South America: the other Copacabana

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When I revealed the big itinerary to my family and friends of my upcoming South America trip, the one part where everyone stopped was – wait, Copacabana?! Isn’t that in Brazil? But you’re not going to Brazil?!

Copacabana, the Brazilian beach which even has a song named after it. However, the Copacabana I was going to was not in Brazil, it was in Bolivia. The more off-the-beaten-track kind-of Copacabana. It is only a few hours north of La Paz, and sits beautifully on Lake Titicaca and a short drive from the Peruvian border. It is a great stopover for travelers making their way into/from Peru and enjoy the laid-back lakeside lifestyle.

We decided to stay the night to break up the journey from La Paz before a long overnight coach journey to Cusco. That alone was worth it. After grabbing lunch when we first had to find our hostel.

The hostel was on an unmarked road and I couldn’t get online directions to it. After a lot of guesswork, asking anyone and everyone along the way, we climbed (crawled) up the massive hill to the hostel. Of course it had to be the one most furthest away! With a 20kg rucksack on and the high altitude, it was a struggle. Note: just get a taxi in future.

We dropped our bags off and had a quick look at the room. Although the climb up the hill was brutal, and we would have to do it later when we got back, the views were incredible of the lake – especially with our own terrace.

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We raced down the hill to catch the boat to hike the south-side of Isla del Sol. The sun was shining and the hike was beautiful. It was a one-hour boat ride each way, so by the time we got to the island, I was exhausted, and still had to hike an hour up and around the thing!

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Copacabana has many options for food and drink, and its restaurants on the lake-front with sun terraces are a big hit. The food is nothing special by any means – but it is cheap and the sunset was the best of the trip.

You could also just stay an afternoon in Copacabana between La Paz and Cusco to make the most of Isla del Sol – this is the most popular option; however we enjoyed having a extra day there to relax and enjoy a bit of the sun. Even though it was still not that warm, it was the warmest it had been of the entire trip as we were bit by bit edging farther north and closer to the Equator.

Next stop, Peru!

 

An Afternoon in La Paz, Bolivia

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When planning the itinerary with the intention to travel from Chile, through Bolivia and into Peru, it was difficult to avoid La Paz. It is the easiest and in our case, the most affordable way to cross the land border into Peru, coming from Sucre and the Salt Flats.

However, reading up about La Paz beforehand, and hearing accounts of travelers who had just come from there, it did fill me with a mix of wonder and anxiety about what I would find there.

We had an afternoon to see the main sights before continuing  on our journey to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. La Paz is a stark contrast with the capital, Sucre; poverty much more striking and its size is overwhelming. Only a 50 minute flight though, we got there very easily and the taxi drove us straight to our hostel no problem.

Our hostel was on the main street in the centre and close to restaurants, a church which we would visit and the market. The hostel was cheap but cheerful, and they cleaned our laundry which was in great need of being done!

An afternoon in La Paz was more than enough. Everything was in walking distance. Our first stop was the Iglesia de San Francisco – a guided tour was included and it was a fascinating place to visit, especially for its incredible murals and paintings. We also rode up the teleferico (cable car) which, for a few bolivianos you can hop on and really appreciate the grand scale of this city. We walked around the market but nothing stood out to us, except for the dead llamas hanging above one or two stalls…

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On the Church roof…

La Paz was the one place on the trip where I did not feel safe at all. A lot of poverty and you didn’t know who you were going to bump into on the street. There were political protests where people were sitting in the roads all day, meaning no traffic could circulate. Mostly peaceful except for one area where the protest was more lively. It came with some relief that our BoliviaHop bus collected us early the next morning to move on to our next destination…

We actually had a good time in La Paz, but I was very weary the whole time. I do urge anyone considering travel there to read up on what to expect and be prepared!

Next stop…Copacabana (the Bolivian one)

 

Bolivia: Why you shouldn’t miss out Sucre

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La Paz and the Salt Flats – that is the basic itinerary for most travellers to Bolivia that we met along the way – yet Bolivia is such a diverse country and what better way to see a slice of its history than by visiting its capital?

Sucre is so small compared to the giant La Paz, however it has a lovely charm and it would be easy to spend a few days to weeks roaming its streets. In comparison to La Paz, Sucre and Uyuni are much safer places to visit and I never once felt uneasy there.

We arrived at the bus station in Sucre and bargained for a taxi – 50p each for a 30 minute taxi journey – okay..? It turned out our taxi driver had no dashboard – it was on the wrong side of the car and didn’t work and he had to wind the windows down to be able to open the doors. We shared the ride with two Swiss guys, who informed us that they had just quit their stressful jobs and felt liberated – of course they were teachers (ha!). The car managed to get there in one piece to our hotel! Welcome to Sucre…

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Despite the rather crazy taxi journey, Sucre is home to beautiful colonial architecture and museums which are well worth visiting. The Museo del tesoro on the main square is worth a visit if you are interested in the history of mining precious metals in Bolivia and its jewellery. We arrived just after the museum opened in the morning and received a private tour of the museum included in our ticket.

On our first morning however, we left our hotel to the sounds of a procession of some kind in the street. Bolivia really likes brass bands, especially with processions we found out during our trip.

