but restaurants, tour agencies, and shops were less than a ten-minute walk away. I also did some hiking around the town center.
  • Tour:
  • Blog post:

Uyuni (November 11 to 12)

  • Accommodation: Hostal Quinua Dorada
    • I didn’t care for Uyuni, but I had no complaints about my private room. My room was clean, and the shower had hot water – so important after a salt flats tour. The owner was great and packed a breakfast for my 3:00 AM bus to Cochabamba.
  • Transport to Uyuni:
    • Natural Adventure, the Tupiza-based tour agency I used for a salt flats tour, provided transport to Uyuni.
  • Transport within Uyuni:
    • Uyuni is another small town but with considerably less charm than Tupiza. I would recommend spending as little time as possible in Uyuni, as there isn’t much to see.
  • Blog post:

Cochabamba (November 12 to 14, November 15 to 16)

  • Accommodation: Hostel Running Chaski
    • Running Chaski was modern, with electrical outlets provided in each locker. The free breakfast was good and filling. The hostel had a common area with a TV and a restaurant on the first floor. I felt gross after arriving from Uyuni, and Running Chaski was a comfortable place to recover.
  • Transport to Cochabamba:
    • 3.5-hour bus ride from Uyuni to Oruro and then a five-hour bus ride from Oruro to Cochabamba.
  • Transport within Cochabamba:
    • Cochabamba is a midsized city, but I stuck to walking around the center. I took taxis between my hostel and the bus terminal.
  • Blog post:

Torotoro (November 14 to 15)

  • Accommodation: Hostal Eden
    • Hostal Eden had everything I needed for one night: it was clean and had hot water. It was directly across from the market, where I bought meals for 10 BOB ($1.50).
  • Transport to Torotoro:
    • 4.5-hour colectivo ride from Cochabamba
  • Transport within Torotoro:
    • Torotoro is yet another small town, so I mainly walked. Transport to attractions in the park were included in tours.
  • Tours:
    • Half-day tour of Vergel Canyon, arranged through the Torotoro tour office
    • Full-day tour of Umajalanta Cave and Ciudad de Itas, arranged through the Torotoro tour office
  • Blog post:

La Paz (November 16 to 21)

  • Accommodations:
    • Wild Rover La Paz (November 16 to 18). Even though this is a party hostel chain in Bolivia and Peru, the bathrooms were surprisingly clean. Each bunk had an electrical outlet. The hostel was large, so it didn’t have the cozy and intimate feel provided by smaller hostels. I had early nights here due to the altitude, but the bar was lively (obviously). My room was far from the bar, so I wasn’t disturbed by any noise.
    • Hostal Iskanwaya (November 18 to 21). I adored the owners, who provided free breakfast with fresh juice, soft(!) bread, and eggs. When I had to leave early for a bus to Copacabana, one of the owners gave me a banana. My room and bathroom were clean.
  • Transport to La Paz:
    • Nine-hour bus ride from Cochabamba.
  • Transport within La Paz:
    • I walked in the city center, which was a bit of a workout with the altitude and hills.
    • Tour companies provided transport to Chacaltaya, Valle de la Luna, and Death Road.
  • Tours:
  • Blog post:

Copacabana (November 21 to 23)

  • Accommodation: La Cupula
    • An oasis in Copacabana. I had a spacious room with a double and single bed, a fireplace, and beautiful windows and skylights. Hammocks dotted the grounds, and a few llamas grazed in the yard. Admittedly, my bed sheets could have been cleaner, but I was willing to overlook that due to the amenities and price.
  • Transport to Copacabana:
    • Four-hour bus ride from La Paz.
  • Transport within Copacabana:
    • You guessed it: Copacabana is a small town, so I walked. Like La Paz, it’s hilly in some areas.
  • Blog post:

Isla del Sol (November 23 to 24)

