If you are still thinking whether you should cross the border between Chile and Bolivia yourself, please stop right now! Magnificent Salar de Uyuni is a must see place while in Bolivia or in northern part of the Chile. Tourists usually do visit this absolutely stunning and unique place from Uyuni, the town in Bolivia, or from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. It is not so difficult to get to salt flats without any guide, but tour agencies, that can be found in many towns all around, came up with a wonderful 3 or 4 days tours that include Salar de Uyuni, as number one attraction, along with many more wonderful places that you can see only with a guide and by 4×4. Dry salty area, as a highlight, will become just like an addition next. Salar de Uyuni will get overshadowed by beautiful lagoons, geysers, deserts, volcanoes, truly remote villages, you will spend a night in (including a hotel made of salt), and interesting rock formations. It is one of the most bizarre and beautiful places in the world you just can not miss, especially while so close to it. Paying only 180$ (inc everything as accommodation, all meals, guide, 4×4 transport) for a 3 days tour is just a bargain we have to grab. Unluckily, I have lost loads of my photos from the trip, but I hope the remaining ones will be convincing enough for you to book this trip.
Extra shot of adrenaline at the Dead Road in Bolivia
Name “Dead Road” definitely does not come in a first place to any mind as a casual attraction. Originally named Yungas Road became well-known as a silent killer of thousands. Famous for being most dangerous road in the world that contributed to many deaths of drivers in the past and some cyclists in recent years. All as a result of how and where the road has been constructed. A combination of a single track road, 900m high cliffs, rainy weather, limited visibility, rockfalls, waterfalls and lack of guardrails participated in all death. Luckily, and finally, Yungas road was modernised to include two driving lanes, asphalt pavement, drainage systems and guardrails. New road has been opened in 2009, as an alternative of a must choice, replacing the dangerous 64 km stretch. All traffic being diverted to the new road. I am really glad motorists can now travel from La Paz to Coroico without fearing the journey may be their last. New road, apart from the fact that has already saved hundreds of life, left Bolivia also with one of the coolest, adrenaline giving and very adventurous tourist attraction in this country. People from all around the world visit this part of Bolivia to cycle down trough the original way. I did too.
Some statistics to give you the idea
“200 to 300 estimated death drivers yearly along Yungas Road and as late as 1994 there were cars falling over the edge at a rate of one every two weeks.”
“One of Bolivia’s most tragic road accidents happened on July 24th 1983 when an overcrowded bus veered off the side of the road and into a canyon killing more than 100 passengers.”
“Even with these improved conditions, Yungas Road shows no mercy. Nowadays, the death toll is limited to local workers and daredevil backpackers still using the infamous road. It is believed that more than 22 cyclists have lost their lives on Bolivia’s “Death Road” since 1998.”
To do or not to do
The answer for me is definitely YES TO DO. I wasn’t thinking even for a minute whether I should do it or not. It was surely one of the coolest thing I did in South America. However, it really is not for everyone. Most agencies will not be very honest with you, as they just want loads of people to sign for it for the profit. There is no limit of age, fitness etc, but since I have done it, I can set some average requirements. Here they are:
- Dead Road is suitable for confident cyclists to, of course, experts. A bit higher than average fitness and above. In particular for everyone aged 16 and more, but mostly done by younger group of people, usually at the age gap of 20-30. I did have two people at the age of 50-60 in my group. They both were fit and did well. Having said that, our group was one of the fastest, starting last, finishing first, so I am sure it can be done by not perfectly fit people, but maybe get some advice on best company to go with, if that’s the case for you.
- Most of the road is very stony and dusty. The whole road is 64 km long, and, thought, you mostly going downhill, you have to be a good cyclist with some experience to keep up with the group.
- You have to be very very careful, you need a perfect eyesight. The whole road is mostly thin and going via many waterfalls. Mentioning good eyesight meant to warn you that at the beginning road is extremely foggy, and it is difficult to navigate. Waterfalls are very tricky, as the group do not stop to pass them, you will go trough them at your max speed.
- Keep in your mind that it is pretty much “fast and furious” activity. You do not have a choice, but just go at max speed, well…at least my group was fast. So think twice if you want to do this. Trust me, I felt on my head, destroying the helmet, having an open wound on my left elbow, that got swollen as well. Yet, I still had 30 kilometers to go….gosh that was painful. Another guy broke his leg too.
- Cycling will last 5 hours, at high performance. Road is approximate downhill: 90% (one section contains a few small uphills). You have to be ready for sore hands.
- The drop in altitude means travelers experience both chilly conditions in the Altiplano highlands and hot humid conditions in the rain-forests below. Your body needs to be ready for it. Highly not recommended for people, that already feeling light-headed at the high of 2000m.
