Bolivia is a country of contrasts in landscape. It has the Andes which is cold and dry, the deserts of the South West, which is hot and dry and then the jungle, which is hot and wet. Seasons generally revolve around being wet or dry rather than a winter to summer structure found in Europe.
In winter the Andes, including La Paz receives a fair amount of snow and is very cold. Even in the summer the temperature drops quickly at night, but during the day it is hot and the sun is intense as you are so high up.
Generally you will be travelling around the Andes should you be heading to the most popular destinations, including La Paz. There are reports and have been deaths on the roads as the bus and driver quality is generally lower than in the western world. Yet please put this in perspective and understand that there are less deaths in Bolivia than there are in the UK. There is less traffic and the primary hazards are the road conditions combined with the condition of the bus to match. Choose a reputable bus company and chances of disaster are small.
Should you want to catch a train or be heading to the Brazilian/ Argentine boarders then you may encounter or want to take the train. The route from Santa Cruz to Quillaro has been coined the death train. We saw some dogs get run over and I can see how deaths occur (it wizzes through the countryside and there are no barriers protecting the track), yet I heard of just a few human deaths in many years to make this a massive exaggeration.
There are 3 major services. The Ferrobus (around 12-15 pounds), which offers seats that recline nicely and essentially double as beds = the expensive option. Otherwise it is the local (more exciting) Regional/ “Pullman” service (5 pounds), where we had a wooden, sitting bench to sleep on. There is also the Express Oriental, but this was way out of our budet and so we only know that a lot of more wealthy tourists take this option, but it is in the region of 25- 30 pounds. With this you get food and it is air conditioned etc etc.
So the times we know of are as follows:
(SC= Santa Cruz Q=Quillaro)
Regional 11:00 Q-SC Monday to Saturday
Regional 11:45 SC- Q Monday to Saturday
Exp Oriental 16:00 SC-Q Monday Wednesday Friday
Exp Oriental 16:00 Q-SC Tuesday Thursday Sunday
Ferrobus 18:30 SC-Q Tuesday Thursday Sunday
Ferrobus 18:30 Q-SC Monday Wednesday Friday
Bolivia, along with Paraguay are the cheapest countries in South America and also the poorest. Also similar to other countries in South America is that to eat cheaply this is best done at lunchtime, when you can find a “menu del dia” or standard meal of the day. This is a soup and choice of 2- 3 main courses, often with meat in, so not great for vegetarians. This costs around 8- 15Bs. 80p to 1.50 pounds.
Buses are also cheap in Bolivia and although not of the best standard represent cheap travel across the Andes and into the plains.
What to do?
Tiwanaku Museum. A museum of relics from the ancient Tiwanaku culture. If you cannot make it back to the boarder with Peru to visit the site of the ancient civilisation or do not wan to pay a fair amount of money doing it then go here instead to learn all about it. You can find the map above….
Top of the list though is the Salar de Uyuni to visit the salt plains. Visit the largest expanse of salt on earth and go on seeing new wonders of nature by also visiting the sand desert in South West Bolivia, active volcanoes, strange rocks formations and lakes in a variety of truly amazing colours. We managed to negotiate a 3 days tour for 550 Bolivianos (£55), but this reached 700 Bolivianos for others in our group. Drive down the price by leaving it last minute if you do not have time constraints, but ensure you go through what is and is not included and bring extra water.
Park Amboro: This national park is highly recommended and offers stunning treks in beautiful countryside. Tours are compulsory as you legally need a local to show you what is a national and protected reserve. All kinds of animals, butterflies and birds are easy to spot, ancient ferns and grasses combine to make a wildlife lovers delight.
There are two ways to enter this huge park, the first one is from Samaipata village and the second one is from the Buena Vista (complete with great view of the valley below) village which is also 2 hours away from Santa Cruz. This village is also a great starting point for many treks.
El Fuerte: Defiantly the main attraction and reason for tourists attending Samaipata.
This is a pre-Inca ruins site estimated to be from 1500BC. There are different opinions whether it was a fort to fight the Spanish conquer or an ancient gold industry center. To get there, either walk the 10kms from Samaipata, or take a taxi and just climb the hill.
Valle Grande: This village would probably never be known if not for the great revolutionary Che Guevara. This is the place where he was captured, displayed and secretly berried until 1997.
A few tours, illustrating Che’s last days and battle are offered to anyone interested.
Refugio Los Volcanes: This all inclusive hotel cum jungle nature reserve offers spectacular and reclusive views across ancient red volcanoes deep in the Semaipata jungle of central Bolivia. Night treks, swimming in waterfalls, animal tracking are all offered and included. Stays are set at 2 days, but multiple stays can be booked if you want to spend more time in the thick of it. There are only 6 rooms and a max of 12 people can stay at any time. Expect to pay £100- £120 for the 2 days.