Expert travel tips: Bolivia

Copacabana, Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol

  • After arriving in Copacabana head down the main tourist drag to the waterfront where there are two huts run by the sailor’s association where they sell the boat tickets to Isla del Sol.
  • I thoroughly recommend a stay at least one night on Isla del Sol – it’s beautiful and very, very relaxing. The boat stops at Yumani in the south, where there is more accommodation and facilities, but up on the cliffs and the beach is small and rocky. The last stop is at Ch’allapampa in the north (by now a 3-hour trip from Copacabana) and this is where I recommend staying – it’s on a peninsula so has two beaches which are long and sweeping. Children or women meet the boat as it comes in offering you “habitacion” (a room). We got a lake-view room where we could step straight onto the beach for Bs.40 (£3.70/US$6).
  • The boats go to and from the island at 8.30am and 1pm each day (at my time of writing).
  • Reed Islands – the ‘real’ ones are on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, so you need to head to Puno to see these. There are some dodgy fake ones they’ve set up on this side.
A blue-sails boat off the shores of Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca

A blue-sails boat off the shores of Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca

La Paz

  • La Paz has a surprisingly diverse culinary scene – while I was there, I ate Italian, Thai, Korean, Dutch, Indian, and English as well as Bolivian food. And the best thing is, it can be so cheap that it’s even better value than cooking at home. I found the Thai and Indian food at Maphrao On Asian Restaurant-Bar-Lounge (Calle Hermanos Manchego 2586, off Avenida Arce).
  • I was pleased to find a great vegetarian restaurant – Tomate Café (Calle Ayucucho 376) which served delicious paninis, veggie burgers and pastries.
  • Lunch between 12-2pm is the best time to get deals in the city – look out for menus that can include salad (ensalada), soup (sopa), main course (segundo) and a dessert (postre) for as low as Bs.13 (£1.20/US$2). Places I loved were Patio Lounge (on Socabaya, next to Bennetton) set up in the ground floor of an office building, this place is deservedly popular with locals; and nearby, the Hotel Torino has two different restaurants, both of which do good lunch menus for around Bs.22-25 (£2/US$3).
  • The Lanza market, just off Plaza San Franciso, is the cheapest place in town to get filled up – head for the cabins on the upper floors. Colour-coded by what they serve, aim for the yellow rows to get sandwiches; the pink for teas and coffee; the red for set meals of soup and main course; and the orange for api y pastel – the tasty Bolivian speciality of a warm corn drink and a fried pastry filled with cheese.
  • It may have been coincidence, but I lost clothes in two different laundry services in La Paz and nowhere else on the continent. I managed to get one back by raising it with the hostel who used the service. Be sure to check everything that goes in your laundry bag and check it as soon as you get it back.
Patio Lounge cafe, La Paz

Patio Lounge’s alluring menu, La Paz

Sleeping

Hospedaje Milenio, Yanacocha 860
A small and homely hostel run by a friendly and helpful family, it’s also among the cheapest in town. Expect basic but cosy rooms in a safe, quiet atmosphere.
What I paid: Bs.60 (£5.60/US$7) for private double, shared bathroom (no breakfast).
Showers:
Electric; good, but only two for the whole hostel, so expect to wait at peak times.
Internet:
WiFi.
Other amenities: lounge with TV; dining area; no kitchen but you can request breakfast, and throughout the day hot water and snacks for extra costs; travel agency.

El Solario, Murillo 776
According to my guidebook, this is the cheapest hostel to stay in La Paz. Basic and ropey, but kept clean and friendly by the young girls that run the place, it did the job for a couple of nights.
What I paid: Bs.60 (£5.60/US$7) for private double, shared bathroom (no breakfast).
Showers:
Gas; good.
Internet:
WiFi and computers.
Other amenities: Kitchen; sitting areas with TV; laundry service (though I realised afterwards that I lost a dress here); travel and tour agency.

Uyuni

  • Uyuni’s airport is a dream – small and quiet, and super-modern. One or two drivers hang around to give lifts into town – be prepared to share the car with other travellers.
  • There are at several banks and ATMs in Uyuni, contrary to some information I have read about the town.
  • Hostels and hotels are cheaper and better quality than La Paz if you want somewhere to hang out before or after the salt tour.
  • There are a lot of convenience stores and a market, that – despite it being a tourist town – are no more highly priced than La Paz.
Uyuni's plaza. The Banco Fie has an ATM

Uyuni’s plaza. The Banco Fie has an ATM

Tupiza

  • There are now several ATMs in the town, contrary to even recent guidebook updates.

Villazon

  • There is at least one ATM in town.
  • The train service is currently (early March 2013) not running from Villazon, but you can pick up the service again from Atocha.
  • To get to Atocha from Villazon, don’t buy a direct bus ticket from the terminal here – the journey time will take 6-7 hours. First, get a bus to Tupiza (1.5hrs) then from Tupiza’s terminal, get your ticket to Atocha (3-4hrs).
  • Try to use Argentine pesos up before crossing into Bolivia – you’ll get a lousy exchange rate.
  • Get to the border crossing with La Quiaca (Argentina) EARLY in either direction – there are big queues here. The control offices open at 7am.

5 thoughts on “Expert travel tips: Bolivia

  1. Pingback: A grand adventure part 4 – Abandoned in Atocha | Rachel travels

  2. Pingback: A grand adventure part 5 – Buses, trains and automobiles | Rachel travels

  3. Pingback: A grand adventure part 6 – Lovely, lovely La Paz | Rachel travels

  4. Pingback: A grand adventure part 2 – Chasing trains | Rachel travels

  5. Pingback: Never say never. Or, how I fell for La Paz after all | Rachel travels

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