Once the answer is yes
- Even that you will be provided with food and water, take an extra bottle with you. You will start in very cold environment, but once half way trough, you will be surrounded by tropical hot weather, and that`s the time when your body will need some extra hydration, so you will drink loads at the end.
- Take a good waterproof jacket, as is usually raining near the top.
- As the temperature will be going up, proportionally to the distance cycled downhill, have something under to wear after, preferably with long sleeve, unless you will be provided with elbow protection.
- Take maybe old cloths. I thrown away my shoes after.
- Have some wet tissues, your face will be constantly covered with mud.
- Lucky you if you own GoPro, you can record the whole way by attaching your camera to the bike or helmet. Few of my group-mated done it.
- Do not book you trip if you just landed in La Paz. You body needs few day to adapt to the altitude. Yungas Road climbs to around 4,650 meters, from where you will start.
- Check the weather for the next day. No worries, you can book a trip just one day before, even before 17.00 pm. The bottom line is not to rain that day!
- Have a phone in your pocket. Thought you will have just quick breaks, you will have few chances to take some photos of this absolutely outstanding landscape and scenery.
- Remember! 21 cyclists and 5 guides have died since the road had been opened for mountain bike trips. It might not be the most dangerous road in the world anymore, but it is still the Death Road. Don`t be to cocky on the road.
- Most likely your agency will not cover the entrance fee for riding a bike. it is 50 Bs now – 25 Bs at the start and 25 Bs at the end of the road.
- You really should be covered with medical insurance for this!
Prices and booking
Dead Road is usually done from La Paz, the city in Bolivia. There are loads of agencies to provide you with their service, especially around city center area. Every single hostel and most hotels can book you in too. It really isn’t a problem to buy this trip. It is relatively cheap. Prices depend on agency and mostly the kind of the bike, you will be provided with. It will be between 50-100$, as of 2016. I rented the worst bike, and I think being cheap about the bicycle is not the best idea. Get a double suspension one and from a good agency. Never go with Luna Tours agency (see photos above to recognise uniform and logo). I went with them and was promised to be provided with photos and movies of us while cycling. They did film a lot, took loads of photos, and at the end agency provided us with CDs where all media suppose to be. After few moths, when I came back home exited to show movies to my sister and her kids (to show how cool is their aunt), I discovered that there is no photos or movies of us!!! Just old movies to promote agency. I was extremely disappointed and angry, I have only few photos from my phone.
Brief overlook of the day trip to do the Dead Road
- My meeting point was at the cafe in La Paz at 7.00 am where we had a breakfast, and we briefly discussed the plan for the next 10 hours. Please note that some agencies can pick you from the hotel.
- At 8.00 am our bikes got uploaded to the top of the van, we sat in, and we went off from La Paz, which is at a height of 3,600 meters (11,810 feet), to the foot of the Andes Mountains towards the summit, which was at 4,700 m.
- Approx at 10.00 am we arrived at the starting point of La Cumbre Pass. We then proceed to get the specialized equipment for each of us. The guides make recognition of our teams. We were also explained of all the rules at the road, how to sign with your hand, and what our schedule will be.
- We were fitted into our gear that was: a jacket, pants with knee pads to put under, gloves, and a full-face helmet. Then we tested our mountain bikes: breaks and sit high. Our guide rechecked all again to make sure all is safe, and we went off.
- Starting the adventure at around 11.00 am.
- First 20 kilometers is via new asphalt road to Coroico. Actual Dead Road will start after that length. In this bit we can get used to the bikes and enjoy the road before difficult part.
- Quick break for a snack before getting in to actual Yungas Road.
- Dirt road begins at a height of 2,700 meters (2,953 feet) above sea level. In the beginning of the Bolivian jungle. Exactly where the paved road ends begins the most dangerous road in the world.
- Keep cycling through rivers, waterfalls, along with the wide variety of beautiful flora and fauna with few breaks to keep the team together.
- At 15.00 finishing and arriving at the bridge, congratulating each other. At the end of the road, you will get a well deserved beer or coke and a t-shirt. I picked coke…hmmm, I must have being still in shock after my fall :D.
- After a little rest heading off for a well deserved dinner with swimming pool on the side and showers to refresh.
- At approx 16.30-17.00 heading back to La Paz, arriving at around 18.30-19.00.
Titicaca Lake, Copacabana vs Puno
Holding the title of the highest navigable lake on the planet, as well as on my list of the most beautiful water basins in the world, tucked away high in the Andes between snow-covered peaks, Lake Titicaca is one of the most popular places to see in South America. Known for its unique panorama during the day and the night time, crystal-clear air and water, combine with mountain range around. Believed to be the birthplace of the first Incas, along with the sun, moon and stars, when creator came out of the lake.
