The Start of a 6 week Adventure (This page only covers half of the whole trip click here to read La Paz to Lima)
In March 2016, I travelled to South America with my girlfriend. Being in the same boat as last time and knowing how much we loved our last G adventures tour, we decided to book another one.
This time we decided it was going to be a longer holiday and we wanted to do the famous 4 day hike to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail and see all the other amazing gems South America has to offer! The tour we went with was the Buenos Aires to Lima Adventure.
Quick highlight video:
Days 1 – 3:
We landed in Buenos Aires really early; feeling the jetlag, we knew it was going to be a tough day ahead. On the first day we decided to go on a free walking tour through the central and south end of the city. Free walking tours are a great way to see the sites and get a feel for the city you’re in, particularly if it is somewhere you’ve never been before. If you decide to do one in Buenos Aires be prepared for a long day. Our tour guide said it would take about 2hrs and by the end of it we walked for probably 4. That night we met the group of people who were joining us on the first leg of our tour. This tour is separated into 3 stints; Argentina to La Paz – La Paz to Lima – Inca trail, you could do all of them or just one or two parts.
Day two in Buenos Aires we flew to Salta! That afternoon we hung out and just explored the city! The next day we got to experience a traditional Argentinian BBQ at a local families winery and a tour around their farm by horse back. This was awesome. For my girlfriend and I, we both had never ridden a horse before and it was pretty exciting thing for us! Once we got back from the horse ride the BBQ was ready for us, they had lots of wine and so much food for us all! The whole day was great, by the end of it the whole group was up and about due to the amount of wine we all had and it was a great way to get to know everyone.
After a previous big day drinking wine and eating great food, we left Salta and headed to the border of Argentina and Chile. This was the very first time I had ever experienced altitude. We went from sea level to 4300m (14,000 ft) in one day. Fortunately, you don’t feel altitude in a coach bus, all we could feel were the long winding roads. Once we reached the border crossing, our tour guide told us what we had to do and warned us that we may feel a little bit sick and a bit light headed due to the altitude.
We hopped off the bus and you could instantly feel the difference. You could feel your body under a lot more pressure and you did get light headed pretty quickly.
It was all well and good until we stood in line to get our passport checked.…. Nek Minute all I remember is feeling really spaced out. About 2 minutes later I had a huge headache, it felt like someone drove knives through my eyes. I then started to feel really sick. I was holding it together pretty well (I think) and I ran back to the bus, laid down and didn’t move hoping it would help – it didn’t but it was worth a try. Once we started driving again I felt a little better but I still had all the same symptoms. I slept for the rest of the bus ride until we reached San Pedro de Atacama. (if you want some more info on altitude and altitude sickness just click here)
San Pedro de Atacama was a really cool place, it felt like you were in the middle of no where. It was a a little backpacker town, and had a really cool vibe going on. I still felt a little shitty after being on a bus the day before but didn’t stop me from exploring. San Pedro is still 2,400m above sea level (about the same height as Machu Picchu) and a couple of us hired some bikes and we went off to explore the Pukara de Quitor Ruins. It was a little bit of a challenge because of the altitude but nothing to hard. There is a great hike through the ruins and it gives you some great views of the surrounding landscape, it felt like we were on mars.
That afternoon/night the whole group went on a Valley of the moon tour. This was really cool and worth seeing. We all bought food and drinks with us to watch the sunset over the desert valleys. The trip to where we were watching the sunset was quite long and there were a few stops along the way. I’d definitely recommend wearing runners/hiking boots for this little night trip.
Crossing over to Bolivia
After Exploring in San Pedro de Atacama for a day we set off early in the morning to cross the border of Chile and into Bolivia. Its a little bit of a process but once we were through it was smooth sailing. We had to go through two different stops, one we had to “technically” leave Chile and then we had to make our way to Bolivia’s “border control”. Bolivia’s state of the art border control building was pretty impressive, it was basically a small concrete house in the middle of the desert at the base of a volcano and literally looked like an abandoned building sitting at 4,900m above sea level. Being at almost 5000m above sea level there are a lot of vomiting so be prepared for a quick tactical spew. Once you get everything stamped you’re all good! There may be some fees to pay to enter into Bolivia but that depends on what country you are from ( click here to see if you need to pay and click here for my Chile and Bolivia Tips and tricks)
We waited for everyone to get stamped and we all divided into small groups of 5 and chose a car. And from that point on it was probably the best and worst couple of days on my life. I got severe altitude sickness, and unfortunately for me there was no way we could turn around. (click here to read on my experience and tips to deal with altitude sickness).
