The town of Uyuni isn’t a place people normally spend a lot of time in. Mainly, for the backpacker destinations, it’s a jumping off point from which to visit Salar de Uyuni (the salt flats) and it’s gorgeous surrounding parklands.
There are two nice hostels. One, Piedra Blanca, where I stayed, is modernized and clean, and equipped with everything you want — good showers, big kitchen and common area, excellent security, and a generous staff. It feels as though it were built or else renovated very recently. The Piedra Blanca’s one downside is its location. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk to the center, through a somewhat barren part of town.
The other, the Rummy Hostel, couldn’t have a better location. It’s right in the main plaza. The Rummy itself isn’t as modern as the Piedra. Its facilities aren’t as new. But it’s a bit cheaper than the Piedra, and one could argue it’s a more authentic backpacker experience.
To be honest, I stayed at the Piedra, and liked it, but I wish I’d stayed at the Rummy. Personally, I feel strange, sometimes, staying at a modern, sleek place when I’m backpacking my way through a region with a lot of poverty. The Rummy, I think, would’ve felt homier, and, sure, dirtier, but not in a bad way, whereas the Piedra, given its context, felt a little sterile.
To book the Salt Flats tours, I recommend booking on GoTourgether.com. It is a great way to book tours while backpacking Bolivia. Started by backpackers, it offers very unique options for a backpackers budget. You can bid on tours and it can often be cheaper than booking it at a local tour operator’s office.
The tour people will tell you to bring more than you need. I brought more water, more clothes, and more snacks than I needed. My tour provided more than enough food and so much water at mealtimes that I could’ve gotten by on 2 or even 1 liter, instead of the 4 they recommend (over 3 days / 2 nights). All I really needed was sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. A towel and a swimsuit, to enjoy the hot springs. Coca leaves for the altitude. And however many changes of clothes you think you’ll want, but, despite the sun’s heat, you really don’t sweat much. The air is so dry, it’s almost like you’re in the world’s largest salt desert.
Also, it really is worth trying to find a tour to Salar de Uyuni with a group you’re going to get along with. You’re going to be hanging out in an SUV with these people, and dining with them, for three days straight. On GoTourgether, when choosing the tour you can see the other people who are interested in the same tour. You can view their photo, age and country. This helps choose people your own age, for example, or people who speak your language — whatever you’d prefer.
2. La Paz
La Paz is my favorite city in Bolivia. The way it’s built, with houses rising up the sides of a giant mountain basin, a caldera type of thing, it is absolutely stunning, especially when seen from the cable cars — the coolest public transport system I’ve ever seen.
People call La Paz Bolivia chaotic, but I really didn’t find it any more hectic than the other major Bolivian cities. This is in part because its restaurants and cafes are the best Bolivia has to offer, many of which have terraces with views, lifting you out of the busy streets.
By far my favorite neighborhood was Sopocachi. It is charmingly cobbled and quieter than La Paz’s other parts. Known for having hip restaurants and nightlife, the atmosphere of Sopocachi is cool and relaxed. It’s just nice to walk around in, at night, with a takeout salchipapa or a coconut drink. A very smart, observant friend told me that other than Buenos Aires, Sopocachi is the place she’d most like to live in all of South America.
My preferred place to stay was the Wake-Up Hostel. It has a great location, a fair price, and it’s quiet and comfortable.
Another popular hostel is the Wild Rover, La Paz’s party hostel. It’s loud and crazy. Just depends on what you want.
And my favorite café (though a bit pricey) is (cafe name). The food and the coffee is borderline gourmet, plus they let me stash my bags there for an entire day when my bus was late.
The activities to do in La Paz are many. They’ve been listed in more detail elsewhere on the website, but I’ll quickly list some here: Death Road tour, Witch’s Market, Cholita Wrestling, the Huayna Potosí trek, Free Walking Tours, Transformer Buildings, Cable Cars.
Of all the cities in Bolivia, there is no better place to relax and unwind than Sucre. This is for a few reasons.
The first reason is a hostel, The Villa Oropeza Guest House, which is by quite a margin my favorite hostel in the country, maybe even in the continent. It’s extremely affordable for how nice it is. There’s a beautiful garden with hammocks, comfortable beds with privacy curtains, spacious private bathrooms, a terrace with a view, well-equipped kitchens, a perfect location, ping-pong table — it really has no downside.
There’s also a quite popular party hostel, Kultur Berlin, but everyone who stays there says it’s hard to sleep, even with earplugs in. The breakfast is apparently nice, though.