  • Accommodation: Utasawa
    • My room at Utasawa was clean and had the best, most modern bathroom I encountered in Bolivia. I had a gorgeous view of Lake Titicaca, so I didn’t have to step out of my room for sunrise. The owners provided a free, delicious breakfast. The wifi at Utasawa was better than in Copacabana. Go figure: I got better Internet on an island in the middle of a lake than in mainland Bolivia.
  • Transport to Isla del Sol:
    • 1.5-hour boat ride from Copacabana
  • Transport within Isla del Sol:
    • Since Isla del Sol is rural and hilly, transport options are limited. The walk from the port to the town center is a steep 40-minute climb, so I’d recommend bringing only a day pack for a one-night stay. Leave big bags in Copacabana. The hiking on the island is beautiful, so it’s worth the exercise.
  • Blog post:

Expenses

During my 29 days in Bolivia, I spent about $1,598.54, or $55.12 a day, making it one of the least expensive destinations I’ve visited on this trip. This total doesn’t include my $417 flight from NYC to La Paz, which included a layover in Bogota. If we add the flight to the total, I spent about $69.50 per day in Bolivia.

My expenses were categorized as follows:

  • Entertainment: $479.57
    • This category includes Spanish lessons, tours, and entrance fees. My four-day, three-night salt flats tour was the largest expense at 1,250 BOB ($181). 16 hours of Spanish lessons in Sucre (720 BOB/$105) and a bike tour of Death Road in La Paz (515 BOB/$75) were the next largest expenses.
    • If you want your money’s worth of tours, you can’t beat Torotoro. A half-day tour of Vergel Canyon was just 17 BOB ($2.50), and a full-day tour of Umujalanta Cave and Ciudad de Itas was 106 BOB ($15.50) per person. You do have to pay a one-time 100 BOB ($14.50) park entrance fee, but it’s still a steal.
  • Accommodation: $450.04
    • Accommodations in Bolivia were inexpensive, so I often took advantage of staying in private rooms. The prices are listed below.
      • Bogota, Colombia: 242,760 COP/$81 per night
      • Potosi: 140 BOB/$20 per night
      • Uyuni: 230 BOB/$34 per night. This was split with a roommate, lowering the cost to 115 BOB/$17 each.
      • Torotoro: 130 BOB/$19 per night
      • La Paz: 152 BOB/$22 per night
      • Copacabana: 210 BOB/$30 per night
      • Isla del Sol: 280 BOB/$41 per night
    • I stayed in dorm rooms in:
      • Sucre: 53 BOB/$8 per night for a four-bed dorm
      • Cochabamba: 106.50 BOB/$15 per night for an eight-bed dorm
      • La Paz: 92 BOB/$13 per night for a four-bed dorm
    • Of course, a bit of a tradeoff comes with lower prices. My accommodations were usually clean, but they weren’t as posh or spotless as some hostels in Asia (i.e., Taiwan or Japan) – and I didn’t expect them to be. I’m not going to be overly picky when I get to stay in my own room for less than $30 a night.
  • Food: $301.33
    • I have many fond memories from Bolivia…but not many of them involve food. Don’t get me wrong: I never went hungry. I could easily find good, cheap food from markets (chicken milanesa = fail-proof choice) and lunch deals (15 BOB/$2 for an appetizer, entree, and dessert is typical). I loved quinoa soup, which was available everywhere. Since I’m a basic girl at heart, I especially enjoyed a couple of vegetarian and vegan cafes in Cochabamba and La Paz. However, when I reflect on my time in Bolivia, I don’t think about the food. The natural scenery was a much bigger highlight.
    • Alert for fellow carb fiends: don’t expect fresh bread for breakfast. 90% of the bread I ate in Bolivia was stale. First-world problem, for sure, and I ate the bread without complaining. But, if, for some reason, you’re expecting gourmet, whole-grain bread in Bolivia, you’ll be sadly disappointed, my friend.
  • Transport: $149.45
    • This category includes my flight from La Paz to Sucre ($74), buses, taxis, colectivos (shared vans), boats, and terminal fees.
    • When applying for a visa to Bolivia (see the “Miscellaneous” section below for more info), I booked a $11.40 bus ticket from Copacabana to Puno, Peru as proof of onward travel. I didn’t end up using this ticket, as I stayed in Bolivia a couple of days longer.
    • Non-tourist buses are ridiculously cheap. For instance, a four-hour bus ride from Sucre to Potosi cost just 20 BOB/$3. However, bus companies aren’t known for their timeliness. My bus from Potosi to Tupiza left 1.5 hours after the scheduled departure time, while my bus from Uyuni to Oruro was an hour late. If you plan to hop across multiple cities, add some buffer time for delays. You might also get unexpected entertainment. Over several bus rides, I watched hawkers for weight-loss and teeth-whitening products, newspapers, and empanadas stroll down the aisles to sell their goods.
      • Fellow travelers identified Bolivar, El Dorado, and Trans Copacabana as the more reputable bus companies. I traveled with Bolivar once from Cochabamba to La Paz, and the bus was noticeably plusher than the other buses I had taken. These three bus companies don’t reach all destinations, so you might have to play roulette when picking a company at a terminal.
  • Miscellaneous: $218.16
    • The bulk of this category (~73%) consisted of a $160 visa fee, which was absolutely worth the cost. However, most non-American travelers I met didn’t have to pay a visa fee, and all of them gasped when I told them the price of my visa.
    • I bought an Entel SIM card (10 BOB/$1.50) with 1 GB of data (60 BOB/$9) in Sucre. For some reason, the data never worked after I left Sucre, even though I had signal in many parts of Bolivia. The data package was supposed to be valid for 30 days, and I didn’t use up all my data in Sucre. Since I couldn’t resolve the issue, I stuck to wifi for the rest of my stay in Bolivia.
    • The rest of this category consisted of toiletries, laundry, towel rentals, restroom fees (at rest stops, etc.), hot shower fees (this is a legitimate thing in the salt flats), and a knockoff Nike baseball hat that I bought in Tupiza.

