Isla del Sol

I met a girl as part of the Uyuni tour who I went to La Paz with and as we were traveling in the same direction, we headed to Copacobana and Isla del Sol together as well.

Copacobana, Bolivia is on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Lake Titicaca is the worlds highest (elevation) fresh water lake. We were told to stay on Isla del Sol so when we arrived in Copacobana at around 12 from La Paz (just a 4 hour ride), we booked a water taxi to the island. We also went ahead and booked accommodation as we didn’t want to run into a situation where we had no place to stay.

This was one of those instances where it does NOT pay to plan ahead. We arrived after about an hour and a half boat ride on the south end of Isla del Sol. The ride cost us 15 bolivianos or around 2 dollars. We met another traveler who was staying at the same place as us. As I was getting over being sick, I felt better than the day before but not 100%.

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The daunting hike you face as soon as you arrive at the island.

There was a girl waiting for us at the docks to take us to the hotel. The view getting off of the boat is daunting. After just having been sick, being at elevation of over 3000 meters, I wanted to cry. Walking up just the entrance to Isla del Sol was incredibly difficult for me. I thought I might have a heart attack. We basically hiked up a mountain for 50 minutes with a 15 kilo bag and huge purse.

It was so painful. I had to stop numerous times behind everyone. When we finally reached the top (after passing numerous hostels that I came to found out cost about a 1/3 of what we were paying), we still had to walk another good 15 minutes.

View from the top. Was it worth it? I think so.

View from the top. Was it worth it? I think so.

I was more than ticked off and exhausted by the time we arrived. I cannot recommend Hotel del Sol. It is overpriced and difficult to get to. The views, of course are gorgeous, but they are gorgeous throughout the entire island. We dropped our bags and headed to the place down the street for a drink.

We relaxed finally and I was glad I had made it to the top. The rest of the night was simple and consisted of taking more pictures, a hike up a smaller hill and then a dinner where everything I wanted to eat, seemed to be unavailable.

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At least we got some nice photos at the top.

The next day was simple and at least our hotel included breakfast. There are only a few boats back to the mainland each day and as I was ready to catch the 1:30 bus, I opted for the 10 am boat. Due to the epic walk, you have to leave about an hour early. As we mentally prepared for the exhausting walk back to the pier, we had some guys stop us and ask if we wanted to be taken from the other side of the island. As we could actually see those boats, we opted for that and headed down.

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Until next time!

Isla del Sol is dreamy. It is a peaceful place with great views.  It is not for those with asthma or who cannot hike up a hill. It would be very difficult for an unfit person to stay on Isla del Sol or really get to enjoy all it has to offer. However, if you are up for a bit of work to reach your destination, the island may be a perfect option for you.

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Sick in La Paz

We arrived in La Paz at 7am. I decided to stay where the other girls I had met were staying which meant another Loki. The only redeeming quality is that the Loki provided a free drink for it being my second Loki, but given I was sick, it ended up being a Powerade but more about that later.

As we had the whole day, we decided to take advantage of it. We wandered the streets in search of Alpaca. La Paz is known for its markets and in particular it’s witch markets. The witch markets are pretty touristy, as are a lot of the stores. If you want to make some Alpaca purchases, your best bet is the stalls.

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The streets of La Paz are filled with vendors.

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It is also easy to get lost in some of the markets as they don’t seem to end.

We headed back to the stalls after getting some pricing and after some difficult bargaining, I managed to get a sweater and some socks for 78 bolivianos, or about 11 dollars. I was pretty proud of myself.

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The view from the top of the funicular.

We had lunch next which was very good. Some tomato soup and a sandwich. After a productive day of shopping, we headed back for internet, rest and a shower before the evening.

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Overlooking La Paz, Bolivia at dusk.

That evening I got up and showered before we headed to the funicular. I didn’t feel quite myself but couldn’t tell what was wrong. I came home later that night and still didn’t feel great. While everyone headed out for dinner, I confirmed that I was sick and I would not be leaving.

I felt awful being the girl in the room who was sick. However, if there is one thing that happens when you do get sick, it is that no one is surprised. The girls in my room were like yea, it happens to everyone. I guess after going two months of traveling without being sick once, I couldn’t complain too much.

Given I could barely get out of bed, I stayed another night in La Paz and another day in bed, getting up only for laundry. Fortunately, I felt well enough that night to eat something, and was able to get out of La Paz the following day. Sorry La Paz, but i don’t think I could give you the time you deserved this time around.