Driving through the Altiplano desert is bloody amazing. Before you can enter the National park you have to pay a small fee of about $20 AUD. As sick as I was it was actually some of the most beautiful terrain I had ever seen. The lagoons you cross and hot springs you see are just breathtaking, the header image on my blog (Laguna Blanca) was taken at one of the stops through the Altiplano desert it was spectacular. ( if you want some more info on Salar de Uyuni click here)
Throughout the day you come across some awesome places and you do stop for a little bit and get to explore the areas. On the first day we were in the car for a good 12 hrs, and it wasn’t a smooth ride. The roads out there aren’t roads, its rocks, sand, water going up hills going down hills. Our driver got separated from the other 3 cars and of course once we were separated our car had to break down right then and there in the middle of no where and no one to be seen… Luckily the car was just overheated and we were on our way in no time. By late that night we were still driving and we were all over it, sitting in a car with nothing to look out because it was that dark. Our driver was struggling to keep focused and I remember looking at him and watching the sweet beed off his face from him stressing to stay awake and get to the right place..
But we got there in the end and we were all happy chaps. I was extremely sick that night and I didn’t sleep at all, I actually thought i was dying and I was feeling that horrible. The next morning I was still really sick. I was vomiting a lot and the other end wasn’t in great shape either.
We set off that morning to continue towards the Salt flats. Passing lagoons and some hot springs again and watching wild llama and alpacas wonder through the area. We stop for lunch in a really small village and get to stretch our legs a little and we even played some basketball there.
We left once we relaxed for a little bit and finally after a couple of hours of driving we arrive to the amazing Uyuni Salt flats. This place is something you will never forget. It is literally white everywhere, you can see some mountains in the distance but for most of it it’s just white and surrounded by nothing…
You can get some great perspective photos here so make sure you think of some different ideas to try! (check out some of the photos that have been taken already click here).
If you are lucky and there has been rain in the last couple of days you might get a small layer of water onto of the salt plain creating a mirror. We had patches of this but we didn’t get to have the real mirror effect.
Once we got some good photos we headed to Fish Island AKA “heart of the Salt Flats”, and quite literally there is a island in the middle of the salt flats that is shaped like a heart. Its worth checking out it has some giant cactus growing there. Beth was in her element she has a weird love for them. There is a good little hike to the top of the Island and you get some great views.
I was lucky enough to drive from where we took our photos of the Salt Flats to the island. But it wasn’t because we got along with our driver. Like a lot of things through Bolivia money can pay for anything. I asked my driver if I could drive and he first said no, and then I offered him money and he was more then happy to let me drive. I think it worked out to be about $10 Australian. That $10 got me an experience that I will never forget and it is something I can say not many people have ever done.
That night we stayed on the edge of the salt flats. Now the accommodation wasn’t anything to get excited about… but the locations was. The Village was located at the bottom of a volcano and the views out of your bedroom window where of the salt flats, couldn’t get any better then that. Our accommodation was like everywhere else in Bolivia this place had cold running water/showers, drop toilets and we where split up boys and girls for the night which was kinda weird, it felt like I was on a school camp. That night they cook you a traditional Bolivian dinner and let you relax and enjoy the sunset over the Salt Flats.
One of the last stops on Salt Flats and you get to see the the monument that Bolivia has made for the most dangerous race in the world “The Dakar Rally” it’s a pretty cool thing to check out and just behind it is a small museum with some information about the Salt Flats. There is an area outside with most countries flag flapping about in the wind.
The Very last stop of the day before we headed to Uyuni is the Cementario de Trenes. It is basically a place where people have dumped trains that have broken down and the area has basically collected busted trains over time creating a “train cemetery”
We left the Salt flats and headed to Uyuni for the night and then the next day we headed off to Potosi, one of the the highest cities in the world sitting at 4,090m above sea level.
Potosi to La Paz
We left Uyuni and headed to Potosi! Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world sitting at 4,090m above sea level. As you approach Potosi you can see a giant mountain and the city built around. The mountain is called Cerro Rico and it is still to this day a working silver mine. Once we got to Potosi we got to relax and look around the city and checkout what there was to do there. The main attraction is a tour into the mountain of Cerro Rico and to see the day to day life of a working silver miner.
After relaxing for half a day and exploring around the city, most of the group decided that they wanted to do the tour of the silver mine the next day. We got picked up in the morning and picked up some gifts (soft drink, coca leaves, dynamite and other treats) for the miners who were working that day and then we had to get changed into “safety gear” . We were given a quick briefing of the mine and then we headed in. There are children as young as 12 working within the mines and it is quite a reality shock to see kids running around doing such hard work. They have this weird ritual everyday before they enter into the mine they visit this shrine they have made of the devil and they believe that he provides them with the minerals they get every day. If you want some more information of the mountain just click here.
We descended into the mine and and first thing you really realise is how dark it is and the amount of dust. Throughout the tour there is constant vibrations and thuds from workers blowing up dynamite around you. If you are lucky you will get to be taken deep down into the mine if you wish to go, we went down 3 levels which apparently is very rare to do. Once we got to the 3rd floor we as a group lit dynamite and placed it and ran and waited until it exploded. That was something pretty intense because the tour guide who lit it, held onto to it for ages while it was slowly burning down the wick putting the dynamite in his mouth and just did some crazy shit with it. We all basically ran as soon as he lit the wick personally i didn’t want to be anywhere near that thing.
