Tupiza, Bolivia and the Bolivia/Argentina Border Crossing at Villazon/La Quiaca

We just stayed in Tupiza for one night to break up the trip to Salta in Argentina. The trip from Uyuni to Tupiza began at 6am (we went with a company called 11 de Julio and we had to change a few hours in to another company, 12 de Octubre. Both buses were terrible and there’s no toilet stop or toilet on the bus. Fun!) We stayed at La Torres Hotel in Tupiza which was lovely (120 BOB).

Border crossing from Villazón, Bolivia to La Quiaca, Argentina

Collectivo’s leave from the back of Tupiza’s bus terminal from 5am every morning. So we were actually told that it would take hours to get through this border but a sleep in until 6am was required! We hopped in a collectivo at 6.40am and only had to wait 10 minutes for it to fill up. At 8.10am we pulled into Villazón (our driver was certifiable mind). From here you need to walk down to the border crossing although there are no signs so you basically just need to follow everyone else. There are plenty of currency exchange offices on the Bolivian side of the border. We were told that Bolivianos get a good rate against the Argentinian Peso; we got 1.91 for the Bolivianos we had left and 13.5 Argentinian Pesos (ARS) for each USD we had acquired (January 2015). As the Argentinian economy isn’t doing too wonderfully at the moment there’s a ‘blue dollar’ market – the actual rate should be about 8 ARS for every USD. Result! We’ve been told to try not to take any money out of banks in Argentina as the charges and rates are astronomical.

After changing our money (and asking directions from 3 different people) we found the bridge or border crossing to take take us from Bolivia to Argentina. You’ll see a sign with the numbers 1-4 in front of you. Firstly, you have to queue at number 4 (Migracion). This queue (down an uncovered bridge – sunburn central) took 2 hours. There was one person working to stamp us out of Bolivia. Next, you go to queue number 3 where you eventually get stamped in to Argentina (you’ll need the forms that are being handed out. The person handing them out told us we didn’t need them and then we had to fill them out at the control point). There were 2 people working on the Argentinian side of the border so it was only another half and hour of a queue here. You then have to queue up at queue number 1 and put your bags through an x-ray machine…which is in a van. Then you’re done! We wandered straight down the road to the town of La Quica (about a 10 minute walk) and found the bus station (3 blocks uphill from the main pedestrian street). We hopped straight on a Panamericano bus to Jujuy (115 ARS, ended up taking 7 hours) for a connection to Salta (We ended up staying in Jujuy for the night and caught a bus the following morning at 11am with Flecha Bus for the 2 hour journey to Salta). You have to  pay to store your bags underneath the bus in Argentina. Anyway, 2 hours into the journey from La Quiaca we were stopped by police officers and everyone had to bring their luggage into a room (women queue with women and vice versa) and show our passports. Some people had their bags searched and 2 people were detained. This added nearly another hour to the journey. I wouldn’t recommend Panamericano to be honest – we must have stopped 30 times on that trip.

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Changing our money in Bolivia

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Leaving Bolivia; Entering Argentina

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Only a few in front of us 🙂

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How far?!

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Welcome to Argentina! So pretty.

Next stop: Salta!

Uyuni and the Salar de Uyuni or Salt Flats, Bolivia

We hopped on a 7am bus from Potosí’s old terminal with American for the 4 hour, 30 BOB trip to Uyuni. Uyuni’s bus ‘terminal’ is essentially a street with a few bus companies, about a 5 minute walk from the main square, Plaza Arce. We stayed at the Hotel (not so much) Avenida (100 BOB) just off the main square. Uyuni is all about the Salt Flats so once we arrived we set about getting some prices for seeing them. We decided to do a 1 Day Tour as we don’t really have the standard 4 days free at the moment. We went with Cordillera Travel and paid 200 BOB per person and there were 7 of us in total. Tight squeeze if you’re in the back! Our guide was crap but we didn’t break down which I believe is unusual. He didn’t speak any English and actually gave out to us for not staying together every time he stopped the 4×4. Not one bit of notice was taken of this!

