Altiplano Adventure

The neighbouring countries of Chile and Bolivia share some of Latin America’s most remarkable landscapes – this tour takes us from the steamy lowlands of the Amazon jungle to the high altitude deserts of the altiplano. With South America’s largest percentage of indigenous people, and unique species of wildlife that are still being discovered and some of the continent’s best landscapes, Bolivia should be on every traveller’s list. We start our journey in Madidi National Park, one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, spanning Andean and Amazonian ecosystems and home to various traditional tribes. Then we fly to Uyuni on the Southern Altiplano, our gateway to one of the most extreme and expansive vistas on earth, the Salar de Uyuni. As we travel through the high altitude plains we come across strange rock formations, boiling hot mud pools, and landscapes like a painter’s palette of colour, with brightly hued lakes and glistening salt flats stretching to the horizon.

The adventure continues as we cross into Chile. Exploring the Atacama Desert we visit steaming geysers and turquoise lagoons, as well as typical Andean villages and the abandoned ghost towns of the nitrate industry. This is the driest region on earth – outside of the polar regions – yet its harsh landscapes support a surprising amount of wildlife, which we’ll keep an eye out for. Moving north from San Pedro de Atacama we see the evidence of ancient civilisations, in the form of giant geoglyphs etched into the desert floor, and ancient Inca ruins, and then look for guanaco, vicuna and other species in Lauca National Park.

This tour explores some of the wilder areas of the continent, where human presence is few and far between, and the raw elements of nature run riot. Every twist and turn – and there will be a fair few along the way – will leave you completely wonderstruck.

Bolivia Uncovered

Highlights

  • Breath-taking scenery in Salar de Uyuni
  • The Amazon Rainforest
  • The Atacama salt flats
  • See the ‘fighting cholitas’

Day 1 - La Paz

Arrive into La Paz and transfer to hotel. Overnight Hotel Naira or similar.


Day 2 - La Paz – El Alto – La Paz

Today we explore the city, including the immense Cathedral, Presidential Palace and the 16th century San Francisco Church, then head to the intriguing, if rather gruesome, Witches’ Market to see the strange collection of good luck charms and ritual products on offer. In the afternoon, we take the cable car to El Alto to admire the futuristic buildings designed by famous Bolivian architect, Freddy Mamani. This evening we see a wrestling match, in which the ‘Fighting Cholitas’ wrestle to stand their ground, displaying female empowerment and fighting for gender and racial equality. Overnight Hotel Naira or similar. (BL)

La Paz
Sitting at a dizzying 3500m above sea level in a depression gouged into the altiplano, is La Paz, the political and commercial hub of Bolivia and capital in all but name. Dwarfed by the icy peak of Mount Illimani, the
valley floor is a smorgasbord of vibrant street markets, museums, ministries, colonial churches, white-washed houses and bustling plazas, whilst the steep valley slopes that rise up either side of the city are carpeted with the ramshackle, red-brick homes of the city’s poorer inhabitants.

The city has a population of around 800,000, two million if you include El Alto and Viacha.  It was founded as a centre of Spanish power in the Andes and due to those has always had two very distinct societies – the indigenous and the European. Banks, government offices and fast food restaurants share space with Aymara markets selling ritual paraphernalia used for appeasing the spirits and mountain gods, and the Aymaras make up the majority of La Paz and El Alto’s population. The most popular thoroughfare for strolling and socialising in La Paz is the Prado, which runs along the course of La Paz’s river, the Río Choqueyapu.

Named La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de la Paz, meaning ‘The City of Our Lady of Peace’, the city was founded in October 1548 by Spanish conquistador Alonso de Mendoza, on the orders of Viceroy Pedro de la Gasca. The foundation of La Paz was to commemorate the end of ten years of civil war between rival Spanish factions, fighting over the combined territories of Alto and Bajo Peru.

El Alto and the Fighting Cholitas
Overlooking La Paz, on the rim of the Altiplano is the fourth-biggest, poorest and fastest-growing city in Bolivia, El Alto. The city is largely populated by Aymara migrants who have come from the surrounding high plains and the population is close to a million, with a staggering sixty percent under twenty-five years old. Tin-roofed adobe shacks and half-finished red brick buildings sit side by side with the ‘Neo-Andean’ style ‘cholets’ built by architect Freddy Mamani. These colourful, gaudy mansions house shops, party venues and family homes.