A bit about Uyuni

It is a shame that Uyuni was my first introduction to Bolivia. Whenever you read guides about the Salt Flats, most say to get out of Uyuni as quick as possible. I soon discovered why.

The town is not the largest but it is very flat. It is a series of buildings and homes that appear to be a bit run down. I think this was the first city I did not feel very safe in South America. I was very aware of my surroundings. I decided then that I would be taking the overnight to La Paz.

Fortunately, there were quite a few other people from my tour who were taking the same path. For the cheap price of $12 dollars or around 80 bolivianos, I got an overnight bus with everyone to La Paz, leaving at 8:30pm.

We spent the rest of our time hanging out and trying to get wfi. Apparently, when all the toursits get back from the tour and try to get online, the wifi actually shuts down. People were unable to get money out of the atms because the atms work on wifi. That is how underdeveloped Uyuni is. It is actually pretty surprising given it is the entry to the Salt Flats. I expect in a few years, with all the tourism the salt flats bring, that things will slowly change.

Some of the girls we were with had a lonely planet. I am actually shocked by the amount of people who buy the lonely planet books and bring them around with them. I use online resources for everything, sometimes lonely planet, but more likely than not, trip advisor, as lonely planet seems to be out of date by the time it is published. Anyways, the girls had a recommendation for a restaurant around the corner and we went there to play monopoly and wait out our time.

Two hours plus should have been sufficient to get food, but there was one woman who ran the whole restaurant and there were two large groups. We did not get our food until 10 minutes until we were due at the bus station so after a quick scarfing of our meal, we ran to our bus in what was a mini sand storm.

You know that saying you get what you pay for? I’ve probably already used it. In the case of the bus, you get exactly what you pay for. Bolivian roads are rough. This was by far the roughest bus ride I had ever taken. I’m an avid car reader and I could not even read because the book was moving too much. After 13 hours which felt closer to 26, we finally arrived in La Paz. First impressions of Bolivia were rough, but La Paz stepped up to the plate.

The Salt Flats

We awoke excited at 5am. Of course, the driver was not even ready for us at the given time. We drove across the entrance to the flats at day break so that our first view of the flats was just before sunrise.

The salt flats are amazing, awesome, otherworldly, and breathtaking. I thought I would have been desensitized given all the pictures I had seen. The pictures do not do the salt flats justice. They are beautiful and massive. They are fun to be on. I took a ton of random pictures but they just make you happy.

Made it to the Salt Flats for the sun rise.

Made it to the Salt Flats for the sun rise.

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Overlooking the scenery from the lone island in the middle of the salt flats.

It is a vision unlike I’ve seen before. Very unique and wonderful colors. We stopped in a few places across the salt flats. We stopped at an island in the middle of the salt flats that had cacti and a beautiful hill overlooking the flats. This cost 30 bolivianos to walk through but it was worth it. We also were able to enjoy a nice breakfast here (and more pictures of course).

On top of one of the salt pyramids as one of the last stops on the tour.

On top of one of the salt pyramids as one of the last stops on the tour.

One other cool thing about the salt flats is that you can actually pierce the hexagonal shapes and pull out crystals. Our tour guide showed us this and it was really neat to see the salt crystals in their natural form. Nature really is a beautiful thing that I do not know nearly enough about.

The hexagonal shapes on the salt flats.

The hexagonal shapes on the salt flats.

We headed to the center of the salt flats for some more pictures before heading to the museum del sal (which is really just another hostel and then a statue for the Dakar races). This was also our last stop before exiting the salt flats. We enjoyed a few more pictures of the salt flats before we took off. Most of the morning consisted of picture-taking.

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Having some fun on the flats.

Having some fun on the flats.

The last stop on the tour was the train cemetery. It is just outside the city of Uyuni and in my opinion, is sad. The trains are remnants of the last mining boom in the area and all the trains that used to come and go. It reminds me of Detroit and the pictures just remind me a bit of the much debated ruin porn that Detroit has come to be known for. In an ideal world, places like this wouldn’t exist and the trains would be properly recycled, not left to be graffiti{ed} and fits of tourists to trample over.That is just my personal opinion, and more likely than not because it hits a bit closer to home. Some food for thought I suppose.

The train cemetary in Uyuni.

The train cemetary in Uyuni.