The main two bases to explore Lake Titicaca (and other sites in the region) are Puno, in Peru, and Copacabana in Bolivia. I did visit these two mentioned towns, and I stayed a minimum of two nights in each, which gave me some time to look around and discover them. If you’re backpacking and having loads of time, you can stop in both to see the Bolivian and Peruvian side of Titicaca, as they are very different. However, if you’re rushing a bit, I would definitely suggest staying just in Copacabana in Bolivia. Why? Well, for few reasons really. From there, most tour operators run a day trips to the Isla del Sol, with a quick stop at the Isla de la Luna. Bolivian town is way smaller and cutter. Very touristic too, which I don’t always like, but can be handy when it comes to accommodation and organized trips. Lake is looking really amazing (way better) from this side as well, you can hike some mountains around to spot the stunning panorama of the pool and surrounded areas. In Puno the lake side can`t be really accessible properly, there is no beach to sit and enjoy, and there’s not so many hills from where you can get a good grip of Titicaca. Having said all that, I loved Puno for its truly Peruvian vibe. There is loads of street food stands around, loads of mercados to grab a very tasty local meal, stand with fresh fruits, vegetables, colorful ladies with coca leafs…everything really.
This can not be found in Copacabana, I was really struggling there to find a proper local food, and once I even ended up ordering a pizza. Not so cool. However, It’s just a food, and I think exploring the lake is the reason we are there in the first place, so again, that points us towards Copacabana over Puno. There is also loads of hotels by the lake (I was lucky to be in one), when in Puno you can hardly find any so close to the water. So I think we have a winner at the end-Copacabana. However, again on another side, Puno hold a very strong argument of having a famous Floating Islands, a must see while there. Yet, I think the trip can be booked from Copacabana too. The other reason (to cheer you up really, if you cant do both) to stay at just one place is the fact that any route you will take to get there, you will be able to have another good look at the lake, as streets are usually around the lake. If you will come from La Paz, like myself, to Copacabana, you will even cross Titicaca on the boat.
Just for the lake and islands Copacabana is a winner, but if you want to feel the true vibe, less touristic place, traditional food and real life more than lake, then Puno is definitely for you!
Either way you will choose, the bottom line is not to skip this place. Trust me, Titicaca will stay in your heart forever.
Bolivia in one finger
Bolivia is, and probably always will be, one of the most diverse, colorful and simply amazing places I have ever visited. I felt in love with the landscape, people and atmosphere as soon as I crossed the border on the desert between Chile and Bolivia. It was one of the nine countries, I have visited during my six months backpacking trip through South America. Even planning this trip at home, I already knew that Bolivia will be my favorite destination. The one, I will remember forever. And it happened to be one indeed. In this section, I will briefly write you about my experience, but my main goal is to give you an overall look at prices, transport and food in this absolutely stunning country.
Probably the hardest thing to deal with in Bolivia, and pretty much in every Latin country, is zero to minimum English-speaking people around. I have to admit that it was difficult at times with my limited Spanish. You really have to learn basics to travel there around, otherwise you may miss or lose on loads of things. Thought, in most hotels or hostels receptionists speak English, it’s not always guaranteed, and remember that they are not going to be with you everywhere anyway. But here’s something to cheer you up. Bolivia is one of the cheapest places in South America, I think only Paraguay is cheaper, so enjoy! That can also be handy in taking Spanish classes there. Sucre, capital, is most popular for it, with prices starting at just under a 5$ for a day long course. Apart from study, once there, if you need a new clothes, buy them. That’s the best place to stock up on anything you need. Don’t also waste your time in the hostel’s kitchen to cook. You can get an amazing main meal for just 1-1.5$ that comes usually with drink and sometimes even with a soup. Trips are very affordable, even that I prefer always to do everything on my own, I bought few, and I was very pleased with them. Plus, I have met other travelers too, while doing so. Prices depends on season, agency and your negotiation skills, but let’s say one day trip to the jungle can cost around 20$, including all meals, transport and guide. Ha, almost forgot to mention how important negotiations are. Try to do it if possible, especially while dealing with travel agents. You can always get a discount. I never done it while buying food or meals, simply as It was cheap already. I was even paying more, just as I felt that they deserved a little bit extra from us, tourists. But hey, do what you want!
