BOLIVIA CARNIVAL and MORE in 2008
Including an overflight of the Salar de Uyuni in a restored
Fantastically costumed dancers whirl and cavort La Morenada at
In 2001 Rutahsa Adventures discovered a little-known secret: the wet season
is THE time to visit Bolivia! The otherwise parched altiplano landscape
is verdant and abloom with wildflowers, the skies are dramatic, and temperatures
are pleasantly mild. Furthermore, an absolutely stellar attraction can be
witnessed only in the rainy season: the amazing Salar de Uyuni acting
as the world's largest mirror. In 2006 we not
only visited this world of mirrors by 4WD vehicle, we chartered a restored DC-3
to see it from the air. As if this natural wonder wasn't enough, there is the
also the fabulous folkloric carnival in Oruro!
We ran a wonderful Bolivia trip in 2001, and then improved it and took other
groups of adventurers to Bolivia for Carnival in 2002, 2003, 2005. In 2006 we
further improved the itinerary by starting in the lowlands (thus avoiding
altitude problems) and including a special charter flight over the Salar de
Uyuni. This has proved to be the best itinerary ever, and we ran it again in
For 2008, Rutahsa Adventures has organized this same spectacular excursion for
veteran Tour Conductor Kathy Didier. Kathy has been a Major Excursion Leader
for the Appalchian Mountain Club for eighteen years. She leads an average of 10
extended trips to the far corners of the world each year, as well as monthly
AMC trips in the White Mountains of NH. She owns and manages Pembrook Lodge
in Woodstock, NH. In the past Kathy has coordinated AMC trips with Rutahsa
Adventures to Bolivia/Peru, Guatemala, and Ecuador/Galapagos. This fourth trip
arranged through Rutahsa is Kathy's own trip, not affiliated with the AMC.
As usual, participation will be limited to just 16 travelers. If you are
interested in visiting this little-known Andean republic with so much to offer,
please review the following itinerary carefully and let Kathy know if you'd
like to sign on to this trip. (Kathy's e-address is found at the end of this
N.B.: Rutahsa's Bolivia Carnival trips have been repeatedly recommended by Frommer's!
HERE'S OUR ITINERARY:
THE BOLIVIAN ADVENTURES BEGIN...
DAY 1, Weds., Jan. 23: Morning: Land in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's major
city in the Amazon lowlands. You will be met at the airport and taken to
your lodgings at the four-star Hotel Asturias to get settled in and rest up a
bit. For a preview of the Hotel Asturias, visit their website, then use your
"back" button to return to this itinerary: Hotel Asturias.
[N.B.: By starting the trip in Santa Cruz and going into the Andes via Sucre,
the hassles of soroche (altitude sickness) are pretty much avoided.
There is no need to fly into Santa Cruz a day early for altitude adjustment, as
there is with trips beginning in La Paz. Nonetheless, some travelers like to
come in a day early just to rest up from the tiring flight south to Bolivia.
If you wish to do this, let us know and we can arrange the extra night's lodging
and the airport transfer service.]
Afternoon: City tour of Santa Cruz, a bustling modern city, home to Bolivia's
ranching, tropical agriculture, and petroleum industries. The tour will
include a visit to the botanical gardens of Parque Ivaga Guazú.
DAY 2, Thurs., Jan. 24: After breakfast (included) at the Asturias, you
board a private bus to drive to the historic town of Concepción, passing
through the smaller town of San Javier en route. Both San Javier and
Concepción are famous for their beautiful Jesuit missions dating from
the 1700s. These churches are two of a chain of missions established by the
Company of Jesus in the 18th century for the conversion of the Indians. The
architecture is a fascinating mixture of indigenous and European, and the
mission decorations are stunning.
The trip to Concepción takes you through lush tropical lowlands dotted
with palms, and where, with a bit of luck you may sight a rhea (South American
ostrich). Lunch will be in San Javier, and, of course, the San Javier mission will be visited.
Overnight in Concepción, at the Hotel Chiquitos. The Chiquitos features
traditional architecture, a swimming pool, an orchid nursery, and parrots on
the grounds. (B,L,D)
DAY 3, Fri., Jan. 25: This morning's activities will include a tour of
the Concepción mission complex,
including its woodworking shop-- for this is an active mission, not just a
restoration and museum. Then it's back to Santa Cruz and the Hotel Asturias.
Free time after arrival back at the hotel. (B,L)
DAY 4, Sat., Jan. 26: AM: After another breakfast at the Hotel
Asturias, you board up and go to the airport for the short flight to Sucre.
