San Pedro de Atacama
We spent a few days around Backpackers Central in Northern Chile. Tourist towns offer higher prices but often good foods we miss. The highlight of the town was the French bakery with amazing Pan au Chocolat and baguette. We visited a few spots near the town, mainly a couple viewpoints and flamingos. Pretty much all the spots you could wild camp at years ago are now only accessible if you book a tour from the city so it was overall a bit of a dud.
Apart from the Carretera Austral probably the most famouse route in South America. Starting at the border to Bolivia at 4600m, the Lagunas Route is a high altitude and otherworldly adventure. However, at least at this time of the year it was not nearly as remote as we expected it to be. The route is completly run over by tour agencys that stuff 5-7 people into a Toyota Land Cruiser and shuttle the from one Laguna to the next. Nevertheless the landscape is spectacular!
We spent the first night at the Laguna Colorada where we met a retiered German couple. They were so nice to invite us over in the evening into there heated Bermach camper. Ah, the luxuries of bigger Overland vehicles!
We expected to spend a few nights up here, but the bitter cold and Mitzi’s altitude sickness symptoms pushed us to drive through in just two days/one night.
Salar de Uyuni
This was the highlight of Bolivia for us. We’ve been looking forward to it for a while and it totally exceeded our expectations. We happened to be there the same time as our friends Tyler and Megan, who we haven’t seen since our sprint to Patagonia. We spent 3 days on the salt flats taking silly photos, watching beautiful sunsets, and Rachel even managed a run with Megan on the salt at 3700m.
We almost skipped the city altogether, but decided to hop in for a quick tour of the old town. The old town was nicer than expected and a good place to stretch the legs and lungs at 4000m. It’s always amazing how people live up at such high altitudes as if it’s no big deal. Before entering Bolivia we heard from many other Overlandars who have been to Bolivia that the Police here is the most corrupt of all in Latin America. So far we only had one encounter in Ecuador but that was about to change. Just after leaving Potosí a Taxi driver heading the other way was flashing his lights at us like a maniac. We expected a Police check nearby, so we slowed down a bit and indeed, around the corner there was the Police with a radar gun. They flagged us down immediatly and showed as the reading on the gun, it was set at 99km/h. Ben laughed at him and just kept saying no way we gonna pay. After a few minutes of back and forth they let us go. Welcome to Bolivia!
A bit further down the road we spent a night at popular hot springs near the city. The pool was too hot to survive the whole hour we booked but it was relaxing.
This colonial city is beautiful, chaotic, fun, dirty, and full of life. After the heavily European-influenced lifestyle in Chile and Argentine, we felt like we are back in Latin-America again! The architecture is lovely but with narrow sidewalks and lack any pedestrian zones. The most exciting for us was the market: we’re back in fruit land! We gorged on mango, chiramoya, fruit juices and more. And more fun city life, an old woman on the street randomly stopped Rachel to sell a live rooster from her shopping bag.
From Sucre we headed east, dropping below 2000m where we will stay for the rest of the trip!
Ruta del Che
From Sucre we took winding back roads past beautiful rolling green hills. We slept by the shore the Rio Grande and explored cute towns full of statues dedicated to Che Guevara. Wait, what?! We found ourselves following the footsteps of the man that has inspired oh so many hipster T-shirts. He was assassinated in Bolivia while attempting to build a guerrilla army. Not that we’re Che fans, but it’s interesting to see and learn a bit about his influence on the region.
Samaipata is of those towns you’ve never heard of before you hit the road yet when you arrive you feel like the only person that hadn’t. We were there over a long holiday weekend (Solstice) and the proximity to Santa Cruz makes it a popular destination. Even the waterfalls 2 hours away from town down a bumpy dirt road were hopping with people! The good part is on our drive to Santa Cruz, there was so much traffic that one of the most notoriously corrupt police check points in South America didn’t stop us. The spot is well known to target foreigners and invent fines/fees to try to get a bribe, but being car 5 in a 20 car line up was to our benefit.
Santa Cruz de la Sierra
The economic heart of Bolivia isn’t too scenic for tourists. We stayed outside of the city at a lovely little camp and did some much needed shopping. And don’t judge us, but after many months without it, a pilgrimage to Starbucks was in order.
Jesuit Missions Loop
Jesuit Missionaries have been in Eastern Bolivia since the late 1600’s, and in mid-1750’s, Swiss Martin Schmid built a series of unique missions that mixed European and Indigenous style with a lot of wood in the construction. These missions fell into disrepair after the Spanish banished the Jesuits. Then in the 1970’s another Swiss Jesuit, Hans Roth, came over and restored them. They now adorn a UNESCO world heritage label and were the most unique churches we’ve seen in a long time. The region is in the hot and muggy lowlands so it’s fortunate we were here in the winter.
After that we had one last stop in Bolivia at a hot river, a perfect last stop in Bolivia and only 2 1/2 hours away from the border to Brazil.