We stayed in Uyuni for 2 nights and the only food place worth talking about is Minuteman Pizza, located in the Toñito Hotel a few blocks from the main plaza. It’s owned by a lovely man from Boston who couldn’t do enough for all his customers. John had the pizza and I went with a quinoa pasta – both tasty.

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At Uyuni’s Train Station

Uyuni's Train Station

Uyuni’s Train Station

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Derelict but beautiful

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They’re crazy for the Dakar Rally

Uyuni's Clock Tower

Uyuni’s Clock Tower

Local Grafitti

Local Grafitti

Typical Hair-Do

Typical Hair-Do

This is pretty much how the locals look

This is pretty much how the locals look

Salar de Uyuni

Our tour started at 11.15am (call time was actually 10.30am) and we first went to visit an old train graveyard (5 minutes from Uyuni) where the rest of the universe was also congregated. Not sure why to be honest. We then had to go to our drivers house as he forgot his jumper. Ahem. The salt flats is the opposite direction to the train graveyard so back we went to Uyuni and on to our first proper view of some salt at some salt cones. We had to take off our shoes to walk around here and it was FREEZING!! Mighty exfoliation though. We then took an hours drive to a cactus-covered island in the middle of the salt flats called Inca Huasi (30 BOB entrance fee) which was pretty cool. Plenty of photo opps here. We had lunch here (cooked by the guide) in the lovely sunshine and after about an hour we got back in the 4×4 and went to see a Salt Hotel, now a museum. We got back to Uyuni about 6pm.

Train Cemetery

Train Cemetery

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On the train track to nowhere

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Practising my acrobatic skills

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How touristy the area actually is

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Chilling (quite literally) on some salt

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Met some friends at the Salt Flats

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Another old friend

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Inca Huasi

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What a view

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Admiring the scenery

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Taking a break

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All the people!

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Practising my tree pose

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So scary!

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60 Nations

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Salt Clock at the Salt Hotel/Museum

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Just because

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No need to worry, just a little tornado

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Salt Cones and some extreme weather

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Nothing but salt!

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So beautiful

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Still beautiful

Next stop: Tarija, Bolivia and the Border Crossing into Argentina

Sucre, Bolivia

Sucre was probably one of the highlights of Bolivia for us. It’s a really pretty whitewashed colonial city with a warm and sunny climate (and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site). We stayed at Casa de Huéspedes San Marco (80 BOB) which had wifi but that’s really the only good thing I can say about it. Let’s just say it’s a voyeurs dream. Moving on! Sucre’s main plaza, Plaza 25 de Mayo, is a great spot to while away some time just watching life go by. On one side of the park lies the Cathedral which is nearly the size of an entire city block. Massive! We visited Sucre’s market and it was absolutely fantastic. There’s amazing fresh produce, really friendly stall owners (we got a free apple. Result!) and lots of food spots upstairs. We didn’t try the food upstairs but there were hundreds of people chomping away. There’s also a couple of supermarkets which we got really excited about since we hadn’t seen one since Cusco. SAS is a brand new supermarket (which also has a cinema above it) down Calle Juan José Perez (about 3 blocks down from the main plaza). Sucre is chockerblocked full of chocolate shops (pardon the pun. I actually think they might have a diabetes problem!).

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Relaxing by the park

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Prefectura

Cooking up a storm in the market

Cooking up a storm in the market

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Plenty of fresh produce

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Putting John to work at a pasta stand

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Carnations everywhere

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Love it!

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Pink potatoes!!

Cafés-wise, Abi’s, on the main plaza, and Abi’s Patio, about three blocks further down are Belgian/Bolivian owned have really good Belgian chips and mayonnaise (and wifi which is hard to come by in Bolivia). The Belgian owner is a lovely chap too which always helps. We had breakfast a couple of times in Condor Café (also a tour agency). The muesli was delicious and wifi strong enough. Dutch-owned Florín (pub) was a good spot for a catch up with our lovely Dutch friends, Dorianne and Sam. They have a really tasty apple crumble here and they also brew their own beers but they actually had like two options out of a large menu. We stayed so long here one evening we got locked out of our hostel. John had to bang on the door for about 20 minutes before we had any joy. Fecking midnight curfew, come on!