Known as "La Ciudad Blanca" ("the White City"), due to the practice of
whitewashing the colonial buildings in central
Sucre, Sucre is universally acclaimed as Bolivia's most beautiful city.
You'll be picked up at the airport and taken to your home for the next two
nights, the Hostal de Su Merced. This beautiful small hotel, in a charmingly
renovated home, is where Bolivian presidents stay when visiting Sucre, and is
our favorite hotel in all Bolivia. Great location, friendly staff, and
excellent food. Check it out: Hostal
de Su Merced.
After lunch you'll have a guided tour of Sucre, the legal capital of Bolivia,
and still home to the Supreme Court, although the rest of the government moved
to La Paz years ago. Originally founded in 1538 as La Plata, Sucre was
renamed in 1825 in honor of General Sucre, the first president of the newly
independent Republic of Bolivia (which itself was named in honor of
Simón Bolívar, the Great Liberator). The city is still largely
colonial in architecture, has a lovely climate at 2790 m (9153 ft), and is a
university town, all of which contribute to its delightful ambience.
The city tour will include some of the important colonial sites, such as La Recoleta monastery, the Casa de la Libertad (Bolivia's
"Independence Hall"), or perhaps the cathedral, or the colorful central market. There are also museums
and shops to visit. A very worthwhile museum is the ASUR Museum of Indigenous
Art, where, in addition to seeing a fine museum collection of textiles,
outstanding textiles can be purchased, and you can witness the art of weaving
on the backstrap loom. (B)
DAY 5, Sun., Jan. 27: Those who have fallen under the spell of Sucre's
charms may opt to spend the full day here strolling about the pleasant town,
sampling a nice variety of eateries, enjoying the central park, and having a
restful day. But for the more energetic, we have an outing planned...to go to
the famous indigenous market at Tarabuco, about a two hour drive through the
mountains from Sucre.
Tarabuco market is not huge, but it fills several blocks of streets, and is a
very good place to buy beautiful handwoven textiles, and to see lots of traditional native costumes. The
indigenous people in this region are Quechua speakers, an inheritance from the
Inka Empire. You can expect to see men in boldly striped ponchos, and carrying
chuspas (woven bags in which personal items such as coca leaves are
carried), and women wearing the traditional axsu (heavy overskirt). You
will likely see a variety of headgear. Married men and women may both wear a
helmet-shaped hat, directly modeled after the Spanish conquistador's helmet,
whereas unmarried young women may wear a shako-like hat with a fringe,
decorated with lots of spangles, and worn at a jaunty angle. This market is
definitely a colorful scene!
Lunch will be served at Jatún Yampara, a poor village between Tarabuco
and Sucre with a fledgling tourism project. The friendly people here will show
you their crafts, their crops, and welcome
you into their homes. You may even participate in a blessing ceremony at their
shrine to Pachamama. You will be both
interested and touched by these good people struggling to better their
community. And your visit with them will help their project move along.
Back in Sucre, you can enjoy a stroll through the central plaza in the evening,
and sup at a nice restaurant before retiring to the Su Merced for the night.
DAY 6, Mon., Jan. 28: AM: Free time to enjoy beautiful Sucre on your
own, strolling, photographing, and bargaining for crafts in the shops or from
street vendors. PM: Board a private bus and head out and up, crossing
mountains and deep river valleys as the highway (one of the best in all
Bolivia) climbs up to the Andean city of Potosí. At 3977 m (13,047 ft),
this city is definitely a real high point in the trip. No activities are
planned for after arrival in Potosí, as you will want to take it easy as
you adjust to this very high altitude. Having spent the last two days at 9000
ft should make this transition easy, nonetheless, soroche is a real
possibility if you over exert. Drink some coca tea, and take it easy!
The coat of arms of Potosí bears the legend "I am rich Potosí,
the treasure of the world, the king of mountains, the envy of kings."
According to legend, silver was discovered at Potosí in 1544 by an
Indian, Diego Huallpa, who had climbed a mountain in search of lost llamas.
After building a fire to warm himself, Diego noted molten silver streaming from
a rock beside the fire. The Spaniards were quick to investigate rumors of an
Indian with silver, took possession of the mountain peak-- soon to become known
as Cerro Rico ("Rich Mountain"), and by 1545 the city of Potosí
was founded. Within 25 years it was the largest city in the New World, with a
population of 125,000. Riches poured out of the mountain into Spanish coffers,
altering the financial structure of Europe. Potosí itself was awash in
wealth; Spanish aristocrats in Potosí built themselves palaces and also dozens of baroque churches.
