Instead of heading directly to Uyuni as per the tourist trail, we decided to stop in Oruro for a night to see if we could get to the Coipasa Salar instead. We had heard that 2 day trips could be organised from Oruro and we were keen to try and see if we could go there instead of Uyuni. I was again starting to suffer quite badly from altitude sickness and wanted a shorter trip than the 3 – 4 days in the Uyuni Salar.
We wanted to reach Oruro for lunchtime but as we approached the bus station in La Paz my partner realised he had left behind his immigration form at the travel agency. So after driving backwards and forwards through La Paz we reached the bus station at lunchtime instead of mid morning. Unfortunately, this meant we arrived in Oruro late afternoon as the bus journey is around 4 hours long.
We quickly checked in to the nearest hostel and ran out to the tourist information point to get the locations of the tour agencies. Armed with addresses we set off to look for the 4 – 5 agencies supposedly located in the centre of town. Within 15 minutes of walking around we noticed that almost everything was closed and that there was some sort of festival going on.
We spent the better part of 2 hours looking for agencies which seemed to not exist at the given addresses before being informed that, as it was Saturday afternoon, everything would be closed until Monday.
Now Oruro is not the kind of place you want to spend a weekend. The outskirts resemble an open air rubbish dump and the centre is not exactly a pretty relaxing place to hang around. Plus, if you’re vegetarian like us you won’t enjoy the food which seems to only consist of fried chicken and chips.
With the town, food and altitude against us we made a decision to move onto Argentina instead and come back in the future to do the salars. As such the following morning we went straight to the train station and bought a ticket to Villazon, the border town of Bolivia. We opted for the train as it would not only be quicker than the bus, but it would also mean no early morning bus changes too.
There are 2 train companies who run from Oruro to Villazon; Wara Wara del Sur and Expreso del Sur. They both run twice a week and have different prices and times of departures. For more information visit the Bolivian train site.
The train was a nice change from the bus and was just as comfortable. We only managed to get 2nd class tickets as we hadn’t realised that there would be a queue from 9am, but nevertheless, they had reclining seats, T.V. and a clean toilet in each carriage. There were also shutters on the windows and a food carriage selling dinners, breakfast and drinks. The train took 17 hours to cross Bolivia and cost us 94 bolivianos each.
It was a shame that we missed out on the salars this time round, but to be honest I was more glad to not suffer from altitude sickness. Bolivia, unfortunately, did not seem to agree with our health and as such we missed out on more than in any other country during our travels so far. However, we are determined to come back in the future and fill in the gaps!