El Alto can be reached by a journey on the cable car from La Paz which offers splendid, panoramic views. It is also home to the world’s biggest flea market – selling everything from clothes and furniture, to groceries – and the ‘Fighting Cholitas’. The word ‘cholita’ comes from the Spanish word ‘cholo’ (chola for females) meaning mixed race. When Spanish colonialists first arrived in South America, they introduced a degrading caste system that ranked people according to colour and race to maintain dominance. In this caste system, ‘cholos’ ranked as the lower middle class and were discriminated against for centuries. As women from a socially marginalised community, the Cholitas not only faced social, economic and political challenges, but gender discrimination too. These indigenous Aymara women resist against patriarchy both outside and inside the ring. Dressed in iconic bowler-hats and pollera skirts and displaying feisty spirit, they wrestle to display female empowerment, gender and racial equality and to reclaim the respect that they so rightfully deserve.

Day 3 - Rurrenabaque

Fly to Rurrenabaque, the gateway to Bolivia’s Amazon region. The rest of the day is free. Overnight Hotel Maya de la Amazonia or similar. (B)


Day 4 - Rurrenabaque – Madidi National Park

From Rurrenabaque we take a boat to our Amazon lodge. Sailing on the Beni and Tuchi rivers and passing through the Bala Cañon, we reach Madidi National Park and try to catch our first glimpses of Amazonian wildlife. We then take a short walk to the lake where our cabins are located before heading out to the mirador viewpoint. In the evening we take a night walk to observe the nocturnal sounds and creatures of the rainforest. Overnight Chalalan Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Madidi National Park
Spanning an astonishing nineteen thousand square kilometres, and with altitudes ranging from 300-5500m above sea level, Madidi National Park is home to a complex variety of Andean and Amazonian ecosystems. Its pristine savannah, cloud forest, rainforests and glacial mountain areas offer spectacular scenery and are home to over 700 species of animal, and an unbelievable eleven percent of the world’s total bird species. Madidi also boasts an incredible array of butterfly and flowering plant species. The park is so biodiverse that it is considered to be one of the most important conservation areas in the world.

Chalalan Lodge
Chalalan is a multi-award winning ecolodge, offering traditional thatched Tacana-style cabins and overlooking a large lagoon enriched with wildlife. The lodge is a huge success story and the first of its kind in this area. Having been established by international conservation groups, it is now owned and operated by the indigenous Uchupiamonas community from San José, guaranteeing the sustainability of their culture and the region for future generations as opposed to the destructive logging and hunting way of life. Chalalan profits are distributed within the local community at the end of the year and go towards health, education and sport, also supporting environmental causes. Chalalan is responsible for the conservation of 10,000 hectares within the indigenous territory of San José of Uchupiamonas and is committed to using clean energy and careful water and waste management techniques. They have also initiated a forest enrichment programme in which they plant trees of high ecological value that are currently under pressure in the region.

Day 5 - Madidi National Park

Follow the Tapare Trail to look out for monkeys as well as species of birds including toucans, macaws and eagles. In the afternoon we take another wildlife walk with to a scenic viewpoint over Chalalan Lake and the extensive primary rainforest of Madidi. In the evening we also set out by canoe to observe the nocturnal wildlife. Overnight Chalalan Lodge or similar.  (BLD)

Please note: While in Madidi, other travellers staying at the lodge may accompany you on excursions – the excursions are usually pooled between guests of the lodge.

 


Day 6 - Madidi National Park

Walk a trail (approx. 5-6 hours) to the Eslabon River to try and spot species such as the Black spider monkey, tapir, deer and peccary. In the afternoon we have time to relax and swim before heading out at night to try and spot caiman and other creatures. We will also learn about the customs, habits and rituals of the Uchupiamonas indigenous people. Overnight Chalalan Lodge or similar.  (BLD)


Day 7 - Madidi – Rurrenabaque – La Paz

One last walk in the forest, before travelling by boat to Rurrenabaque and flying to La Paz. Overnight Hotel Naira or similar. (BL)

Day 8 - Moon Valley - Uyuni

This morning we travel south of La Paz to see the rock structures and lunar landscape of Moon Valley. Afterwards transfer to the airport and fly to Uyuni. Overnight Jardines de Uyuni or similar. (B)

Uyuni
At 3368m above sea level and set on the bleak southern Altiplano, is the bitterly cold town of Uyuni. Uyuni is the jumping-off point for tours into the otherworldly landscapes of the surrounding region, namely the Salar de Uyuni and the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. The town was founded in 1889 and its location at the junction of the railways that enter Bolivia from Argentina and Chile, meant that in its heyday it was Bolivia’s main gateway to the outside world. If it weren’t for travellers passing through to visit the salt flats, Uyuni would most likely be a ghost town, as after the decline in the fortunes of Bolivia’s railways there is little other reason for the town to thrive. The Thursday market and street stalls are a good place to hunt for warm woollies before heading out on a 4wd expedition.