But all this came at a terrible toll of human misery, as the mines were worked
by enslaved Indians who died by the tens of thousands in the bowels of Cerro
Our lodgings in Potosí will be the Hostal Colonial (Frommer's favorite
in Potosí), located just a block off the main square, within easy
walking distance of the principal attractions. (B)
DAY 7, Tues., Jan. 29: This morning the adventurous-minded members of
the group will fortify themselves with breakfast, including some strong coffee
or hot chocolate, then head out for Cerro
Rico, the mountain that made Potosí. This angry red peak, now
stripped barren and plundered both inside and out, is still being worked by
hundreds of miners. You will find out what it's all about by going underground
into one of the working mines. This is a fascinating trip, and we recommend it
highly, but note, it is not a trip for the faint of heart: expect some tight
spots, some ladders to climb, some dust and water and perhaps a little mud.
Expect to meet El Tío and make an offering to him for your safe
return to the sunlit world!
First stop is at the miners' market to buy appropriate gifts for the miners
and for El Tío: bags of coca leaves, strong black cigarettes,
some soda waters and perhaps some raw liquor. You could even buy dynamite and
blasting caps, if you fancy toting such items around on your person.
Next you'll suit up in hardhats, slickers and rubber boots, then drive up the
mountain to the mine entrance. Here you'll be
issued lamps...then it's duck your head and proceed into the underworld!
Within the drifts you'll visit with miners working
veins with hand tools, under conditions that are very 19th-century by
modern mining standards, and which expose them to a variety of dangers,
including the main miners' curse, silicosis. (Not to worry, silicosis results
from years of breathing rock dust, and is not a danger from a single visit.)
Dismal as these working conditions seem, they are still a far cry from the
awful circumstances endured by the Indian slaves of colonial times.
Each of the many mines under Cerro Rico has a shrine to El
Tío, the miners' god of the underworld, who must be placated if his
mineral wealth is to be extracted and the miner to return safely to the world
of sunlight above. This applies to visitors too, and you should save a portion
of your gifts of coca and cigarettes to leave before the statue of El Tío before you exit the mine.
Back again in the sunshine and fresh air, you'll ponder the toil witnessed
underground as you eat lunch and get ready for an afternoon walking tour of
some of the important colonial sites.
[N.B.: Anyone who does not find going underground appealing may spend the
morning visiting shops and the artesans' market just a few short blocks from
the Hostal Colonial. The desk clerk can provide you a city map.]
Afternoon activities: Wending your way through narrow streets overhung by balconied colonial homes, you will visit
La Casa de la Moneda, a colonial mint
turned into a splendid museum (the grinning mask of Bacchus is an unexplained
anomaly-- but it has been there for many years). Next, depending on how long is
spent at the Casa de la Moneda, you'll move on to another site, perhaps
the San Francisco convent with its crypts below and the best rooftop view of Potosí above. Or perhaps the
Convento de Santa Teresa, with its religious museum.
One of the interesting things to note as you pass along the streets of
Potosí is the variety of highly distinctive men's hat styles affected by
the cholitas (Indian women who have adopted a highly stylized European
mode of dress).
Second night at Hostal Colonial. (B)
DAY 8, Weds., Jan. 30: Today travel is by caravan-- in 4WD vehicles--
across mountains and valleys and windy plains following a good, all-weather
gravel road from Potosí to the altiplano town Uyuni. Though
drivable in 5 to 6 hours if you are just rushing through, we will allot the
full day for this trip, with photo stops for mountain scenery, llamas, alpacas
and vicuñas, sand dunes and a seasonal lagoon where flamingoes can
sometimes be photographed together with llamas!. Stops will also be made to visit a nearly abandoned
mining town, and to enjoy a picnic lunch en route.
The scenery is beautiful any time of year, but especially so in the wet season
when the hillsides are green and flowered. This is one of our favorite drives,
passing rustic villages, through a lovely little canyon surrounded by weird
rock formations, by many herds of llamas and
alpacas, and where colorful strata
have been twisted and thrust towards the sky in the geologic upheaval that
formed the Andes.
Shortly before arriving at Uyuni, you'll visit the historic town of Pulacayo
where we will see relics from its silver mining glory days, including abandoned
steam locomotives and a train said to have
been robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
And finally, just on the outskirts of Uyuni is the cementerio de los
trenes or locomotive graveyard, where dozens of rusting engines are silent
reminders of Uyuni's heyday as an important railroad center. Steam train buffs
will be saddened by the fate of these once powerful machines, but at the same
time fascinated by the very unusual wheel arrangements on some of the
British-built Garretts, including a couple of huge 4-8-6-8-4s! And the
melancholy is relieved by the sardonic wit of an unknown desert grafitti artist.