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Just a procession, in the street, holding up the traffic, totally normal…

We spent just one day in Sucre which we felt was sufficient – but it is worth visiting the most beautiful city in Bolivia!

How to Survive the Bolivian Salt Flats

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Definitely a highlight of our entire South America trip, the Bolivian Salt Flats are a must in South America – but it is important to read up and prepare before you go! Here are our top tips to survive…

1 . A good 4-season sleeping bag.

We brought our own for the trip and they were necessary for the Salt Flats. It got to -20 degrees Celsius on the first night, with my water bottle freezing, however inside my sleeping bag I was very toasty! Some tour companies will let you rent some, but it’s always good to have your own.

2. Water and snacks

We were told to bring enough water and snacks to last us three days – for everything. We ended up bringing more than we needed as they did actually provide us with some drinks at lunch and hot tea in the evenings. However, if you run out, there are not many places along the way to restock. All meals provided were good – we ate well and didn’t starve!

3. Wrap up warm

Wear thermals, even in the day it is cold. Layer up as it can get warmer/colder quickly

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4. Take it slowly

The altitude in some places is very high. We slept on the first night at 4800m, which resulted in massive headaches and me needing to go on oxygen for 5 minutes upon arrival at the refuge. Most people on the trip were altitude sick at some point. When you are able to go off and explore the sites, refrain from walking too far. Although it would not normally be strenuous, with so little oxygen, our bodies tire much more easily and we end up paying for it later in the day. If you push yourself too far and need to go straight to Uyuni due to illness, your entire group (6 of you) have to go together, meaning the rest cannot complete the tour – you need to push through as best you can!

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5. Go in the hot springs

First day, crazy windy, freezing. Getting changed into my swimsuit outside and sitting in some springs? Nope. I would rather keep warm in my clothes. However, I was eventually persuaded, through fear of FOMO and it looking clean. It was worth it as my bones and muscles really warmed up in the natural springs, and it made a difference for the rest of the day!

6. Brush up on your Spanish

This wasn’t relevant as a fluent Spanish-speaker, but I can see the issue if you don’t have anyone in your group who can speak Spanish. Our driver spoke several languages including Spanish, Quechua and some broken English. He spoke all the time in Spanish with us, and it would have been impossible to understand his advice, his knowledge as a guide, his jokes or anything really, without Spanish. It would have been much less enjoyable if we had no clue what was going on. Luckily 4 out of 6 of us spoke Spanish, so we were able to translate for the English-speakers.

7. Research your tour company carefully

We had heard many horror stories of drunk and dangerous drivers, rip-off tours etc. so we carefully chose a reputable company that was a little more expensive but that we knew would look after us and get us there in one piece!

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Our awesome guide, Casimiro!

8. Have an amazing time

It was a blast, and we saw so many things on the three day trip – not just salt flats but cacti as old as 1,000 years, lagoons, volcanoes and crazy rock formations.

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9. Book a nice hotel to stay in when you get to Uyuni/San Pedro

We were the only ones staying in Uyuni after the tour – everyone else went straight on to Potosí/Sucre/La Paz. We booked a lovely 4* salt hotel, with a warm shower and comfy bed. We ate at a fancy restaurant and had an early night (before watching Game of Thrones of course!). This was all I needed after roughing it for three days in the salt flats. An 8-hour bus journey to Sucre would have been unbearable after all that!

Next time…on to Sucre – the capital of Bolivia!

 

Returning to Peru: 3 things I’m looking forward to

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When I visited Peru back in August 2013, I did say to myself that I would return one day, but I didn’t think that day would come only four years later.

In less than two months, I will throw my backpack on and return to South America, on a journey which will not only cover Peru but also parts of Chile and Bolivia. I absolutely loved Peru, although it doesn’t always bring back fond memories, considering the terrible altitude sickness I suffered from on our treks.


I am looking forward to exploring more of this country, and returning to some familiar places.

Practice my Spanish…

When I first visited Peru, I had only been studying Spanish for one year at university. I managed to hold conversations and barter in markets but it will be great to go back and hopefully speak Spanish with more confidence.

Visit some new places…

I’m looking forward to spending a few days in the capital, Lima, at the end of our three week trip – all I saw was the chaos of the airport, which is making me nervous about stepping out of those airport doors again! We will also be visiting Lake Titicaca which I didn’t see last time either.

 Retrace my steps…

As well as seeing some new sites, I am really looking forward to returning to familar ones. We are spending about 4 days in Cusco. I loved Cusco as it had such a great feel to it and the markets were incredible. It will give us some time to chill and see the sites and maybe do a day trip somewhere.

I am also returning to Aguas Calientes (love the eggy hot springs!) and Machu Picchu. J. really couldn’t go to Peru without seeing Machu Picchu, now could he? It did mean forking out a fortune though for the train tickets but it had to be done.

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Machu Picchu

I wish I didn’t have to do the early morning hike there though from Aguas Calientes. I have done it before, and I don’t need to prove I can do it to anyone, not even myself, as I have already done it. The bus this time is appealing, but J. wants to experience it himself, so he is going to have to deal with me whining and complaining all the way up there!


There is so much more of Peru that we aren’t exploring this time, as we are wanting to see the Atacama desert in Chile before working our way up through Bolivia circling round again to Peru, but that only gives me the excuse to go back…

What do you love about Peru?