Day 9 - Uyuni – Colchani – Salar de Uyuni – San Pedro de Quemes

The first stop of the day is the train cemetery in Colchani, where we will see the rusty remains of hollowed-out train bodies that date back to the early 20th century. We visit a salt-processing town and then continue on to the otherworldly wonder that is the Salar de Uyuni. We also stop to admire the rare ecosystem of Incahuasi Island, an island covered with ancient cacti that can grow up to 18 metres tall. Overnight Takya de Piedra or similar. (BLD)

Salar de Uyuni

The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s biggest salt flat, covering 4050 square miles (9000 sq km) of the Altiplano. The salt flat was left behind by a prehistoric lake that evaporated long ago and is one of the most extraordinary attractions in South America. The thick crust of salt extends to the horizon, making you lose all concept of distance and space and it is covered with polygonal patterns of salt rising from the ground.

In the dry season, the salt flat surface shines with the intense whiteness of snow and in the rainy season – and when nearby lakes overflow – a thin layer of water transforms the flats into an enormous mirror, reflecting the sky and surrounding mountain peaks perfectly. At night, the eerie white glow of moonlight is reflected in the salt and illuminates the entire landscape.

The high altitude and reflective surface of the Salar de Uyuni means that little heat is retained and it can get extremely cold. Whilst by day, temperatures can soar as high as 30 degrees Celsius, they can drop below -25 at night and as far as -40 – with wind-chill factor included – meaning this is one of the widest day-night temperature fluctuations found anywhere in the world.

The alien terrain of the Salar de Uyuni serves as an extraction site for salt and lithium – the latter, an element responsible for powering smartphones and laptops. In addition to the local workers who harvest these minerals, the Salar de Uyuni is home to the world’s first salt hotel and some of the small hostels are also built from salt.

Day 10 - Ojo de Perdiz

Travel through the Chiguana salt flats to see the Ollague Volcano, with its fine columns of smoke – the only volcano in Bolivia. We then continue driving to the deserts of Ojo de Perdiz, via the Cañapa and Hedionda lagoons. The lagoons are towered over by snowy peaks and are populated by large colonies of flamingoes and other birds such as ducks and Wallata geese. Overnight Takya del Desierto or similar. (BLD)


Day 11 - Siloli Desert – San Pedro de Atacama

Travel through the Siloli desert (4500m), where we might be lucky to see a viscacha or two. This high-altitude desert is scattered with rock outcrops that have been sandblasted into surreal shapes. We stop at the Stone Tree, shaped by erosion over thousands of years. Driving south, we visit Laguna Verde and Laguna Colorada (green and red lagoons). Their piercing colours will make for some incredible photography, especially as the red lagoon will most likely be dotted with pink flamingos. We also stop at the Sol de Mañana geyser, before continuing to the border with Chile. In Chile, we head to San Pedro de Atacama, and visit the striking landscapes of Moon Valley. Overnight La Casa de Don Tomas or similar. (BL)

Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa

Covering the most southwestern corner of Bolivia, Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa is a 7147sq km wildlife reserve that ranges between 4000-6000m in altitude. The main attractions within the reserve are the remarkably beautiful and bizarre-coloured lakes – several of which host large populations of flamingos – and the Sol de Mañana Geyser.

The biggest and most striking lake to photograph, is Laguna Colorada. The natural pigments of algae in the lake and its mineral-laden waters mean that the lake is red in colour and this changes in intensity during the day.  The algae are a rich food source for flamingos and all three species nest here in large numbers, including the rare James Flamingo. Laguna Colorada is bordered with deposits of bright white ice and borax, the latter a mineral used in glass, acid and paint manufacture. Also startling is Laguna Verde, a vibrant green lake set at 4300m. The lake’s green hues are owed to arsenic and other minerals in its waters and the colours range from turquoise to deep emerald, dependent on how much the wind stirs up its sediments.

Set at an altitude of 5000m, the Sol de Mañana geyser is set amidst boiling pools of sulphur and mud. The geysers high-pressure jet of steam shoots out from the earth at great height in the early morning in sub-zero temperatures.

Day 12 - Atacama Salt Flats

Exploring the area surrounding San Pedro, we head first to the deep blue lakes of Minique and Miscanti and the pretty whitewashed village of Toconao with its traditional church. From here we continue to Chaxa Lagoon in the Salar de Atacama, often frequented by flamingos. Overnight La Casa de Don Tomas or similar. (BL)

Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert rivals Patagonia as Chile’s most striking landscape, a vast area of the altiplano dotted with volcanoes, salt flats and lakes. Lying between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, it’s known as the driest place on earth, with an average rainfall of less than an inch each year. With such a harsh environment you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Atacama is devoid of life, but this isn’t the case. Its lakes support populations of flamingos and other waterbirds, while vegetation takes its sustenance from the thick fogs that often roll in from the ocean in the early mornings.