At Uyuni, a windswept town in the middle of nowhere, you will be surprised and
charmed by the rustic, but comfortable Hotel Jardines de Uyuni. (B,L)
DAY 9, Thurs., Jan. 31: A short distance from the town of Uyuni the
great Salar de Uyuni lies gleaming, and you will explore this stunning
natural phenomenon aboard 4WD vehicles today. According to conventional
geologic concepts, what was once a great intermontane lake comparable to Lake
Titikaka eventually evaporated away to form the remarkable salar: in the dry
season it is some 10,582 sq km (4085 sq mi) of blinding snow-white salt
overarched by a sky so big it looks like it needs some help staying up! But February is the wet
season, and when the immense salt flat is covered with a thin layer of
rainwater, it turns into the world's largest mirror. And that phenomenon is
why Rutahsa programs its Bolivia excursions in this season.
As you approach the salar it is not unusual to see vicuñas, the smallest
of the four Andean camelids along the margins of the salt flat, and
occasionally flocks of pink flamingoes
are seen in ponds along the railway, or over the salar itself.
Hard by the salar is Colchani, an entire village dedicated to the cottage
industry production of salt for the rest of Bolivia's consumption. Fresh salt
is first scraped off the surface of the salar and piled in conical heaps. Then it is transported into
Colchani where it is dried, then bagged
and iodized by workers in small co-ops.
Also near the edge of the salar is one of the world's oddest constructions, the
Palacio de Sal, built entirely of blocks of
rock salt quarried directly from the salar! A stop here for a visit is
planned. Inside the Salt Palace everything
is made of salt. The only exceptions: mattresses (thank goodness!), toilets
(double thank goodness!!), stove and pool table. Truly an amazing, imaginative
and unforgettable hotel. [On our 2001 Bolivia trip we stayed at this hotel,
but in 2002 it was out of service due to local politics; in 2005-06 it was
still in the process of being rebuilt at its new location. Unfinished or not,
it's definitely worth a visit!]
During the dry season it is an easy matter to drive at highway speeds out
across the hard flat salt. Eighty kilometers out on the flat is cactus-covered
Isla Pescado, once an isolated island
of basalt far from the shores of a vast lake. This island is home to several
species of cacti, a variety of birds, and a
small colony of vizcachas (imagine a
short-eared rabbit with a squirrel's tail!).
Isolated by salt flats in the dry season, Isla Pescado can become a real
island again during the wet season, when rains flood the salar to form a wide
shallow lake. Incredible as it sounds, this does not always prevent visits to
the island: if the water depth is less then 18 inches, intrepid drivers pilot
their 4WD vehicles through 80 km of salt
spray to deliver visitors to the island... but not at highway
speeds...under these conditions it can take over three hours to reach Isla
Pescado, but oh the vistas en route!
Imagine driving for miles across a gigantic mirror surface-- the sky and
clouds reflected to perfection; volcanic
cones soaring up in the distance also soar down into the depths; flocks of pink flamingoes flap slowly by overhead
while their looking glass twins stroke in unison down below; rain falls down,
rain falls up; when you drive across the
salar you have the impression of flying, with clouds above and below. Or perhaps of being on another planet, the
scene is so un-earthly. Or perhaps of having
somehow fallen inside a gigantic kaleidoscope.
And just like a kaleidoscope, the scene is constantly changing: the preceding
six photos were all taken on the same day! It really beggars description--
you just have to see it to believe it. And for the best view of all, ride
in the open!
It is precisely in hopes of experiencing this mind-boggling scene that Rutahsa
Adventures has scheduled our 2008 trip for the wet season again...
You'll contemplate this bizarre and beautiful scenery as you eat your picnic
lunch on Isla Pescado. After lunch begins the return to Uyuni, again
slowly across the flooded portions of the salar. Timing is important, as it is
necessary to be off the salar before nightfall (hard enough to tell where
you're going in the daytime!), but one doesn't want to cut the trips short
either, as sunset over the Salar de Uyuni can certainly be a lurid spectacle. Second night at the Hotel
Jardines de Uyuni. (B,L)
DAY 10, Fri., Feb. 1: Today we have a truly special treat planned: an
overflight of the Salar de Uyuni in a classic DC-3!!. The salar is spectacular on the ground, and equally
so from the air-- a dream world of hazy pastels
The aircraft is a lovingly and completely restored 1952 Super DC-3, owned and
operated by Capitán Canedo and his sons, who pilot the beautiful
vintage plane. The ship is immaculate, both inside and out, with leather
seats, and window seats for everyone. This flight is a real joy!