Below are a couple of noteworthy destinations that I missed:

  • Rurrenabaque
    • Travelers visit Rurrenabaque for rainforest expeditions. After Southeast Asia, I realized I’m not much of a rainforest or jungle person. Give me mountains, deserts, and beaches. But jungles? Mosquitoes, bugs, and humidity aren’t my thing. I recognize the importance of rainforests and jungles, but I’d rather appreciate them from a distance. (Here’s your cue to accuse me of being high-maintenance.)
  • Tarija
    • Tarija is Bolivia’s main wine-producing city. Although I didn’t get to visit Tarija, I still tasted wines made in Bolivia. I’m not a wine expert by any means, but I liked both the whites and reds. I can’t describe any of the wines I had in useful detail (“Hmm, this tastes like red wine.”), but they were all drinkable and enjoyable.

Finally, some general notes about Bolivia:

Altitude

  • Before arriving in Bolivia, I was convinced I was going to get altitude sickness. Locals and travelers like to say that you can never tell who will be affected by altitude. You could be Usain Bolt and still get pounding headaches. I’m definitely not Usain Bolt, but I somehow made it out of Bolivia largely unscathed. I didn’t get serious symptoms and was never bedridden due to altitude.
  • However, I noticed the thinner air in some instances:
    • When I arrived at the airport in La Paz on my first day in Bolivia, I was completely winded after walking up a set of stairs with my backpack. I also had a slight headache and quicker heart rate, but I wasn’t sure if that was due to altitude or having been in transit for more than 24 hours.
    • I easily lost my breath while doing activities. Hiking, crawling through mines in Potosi, and even walking could be challenging. I was thankful I didn’t get headaches though.
    • Altitude and alcohol were a terrible mix for me in La Paz. After 1.5 drinks, I was ready to crawl into my bunk and pass out. On the bright side, I saved money by not imbibing.

The evil sun

  • I discovered my moisturizer didn’t have SPF the hard way: I got sunburnt on my first day in Sucre. Even though temperatures were in the breezy 60s, the sun was relentless. I also got a bad sunburn on my salt flats tour, when I wore a tank top without applying sunscreen on my shoulders. I was embarrassed; these were not my brightest moments.

Photo protocol

  • Many locals get upset if you take a photo without asking for permission. I prefer to take photos of landscapes rather than people, so this didn’t affect me much. Nonetheless, it never hurts to ask for permission (“Una foto, por favor?”), no matter where you go. Some locals may be willing to pose for photos if you pay a few BOB. If you really want that Instagram shot, just cough up the money and don’t try to take stealth pics.

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