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Tag Archives: Bolivia

Bolivia to Argentina Border Crossing

Once we arrived in Villazon, following our train journey from Oruro, we decided to walk to the frontier as it was apparently only 1km away. The road was easy enough, always straight from the station. The walk gave us the chance to change our leftover Bolivianos into pesos, as we had heard that there were no money changers in La Quiaca, the Argentinian frontier town.

Sure enough as we hit the town of Villazon there were plenty of casas de cambios and we had no problem changing the Bolivianos. All-in-all it probably took us 15 minutes to reach the frontier, located on the bridge. They seem to have recently changed their systems, as now the stamping out and stamping in are done at virtually the same place. No more stamping out of Bolivia and then walking across the bridge to get stamped in on the Argentinian side.

Now you simply cross the bridge and head to the building on the right. Window 1 collects your immigration form from entering Bolivia and stamps you out. Shuffle along and window 2 stamps you into Argentina for 90 days. Easy as that and no entry or exit fees to pay.

From here you can walk to the bus terminal to catch buses into Argentina. Head straight out and then turn right at the end of the road. At the roundabout turn left and then right uphill on the pedestrianized street that will take you to the terminal.

There are buses leaving every hour or so for Salta and other nearby destinations, but if you are going straight to Buenos Aires it may be worth taking the bus from Bolivia instead.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Oruro and the train to Villazon

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.

Oruro to Villazon train

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.

Oruro to Villazon train - at a station along the way

Oruro to Villazon train - sunrise

Oruro to Villazon train - interesting landscape

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!

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Serere Reserve

As mentioned in my Rurrenabaque post I was unable to go to the Serere Reserve as I got very ill with gastroenteritis, so in the end just my partner went. Here is his account of the 4 days/3 nights he spent there.

Out of the numerous options for the Amazon jungle, we had chosen to go into the Serere Reserve, as a couple of things appealed to us, such as: no set itinerary, a fully private cabin (most places only offer shared bathroom facilities), the fact that it wasn’t the Madidi Reserve where most places took you, which also meant no entry fees.

On my first day I was introduced to a guide who would join me on the boat ride to the reserve. We left Rurrenabaque at around 11am and it took 2 and 1/2 hours to get there with lunch served on board. It was very comfortable, especially as I was the only person going into the reserve on that day. On the way the captain spotted a group of river turtles resting by the river bank and we were able to stop for a few pictures.

River Beni - river turtles on the way to Serere Reserve

Once we reached the reserve, I was taken to my cabin located a short 15 min stroll away. The cabin was very big with bug screens and mosquito nets instead of walls and surrounding jungle blocking your views between the other cabins. My private cabin had 2 double beds put together and 1 single bed, all with mosquito nets and a bathroom. There was no electricity in the cabins and the only source of light was provided by candles.

After a refreshing shower I followed the signs to the main house, where I was introduced to staff members. I was told that my guide was currently out on a walk with another group and once he got back, we would decide on what to do the next day. In the meantime, the guide who came with me on the boat offered to take me on a canoe ride on the lake, located just in front of the main house. The boat ride was really nice and we managed to see a great variety of birds, including the Serere bird.

Serere Reserve - the Serere bird

Serere Reserve - sunset over the San Fernando lake

Later, I joined the group of three, who had come back from their walk and would be leaving the next day, and met my guide Domingo, who spoke both spanish and english. As the group was leaving, they wanted to go for an early walk the next morning, which I wasn’t too keen on, and besides I actually had no watch (or any other device) that could help me wake up. However, the next day I realised that there was actually no need for one as I woke up to the sounds of the howler monkeys at around the same time that they left for their walk.

After breakfast, I joined the group for a bit of jewellery making. After they left another person came to the reserve and it was just the 2 of us for the remainder of my stay. Later the same day we crossed the lake and went for a 2 hour medicinal plant walk, spotting more wildlife along the way. During this time I was voluntarily bitten by a fire ant and also learned about some of the plants. When we got back we had our dinner and decided to go out on a night lake tour to spot caimans and alligators. We got lucky and even managed to spot a boa constrictor.

The third day was definitely the day of the monkeys. On the two walks that we did we were able to spot big groups of cute squirrel monkeys, a couple of groups of capuchin monkeys and a group of red-faced howler monkeys. We finished the day with a short trip on another lake to spot more bird life, see the rescued and successfully released spider monkeys and enjoy yet another amazing sunset.

Serere Reserve - capuchin monkey

Serere Reserve - cute squirrel monkey

On my last day, we went out on a morning walk and spotted a capybara group. As the wind direction allowed as to stay undetected the animals got really close and I was hoping they would actually walk right into us, but suddenly one of them got spooked and they all vanished.

The days at the reserve were very relaxed with breakfast usually at around 8am. You would then go for a walk, come back at lunch, and the meal would be ready when you arrived. If any new people arrived you would have some time for them to “catch up” and then we would go for another walk. Dinners were by candlelight and were usually after your last walk of the day.