Following the overflight of the amazing salar, we will fly on for an hour in
our charter to Oruro, with volcanoes, sand dunes and lakes stretched out below
us. [N.B.: In 2006 we enjoyed a wonderful flight that all agreed was one of
the highlights of the trip. However, when we first attempted this charter in
2005, the flight had to be canceled due to weather conditions. This is always
a possibility in the wet season, and obviously, safety trumps other
considerations. Should the flight be canceled for any reason, travel from
Uyuni to Oruro will be by 4WD seeing more altiplano scenery up close en
route. In the event the flight is canceled, Rutahsa Adventures will endeavor
to secure a refund for each traveler, which we did successfully in 2005.]
Founded as a mining town in the 16th century, Oruro later became the principal
center of the Bolivian railway system, now sadly largely defunct. Today
Oruro's main claim to fame is the Carnaval de Oruro, the most
spectacular of all Bolivian festivals. It is a huge and famous event, yet one
that remains purely Bolivian, virtually unaltered by tourism or other outside
influences. Lodging will be in the Gran Hotel Sucre, a somewhat funky old
place, but excellently situated just about three blocks from the main plaza,
which should be a pretty busy place as the town makes the final preparations
for the big event of the year to start tomorrow morning! (B)
DAY 11, Sat., Feb. 2: Carnival begins early with a spectacular entry
procession called La Entrada, starting
at 7 AM and passing along a 5-km route, ending at the Church of the Virgin of
the Socavón. Rutahsa's group will have reserved grandstand seats on the
main plaza. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of teams of
dancers perform. Many dances feature elaborate costumes, some with
grotesque masks, the most remarkable being La Diablada, and all with incredible color. Music is supplied by innumerable blaring brass bands, each
trying to out-do the next. Some of the dances, such as La Diablada
represent Aymara folk legends related to the dangerous lives of the Indian miners.
Historical reality, such as the introduction in colonial times of a black
population to work in the mines, is depicted in one of the most important of all
carnival dances, La Morenada.
Dances also graphically depict slavery.
You may see dancers wearing authentic costumes that date back many generations,
such as this elaborate feathered headdress
witnessed a century and a half ago by the American diplomat-archeologist
George Squier. Both history and today's reality are represented in dances like
La Llamerada (the dance of the
llama herders), and the dance of the tinkus which ends in a mock brawl, recalling an ancient Andean
tradition in which neighboring communities fight an annual ceremonial battle (a
custom still honored in a few Bolivian communities). There are also dancers
costumed as dancing bears (representing another legend), there are live llamas,
and even the cars get into the act! The
parade goes on for hours, but box lunches will be supplied at the grandstand
seats so you don't have to miss a thing (other than for the occasional necessary
La Entrada is just the beginning of a week of revelry and abandon.
Tonight there will be lots of celebrating, live music, dancing, and happy
inebriation. Foreigners are welcome to join in, but of course, some discretion
is advised. Second night at Gran Hotel Sucre. (B,L)
[N.B.: One thing to be on the watchout for: water bombs! This is a carnival
tradition, and you can just about count on having a water balloon lobbed at
you sometime today or tomorrow. The best responses are either: 1) wear a light
rain poncho, and ignore it, or, 2) arm yourself with water balloons purchased
from one of the street vendors and get even! In any case, it's all in good
DAY 12, Sun., Feb. 3: For early risers (or if you can't sleep due to
the music), you can get up at 4 AM and make your way up to the Church of the
Socavón, where a sort of battle of the bands takes place for El
Alba, the bringing in of the dawn with more music and revelry.
This morning will be free time, with wandering and watching being what most
will choose to do. Today is the day of the Gran Corso del Carnaval,
another spectacular parade of the same tireless dance groups, only this day
they make one concession to comfort, dancing mostly unmasked, and there is more
audience participation. Aside from watching the Gran Curso, you might
want to walk up to the Church of the Socavón, where there is an
underground mining museum accessed from inside the church, for a small fee. Or
visit the mask shops on La Paz street for some really unusual souvenirs!
After lunch the group will head out for a change of scenery...Sajama National
Park near the border with Chile.
