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Signature Bolivia: The final frontier

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This is a highlights holiday, but with a really adventurous element, as reaching these top sights in their relatively remote locations is a journey of discovery in itself. Surely the most authentic country in Latin America, Bolivia is also surely the most colourful, with highland communities preserving their mélange of religious traditions, brightly woven costumes and haunting pipe music. The tropical lowlands and Santa Cruz, where you’ll find a surprising ethnic diversity and a dynamic economy, also offers its share of surprises.

The difficulty of access to the shattered landscapes of Bolivia means many communities remain isolated from modernisation taking place elsewhere. Alongside sprawling cattle farms you’ll see smallholdings where subsistence-level farmers eke out a living from adobe farmhouses. Hidden among the canyons is the Ruta Che, a rough, lonely but incredibly scenic road following Che Guevara’s failed revolutionary campaign in Bolivia, where he is revered.

Potosí was once one of the largest and most affluent cities in the world: the silver mined in its conical hill contributed to the riches of the Spanish Empire and the Mint was located here. The city’s grand architecture reflects this long-gone prosperity, while Sucre is an elegant sun-dappled colonial city and traffic-stifled La Paz, overshadowed by a vast ice-jacketed Andean peak, stuns with its multitude of street markets. At the end of a varied trip you can relax on the peaceful Island of the Sun, with the snow-capped Andes reflected in the cobalt waters of Lake Titicaca.

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart, arriving Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the following day.

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel in a quiet quarter of the city.

Day 2

Guided city tour of cosmopolitan Santa Cruz.

Day 3

By road into the mountains to Incan el Fuerte; on to Vallegrande via Samaipata.

Day 4

By road to Che Guevara’s ‘shrine’ at La Higuera; continue to Villa Serrano.

Day 5

Drive on through mountain landscapes to Sucre.

Day 6

Guided tour of this elegant, whitewashed colonial city.

Day 7

Climb to the bleak altiplano and Potosí; guided tour and visit imperial Mint.

Day 8

Drive through skeletal landscapes to Uyuni, overnight in a salt hotel.

Day 9

Explore the dazzling salt flats and lagoons by 4WD vehicle.

Day 10

Transfer to Uyuni airport, fly to the capital, La Paz.

Day 11

Guided city tour with cable car ride over the canyon.

Day 12

Drive to lake Titicaca; boat trip to Sun Island, overnight.

Day 13

Return to La Paz.

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flights or extension to Amazon jungle.

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Places visited on this holiday

Signature Bolivia: The final frontier

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Santa Cruz and the Oriente
Santa Cruz

Eastern Bolivia is little visited by tourists but it is brimming with variety, vitality and living history. Prosperous Santa Cruz, the dynamic, rapidly expanding capital of the region, can seem a bit more like Brazil (just a few hours away by road) than the Bolivia of the altiplano. Wealth comes from oil, cattle farming, agriculture, logging and drugs. You may see SUVs with darkened windows cruising round the sultry streets.

Outside the city, highlights are legion: the ecosystems of multi-altitude Amboró and Noel Kempff Mercado National Parks are among the most biodiverse on the planet. In the rugged hills, unspoilt, red-roofed Spanish colonial-style villages abound. There's a circuit of stupendously ornate restored Jesuit churches deep in the countryside and the Ruta del Che (Che Guevara Trail) takes you through wild mountain ranges and canyons to the places which feature in the narrative of the last days of the revolutionary's campaign.    
  

When's the best time to visit Santa Cruz and Oriente?

The weather is hot and sultry all year round, with daytime temperatures rarely falling below 20°C. The drier season is most pleasant, falling between April and November. Crucenos love to party however and Carnival (the four days prior to Ash Wednesday) is celebrated enthusiastically throughout the city with street festivals, music and parades

What's the official language of Santa Cruz and Oriente?

Spanish and indigenous languages, Some immigrants, eg Mennonites, speak their own language.

How do I get local currency in Santa Cruz and Oriente?

Peso Boliviano. Notes in local currency and in some cases US dollars can be withdrawn from the many ATMs in prominent avenues of Santa Cruz, eg Bolivian National Bank and Banco Mercantil de Santa Cruz; there are many money exchanges (casas de cambio) and banks which exchange US dollars. (a few accept euros or sterling but the rate may be poor).

When withdrawing money from an ATM using a debit card, you are offered a choice of account type from which to make your withdrawal: select 'credit card' (ie NOT Current account or Savings Account options).
What's the time difference between Santa Cruz and UK?

GMT -4 hours.

What places combine well with Santa Cruz and Oriente?