The Atacama is a landscape of endless white salt flats, turquoise lagoons and multi-hued rock formations, giving it a somewhat other-worldly feel, and it’s been used as an experimentation site for Mars landings. Highlights of the area include the jagged rocks of Moon Valley and the El Tatio geysers, but the entire area is a real treat for those who like their scenery raw and untamed.

Day 13 - Tatio Geysers – Tebinquinche Lagoon

An early start takes us the Tatio geysers, the world’s highest geothermal field – early mornings are the best time to visit as the geysers send great plumes of steam into the air. From here we continue to small Andean town of Machuca, then continue exploring the Salar de Atacama. We visit the Laguna Cejar, the salt content of which is higher than the Dead Sea, then the Tebinquinche lagoon, where flamingos come to feed. Overnight La Casa de Don Tomas or similar. (B)


Day 14 - Iquique

Head north to Iquique, on Chile’s Pacific Coast. Our journey through the desert takes us past distant geoglyphs and through the ‘forests’ of Pampa del Tamarugal. Overnight Terrado Suites Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 15 - Pintados Geoglyphs - Arica

This morning we visit the abandoned ghost towns of Humberstone and Santa Laura, once busy with processing nitrate but now left to crumble into the desert. We then continue to Arica, stopping on the way to see numerous geoglyphs, enormous figures of people, animals and geometric designs etched onto the hillsides and dating back to the pre-Hispanic era. Arrive in Arica in late afternoon. Overnight Las Taguas hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 16 - Lauca National Park

A long day today as we explore Lauca National Park, and visit the ancient ruins of Tambo de Zapahuira and the fortress of Pukara de Copaquilla. Continuing to Chungara Lake, sitting at the foot of a snowcapped volcano, we look for wildlife like alpaca and guanaco, then move to the deep green lakes of Cotacotani. On our way back to Arica, we stop at the pretty village of Parinacota with its whitewashed houses and picturesque church, meeting local people to see how life is lived in this most harsh of environments. Overnight Las Taguas hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 17 - Santiago

As our journey through the altiplano comes to an end, we fly to Chile’s cosmopolitan capital, Santiago, for the last night of your tour. Overnight Holiday Inn Airport Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 18 - Santiago

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)


Please note: If you wish to miss out the Amazon and join this trip from Day 7 onwards, this would be possible. Please contact us for details.

Flamingos on the altiplano - Bolivia holidays
Colonial era houses in La Paz - Bolivia holidays and tours

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by different English-speaking guides for the different sections of this trip. You will have one guide in La Paz, one guide in the Amazon, then a different guide for the Salar de Uyuni. When you cross to Chile you will be accompanied by the same guide from the border until you fly to Santiago.  

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If, however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves, we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

British nationals don’t need a visa to visit Bolivia or Chile. Your passport must contain an entry stamp, otherwise you’ll have to pay a fine to leave the country. If you enter Bolivia overland, make sure your passport is stamped at both sides of the border with an exit stamp from the country you are leaving and an entry stamp on the Bolivian side. Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of six months from date of entry. Some other nationalities including various European nationalities and citizens of the USA, do require a visa. Feel free to contact us if you are unsure.

Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover, which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The Bolivian currency is the peso boliviano (BS) and is more commonly referred to as the ‘boliviano’, and in chile the currency is also known as the peso – but is a different currency to that in Chile. The best way to carry money is to have both cash and your card, so you always have a back-up. ATM’s are widespread and you can withdraw both local currency and US dollars from the ATM’s that are attached to bank branches.

Credit and debit cards are mainly only used in expensive shops and restaurants and in some hotels and tour agencies. American Express cards are rarely used. It’s a good idea to carry plenty of cash into rural areas just in case, although most towns have ATMs and US dollars can be changed into local currency at money changers and banks almost everywhere in the country. Break large denomination notes at every opportunity – in hotels and big shops – as small change is in short supply here and people may be reluctant to accept larger notes. Be wary of forged notes and avoid changing money with street money changers.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to Bolivia or Chile.

We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in Bolivia. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated July 2021

Flamingos on the altiplano - Bolivia holidays
Colonial era houses in La Paz - Bolivia holidays and tours
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
13 August 2022
Price (PP) -
£4,199
Single Supplement -
£750
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
12 August 2023
Price (PP) -
£4,399
Single Supplement -
£775
Trip Status -
Available