Sajama park is centered on the sacred mountain Volcán Sajama, which, at 6548 m (21,483 ft), is the highest
peak in all Bolivia. Although the five hour drive to the park is mainly on
good paved road, the park itself is rugged, so travel will be by 4WD transport again. Lodging for tonight
and tomorrow will be the rustic Albergue Tomarapi, located in a picturesque,
semi-abandoned village at the foot of snow-capped Sajama. (The lodge is a
project run as a local co-op to provide employment for locals and attract
outside income to this impoverished area.) The rooms here are plain but
perfectly adequate, with private baths and hot water (but sometimes you have to
let the management know that you need hot water as the system is not without
its defects). (B,D)
N.B.: Due to its location in the heart of a llama and alpaca herding region,
meals at the albergue rely heavily on llama meat, which is an excellent
low-fat meat. If you are vegetarian you need to be sure to advise Rutahsa of
your dietary needs when you fill out your trip application!
N.B.: The lodge has gas heaters, but sometimes there are malfunctions. It is
best to be prepared for the possibility of cold rooms. Fleece longjohns are a
handy thing to have if your room happens to have heater problems.
DAY 13, Mon., Feb. 4: Get up early today and enjoy the incredible
sight of the towering snowy mass of Sajama as it catches the first rays of dawn and becomes bathed in
fire. Then come back in to the warmth of the lodge for a hearty breakfast
before starting out on a full day of four-wheel touring of the park's scenic
The park is a high arid region inhabited by herds of llamas, alpacas, and
vicuñas, some of which may even pose for you. Here too, you have a good
chance to see vizcachas. In addition,
there are suris (rheas, or "American ostriches"). We got lucky and saw four in
2005, and saw two close up in 2006). And
the Andean lakes boast flamingoes and other waterfowl.
Among the noteworthy plants to be found in the park are the rare large
keñua trees, and the strange dome-shaped yareta, which serves the natives as fuel. Other park
attractions include hot springs and geysers, and strange ancient man-made
lines, calling to mind the famous Nasca Lines of Peru. And there are
scattered villages peopled by herders
eking out a living from this harsh but awesomely beautiful land.
Second night at Albergue Tomarapi. (B,L,D)
DAY 14, Tues., Feb. 5: After a final breakfast at the albergue, it's
mount the jeeps one last time to head in to the city of La Paz, four-hour's
driving time. However, there will be stops along the way for photos and to see
ancient burial towers known as chullpas, plus a short side trip to the
town of Curahuara de Carangas to see its colonial church, famous for its
colorful primitive murals. A stop will be made for lunch, too.
In La Paz, lodgings will be at the Hostal Rosario, a charming little hotel
located right in the area of the great street market and the famous "Witches
Market". The Rosario is one of our favorite hotels in Bolivia-- nice and cozy,
very friendly and helpful staff, and good restaurant for breakfast and supper.
Check it out: Hotel Rosario.
After settling in to your new digs, you can go out and get acquainted with this
fascinating part of town-- a great place for shopping for souvenirs. Pick up a
city map at the front desk and go for a roam and start to learn your way around
the incredible market complex where block after block of shops, booths, and
street vendors offer an amazing and bewildering array of items ranging from
wonderful woven goods of alpaca and llama wool, musical instruments, antiques,
foodstuffs, hardware, in different market sections downhill and uphill from the
Rosario. Most of the traveler-oriented shops are downhill on Sagárnaga
and Linares streets, and most of the ordinary market goods are uphill behind
the hotel. Both areas are worth visiting. (B)
DAY 15, Weds., Feb. 6: This morning you can enjoy an excellent
buffet breakfast at the Rosario (included), as you fuel up for the day's
activities: a La Paz city tour, and visit to Valle de La Luna (Moon
La Paz, with a population approaching a million, is the de facto capital of
Bolivia, which is to say that although the much smaller city of Sucre to the
south is still the legal capital of the republic, most of the government
offices are located here in La Paz, and most government business is done here.
You will get oriented in La Paz by visiting a small park overlooking much of
the multihued city, then visit the
Plaza Murillo with its government palaces
and cathedral. Next you'll visit the Gold Museum in an attractive area of
colonial buildings. And the tour ends near the Hotel Rosario with a walk
through the "Witches Market". Here you will see all the items a well-supplied
brujo (witch doctor) might need, including herbs, potions, and, of
course the ever-essential dried llama
fetuses. Your local guide will explain the uses of some of these items.
In the afternoon a short drive out of La Paz brings you to the Valle de
La Luna (Valley of the Moon), where a sort of badlands erosion has produced
a grey and tan landscape of bizarre towers, knobs
and spines. For a close-up view, a short hiking trail wends its way
through the hoodoos. Weird and scenic.