Well connected by air with La Paz (1hr), Lima, Miami, Buenos Aires and São Paulo, Santa Cruz is easily combined with a visit to some of the continent’s greatest cities. If you love wilderness and history, combine the remote mountains of the Che Trail  or the circuit of isolated Jesuit missions in the Oriente with the high altitude puna of Argentina – a staggeringly other-worldly  extension of the Atacama desert specked with just a handful of tiny traditional subsistence villages – using a direct  flight from Salta in Argentina’s northwest.



How do I get to Santa Cruz and Oriente?

Santa Cruz is Bolivia's main airport hub, with flights arriving from The US, Europe, other Latin American countries (eg Miami, Lima, Madrid, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Cochabamba, Tarija, La Paz, Sucre)There's a good new paved road from Brazil, offering links with Corumbá and the Pantanal, and paved road links with other cities in Bolivia, though land journeys are necessarily long.

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Sucre and Potosi
Bolivia’s big four cities - La Paz, Sucre, Potosí and Santa Cruz - are so contrasting that they could be in different countries. La Paz teems and bustles, semi-tropical Santa Cruz is warm and laid-back, while Sucre, at 2,800m, is the sunny second city and legislative capital in the south. It is the epitome of an elegant, whitewashed, red-tile-roofed colonial city with baroque churches and shady plazas. Just two to three hours’ drive away on the chilly altiplano at 4,090m is the mining city Potosí, where grandiose architecture harks back to a history of prosperity when it hosted the Imperial Mint.
When's the best time to visit Sucre and Potosi?
Most rain falls Dec-Mar in both cities: there is a little less sunshine in this period in what are otherwise sunny cities. Potosí is at a higher altitude and can be very cold at night, especially in Jun-Jul.
What's the official language of Sucre and Potosi?

Spanish.

What's the time difference between Sucre, Potosi and UK?

GMT -4 hours.

What places combine well with Sucre and Potosi?

La Paz, (416km) Bolivia’s capital city accessible by air in 1hr; the salt lakes of Uyuni, close to the Chilean border; Santa Cruz in the eastern lowlands (260km), close to interesting Jesuit missions and bio-diverse Ambor National Park, 30 mins by air.

How do I get to Sucre and Potosi?

Fly to Sucre from La Paz (1hr) or Santa Cruz 30mins), Potosí is accessible by road from La Paz (11hrs), Uyuni (7hrs) and Sucre (2-3hrs).

What are the festivals and cultural events in Sucre and Potosi?

Carnival Minero (Potosí): Feb or Mar, 2 weeks before the Oruro Carnival. Miners dance down from the Cerro Rico, mineral-rich hill dominating the town, carrying the effigy of their god El Tio who normally resides underground.

End May: An exciting car rally begins and ends in Sucre.

Virgin de Guadalupe: 7-8 Sept in Sucre, fiesta singing and poetry, with traditional (is not an English word) dancing in costumes from all over the country.

Festival International de la Cultura: Oct-Nov, Sucre and Potosí: a fortnight of events.
How do I get local currency in Sucre and Potosi?

Peso boliviano. Notes in local currency can be withdrawn from several ATMs in central Sucre and Potosí. There are also money exchanges (casas de cambio), shops and banks which exchange US dollars. (a few may accept euros or sterling but the rate may be poor).

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Uyuni salt flats
Uyuni salt flats
In the remote bleak southern plains of the altiplano, at 3,656m, the visually stunning Salar de Uyuni salt lake stretches as a blinding white sheet of surreal, ethereal beauty. It is embossed with hexagonal patterns which look to be carved by man. In the rains it is covered with mirror-like surface water reflecting faithfully the ice blue sky and clouds, dissolving the horizon. Nearby are two vividly coloured lakes, Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde, their gemstone hues created by their high mineral content. The red lake is next to hissing geysers, while the green one sits at the foot of the 5,920m Licancabur volcano.
When to go

Most rain falls between January and April when the roads can be very muddy. The dry season, Jun-Sep, guarantees sun and an easy drive across the flats, but it can be very cold at night.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Peso boliviano. There are also money exchanges (casas de cambio) in Uyuni but it is best to acquire local currency from an ATM in a larger city beforehand.

Time difference

GMT -4 hours. 

Combines with

The Atacama Desert in Chile, a wilderness drive across the border from the salt lake to San Pedro de Atacama; visiting the mines and museums of Potosí, once the richest city in the world (140km by road). 

Getting there

Drive to Uyuni from Potosí (140km) or from Sucre (217km) and continue by 4WD. There are domestic flights between La Paz and Uyuni most days.

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La Paz and the altiplano
La Paz
Driving along the flat, windswept plains of the high-altitude altiplano, you are taken by surprise when you find yourself on the lip of a broad canyon brimming with the Lego-land of closely-packed buildings of Bolivia’s capital. At a dizzying 3,632m and overlooked by the ice-jacketed Mount Illimani, the city is a busy place with a compact historic centre from which endless quirky street markets fan out, selling everything from dried llama foetuses to cameras and Levi jeans. There are also modern boulevards with cool bars and ice cream parlours, where Aymara Indian ladies shuffle by in their traditional ponchos and bowler hats.
When's the best time to visit La Paz and the Andean altiplano?

