There are plenty of oft-traveled destinations out there familiar to tourists around the world.
And then there’s Bolivia.
Until fairly recently a land as mysterious as it is multi-faceted (geographically and ethnographically), Bolivia’s secluded location in the heart of the Andes Mountains made traveling just hard enough to discourage all but the most determined visitors—and also allowed it to maintain its own cultural character. Globalization, in other words, has not had much of a chance to make homogenizing inroads. Team Bolivia, for example, didn’t make its first appearance in the World Cup until 1994.
What that means for Toto travelers embarking on our Secrets of Bolivia: Hidden Land tour next August is a rare opportunity to spend time in a place that is truly different.
“On our first expedition to Bolivia we started in La Paz, at dizzying heights,” said Toto President Dan Ware. “This time we’ll start in the tropical lowlands and work our way higher to better acclimatize. On this second adventure, participants will have the benefit of itinerary enhancements gleaned from our previous experience.
“A first for us will be our exploration of the otherworldly Uyuni Salt Flats, where we will stay in a hotel built out of salt blocks. Also, our Bolivian guide, Vladimir, is one of the best guides we’ve had anywhere, and he not only knows the sights, history and culture, but provides insights into what it is like to live as a gay man in Bolivia.”
Before hitting the heights, we’ll begin in the lowlands at Santa Cruz for a relaxing first day of individual exploration and a welcome dinner before an official sightseeing tour the next morning—visiting the Main Square, the Cathedral and the city’s traditional neighborhoods. (Bolivia has the largest population of indigenous people of any South American country.) After lunch, we’ll drive to the Samaipata Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site and an archeological treasure including remnants of three cultures: Inca, Spanish and the pre-Columbian Chanè people. Highlights include a large rock ridge almost entirely covered by Inca and pre-Inca carvings.
After one more night in Santa Cruz, we’ll begin our upward journey with a flight to Sucre, Bolivia’s beautiful capital
city. Also a World Heritage Site, Sucre has much to offer including its Independence Hall and Main Square, a textile and ethnographic museum, the large, wooded Parque Bolivar (complete with a two-story tower created by the designer of the Eiffel Tower) and, surprisingly, a park protecting one of the world’s largest areas of dinosaur footprints—more than 5,000 in all.
We’ll spend two days and two nights in Sucre to get used to the altitude before driving onward and upward to the old mining town of Potosi, one of the world’s highest cities at 13,420 feet. Potosi features the Royal Mint and a beautiful main square and cathedral, but the main attraction is its silver mine (once a great source of riches to the Spanish Empire), which we’ll visit the next morning to see how mining is carried on there today much as it has in the past.
Potosi is also not far from the afore-mentioned Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat (covering 10,000 square kilometers), near the crest of the Andes. After an afternoon drive, we’ll check into our five-star hotel, constructed entirely from salt. Then we’ll spend the next day on a 4×4 jeep tour of Uyuni highlights including a small salt-mining village, the Inca Wasi Island, with its giant cactus, and the extinct Thunupa Volcano.
Finally, we will fly to La Paz, the world’s highest administrative capital (Sucre, also a capital city, is home to Bolivia’s judicial branch), on the Andes’ Altiplano plateau. After arrival, though, we’ll transfer by coach to Copacabana (not the one Barry Manilow sings about), a colorful town on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable fresh water lake. Following an afternoon tour featuring a large 16th-century basilica shrine to Our Lady of Copacabana (the country’s patron saint) and an overnight stay, we’ll travel by hydrofoil to Sun Island, the site of more than 180 Incan ruins. Then, after sunset on the lake, it’s back on the coach to La Paz. The tour’s final day features a sightseeing tour of the city’s indigenous, colonial and modern areas, plus delights such as the Indian Market, the Witch Doctor’s Market, the San Francisco Church and the Parliament building—all set against the magnificent backdrop of Illimani, the tallest peak in the Cordillera Real of western Bolivia.
In other words, our exploration of the hidden treasures of Bolivia concludes, most appropriately, on a beautiful high.