Supper will be at a peña, a restaurant where Andean musicians
play and sing folksongs featuring panpipes, charango, quena and
other traditional instruments, accompanied by dancers. This special supper,
show and cultural experience is included in the tour cost (drinks extra).
Overnight again at the Hostal Rosario. (B,D)
DAY 16, Thurs., Feb. 7: Lake Titikaka is the destination today, and
please note you can travel light: Take just what you need for the next three
days and leave the bulk of your luggage in the Rosario's secure storeroom,
where it will be awaiting you upon your return on Saturday.
You'll leave La Paz early in a chartered bus headed north to the lakeside town
of Copacabana. Upon arrival you'll check into the Hotel Rosario del Lago,
sister hotel to the Rosario in La Paz, and equally nice. Hotel Rosario del Lago.
Next: lunch in the hotel, then a visit to the town.
"Copa" is a town focused on tourism, but mainly Bolivian tourism,
rather than international. Bolivians enjoy lakeside resorts and watersports,
but more importantly, Copacabana is the most important religious site in all the
country. Prior to the conquest this site was sacred to the indigenous people,
and in typical Spanish conquest fashion the site was later taken over by the
Catholic church. A huge and impressive Moorish-style church was erected 1610-1620. Today the basilica
houses the image of the Dark Virgin of Copacabana, venerated by the faithful
who come here from all over Bolivia and other countries as well. While most of
the pilgrimages are made for standard religious reasons (i.e., to show devotion
or to petition the Virgin for a favor), one local practice does seem strange to
most outsiders: the blessing of the cars. Bolivians bring newly purchased
cars, decked out in streamers and flowers, to be sprinkled with holy water and
blessed by the priests, the doused with champagne by the proud owners.
Across the town from the great church is the hill El Calvario with its
long flight of breath-taking (literally, at this altitude) steps ascending past
the Stations of the Cross to a marvelous overlook. We recommend this site for
enjoying sunset across Lake Titikaka and a lovely view of the toy town bathed
in the rosy glow of twilight.
Another good option for those who like to hike would be a visit to the Horca
del Inka, a short hike up a little mountain of picturesquely eroded igneous
rock, and where the keen-eyed may spot some archeological remains.
Copa boasts a number of restaurants, but you'll be hard pressed to do better
than dine at the Rosario. (B)
Day 17, Fri., Feb. 8: After breakfast you'll be taken to the little
port to board the modern catamaran Consuelo that will transport the group in style across the
beautiful and grand lake to Isla del Sol (Sun Island). While at the
port you should note the Bolivian Naval Base (photos are not allowed), with its
impassioned slogan proclaiming Bolivia's right to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia
was not always a land-locked nation, but once had a Pacific coast, which it
lost to Chile in the "War of the Pacific" in the 1870s. Bolivians still feel
very strongly about this issue.
After the catamaran gets under way you can watch the scenery glide by from the
comfort of the spacious main salon lined with picture windows. Or you may want
to go up on the sun deck atop the vessel. Titikaka, famous as the world's
highest regularly navigated lake at 3856 m (12,651 ft), is stunning, and you
will be amazed at the extent of ancient agricultural terracing evident on the
hillsides all around the lake. While some terraces are still in use, the
majority are abandoned, and give mute evidence to the belief that the Lake
Titikaka region supported a denser population in pre-Conquest days than now.
Upon docking at Isla del Sol, the legendary birthplace of Manco Capac,
the first Inka, and his sister-consort Mama Ocllo, you will transfer to a craft
made of totora reeds for a short sail to
a very well done visitor's complex owned and operated by the same company
that operates the catamaran. Here you will climb a steep flight of Inka
stairs, see Inka stonework at a sacred spring, and Inka terraces with many
native crops and medicinal plants. Sometimes there is a demonstration of the
Andean footplow. And always there is a
visit an excellent museum, crafts and boat-building demonstrations and a chance
to see llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas up
Reboarding the Consuelo, you next sail around to the opposite end of the
island. A fine lunch will be served during the cruise to the Aymara village of
Challapampa. The villagers here welcome visitors with music and dancing. From the dock at Challapampa you will board
rowboats and some of the wonderfully sturdy Aymara fishermen will row the
group to the end of the island for a visit to an Inka ruin near the spot where Inti (the Sun) is supposed to have
been created by Viracocha, the Inka creator god. Here an Aymara
kallawalla (shaman) will perform a blessing ceremony for your safe journey home once the Bolivia trip
has ended. Afterwards, you will walk back along ancient trails to Challapampa
(about an hour and a half of hiking, mostly downhill), surrounded by the
glories of Lake Titikaka at sunset.