Parque Bolivar is Sucre’s largest park and a worthwhile stop if you want to sit and chill for a while. It’s about a ten minute walk downhill from the main plaza and is full of playing children, ice-cream sellers and dogs. It’s overlooked by the stunning Supreme Court of Bolivia and the park includes a climbing frame Eiffel Tower which is cute for kiddies.

El Hospital Real de Santa Barbara

El Hospital Real de Santa Barbara

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On the walk to Parque Bolivar

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Plenty of these in Sucre

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Sucre’s Eiffel Tower

We took a micro bus (1.50 BOB) to the Parque Cretácico (from the back of the market) to see the world’s largest collection of actual dinosaur footprints. It was a bit expensive, 30 BOB for foreigners (10 BOB for Bolivians) plus 5 BOB to take photographs. Not enjoying this paying extra for photos malarkey – like you’re going to come here and not take pictures? They police the hell out of it too. The footprints are actually out across the way from the parque (which has a one room museum too) so it looks like the dinosaurs were climbing up the walls; in actuality the shifts in tectonic plates have pushed the ground upright. Perfect for viewing though! There is supposed to be a tour included but they decided against it on our visit as there was a smattering of rain. I mean smattering too. I’d like to send them to Ireland for just one day!

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Dinosaurs approaching…

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All the pock marks are prints

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Plenty more

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And some more

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I’m done now…

Next stop: Back to Potosí to get to Uyuni and the Salar de Uyuni or Salt Flats

Potosí, Bolivia

We arrived in Potosí after a 9.5 hour journey from La Paz with Bolivar. Very comfy journey except there were no toilets (except for a 3.30am stop in the middle of nowhere and a 2 BOB fee) and the bus must have stopped about 6 times whilst leaving La Paz. There’s honestly no such thing as a direct service in Bolivia, whatever you’re told. Our 7am arrival in Potosí (and 15 BOB taxi journey to the main square) was WAY too early. Absolutely nothing was open. I asked a local what time the city starts opening up and she said about 10am or 11am – WHAT?! We tried a couple of hostels but they all told us to come back after 10am.

First impressions were why did we come to this hellhole? First impressions turned out to be correct. Freezing cold and pouring with rain most of the time. Ugh. Funnily enough we ended up in Potosí twice, once on the way to the lively city of Sucre, and once on the way to the Salar de Uyuni or Salt Flats. We stayed at a damp place called Maria Victoria (80 BOB) on our first visit and the far nicer Hostal Carlos V Imperial (160 BOB).

The main square in Potosí, Plaza 10 de Noviembre has a pretty cool mini Statue of Liberty and a nice cathedral too. Cafés we checked out included Cherry’s (they have a fireplace, wifi and cookies so a winner in my book), Café La Plata had a bit of a train station vibe (food isn’t great but there’s a nice enough atmosphere, and the very popular gringo hangout of the Koala Café (also a tour agency). We didn’t eat well in Potosi full stop so couldn’t wait to move on!

There’s a hill towering over the city called Cerro Rico or Rich Hill, a silver mine which kept the Spanish in the jewels they had become accustomed to. There’s a story that says a bridge made of silver could have been built from Potosi to Madrid and the Spanish would still have had silver to bring over it. Intense. There’s still a huge mining culture in Potosí, about 10,000 locals still work there and you can go visit (Koala Tours had a tour for 120 BOB) but we decided against that as the conditions are supposed to be appalling and we didn’t want to contribute to the misery.

Potosí actually has a great bus station. It’s a huge circular building with all the bus companies upstairs. There are a couple of stalls so you can pick up something for your forward journey. There’s a departure tax at the station (2 BOB) which you can purchase inside or on the bus. They’ll find you!

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Potosi’s Cathedral

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Tis herself!

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Iglesia de Santa Teresa

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Isn’t he just lovely

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Casa Real de la Moneda

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Kinda creepy…

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The Dakar Rally was on in the area during our visit

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The Cathedral in a Christmas tangle

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Cerro Rico

Buses to Sucre: There are plenty of buses throughout the day to Sucre from Potosi’s Neuva Terminal. We went with Alonso de Ibanez for 20 BOB and we had a lovely (and ancient) driver that gave every single car a massive wave. This journey took 3.5 hours.

