Goodbye Salt Flats …
After finishing our tour of the Salt Flats in Uyuni we decided to fly to La Paz instead of sitting in a bus for eight hours, which had no appeal for anyone.
La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia and sits over 3,500m above sea level with close to one million inhabitants. The Canadian Government Travel Smart app had many safety and security warnings about La Paz. But we found it to be a very friendly city with good food and interesting sites.
On the plane from Uyuni to La Paz Hannah sat beside a British couple, “David and Victoria – like the Beckhams”. They let us know the taxi prices to the hotel and assured us the area was completely safe, provided you keep your head. With that in mind we took a cab from the airport for 80BOB+20BOB tip ($18.72CAD) and expected a long ride because of heavy traffic.
The Rosario Hotel
A minor gaffe on our part with the reservations meant we would have only one room for the first night of the three nights in La Paz. The staff found a solution and gave us a suite with a bedroom and a studio room including a dining area and a bathroom. The price included breakfast which was very good. (Actually, Colleen knew she only booked one room, as there was only one available for the first night, and gambled that the hotel would work something out. Beats switching hotels.)
The first morning we heard what sounded like gun fire. Thinking back to the Canadian Embassy security warnings I was convinced that we were hearing sporadic gunfire in the distance. Colleen felt the same way.
The hotel staff at the front desk had no idea what we were talking about (Gringo Loco). And a brief internet search (because google is your friend) and an e-mail to the Canadian Embassy (why not?) confirmed that what we were hearing was likely firecrackers echoing across the mountains. It seems that in most of South America, at least in La Paz, Cusco, Lima and Quito, locals set off firecrackers as part of celebrations like weddings.
Wandering Around Town
The Witches’ Market
According to wikipedia, the area is known as El Mercado de las Brujas and it is run by local witch doctors known as yatiri. They sell potions, powders, dried frogs, medicinal plants, and dried llama fetuses.
Taxi to Copacabana
We looked at options to get from Copacabana by bus and found the prices to be almost as high as taking a private car/taxi. So we opted to book a taxi through the hotel which was exorbitant. On the street we found a number of official taxis that were willing to negotiate a price. We ended up paying 700BOB ($131CAD) for the five of us for the five hour trip. Normally we consider giving a tip for good service but we ended up paying 100BOB in advance for fuel (out of the 700BOB) and also for the ferry (40BOB ($7.49CAD) for the car and 10BOB ($1.87CAD) for the five of us as passengers.
Copacabana sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca and is very close to the border with Peru. It is a western backpacker haven and a tourist Mecca for local Peruvians and Bolivians who enjoy water sports, biking and eating along the shore line.
We stayed at the sister hotel of the one in La Paz and thoroughly enjoyed its view of the lake and the large rooms. Dining was a treat as the local delicacy is ‘trucha’ which is trout. We ate in local food stalls that line the road adjacent to the beach. Stall number 17 and 23 were particularly good. An interesting fact is that locals believe that the trout was introduced into Lake Titicaca from Canada in the 1930s. According to the Smithsonian Magazine the United States was the actual supplier but it was nice to hear everyone thinks it was Canada.
Cerro El Calvario (Calvary Hill)
Information on Calvary Hill was pretty scant so I found another blogger, Lowell Silverman, who did a fairly good research job when he visited in 2016.
The whole area of Copacabana, including Lake Titicaca and the two mountains on either side, is sacred to the Inca. With Spanish colonization many of the sacred spots were “Christianized” and Copacabana became widely known for the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Copacabana (Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana) which was constructed in 1668.
In the tradition of the Inca high places are particularly sacred, so the Mountain is an area to be revered and worshipped. The Spanish overlaid their religious icons and churches on those sacred areas of the Inca. The replication of Calvary Hill (where Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem) was completed in 1951 by the Bolivian government as an additional pilgrimage site.
We stayed in Copacabana three nights before taking the “Bolivia Hop” bus to Peru. The bus was clean and pleasant, although the organization at the front end was a little chaotic. The staff was excellent, getting us through the border, organizing dinner in Puno, and then providing a paid taxi from the bus station to the hotel in Cusco. Overall, it was great service.
One of the most beautiful cities we have visited, Cusco was the former capital of the Inca Empire until the conquest by the Spanish in the 15th century. The Old City retains a strong Spanish Colonial feel with the surrounding hills supporting old Inca ruins.
Our plan was to be spend a few days touring the city before heading to Machu Picchu on a jungle trek. Unfortunately, our plans were scuttled when Colleen fell deathly ill with stomach problems and vertigo. Ben, Rob and Hannah had mild forms of the illness. Our stay extended to eight nights in two different hotels before we all felt well enough to travel to Agua Calientes.
Lunch at Sumac
The food, the people, the mountains and culture are awesome in Bolivia and in Peru. We were sorry to move on from Cusco without exploring it more. But Machu Picchu awaits ….