Inasmuch as this is the week after carnival, it is possible that upon returning
to Challapampa the village will be turned out en masse and dancing in the
streets with great spontaneous energy-- this is their fiesta, not a show for
tourists (when it comes to holding their traditional party, they ignore the
presence of visitors!).
Once the group is all back aboard the catamaran, a candlelight supper will be
served in the main salon, and entertainment will be provided by dancers from
the Aymara community. After supper, if the weather is favorable, sitting
and conversing in fresh air and moonlight on the upper deck will be a pleasant
pastime before going to bed in your cabin below decks. Check out the Southern
DAY 18, Sat., Feb. 9: The Consuelo gets under way around 7 AM,
headed to the tiny port of Chua at the opposite end of the lake. You will
enjoy an extensive buffet breakfast, then settle your bar bill, finalize
your packing and set your luggage out in the hallway to be taken ashore by the
crew upon docking at Chua. But there should be plenty of time for this and for
going up on the sun deck to enjoy the scenery, too.
At Chua you disembark from the Consuelo and again board a charter bus to
head back towards La Paz by land, enjoying scenic altiplano vistas all
along the way.
Before reaching La Paz, the driver will turn back towards the lake on a
different highway to visit the impressive pre-Inkan ruins of Tiwanaku. This site is famous for its
monolithic gateways and giant idols.
Tiwanaku was the capital of what many archeologists believe to have been the
longest surviving empire of all the pre-Columbian Andean civilizations,
flourishing for over a thousand years. Later Inka rulers visited the site of
Tiwanaku and are thought to have been inspired by its monumental ruins. Before
visiting the archeological complex, a late lunch (included) will be served in a
restaurant near the ruins.
Back in La Paz at the end of the day, you'll settle in for one final night at
the Hotel Rosario. (B,L)
DAY 19, Sun., Feb. 10: Time to head for the airport, board your flight
home, taking with you a million memories of unforgettable wonders seen, new
friends made, and the determination to return some day to Bolivia.
TRIP COST: Please contact Kathy Didier for cost information and application
HOW TO GET ON BOARD: Let us know you are interested by e-mailing Kathy Didier
at Kathy. Kathy will be happy
to send you an application blank or to put you on her mailing list for trip
up-dates, as you request.
Return to beginning of webpage.
To see other fine trips available through Rutahsa Adventures, click here:
- The trip cost will include: all lodging; transportation (including
transfers in from airport to hotel and vice-versa; ground transportation by
private bus and by 4WD vehicles; catamaran transport across Lake Titikaka;
air transport from Santa Cruz to Sucre, and by charter DC-3 flight from Uyuni
to Oruro); all entries to museums and other sites specified in the itinerary;
meals as noted in the itinerary (breakfasts, plus nine lunches and five
dinners); bilingual local guide service; bilingual Bolivian Tour Conductor,
and Kathy Didier as Trip Leader.
- NOTE: The charter flight from Uyuni to Oruro is, of course, subject to weather
conditions, and the state of the gravel airstrip at Uyuni. Should the flight
be canceled for any reason, ground transportation in 4WD units will be
provided, and Rutahsa Adventures will request a refund of the cost of the
charter. In 2005 the flight was canceled due to weather; a refund was
successfully obtained and distributed to the participants after the trip.
- Kathy Didier will be the Trip Leader. In addition, we will have a Bolivian
Tour Conductor, Ms. Gloria Maldonado who has guided for Rutahsa many times and
who has also served as Tour Conductor for us before. You will like Gloria-- she
is very knowledgeable, dynamic and enthusiastic, personable and caring. She
will take good care of you!
- NOT INCLUDED: Air fare from home starting point to Santa Cruz and return
from La Paz; meals not specified in the itinerary; alcoholic beverages;
medical and personal expenses; souvenirs; tips; Bolivia exit tax of $25.
- We do not sell airline tickets. We highly recommend Solar Tours of
Washington, D.C. for flights to Latin America. Call 1-800-388-7652 and ask for
Veronica at extension 158. Or e-mail her at: email@example.com
- N.B.: DUE TO EXTREMELY HIGH DEMAND FOR HOTEL ROOMS FOR THE FAMOUS
CARNIVAL DE ORURO, BOLIVIA TRAVELERS NEED TO SIGN ON AS EARLY AS
Photos on this website by Janie and Ric Finch, @copyrighted.