Leaving Chile behind, we decided to enter Bolivia in style: via a 3-day, 2-night drive in a 6-person 4×4 truck through the Bolivian altiplano: a picturesque stretch of land ranging from 3,500 to 5,000 meters above sea level, weaving in between the Andes Mountains, lagoons and volcanoes. These Bolivian plains provided some of the most spectacular and mind-blowing landscapes we have ever experienced.
We began our journey at the sketchy Hito Cajon border crossing between Chile and Bolivia. There we were met by our 4 Bolivian drivers/cooks/guides (Spanish-speaking, of course), our 4 trucks loaded up with food, fuel, gear and extra tires (and bags and bags of cocoa leaves which Bolivian men constantly chew) and our 22 companions for the next three days, ranging from young Swedish high school graduates to an older Australian couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. After changing into warm clothes (at 4,500 meters, the harsh cold caught us by surprise) and paying the $160 visa fee (as the only Americans, we were the only ones obligated to pay the painful “reciprocity-fee”), we hopped into the back of a truck with four Brazilians and our driver, Quito.
Over the next 3 days, we soaked in an unbelievable landscape as we passed through:
- The blanco (white), verde (green) and azul (blue) lagoons (amongst others) that reflected many more colors than their names let on:
- Three different types of flamingos that ate, and ate, and ate, and ate, and only stopped eating to rest on one leg and occasionally fly across the lagoon:
- Indescribable rock and geyser formations which spanned as far as the eye could see (and which Michael couldn’t help but climb):
- And the stunning salt flats of Uyuni, the largest in the world (which provided hours of fun photo opportunities… more photos to come):
Along the way, we listened to a mix of Bolivian folk and American 70s-80s Rock music courtesy of Quito, chewed on cocoa leaves in an attempt to ward off altitude sickness (also courtesy of Quito), attempted to speak both Spanish and Portuguese in our car of Bolivians and Brazilians, learned that high altitude leads to increased alkalinity of your blood which leads to an increased (and nearly constant) need to pee, spotted countless llamas, alpacas, and vikugnas and bonded with our trip mates, sharing not only the seats of the small truck but also rooms, meals and entertainment for 72 hours as we made our way through the middle of nowhere Bolivia.
The spectacular landscape and good company turned out to be only the introduction to one of the most surprising and beautiful countries we have ever visited.
We highly recommend this trip – we don’t know when else we’ve seen so many stunning landscapes in so few days. Don’t let the apparent ruggedness turn you off: our tour consisted of vagabonders both young and old who shared our no change-of-clothes policy, adventurous couples on holiday who packed bags filled with clothes for their 2-week vacation, and high-maintenance travelers who applied make-up each morning and dressed like they were ready for a date. However you choose to pack and dress on this adventure, you’ll be blown away by the scenery that surrounds you for the full 3-days.
If you prefer not to continue traveling in Bolivia (which we highly discourage!), you can add a fourth day to the trip that returns you to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile (conversely, you can start the trip from Bolivia and either end in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile or return to Uyuni, Bolivia).
There are an abundance of tour groups that run this trip, so don’t worry about booking beforehand. We chose Cordillera, and have no complaints though we assume for more money you may likely get better food and accommodations.