Bolivia really is an incredible place. Before we visited the country we never imagined it would be somewhere that would leave such a large impression, would be as impressive as it was. We didn’t really think there was a beaten track in Bolivia nor that it would be the place that you can really get off it and into the wilderness.
Many people head to see the Salt flats of Salar de Uyuni while embarking on a tour that generally starts in Lima, includes Machu Picchu, La Paz and loops through western Bolivia. Far fewer people made it towards the East unless they were on a trip for over a year and got off the beaten track in Bolivia. The well sealed tar roads in the west that connect the main cities are testament to this fact.
Our philosophy was always to head where we fancied and when we had to go, we left. Bolivia drew us in and kept us far longer than we expected, as each place sparked something magical. We eventually became accustomed to the seeming hostility of the locals and ventured further and further into the country to explore the most remote places with limited transport.
The following are the three top places to get off the beaten track in Bolivia that we enjoyed and really stuck in our minds as places we would love to return to.
1. Tarabuco, Yamparaez Department
Heading west in collectivos (small generally old vans of varying ability that transport around 8- 12 people around rural Bolivia) is always an interesting affair and heading to Tarabuco was no different. This is a particularly stark contrast when you leave a colonial town like Sucre that has wealth and a distinct European influence. Then you head to the country where there is nothing but brown. It is remarkable that people are able to livid in such arid conditions.
Bumping around route number 6 in clouds of dust, squished among coca chewing campesinos (rural farmers, who are mostly Quechua). It took around 2 hours to reach Tarabuco and 15 Bolivianos, although we almost missed the stop to get off. Ejected out into a small square with people hanging around lazily we couldn’t figure out what to do first. There was a tourist information office funnily, as part of Sucre’s attempt to attract more visitors to this part of the country. Yet the sole attraction of Tarabuco was the Sunday market and monthly market that showcase the best of campesino food. Locals would come from miles around to trade their wares.
We thought this was pretty much all as we walked around the small and what looked like a deserted town. Places really are slow to another level around here. Yet the beauty is that it is so isolated.
People gathered around the almost empty market and would sit around chatting, drinking the local spirit and coffee. That is what getting off the beaten track is about. Nothingness. A rawness of real life, without things to do, but just sheer existence.
2. Icla, Yamparaez Department
Further south of Tarabuco still is a village that is enclosed by a mountain range. The range positions Icla in a bowl that has a relatively good supply of water as a result. Emerging over a dusty peak after winding further and further into the department of Yamparaez an oasis of green appears. Icla has the ability to grow onion, potatoes and other salads like tomatoes. This is unheard of in the mountains.
In the absence of tourist information the best bet is to head to the church or hospital to find information. The pastor of the local church happened to be American and was surprised to see us. Apparently tourists do visit occasionally to go rafting down the Pilcomayu river that runs through town, or to find dinosaur tracks in the hills. Yet no one stays.
They pointed to the local shop next to the bus “stop”, which is turns out was also a hotel. The place was awesome, recently refurbished and the hosts were really helpful. The best part was that it was 15 Bolivianos per night us both (75p each). We were invited for dinner by the pastor and his wife, who recommended that we head up to the church on the top of the hill. The area was being dug up to extend the cemetery and yet the whole area has relics of pre-inca civilisation. Ancient pots dating back to the 12- 13th century were left exposed.
They also suggested we explored the dried up gorge and its river bed, which led all the way to Paraguay. We took both pieces of advice and had the best few days ever in the middle of nowhere, hawks circling over head as we made fire to cook lunch keeping a vigilant eye out for a rain burst, which easily flash floods the river and can be dangerous at the wrong time of year. Adventure at its best.
3. Oruro, Cercado Department
Many people who visit Salar de Uyuni will have heard of Oruro as the train passes through it.
Yet very few stop and check out this historically important and interesting town. It is a hot bed for communist activity, politically active and relatively developed and far larger than Tarabuco and Icla. You can find some top quality food and live cheaply, due to the lack of tourists.
It was an old gold mining town that has gold adorning the major buildings and monuments. There are a few fairly modern buildings and a market where you can buy anything you’d need for travelling at a ridiculously low price. The market lines the railway that stretches out into the desert, reminding you that this is still an isolated city in the Andes. It lacked any defined points of significant tourist interest which keeps it local and unexplored. Another awesome place to exist and live next to the locals to experience the genuine every day life of the Bolivian people.
If you have any thoughts as to where really is off the beaten track in Bolivia then we’d love to hear from you. Have experiences you’d like to share on Around the World Travels? Get in touch!