Buses to Uyuni: You’ll need to go to the Old or Ex Terminal in Potosi to catch a bus to Uyuni (unless you want a 12.30pm bus which goes from the new or neiva terminal) You can get to the Ex Terminal in a taxi for 10BOB (which we did at 6.30am) or on one of the many micros that race around the city for 1.50BOB (A, F, J, P, 6, 8, 50, 70, 130 and 230 all go to the Ex Terminal). Our 7am bus to Uyuni with American took 4 hours from Potosi.

La Paz, Bolivia

Copacabana to La Paz

We took a local bus at 10.15am with Manco Kapac from Copacabana to La Paz (25 BOB) after picking up some freshly baked chocolate croissants (and coffee for John so he could function) at the Pitstop Bakery in Copacabana. About 40 minutes outside of Copacabana you’ll need to cross Lake Titicaca to get to the mainland. You’ll have to get off the bus at the town of Taquina and walk left to get your 2 BOB ticket from the Boleteria near the market to cross the water. Your bus will follow on a completely safe wooden raft. You can pay to use the bathroom at both sides of the water here too. Our bus let passengers back on to continue our journey outside the Restaurant El Palacio de la Trucha (Trout Palace haha). It was a pretty uneventful ride for another couple of hours until we reached the Gustav Eiffel created bus terminal in La Paz.

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Buy your ticket here to cross Lake Titicaca (as modelled by John)

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Our bus trying not to sink

La Paz

We arrived to some form of demonstration so walked to the main tourist area from the bus station (all downhill, about 10 minutes). We decided to stay at Inti Wasi Hostel (60 BOB) which was pretty much felt like we were on Prison Break. We just stayed for one night in La Paz but we had a full day and a half to explore, although it rained a lot. On arrival we ate at Dutch owned Café del Mundo (are there any people left in Holland?) which was nice – tasty and calorific hot chocolates, just how I like them! They had wifi so we definitely overstayed our welcome! New obsession for me: chocolate chip quinoa cookies – absolutely delicious. Oh, the demonstration – just some police and those damn banger things. Nothing to write home about…

The main tourist drag here is called Calle Sagárnaga, which houses the Mercado de Hechicería or Witches Market. Oh where to start on this one…well, they sell llama foetuses. Everywhere you look. Absolutely disgusting. Apparently they believe that if they bury a llama foetus under their house it will bring good luck. I would have brought a collection of pennies for them if I’d known!

Plaza Murillo, a few blocks away from Calle Sagárnaga, houses the cathedral as well as the Presidential Palace and Parliament. It’s a lovely square, however most of the space seems to be allocated to the worlds’ pigeon population. Corn sellers don’t do anything to alleviate this…

Calle Jaén is a pretty street a little walk away from the Iglesia de San Francisco (a pretty colonial church sitting on the buzzing Plaza San Francisco).  This is where most of La Paz’s museums are housed, however we visited at siesta time so continued on to the Mirador Killi Killi or lookout point over the city. It was about a 25 minute (mostly uphill and with locals laughing at my inability to enjoy climbing a 90 degree angle) trek to try to get a glimpse of Mount Illamani, the snow-capped mountain which pretties up La Paz. It was completely covered in cloud and waiting out an hours worth of rain up there didn’t help one bit! On to the Teleferico we went, a 6 BOB. return trip to check out another lookout point at El Alto, this time 4150m in the sky on what I believe is the world’s newest cable car system.