Another reason why Sucre is a good place is to lay low for a while is its Spanish Classes. You can find a local school or find a private teacher on GoTourgether.com. The teachers will come to the hostel and teach you in the garden.
Yet another reason to stay in Sucre (and especially at Villa Oropeza) is that literally around the corner from the hostel is Papa Verde, the best Italian restaurant I’ve ever been to. I do not exaggerate. The best Italian food in the continental Americas is right here in a small Bolivian city. Even better is that the prices (though expensive for Bolivia) are three times cheaper than anything you’d pay for gourmet Italian in America, for example. The Sicilia Tagliatelle brought tears to my eyes.
Elsewhere on the website are more specified lists of things to do in Sucre, but here are some again: The Maragua Crater Trek, The Cemetery, Salsa Night at the Joy Ride Cafe, the Cathedral, the Mirador, the markets, and the main public park — all (except Maragua) are within walking distance from the Villa Oropeza Guest House.
Other lists describe it more, but the thing to do here is go into the jungle. Pampas tours, canoe tours, survival tours, camping, fishing — all that sort of stuff. Rurrenabaque is world-famous for its biodiversity. You could spend a lot of time here, if you enjoy the awe-filled, sharp, alertness one feels when deep in the jungle.
The best place to find an Ayahuasca retreat in Bolivia is Rurrenabaque, as well as other jungle-related plant medicines, actual shamans, and all the ceremonies related to that stuff.
My ayahuasca advice is to actually go to the place where there’s a lot of it, Rurrenbaque, for example, and look around and talk to people or go on until you find something you trust. This, I think, is a far better option than searching websites for those fancy resort-type ayahuasca retreats. Not only are these online retreats way overpriced, their non-Bolivian/non-Peruvian owners and their managers tend to make a lot of money, while the shamans and the local medicine workers, the people who actually have the knowledge and do the work, the people who, in my opinion, should be running the show, are exploited and get paid little.
5. Lake Titicaca and the isle Del Sol
I’ve heard that the Isle del Luna (or the Island of the Moon) is also very nice, and very much worth going to, but I’ve only been to the Isle del Sol, and I wish I’d stayed longer.
The hostel, (name:), was the most affordable one I’ve been to in all of South America, but it didn’t feel cheap at all. It had a delicious (free) breakfast, and right outside my door was a terrace with a gorgeous view of the sun glittering on the lake.
My favorite thing to do was walk the length of the island. It’s about an hour walk there, an hour walk back. People on the road will pretend that there’s some fee you need to pay to do the walk, but this is a tourist trick, and not true. There’s no fee. But unlike in other commonly travelled countries, I find Bolivian people to be some of the most polite. Most vendors walking around trying to sell you goods, will respectfully walk away after just one “no gracias.”
Because Titicaca is such a commercially active lake, some people caution against swimming too much in it, or eating too much of its fish. But I enjoyed copious amounts of both and suffered no consequence I’m aware of. Maybe I’m just lucky.
There are also many boat tours, fishing tours, things of this nature.
From here, transportation to Peru is (or should be) easy. At this current time, however, because of all the sociopolitical unrest, many trading and travel routes are blocked. Make sure to look up boat and/or bus routes to see if they’re unimpeded. At this time, most people advise taking planes to Lima.
Many routes take you to the town of Samaipata, but the easiest, for me, was a mini-van/bus thing (people call it a Collectivo) from Santa Cruz, straight to Samaipata, about a three-hour ride.
Samaipata is lovely. High in the mountains, cobbled and clay-colored, it resembles just what you imagine when you think: village in the Andes. You could spend a couple of days just casually walking its streets, exploring its artisan shops, and eating its bone-warming cuisine. The sopa de mani (peanut soup — a signature Bolivian dish) at (restaurant name) is the best I’ve had in Bolivia.
Many people recommend the Serena Hostel. I’ve heard from friends that it’s very nice. They had extra blankets for the chilly nights, pleasant patio areas, and a free breakfast home cooked by the hostel’s affectionate volunteers.
There are numerous treks in the surrounding hills, but they are hard to get to. You will need a guide. Either book a tour on GoTourgether or go to the plaza, or near it, you can find guides and the vehicles that will take you. Bring water, and maybe a tip, if you want them to lead you to the secret waterfalls.
Potosí was once one of the richest cities on earth. It was the western world’s main supplier of silver. Today, its silver mines are the city’s most talked-about attraction, but today Potosí is not one of the richest cities on earth.
