We left Puno at 7am on a bus to the Bolivian border, along the shores of Lake Titicaca – about a 3.5 hour journey. The bus was not as nice as others we have had before but it was not too bad. We had one final stop in Peru to change any spare Peruvian money before heading to the border at yet another dry and dusty border town – this time Desaguadero.
It was such an easy border crossing. There was hardly anyone there which helped, we got off the bus, joined a short queue to leave Peru, then a similarly short queue right next to it to enter Bolivia. After a cursory baggage check we were in the “Plurinational State of Bolivia” and back on the same bus with our new Bolivian guide – the whole process probably took no longer than 30 minutes!
We then continued on for an additional 2.5 hours through the Andean highlands (again) to La Paz. Today’s increible landscapes included farmlands edged with massive snow-capped mountains (all over 6000m!)!! As we came around a corner in the bus, the city of La Paz was sprawled out in the valley beneath us surrounded by more snow-capped mountains, an exclamation of ‘wow’ echoed around the bus.
As soon as we arrived, we went out on a quick orientation walk, ending up in the ever present Plaza de Armas. As it was officially the last day of this part of the tour and two people were leaving us, we went out for a great group dinner at a local steak house.
The following morning, and our first full day in Bolivia, most of us went on a tour of the city tour and surrounds. First thing to note about La Paz, is that is it NOT the highest capital in the world as many people think. The city sits at an elevation of 3,650m, and although it is the seat of government, it is not in fact the constitutional capital – that title goes to Sucre! It has been a bone of contention between the two cities for centuries and continues to be so.
The city itself reminded me of Medellin in Colombia a bit – with the city sprawling around the hills and cable cars for public transport. As with Medellin, the cable cars gave a great view of the city as you travelled along the lines – there are 7 in total currently with plans for another 7 or 8 lines in the coming years. The city was buzzing, incredibly busy with so much traffic.
No visit to La Paz is complete without a visit to the Valle de la Luna (or Moon Valley). The are is only 10km from downtown La Paz, but is like another world. Here, erosion has worn away parts of one of the mountains leaving tall spires and other random rocky outcrops, leaving a moon like landscape.
Back in the city we went up to a view point for a panaramic view over the city (though no better than the views from the cable cars in my opinion) before walking around the oldest part of the city – I must admit, how much I liked La Paz was unexpected!
I had not been feeling 100% for a number of weeks (in fact since I had arrived in Peru) and a cough I had was just getting worse so the guide had arranged for me to see a doctor in the afternoon. He was not happy with my cough, or a number of other symptoms and arranged for me to attend his private clinic the following day for a number of tests!
As it turned out, the doctor in question, was a world renown pulmonary specialist, specialising specifically with illnesses at altitude, and he was somewhat of a mad professor 😂! Of course, the 4 hours of tests did not come cheap (and I am looking forward to making the most of my travel insurance!). I think he must have tested pretty much anything and everything – urine, blood (from both a vein and an artery), ECG, respiratory function and oxygen levels and chest X-rays. He found a number of issues and prescribed a number of things to treat them – he also took some convincing that I was ok to leave on our overnight night bus later that day, but thankfully he finally agreed I could go as long as I promised to keep in touch and take all my drugs!
Although the overnight bus was not the fanciest we had been on, it was one of the best as the seats went almost flat so I managed to get a pretty decent sleep.
As we neared Sucre (our next stop and the constitutional capital of Bolivia), there was finally some green on a landscape that had been pretty barren for the last week or so.
Sucre seemed to be yet another city full of unfinished buildings (apparently this is something to do with having to pay more taxes on finished buildings 🤔). However, the historical centre of the city, around the Plaza del Armas where we were staying was full of beautiful colonial buildings. Sucre is sometimes referred to as the “white city”, like Arequipa in Peru, due to the many white colonial buildings.
Sucre was founded in 1559 and was the centre of control for the production of silver and the residence of colonial Spaniards involved in the industry.
As many of the cities museums and attractions were to be closed on Monday (and we arrived on Sunday) we had to make sure we saw what we could that day. We started with a quick but informative tour around Independence House, learning about the history of Bolivia and its many battles (but internal and with their neighbouring countries – in most of which Bolivia lost land).
We then jumped on the Dino Bus to Parque Cretacico (Cretaceous Park) – home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world (over 5,000 of them)! The footprints were discovered on the grounds of a local cement company who were mining the area before finding the perfectly preserved footprints of about 15 species of dinosaurs, and turning the area in to a themed-park which includes a museum about the findings and a collection of life-size dinosaur models.
It was incredible to think that 68 millions years before, a diverse population of dinosaurs were stomping around in the soft clay shores of a vast ocean inlet which covered large areas of what is now Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. As the clay dried, the footprints turned in to stone and disappeared under layers of sediment.
Subsequently, shifting tectonic plates pushed up the Andes mountain range, pushing the ocean back thousands of kilometres and what was once a flat clay beach is now nearly vertical.
Back in town we had a free afternoon, but being Sunday most of the shops were closed. Despite that the plaza was buzzing, due to a joint wedding taking place – we must have seen at least 10 brides arrive as we waited for the Dino bus to leave … apparently, they do that church service on mass to save money! The street outside the church was crammed with double parked, decorated wedding cars 😂.
We all enjoyed a Salsa class after dinner though I think there was more laughing than dancing done!
The following morning we headed out on a walking tour of Sucre, starting at local cemetery which was an eclectic mix of grand mausoleums (some of Bolivians who played an important role in the creation of the country) and small and humble graves decorated with personal adornments. Walking around the pristine gardens of the cemetery, there was a strange sense of peace.
After a walk through the oldest part of the city, we hit the local market for chorizo (spicy sausage) sandwiches and fresh juice. Recharged, we started the climb up to a view-point – any type of exertion at this altitude takes that much more effort than at sea level! Of course, after smashing the Inca Trail, anything is doable these days lol