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Walking from the bus station

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Plaza Murillo

Street Art

Street Art

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Llamas everywhere

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Cute alleyway

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Calle Sagárnaga

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Witches Market

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A tale of La Paz

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More of Witches Market

Witches Market

A little more Witches Market

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Calle Jaén

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View of La Paz from Mirador Killi Killi

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Wouldn’t want to get lost out there

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The Teleferico

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Just a cool wall and a woolly pole

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Gustav Eiffel’s work in La Paz

Next stop: Potosi, after a 9.30pm overnight bus journey

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

A flurry of local women will accost you once you get off your boat to ensure you pay the 5BOB fee to get on the island. Prepare yourself for a steep climb from the get go – there’s an ancient Incan staircase you just can’t avoid! We just went with a hostel we thought looked nice (am, not so much. Wicked greedy owner too. She gave us a triple room for 80BOB and tried to kick us out the following morning so she could get one extra person in. I won’t say where John told her to go…) and we stayed for 2 nights so we could see take a walk around the whole island (it’s about 70 sq km in size and there are no roads, just walking paths).

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Copacabana’s Dock

Isla del Sol is probably the most important site in Incan culture as this is where the empire was founded. They also believe that this is where the sun originated and the smaller island opposite, Isla de la Luna, is where the moon was created. There are numerous ruins dotted around the island, the most significant of which are the Chincana Ruins. In general, the people on Isla del Sol were really friendly. All ‘Ola’ every time you pass. There’s definitely a nice community spirit here. First impressions of the island were probably that it’s like a mix of old Ireland (stoney paths, donkeys everywhere, lots of farmland) and Greece (sunshine and crystal clear water). It’s stunning actually. The Cordillera Real mountain range sits opposite Isla del Sol so there’s a fabulous view of the snow covered peaks from the village of Yumani. The star-gazing is pretty spectacular from here too.

On our first evening we wandered through a eucalyptus forest (true story) for dinner at an organic café, Las Velas. John had lovely smoked local trout. I had a vegetarian dish and it was just awful! They actually cooked the vegetables for over an hour. No chance of hypervitaminosis here!! The view from this place was spectacular though so we watched a beautiful sunset.

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First glimpse of Pilko Kaina Ruins

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An evening of climbing

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Yumani’s Church

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Watching over my kingdom

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It’s a donkey’s life

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A local admiring her home

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Isla del Sol’s streets

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View across to the Cordilleras Real

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Working like a…donkey

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Daily Life

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The prettiest view

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Evening creeping in

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Me and my lovely blue gate

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I made a new friend…no donkey jokes please

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The way home

On Day 2 we decided to take the 7 hour walk around the island. We started out about 10am after breakfast (Bolivian breakfasts aren’t great so your best bet is a fruit salad if you can find it). We walked for a while until we got to a ticket stand or boletaria to get into the north side of the island. You have to pay 15BOB per person and your ticket will be checked a couple of times. We saw a few ruins during the day, the most impressive of which were the Chincana Ruins. We took a little walk down to the pebble beach here to have lunch with some local sheep. The town of Cha’llapampa is at the northernmost tip of the island. I honestly expected a lot more from here, it was full of people camping in the beach, dust and rubbish. I definitely wouldn’t recommend staying here. We just kept walking to get away as quickly as possible! In the early 2000s there were some underwater excavations close to the north of the island (because of an earlier treasure find) which resulted in the finding of an underwater temple; some believe it’s evidence of Atlantis…

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Tickets for the north

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Aw, they’re everywhere!

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Life on the Lake

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Mesa Ceremónica/Ceremonial Table

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Chincana Ruins

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Stony beach by the Chincana Ruins

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More of the Chincana Ruins

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John skimming some pebbles

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How the locals get around

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They’re too pretty, I had to take a couple of shots

If I could have kept this fluffy fellow!

If I could have kept this fluffy fellow!

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Just like a teddy 🙂

These guys are so nosey

These guys are so nosey

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This cow was doing his bit to help…herding

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At the town of Cha’llapampa

Bolivian Launderette

Bolivian Launderette

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Clothes drying everywhere!

Note: You’ll need to bring your own toilet paper to Lake Titicaca or pay 3 BOB for a roll. In fact, it hasn’t been supplied anywhere in Bolivia – even in restaurants sometimes!

Getting off Isla del Sol

The normal boat back to Copacabana is at 10.30am but as we were anxious to get moving and on to La Paz we got down to the port (read: wooden planks) at 8am. We managed to get on a pre-booked boat for 30 BOB per person at 8.20am for the trip back to Copacabana.

Next stop: La Paz, Bolivia