I mention the silver mines, because it is a popular tour. You actually go down into the mines and have a look around. It is also a controversial tour. The conditions in the mines are bad, the life expectancy of workers low, the wages, of course, low, and there are children working. Maybe the tour would be ethically acceptable if the tour money went to the workers and their families, but it doesn’t. It goes to the company who runs the mine. GoTourgether works with the ethical tour companies who give back to the families so I would recommend booking it here so you know where the money is going.
The city itself is nice, similar to Sucre, in its colonial style, and rich with history. Also, the parks of the surrounding region are beautiful. More information is available elsewhere on the website, about the parks, Potosi Mine Tours, and other tours in Potosi including the recommended night tour, and so on.
Santa Cruz isn’t a popular place for backpackers and tourists, but, because of its large airport, it is a place people almost always have to come through, and there is, actually, quite a lot to do.
The hostel I would recommend is the called the Backpacker’s Travelero Hostel, located near the Christo, just outside the First Ring. It is inexpensive, and has a calm, family vibe, free breakfast, and a pool. Also, when I was there, it had a tiny puppy named Oreo, who is so happy to see you she urinates on your shoes.
Things to do. Well, literally right next door to the Backpacker Travelero, there is a Salsa studio, called El Caribe, and it’s insanely cheap, super fun, and the instructors are friendly to even the most left-footed of gringos. They offer three classes per night, four nights a week.
Another thing is the market, Los Pozos, located inside the first ring, a ten-minute walk from the hostel. Like many markets in Bolivia, you can get lost in it, but if you’re willing to dig and to bargain, you can come out with some wildly inexpensive clothes of a very high quality. Also, it’s a great place for clothing repairs, shoe repairs, things of that nature. Best seamstress I’ve ever been to, and, again, the price of these things is just unbelievable. These people deserve a tip.
Food-wise, my favorite places were just the food carts in Los Pozos, where you can get a full plate for as low as 5 Bolivians, which is so cheap it’s borderline criminal. Santa Cruz is also known for these delicious little baked cheese things called cuñapes. Careful. They’re addictive.
Another popular spot is El Güembé, a sort of nature reserve/water park that’s a great place to spend a day, especially when it’s hot, which is often the case in Santa Cruz Bolivia.
As mentioned on another list, there’s also the Jesuit Missions close by.
On the way to La Paz, if you’re coming from Sucre, Cochabamba is worth a stop.
The only place I stayed, which I heard was the best, was the Running Chaski Hostel. It’s got comfortable beds, a decent breakfast, good showers, a comfortable common area with a TV, a big garden with hammocks, and a nice location.
A good place to go at night for dinner and dancing is the Prado, a sort of fancy street lined with the city’s nicest restaurants and bars.
Cochabamba’s Mercado is enormous. The biggest one I’ve been to in all of Bolivia, and this is saying something. It’s insanely crowded, so be careful about pickpockets. Also, not tons of tourists come to Cochabamba, so prepared to be gawked at it a little.
People say Cochabamba as the best food in Bolivia. I think La Paz’s food is slightly better. But maybe I didn’t find the best places. Either way, it is seriously good. Worth coming for the food alone.
A fun thing to do is visit the Christo on the hill. I’d recommend riding the cable car, or cabbing if the cable cars are out of service. Walking is possible, but it’s quite far, and there isn’t any shade in a city that’s tropically hot almost all year around. I didn’t spend much time here but for more tours in Cochabamba checkout GoTourgether.
Just a three-hour collectivo ride from La Paz, Coroico is a great place to rest for a while, away from the big city.
The town is built high on the steep slopes of a giant green valley, and from almost anywhere in town — restaurant terraces, hostel windows, backyards, balconies — you get a view of the valley below, full of mist and black vultures.
The hostel I stayed at (Hostal Soly Luna) I highly recommend. It’s built on a ledge and so has, at all times, the above-described view, a view you can’t believe you’re allowed to enjoy at such a reasonable price. If you want it even cheaper, this hostel offers a camping option, instead of the dorm bunks. Also, it has great breakfast, house-made and served by the hostel’s lovely mom. And, if you’re willing to forage and chop some wood, they let you have fires in the yard.
There’s also (Hostal Kory) if you want a more pampered experience. However, the best part of (Hostal Kory) is its stunning garden café, which anyone can go drink coffee at, without having to rent a room.
Around Coroico are plenty of hikes, some of which lead to waterfalls. Pamphlets abound on the hostel’s message board. Also, there’s one quite popular tour of a nearby coffee plantation.
But my favorite thing I did was, for a friend’s birthday, fry yucca pancakes on a bonfire we built on the edge of the hostel’s yard, which overlooks the valley. It was clear where we were with a sky full of stars, but then, down in the valley, orange flashes of lightning.