Uyuni Day 1 & 2: The beginning of Bolivia

We started the next morning at 8am at the location of the tour office to be picked up. The first half hour was just driving to cross the border and going through border patrol in Chile and then in Bolivia. Both were pretty simple but it was already a bit chile and we hadn’t even reached altitude. We had a brief breakfast before our first stops, Laguna verde y laguna blanco.

The views out here are incredible and I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Beautiful first stops at Laguna Verde and Blanco in Uyuni.

Beautiful first stops at Laguna Verde and Blanco in Uyuni.

The next stop was the thermals which was amazing! If there was any place I’d be quite content for hanging around for a few hours it would surely be this one. The view out of the baths was breathtaking and the water was a perfect temperature. The sun was shinging and you were surrounded by mountains. Not sure what more you could ask for. You do have to pay a nominal fee to enter but for 6 bolivianos or just less than a dollar, it is worth it.

View from my spot in the Thermals. How nice is that view while you are soaking in natural springs?

View from my spot in the Thermals. How nice is that view while you are soaking in natural springs?

We then headed off (somewhat reluctantly) to the Salvador dali desert where the landscapes resemble something out of his art. I think we stopped at a few other lagunas and some geisers along the way but they all seemed to pale in comparison to laguna Colorado. We had our lunch first and settled into our rooms for the night but then we took our own walk around the lake.

Laguna Colorado seems to appear out of the middle of no where. There are so many flamingos as well. You can hike up a relatively minor hill and then look out over the whole laguna. There is also a mini lookout point where you can learn some information about flamingos.

Laguna Colorado in Uyuni Bolivia. You can walk around about half of the Laguna on a nice pathway.

Laguna Colorado in Uyuni Bolivia. You can walk around about half of the Laguna on a nice pathway.

After some nature viewing, we headed back for tea and then dinner. During the tour, you are with the people in your car the entire time. You become pretty close. My car had a couple with one being from Michigan and another from New Zealand, and another couple from France. I had a great car and everyone was so friendly and easy to talk to. I even learned a new card game from Italy called scopa.

The next day we left around 8 and crossed more of the Uyani area. The Uyuni area of Boliva is huge and you just stare in awe a lot of the time at how much space and untouched nature there is. We stopped at a few more lagoons called the altiplanos lagunas. Who knew there were so many lagooons in the middle of the desert? As we decreased in altitude the weather got a bit better and not quite as cold. We were at almost 5000 meters the night before. That night we stayed at the hostel de sal. It is right outside the salt flats.

We had hot showers and electricity and after some time without these now accustomed to luxuries, they felt amazing. The next day was the main feature, the Salt Flats.

Choosing a Salt Flat Tour Company and preparing for Uyuni

There are so many companies that travel to Uyuni. It is overwhelming. All the prices for the 3 days 2 night tours (ending in Uyuni) are from 80.000 to 105.000 CP (130-155 USD). I decided to spend a bit more than the cheapest for hopefully a bit nicer accommodation, food, and jeeps. After spending a full half day wandering around I settled on Estrella del Sur.

Almost every street like this in San Pedro is lined with Tour Companies.

Almost every street like this in San Pedro is lined with Tour Companies.

It helped that I went to the tourist office which had a book of complaints/thank yous (Thanks for the tip Wikipedia!) and Estrella had a ton of compliments. The tour left the next morning and I was happy that a decision was made. Now time to prepare.

Well first, since I decided to stay an extra night, I had to find another place to stay and try to save some money from the tour I just booked. I booked a hostel for half the price I was paying (12 vs 24 USD) and as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. I then had to exchange CP for Bolvianos and CP to USD for the visa fee. I also had to buy water and some snacks as there are not many stores on this journey. Another important item was to charge all of my electronics as the accommodation is less than stellar throughout Uyuni. Word of advice: If you aren’t up for roughing it, or close to the equivalent of camping, the 3 day tour may not be for you.

So I think I’m all set ready to go, waiting for two Canadian girls I had met to meet up for a drink, when I realize I somehow lost one tennis shoe while changing hostels. To make matters worse, it was 8:45 pm and all the stores were closing. I retraced my 5 minute walk and went back to the other hostel to see if they found a shoe. No luck.

I am so lucky the one trekking store in the area was open just after nine. I literally asked for the shoe in my size and he closed the doors of the store. All I can say is, I would have been devastated if I didn’t have tennis shoes for this. Although this was more of an adventure than I hoped, the real adventure started the next day.