Marg and Leigh's travels around the world

We are two retired women from New Zealand, busy travelling the world. Our quest is to experience other cultures before they are changed beyond recognition, and see endangered animals and environments before they disappear. We hope you like our blog and enjoy our exploits. We sure have had fun getting here.

Friday, 21 October 2016

La Paz and Copacabana (Bolivia)

La Paz

Leaving Cochabamba, our bus got us safely to La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia, and the highest national capital in the world with altitudes of 3,100 plus metres.

The bowl of La Paz
We entered through an area called El Alto which is the highest part of the city, located 4,000 meters above sea level. From there we had an amazing view down into the bowl that is La Paz central.

The mountains forming the bowl shaped valley were covered with snow, and not far below were thousands of houses, haphazardly perched all over the hills - what an amazing sight!

The bus crawled down through the hills to the bus station and from there we caught a taxi to Hotel Rosario.

Street market
This hotel proved to be a good choice as it was in a handy location in the old part of the city.

Around our hotel, there seemed to be heaps of impromptu markets and street sellers.

We realized later that the whole city has these street markets and that's where everyone shops - no supermarkets here. 

La Paz also has a 'witches market'.

Witches market
It sells odd stuff that you imagine a witch would use, such as dried frogs and llama foetus etc.

It was right near our hotel. It seemed small with only about 4 stalls, whereas, once it apparently ran the length of the whole street.

We think it will disappear sooner rather than later (not many witches creating a demand for these items nowadays!).

It was fascinating.

Women here still wear full Cholita outfit contributing to the vibrancy and colour of this interesting city.

Plaza Murilo
We explored small and large streets and walked down through Plaza San Francisco and the Prado in the city centre.

After a good look around those areas, we headed up steep streets to Plaza Murila, a lovely square surrounded by imposing colonial style government buildings.

Later, and with a little puffing, we got to Calle Jaen.

This is a lovely old area with a cobbled pedestrian street full of very attractive preserved colonial buildings, most of which are now museums.

Next day, we took a ride up and down the hills on the Teleferico (cable car); an interesting part of the La Paz public transport system. Rising up to El Alto we got fantastic views of the city below.

Walking back to our hotel afterwards was interesting - we passed people selling anything and everything on the side of the road. There were hundreds of people swarming in all directions over the road trying to avoid the masses of buses and taxis that roared through them. Chaos!

Puerto de la Luna-Tiwanaku (UNESCO)
One day, we took a local mini-bus for a 2 hour drive to the UNESCO site of Tiwanaku. The site holds the ruins of the capital of a pre-Inca empire that flourished from AD 300 to 1000. It was amazing with two museums and five enclosures, gateways and temples.

These impressive structures were built from stones weighing more than 25 tons which were somehow moved from the other side of Lake Titicaca over 100 kilometres away.

When we finished our tour we went looking for the mini-bus back to town only to be told it wasn't going for another two hours!

Puerta de Sol-Tiwanaku (UNESCO)
For a vastly inflated price, the driver offered to take us back early by ourselves.

Then two young Ecuadorian guys showed up and also wanted to also return to La Paz.

We told them that we would share the price and luckily, with their Spanish and clever bargaining skills, we got a good deal, quick return, and interesting company back to La Paz.

We really enjoyed La Paz and particularly its old Colonial centre. We had lots of great meals there, including llama hamburgers and alpaca steaks. We got to try local fruits, like yummy cactus fruit, and different breads and wheat and corn products. Overall, we found it to be a vibrant and interesting city.


Bus on barge across Tiquina Strait-Lake Titicaca
After a good break in La Paz, we caught a bus to Copacabana which is on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, and 3,850 m above sea level.

Our bus was a tour bus rather than a local bus, so it was full of tourists. 

The trip gave us our first views of Lake Titicaca as the road wound through the hills. At around the half way point, we had to leave the bus and board a ferry to cross over part of the lake known as Tiquina Strait, while our bus came over separately on a barge.

View of Lake Titicaca from hotel room
While we were waiting we had a nice time chatting to some of the other passengers; a young guy from France and a couple from Brazil and England. It was interesting to share travel experiences before getting back on the bus.

Reaching Copacabana, the bus driver dropped us right at our hotel, Hotel Estelar del Largo Titicaca, which was in a great spot. We had uninterrupted views of the lake with lots of boats moored in front of our room.

Village on Isla del Sol-Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, and by volume of water it is the largest lake in South America.

Copacabana is a tourist town with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, travel agents and boat companies on the shores of this most amazing lake.

From Copacabana, we took a trip to Isla del Sol which is in the middle of Lake Titicaca.  It is a rocky, hilly island with no motor vehicles or paved roads, many ancient ruins and traditional villages.

Isla del Sol friends
We landed at the north end and were delighted to discover people who we had first met on our bus trip to Copacabana, Bruno and Lorna, plus their friend. We walked the Island together, exploring the ancient ruins at the top of the island.

While there, we were told that if we wished to walk to the southern end of the Island where we were to catch our boat, we would have to walk fast to get there in time!

Isla del Sol views
The trail is approximately 11 kms, and goes up steep hills and down again, which was a little challenging at times in the high altitude.

But the views were spectacular and we had a great time walking and chatting.

Different villages along the way charge a toll to walk the track but the money all goes into its upkeep, which is fantastic.

The last part was a most amazing series of very rugged and steep steps that went on forever to get down to the shore and our boat.

We were starting to run late for the boat at this stage so we had to race down as fast as we possibly could. Not easy considering the steepness and irregular nature of the steps.

Isla del Sol donkey
Also there were lots of people going up and down, plus donkeys carrying loads up. The donkeys would stop to one side to let people go past - very cute. Eventually, we made it to the boat in time and headed back to Copacabana tired but happy after a great trek with interesting people.

Time to move on so we caught another bus - Tour Peru - to get us across the border out of Bolivia and on to Puno which is on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.

A note on Bolivia now that we are moving on - Find the time visit this country. It is raw and interesting and cheap and is changing rapidly. We predict that within the next 5 years, it will be much more ‘westernised’ which is a shame as we found it fascinating just as it is.

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