Once that was all done that was the end of the tour and we headed home.
That night we went out for dinner and just by chance it was easter and my Birthday. Unfortunately for everyone we celebrated my birthday with no alcohol because the whole city is catholic and for the whole week leading up to easter they do not sell alcohol…. so it was a pretty out of control celebration as you could imagine.
We left Potosi and headed to Sucre one of the capital city of Bolivia (La Paz being the other one)
Sucre is a pretty groovy town has some nice restaurants and cool places to hang out and see. And the first night we arrived we went out and celebrated my birthday properly!
There are tours for all types of things such as a quad bike tour of the outskirts of Sucre sand boarding, rock climbing and even a park that has dinosaur footprints and skeletons. Now like everything in Bolivia nothing is on time and sometimes transport buses never show up on their scheduled times. Great example of this is when My girlfriend and I planned to go and see the Dino park, we planned to get to the main square 10 mins earlier just incase. Little did we know we would be waiting for an hour and a half for this bloody bus and it was suppose to come past about 4 times within that time we waited. We decided to give up and we were pretty shitty. As we where walking away we see the bus pull up, so we ran over and asked when they would be leaving and they guy said he would have to leave in a 30 to 45mins. We looked at each other and decided it wasn’t worth it. We were a bit concerned that if we go up there on a later bus and get there and walk around the museum we may not have a way back to town. So we spent the rest of the day walking through Sucres markets and eating lots and lots of food. Do yourself a favour and go to a place in Sucre that just sells empanadas, holy Jebus they are scrumptious i think i had about 3 within a space of an hour. They dont look like much but they are DELISH!
The next day we decided to do a quad bike tour with a couple of other from our group. And that was not worth it at all. One recommendation is to NOT do the quad bike tour. It was so far from a tour it was ridiculous. It was basically paying to hire a quad bike to ride around on dirt roads outside of the city, having some nice views here and there but it was such a waste of money. There was no information given to us about the area, our “guide” didn’t know english all that well, and we where riding in the late afternoon and it was so so cold. The bike that my girlfriend and I had its tire blew twice and we had to wait about an hour for someone to drop off a spare tyre…
So do yourself a favour and do not waste your money or time doing that.
That night we caught an overnight bus to La Paz.
We arrived in La Paz at about 5am and you guessed it not much sleep was achieved that night. But we were in a new and exciting city and I was ready to explore.
We settled in and then we all went for an orientation walk of the main areas of La Paz. We walked around most of the city that day going on the giant gondola that hangs from either side of the canyon that La Paz is built within. The city of La Paz is amazing, it is just so big and so many people around. I’d definitely recommend getting the gondola and doing both legs of it, you get a great view of the whole city and you get to see the “slums of La Paz”.
La Paz has loads of shops as well, so if you’re continuing to Cusco to do the inca trail and need supplies this is a good place to stock up on things.
The next day we all booked in to cycle down the famous Yungas Road AKA “Death Road”. This is something everyone should do. It is awesome. You start at 5000m and cycle down some insane roads at the start where you get some great photos. And then you arrive at the start of “Death Road”.
It turns from asphalt to a rocky dirt road and it is all downhill from there. The road itself is dangerous, but if stay in the middle of the road there is no issue what so ever. When we were cycling down the road you do pass other tour groups, cars, trucks and sometimes minibuses. You come across areas that have been affected by landslides and you have to slow down and take it easy around those areas. You really do have to be careful about how fast you are going down the road because there are plenty of blind turns and you have no idea what is on the other side.
I myself stacked it hard and I flew right over my handlebars and landed on a group of about 4 people who had stopped to look at the landslide damage on the road. Another guy in our group fell off while going at high speed and broke his foot, but he still finished the ride. (and hiked the inca trail) we made it to the end/start of the “death road” with a couple of people stacking pretty badly throughout the day but we were all safe and sound and relaxed by a pool for the afternoon and ate some food.
That night we all went out for dinner as a group because it was the last night we were all going to be together as a group, half the group ended their tour in La Paz. The place we went to was a steak house and myself and two others did a eating challenge there. That was tough, but I got a free T shirt so it was worth it.
The next day we went and explored the “Witches Market” of La Paz. This is something to see it’s just a strip of shops and has lots of arts and crafts and textiles, but also has shops for people who practise witchcraft…. there are dead baby Llamas, frogs, dried animals, and even Llama fetuses hanging from the ceiling. It’s a very weird and disturbing thing to see. You can also get some really fashionable jumpers of Llamas and if you buy one you really look the part through South America.
That night everyone who was continuing on to Lima with G adventures met the new additions to the family for the next 3 weeks and our new tour guide!