Serere Reserve - lake in front of the main house

At the time of my stay, there were two 5-6 month old rescue spider monkeys with an adult that always seemed to find its way back to the main house each time it is released into the jungle, an adopted pair of macaws and additionally a 10 cm tarantula walking around the ceiling.

Serere Reserve - spider monkey by the main house

A few useful notes if you are heading out into the reserve: make sure you have a good repellent, a strong flashlight, binoculars are always handy and a high-zoom on your camera. Other than that, just enjoy the flora and fauna.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Rurrenabaque

We took a short 40 minute afternoon flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque for 650 bolivianos each. We had contemplated taking the bus from Coroico but learned that it would be around 14 hours and would be arriving in the middle of the night. As we couldn’t pre-book a hostel and had no idea what to expect, we decided to treat ourselves and take the short flight instead.

El Alto airport - leaving for Rurrenabaque

From the tiny airport of Rurrenabaque, which is only 1 runway with a small building, we took the  waiting shuttle bus for 7 bolivianos each. The bus takes you all the way into town and drops you off on the main road outside the Amaszonas office.

The town of Rurrenabaque itself is quite small and with only a couple of main roads, most of which are filled with agencies, restaurants and hotels/hostels, it is very easy to get around on foot. One thing you can’t help but notice is the distinct lack of cars in the town. In fact around 90% of all transport is done on motorcycles, even taxis and as everyone seems to ride along at a gentle pace the town has a very laid back feel to it.

Rurrenabaque - sun setting over the mountains

As per our agreement with Madidi Travel, our first night’s accommodation was free and we were settled into the Santa Ana hostel. A word of warning, if you can avoid this place then do so. It is situated next-door to a nightclub and there is no escaping the noise, even with ear plugs.

The following day we checked out and found Hostel Pahuichi, situated opposite the Madidi Travel agency. Although, there were building works going on during the day the hostel was much better in terms of quality and value. The only downside was that there was no kitchen, in fact after looking at almost every hostel in town we only found 1 place which would have offered us cooking facilities, but as we didn’t realise we would end up staying as long as we did we chose Pahuichi instead.

Rurrenabaque - view from the hostel's terrace

We had agreed with Madidi Travel in advance that we would decide when we would enter the Serere reserve once we had arrived in Rurrenabaque. We had not been feeling too good since Coroico and did not want to risk going in and then feeling worse. Unfortunately, in the end my partner recuperated after a few days but I got a lot worse. So much so that I couldn’t eat for a few days and therefore had to cancel my trip, so in the end he went for the 4 days by himself instead.

In total I spent 14 days in Rurrenabaque. We had further delays getting back out as there were strikes in La Paz and all flights were cancelled. This then led us to having to change our flights and basically wait until they had a plane that was not only arriving but also had the space to take us. We learned that Amaszonas were basically leasing planes from other companies in between their schedules. An adventure by itself!

As such, I got to know the town fairly well, for nice dinners which are not too expensive try the Luna Lounge which also has a book exchange and wi-fi. Breakfasts can be had at the Cafe de la Jungla and are served all day long, again with wi-fi access. (As is also happens to be next-door to hostel Pahuichi you can still get access from your room once you have the key). For fantastic fruit salads and fresh smoothies try TuttiFrutti, no wi-fi but a great little place to restore your vitamins!

As I missed out this time around, I have already decided that I will have come back to Bolivia/Peru/Ecuador in the near future and do a proper Amazon trip for a couple of months, as I can’t live knowing I got this close and missed out.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Transiting La Paz

After our unsuccessful trip to Coroico we decided to return to La Paz to get a flight to Rurrenabaque, one of the entry points to the Amazon jungle of Bolivia. We had originally wanted to go by bus from Coroico, but with limited funds due to lack of ATMs and the fact it would be a 14 hour journey with my partner still not feeling great, we opted to take a short flight instead.

As such we stayed the night in the San Fransisco Plaza area, near the witch craft market in Hotel Fuentes. The area worked out really well as there were many agencies on our doorstep and also a couple of vegetarian restaurants.

La Paz - views from Hotel Fuentes

The witch craft market itself is also quite interesting, despite the now obvious mass-marketing of it. Most of the stall holders are more than happy to explain what the different statues and “offerings” are used for, and some items make for an interesting souvenir.

La Paz - witch craft market

A couple of blocks away there was also the coca museum, which made for an interesting hour or so. It is very small and no photos are allowed, but it is packed with information. They also have an upstairs cafe that sells everything coca, from cakes to liquors!

When we looked into our flights we discovered that there is only one airline that flies La Paz to Rurrenabaque, and that’s Amaszonas. They have several flights daily but are not the most reliable and flights can get cancelled at the last-minute. However, if that happens they just move you to the next one.

We had originally planned to book our Amazon jungle trip once we got to Rurrenabaque, but again most of the agency offices were on our doorstep and we also found out that credit card payments are not taken in the Rurrenabaque offices. As such, we decided to pre-book an open entry date with Madidi Travel as they seemed to offer the most flexible itinerary.