The weather can be a critical factor: the city looks its colourful best in the sunlight Apr-Oct, in Dec-Jan it can be dull and chilly at this altitude (3,500-3,800m).

What's the official language of La Paz and Andean altiplano?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in La Paz and Andean altiplano?

Peso Boliviano. Notes in local currency and in some cases US dollars can be withdrawn from the many ATMs in prominent avenues eg Bolivian National Bank and Banco Mercantil de Santa Cruz.; there are many money exchanges (casas de cambio) and banks which exchange US dollars. (a few accept euros or sterling but the rate may be poor).

When withdrawing money from an ATM using a debit card, you are offered a choice of account type from which to make your withdrawal: select 'credit card' (ie NOT Current account or Savings Account options).

What's the time difference between La Paz and UK?

GMT -4 hours. 

What places combine well with La Paz and Andean altiplano?

A visit to Lake Titicaca, 122 km and a couple of hour’s drive away; Coroico (70km) in the semi-tropical Yungas over an icy Andean pass: get there by scenic road, cycle or hike; Sucre, Bolivia’s southern colonial second city accessible by air in an hour; the silver and tin mines of Potosí, prosperous key city in imperial times, 2-3 hrs drive from Sucre; the salt lakes of Uyuni, close to the Chilean border. 

How do I get to La Paz and Bolivian altiplano?
Average flight time is 16 hours. There are no direct flights from the UK to Bolivia; routes to La Paz involve a change of plane in Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid and Lima, Peru; or a change of plane via  the USA. 
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Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake at 3,812m, straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia. It ranks alongside the Iguazú Falls as one of the most extraordinary natural sights in Latin America: a vast sheet of cobalt blue water, peppered with golden islands and peninsulas harbouring traditional indigenous communities, it’s a culturally rich location. It was here in the sacred waters that the Inca Sun God was born. 

A regiment of snow-capped mountains – The Cordillera Real - defines the lake’s borders on the far horizon. The lake area is surprisingly well populated: the fertile soils on the lake shores support pretty adobe villages with fields stretching down to the water’s edge.

On the Peruvian side, close to the port of Puno, are the unique man-made reed islands of the Uros indians. The rugged, terraced islands of Amantani or Taquile, once lost in time, where the local population still lives a traditional way of life, now eagerly welcome visitors in a sensible, controlled way. Over the border in Bolivia are the serene islands of the Sun and the Moon, and the religious sanctuary of Copacabana, with a modest sandy beach, which lent its name to the somewhat larger one in Rio de Janeiro.
When's the best time to go to lake Titicaca?
Lake Titicaca is visited throughout the year, not least because it is on the main route between southern Peru and Bolivia. The dry season, when sunny days can be expected, runs May-Oct but in June and July it can be below freezing at night.  Rain falls Jan-Mar and the lake becomes grey and choppy, but still atmospheric.
What's the official language at Lake Titicaca?

Spanish.

What's the official currency at Lake Titicaca?
Peru: Nuevo Sol; Bolivia: Peso Boliviano. Notes in local currency or US dollars can be withdrawn from banks in Puno using a UK credit or debit card.  Money exchange offices exchange US dollars cash (few accept euros or sterling and the rate may be poor). In Copacabana, Bolivia, there’s a bank which offers advances on a Visa card and casas de cambio which exchange US dollars and Peruvian Soles. Commission rates are generally higher than in the major towns and cities.
What's the time difference between GMT and Lake Titicaca?
GMT -5 hours (Peru); -4 (Bolivia).
What countries combine well with Lake Titicaca?

Cusco, Peru 6-9 hours by road or 10 hours by train; La Paz, Bolivia (155km).

How do I get to lake Titicaca?

Travel to Puno (Peru), by train from Cusco (10 hours) or by road (6-9 hours). Fly to Juliaca from Lima or Arequipa, 1 hour and 30 mins respectively; from here it’s a 45 minute drive to Puno. It’s a couple of hour’s drive and short ferry ride to Copacabana from La Paz (3.5 hours).

What are the festivals and cultural events at Lake Titicaca?

Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria: Puno and Copacabana, early Feb. Dance competitions, re-enactments of local Aymara legends, masked processions, much drinking and generalboisterousness.

Semana Santa (Easter): Candelight processions in Puno, pilgrims walking the stations of the cross in Copacabana.

Foundation of Puno: Puno, 5 Nov. Impressive pageant, and enactment of Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo emerging from the waters of the lake.   

Independencia: Copacabana, first week of August. Animated music, parades, fireworks, boozing.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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