Transport. When it comes to transport you wallet is happy, but your back not so. Buses are very cheap, but that reflects on the comfort you are getting. There is not much choice around too. Well, loads of companies, but with the same standard buses (as of Feb 2016), so there is no need to look around too much, check just few to get the cheapest price (they don’t differ that much neither) and buy a ticket. Average bus ride for 8h will cost you no more than 11-12$. 80% of the bused do not have a toilet, or there is one, but permanently closed to the public view. Don’t panic. Bus driver will be stopping very often next to the toilets, restaurants and shops, so you will be able to stuck up on food or use a loo. Your intake and outtake will be well taken care of on the road. You don’t even have to go to the shop really, there will be loads of colorful ladies popping in to the bus to sell all kind of food and drinks. From hot meat, corns (my fav, miss them with all my heart), vegetarian or meaty delicious pastry, to nuts, all kind of fruits and sweets. Try saltena, they are all homemade and extremely delicious!!! Anyway, even that I mentioned how uncomfortable buses can be, with minimum recline chairs and no toilet in, there will be nothing more amazing and beautiful than what you will see through the window on the road. Landscape is just breath-taking. You think you are getting from A to B, but what you’re really doing is having an amazing cheap trip thought the Andes, valleys and jungle.
Now few worlds about city transport. Don’t hesitate to take a taxi if you need one. It’s very very cheap, but always remember to agree on the price before getting in. I am not saying they will try to cheat on you, as I found Bolivians more than fair, but just in case. For example 5km will cost you around 3$. Buses and minibuses are way cheaper…surprise, surprise ;). It is very difficult to get your head around, but once you will master that, just go for it! See yourself the real Bolivian transport system, extremely dodgy buses full of amazing people. For example, in La Paz you will be shock how buses do run, but they always have a destination shown on the front window, and they do go to the main “backpacker interest” places, so chill out. From minibus you can get off where you want, and get in where you want, just wave your hand or tell the driver to stop. They will cost you around 0.20$.
Hostels and hotels are very cheap too. Usually I was paying max 8$ per night. In one of the best Hotels, with balcony and view on Titicaca lake in Copacabana, I paid 35$ (oh well, I need that from time to time), so you can see that good ones are affordable too. There are loads of places to stay around, and I mean it! It is like a backpacker`s dream land, so you will not look for too long to find a place you like. Bolivia is elevated, so the temperature range tend to be as the lowest in South America. That’s why in most hostels you will get a hot water, so enjoy till last, as in other countries that’s like a rare pleasure.
At the beginning of my trip (in Brazil, Argentina and Chile), I was using a booking.com, but I quickly discovered that I am just paying more, as of booking.com fesses, so do look yourself or look online and then just go to your accommodation. There is hardly any hotel, hostel that is fully booked. As I mention before, it`s loads of them, especially in the city canter area and near all bus stations, so you won’t end up walking with your backpack for too long.
Maps.me. Please do get a maps.me app. It saved my life many many times. You can use maps with no internet connection, and even, as because it uses a GPS, it will show you your location in most of the places. Plus, it has hostels, shops and all places of interest on it, which make it easier to find your way around.
Food in Bolivia is like a dream. I loved it a lot. I guess, I still do, but it’s not a culinary side, so I will spare you writing much about it. However, it’s cheap, homemade, delicious and it’s available on every corner. Always go to the big markets (Mercados) to eat. Everything is there, and usually (at least in every place I visited so far) is divided in sections for stands selling fruits, vegetables, meat, clothes, cosmetics, and then there is that amazing food area, I am talking about. Oh, public toilets are there too. Well, to be honest, they are very dirty, smelly and not nice in general, but please don’t act with your nose up. It is a third world country. People live in this condition and often don’t have a choice. Think how lucky and fortunate you are. Use it, pay and leave. Anyway, coming back to my favorite topic, please do visit mercados and try the food there. Its traditional and made in front of you.
As I wrote above, the average price for the main meal and drink is 1.5$. Though, it’s not much of vegetarian range there, you can find something anyway. Otherwise you can have a delicious meat (chicken, beef) with salad and rice or potatoes. Pasta is very popular too. Dishes differ from very mild to very spicy. The most amazing thing is that you will eat with locals. They are all very nice, and they will always talk to you. I really would like to highlight places like that, as usually I was the only traveler there, and that gave me the chance to truly experience a daily life in Bolivia and atmosphere. Don’t be scared and don’t listen about food poisoning, upset tummy etc. For the whole 6 months (and trust me, I ate the cheapest street food, sometimes even sitting on my bum on the street..see pic under), and I’ve never ever experience anything like that!! Be brave and don’t act posh, but if you are like that, then Bolivia is definitely not for you!!
Girls, now you can relax, finally. There will be non to minimum harassment from Latinos in Bolivia towards you. It’s very interesting about that place, and I still don’t understand why. People are very distant there, not pushy at all, but nice when it comes to interaction. I think Nicaragua and Salvador are on the top of the list, when sometimes I was wishing I could just give them a good old face palm. So, enjoy it and walk around without unwanted attention. At the same time, I felt like Bolivia is the safest place too.
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