With everything ready and booked and having replenished our cash levels from the ATMs in La Paz, we headed out the next day to the airport to catch our afternoon flight to the jungle. The views of the city from the main road to the airport are truly amazing. Quito, in Ecuador is impressive in terms of size but La Paz is a whole other thing!

La Paz - panorama of the highest capital in the world

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Coroico

After having spent so long at relatively high altitudes during our final 2 weeks in Peru, we decided it would be nice to go from Copacabana straight to Coroico. Described in our guide-book as a beautiful sub-tropical village surrounded by lush green mountains we thought it would be the perfect place to get some oxygen for a few days!

We arrived in La Paz following a 3 hour bus ride from Copacabana which cost us 25 soles each. We had not made any plans to stay in La Paz and as we arrived by lunchtime we simply headed out to get the next bus. Unfortunately, the Copacabana bus arrived on the wrong side of town for our next bus, so we had to take a rather expensive taxi for 30 soles to cross the city. Once we arrived in Villa Fatima district we were able to catch a collectivo shuttle for 15 soles each directly to Coroico.

The road to Coroico used to be the road dubbed the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”, however, nowadays a new, much safer road is used. For the higher parts of our journey we encountered snow and rain and were grateful to not have to travel the dangerous narrow mountainous road!

Coroico - snow on route from La Paz

3 hours later we arrived at the small village of Coroico and set about finding a place to stay. We were highly surprised to find that the accommodation options of Coroico were glorified hostels with boutique hotel price tags. As the choice is very limiting we settled on the best priced of the bunch, Hotel Bella Vista at 205 soles per night, which at least gave us views of the surrounding mountains.

Coroico - panoramic views from the hotel

There are apparently a couple of treks you can do in the area, including a visit to 3 waterfalls, but we simply wanted to relax and recharge after several weeks at high altitude.

Coroico - view down the valley

We also discovered walking around the town that there is not much choice in terms of food and again it is very highly priced. As a consequence we had talked of moving onwards the next day, but unfortunately my partner got ill so we ended up staying 3 days.

This would have simply been a slight complication anywhere else, however in Coroico this turned into an emergency situation. What we hadn’t known was that there were no cash points in the town, no one took card payments and to make matters worse there was only 1 bank which offered cash advances but their systems were down. Basically we thought we’re screwed!

With the cash running out fast due to the high prices and my partner unable to leave the room I was left with just 1 expensive option – Western Union. I have no clue why there would be a tiny Western Union in the town but it was our only option despite the very hefty charges.

Our experience of Coroico was not a good one, accommodation and food was highly over charged, there is nothing in the town and the views I have to say are nice, but if I had known it was going to be just “nice” I would have gone somewhere else for the money I spent there. Oh, and did I mention they were also rebuilding the roads around the plaza with heavy machinery all day long?

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Copacabana

Our first stop in Bolivia, after crossing the Peruvian border, was Copacabana. This small town is situated on the banks of lake Titicaca and is considered a local summer resort area. As such, we were expecting a pretty little place to relax in for a day or 2 before moving onwards.

We arrived by bus from Puno, Peru which took us about 3 hours in total, including the border crossing. As we came into Copacabana we were given a leaflet by the bus company for the Hotel Mirador and were told we were entitled to a discount, as they had some sort of partnership going. We decided to take a look and as they offered us a large room with direct lake views and breakfast for 80 bolivianos per night, we decided the price was ok and took it for the night.

Copacabana - view onto the lake Titicaca from the room

The town, unfortunately, is quite littered and was a bit of a disappointment, especially the lake area where the “beaches” are little more than just dirty gravel.

However, if you happen to arrive on a Sunday like we did, its worth taking a stroll around the colourful market and visiting the fairly impressive, white-walled basilica with colourfully tiled domes.

Copacabana - the basilica

What makes this place especially interesting is the dark chamber-like side chapel of the Virgen Morena, where people come to light candles and use the wax to leave messages and prayers on the walls. It makes for a strange and slightly surreal setting.

Copacabana - the chapel of the Virgen Morena

If you happen to be here at the weekend you can also see the locals kitting out their cars with flowers and ribbons and leaving them outside the basilica to be blessed. Something that makes more sense once you have experienced Bolivian driving first-hand!

Copacabana - decorated cars to be blessed outside the basilica

The other nice place we found was at the top of the Cerro Calvario, next to the lake. It offers panoramic views across lake Titicaca and is a good place to watch the sunset. However, it is a steep climb made even worse by the high altitude, but if you can do it then its definitely worth it. Just ensure you leave enough time to get to the top for the sunset. As a note it’s also worth taking a jacket as it gets pretty cold once the sun sets.

Copacabana - sunset over lake Titicaca from Cerro Calvario

In the end we only stayed the 1 night in Copacabana as we felt there wasn’t much there for us. We bought bus tickets for the next morning heading to La Paz, with the aim of going straight to Coroico.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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