At an altitude of roughly 3,650 m above sea level, La Paz is the highest capital of the world. The airport is located at an adjacent city, El Alto, about 4,100 m above sea level. The city contains lots of stairs, ramps, etc. which is not very helpful given the already depleted oxygen percentage. Did not have altitude sickness due to being in Cusco before; got acclimated there. However, if you fly directly to La Paz from a much lower altitude, altitude sickness precaution is advised.
Several city neighborhoods are connected by the Teleférico, offering stunning views of the city surrounded by mountains. We also stumbled upon some street rehearsals for the Carnaval de Oruro, regarded as one of the best carnivals in South America.
Once our time in La Paz came to an end, we took a nine hour bus to Potosí, a colonial city in the center of Bolivia. Bus was clean, had full cama seats (seats almost recline flat) and was relatively cheap ($19). Buses leave overnight, so you don’t miss a day which is a plus.
Potosí is at even higher altitude than La Paz, almost 4,100 m above sea level. The city is known for its silver mines (which you can tour, however not recommended if you’re cluster-phobic), making it the hub for ‘coin striking’ in colonial times. Most of the silver shipped though the Spanish Main came from Potosí. You can tour Casa de la Modena (National Currency House), which is a museum that contains the oldest coins struck at these times (several irregular in shape), and the minting process.
Spent two days in Potosí (which were more than enough), before taking a bus to Uyuni. Buses from Potosí to Uyuni are frequent, cheap ($4) and about four hours total. Obviously, buses are not as nice as La Paz – Potosí, but still not bad. Below is us enjoying our Pique Machos on the bus, which I’m sure people were not fond of. Here is what’s in a Pique Macho.
Uyuni and its salt lakes were a much anticipated portion of the trip. Pictures truly don’t do this place any justice. Wide open view, much clarity and spot on ‘mirror-like’ sunsets. The lake is shallow and you are stepping on salt, which can be a little painful if you’re barefooted, but manageable.
All tour agencies will harass you to go on the Salar tour, so don’t worry, you will easily find a way to get there. Tour prices are about $20/person. There is usually a day tour, a sunset, a sunrise tour and several in between; we took the sunset one. However, due to not finding enough people to fill our van, we ended up taking a private one, which was double the price. Nevertheless, you gain a lot more freedom, which is crucial in a place like Salar de Uyuni. You do not want to feel rushed.
There are also unforeseen perks when your driver is a damn good photographer and owns a dinosaur called Coco.
There is not much to write about Salar de Uyuni, so I’ll let the photos below do the talking.
How to get from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama:
After enjoying Uyuni, it was time to head to San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in Chile. Here, you are stuck with four options:
1- Bus: 20+ hours, involves changing buses at the border of Bolivia-Chile.
2- Private 4×4 car, straight 8 hour shot. Car costs $500-$600.
3- Taking a 3 day/2 night tour. First night you spend in Uyuni after touring the Salt Flats. Second night you spend around Laguna Colorada, a national park with decent scenery and home to lots of flamencos. Costs about $100/person including food, accommodation and ticket to Laguna Colorada national park (worth $20).
4- Taking a 4×4 car that is doing the opposite journey (going to pick up people from San Pedro). Costs about $70/person, including food, accommodation and ticket to pass through Laguna Colorada national park. Trip takes two days, spending one night in a small village called Vila Mar. This option is transportation only, no tour included.
Several tour agencies are going to try to sell you the 3 day/2 night tour, since not all of them offer option 4. There are only a handful that send cars to San Pedro de Atacama to pick up tourists and bring them to Salar de Uyuni. If you are looking for transportation only, option 4 is the way to go. We organized our trip with an agency called ‘Licancabur’, however, we were referred to them by another agency called ‘World White Travel’. ‘World White Travel’ were professional, spoke clear English (which is rare), and clearly stated what we should do. They are located on Ferroviara Avenue in Uyuni, across the street from Uyuni train station.