From Argentina to Bolivia by Bus
Shout Adios Argentina and Hola Bolivia as you travel through a Unesco World Heritage-listed valley towards the border. The Quebrada de Humahuacs, with its ragged mountains cut through by waves of pink, cream and yellow is one of the most stunning regions of the country and a memorable launching point for continuing your journey into Bolivia. Buses from Salta will take you all the way through, but most travellers stop off en route for a few days. (See separate post on Quebrada de Humahuaca)
The Bolivian Border Crossing
It’s important to ensure that you get an exit stamp out of Argentina and an entry stamp into Bolivia. At the border of La Quiaca you will see a mix of travellers and local people from both countries, all standing in a long wobbly line, which looks daunting but moves quickly. Within 20 minutes you should have both stamps. Stand in the queue, get your passport stamped for exit and then move on to the adjacent window, for your entry stamp. It’s quite easy to wander in without the entry stamp, but make sure you don’t to avoid problems when you leave Bolivia at the end of your stay. You will be given a stamped Bolivian entry slip which you should keep safe with your passport to present on departure.
Taxi to Tupiza
Across the border in Villazon frequent buses take you into Tupiza in the south of Bolivia in three hours. Or team up with fellow travellers during the crossing and share a taxi instead. Split the fare between four and you should pay around £7 each. At moments like these it’s always worth paying a little extra, to speed up your journey and make life easier.
Tupiza and Altitude Sickness
Tupiza is an enjoyable place to spend a few days getting used to the increasing altitude while enjoying dramatic red rock desert scenery. Much of Bolivia is over 2,500 feet above sea level and this can be challenging with altitude sickness – caused by reduced atmospheric pressure and lower oxygen levels – a possibility. Mild symptoms include headaches, nausea, dizziness and insomnia and many travellers suffer one or more of these.
The best way to avoid the condition is to ascend slowly and spend a few days acclimatising at each stage. You can buy altitude sickness tablets from the pharmacy or just copy the local people and invest in a bag of dried coca leaves, available in shops and markets. The Bolivians chew them, but your best bet is to make them into tea which you can drink morning and evening. It seemed to work for us, so it’s worth persevering with the mildy unpleasant taste.
Where to Stay
The Hotel Mitru in the centre of Tupiza has a good sized swimming pool and reasonable rooms for around £45 a night. Tupiza has an amazing carnival during February, but at any time this is a fun and relaxed stopover, whose lively market has plenty of tempting food stalls upstairs. After our steak and icecream diet in Argentina, it was a relief to find a good range of vegetable and bean based stews, rice dishes and potato cakes.
As soon as you arrive in Bolivia, you feel a difference in pace and mood, thanks largely to the prescence of a strong, honoured indigenous population. Evo Morales is South America’s first indigenous prime minister and he has done much to protect and strengthen his country. The mood is gentle and friendly, turning to riotous during carnival where the dazzling colours of the traditional costumes, the music and the dancing are all mesmerising. Watching the parades makes you truly appreciate the magic of travelling to countries where ritual is so strongly upheld.
Salar de Uyuni
Visitors to Tupiza nearly all move on to the extraordinary Salar de Uyuni – the world’s biggest salt lake and a highlight of any trip to Bolivia. You can take a day trip to the Salar the from the town of
Uyuni itself but it’s more logical to take a four day tour from Tupiza which also includes time in the glorious Reserva Nacional de Fauna Eduardo Andino Avaroa. This way you will be dropped off in Uyuni at the end of the trip, ready to swiftly move on, as it’s a dreary and unattractive place.
La Torre Tours inside Hotel La Torre are friendly, professional and English speaking. You can believe all the gushing recommendations pinned up inside the office. (latorretours- tupiza.com)
Expect to pay around £160 for a three night jeep safari, including accommodation and food. You should also expect to share transport and a room with other travellers if there aren’t enough people in your party to fill the vehicle. In our case this worked very well as we ended up sharing with two lovely French women, who were kind, respectful and fun. Sharing experiences like this with complete strangers is one of the challenges and joys of trundling, as you embrace humanity on a different level entirely. However, if you don’t fancy it, you can pay for private transport and accommodation and stay in your own little bubble.