Best of Bolivia: From the Badlands of Tupiza to the Salar de Uyuni

On the bus from Cocha to Tupiza

On the bus from Cocha to Tupiza

My trip to Tupiza/Uyuni didn’t start off too well, at first. For some reason I had thought that my bus took off at 3 pm not 2:30, so by the time I got in line for the wrong Illimani bus at Cochabamba’s busy bus terminal, a man (who sold me my ticket the day before) came running up to me while my actual bus was taking off out of the terminal parking lot.

You were supposed to be here at 2:30!” he said to me, exasperated and in Spanish. I told him that I thought that I was supposed to arrive at 2:30pm but that the bus would actually take off at 3pm. Who knew the buses would leave on time?

Tiffany, tu faltaste”, he scolded me as he radioed in to try and stop the bus from leaving me behind.

After a few frantic minutes, he finally found a taxi that could help me chase after my bus and try to catch it at its first stop, just outside of the city.

My driver was really sweet. He was a young father in his mid 20’s who actually lived in Sweden for about five years to make money to send back to his family. We got a chance to learn a lot about each other as he raced down Cochabamba’s busy streets in search of my bus. Like many cab drivers, he asked me why I was traveling solo…why I was still single at 34 and didn’t have kids…and why I could speak Spanish. “That’s just the way life is in California sometimes”, I replied.

After a 25 minute cab ride, I ( finally did get to my bus just before it took off again for its next stop. “A minute more and we would have left you behind!” the bus driver told me. 

The next 16 hours of my bus ride were just as “adventurous” as my journey to board it: I got a chance to watch a lightning storm strike the ground on wide open landscapes (I’ve never really seen bolts of lightning before!) and see beautiful sunsets over the mountains and the valley. I also had a two hour-long talk in Spanish with some guy next to me that was traveling to Tupiza with his family. But the most “exciting” part by far was enduring the bus’ rubber-like swaying at each mountain curve that we turned. I couldn’t sleep at all throughout the night. On top of it all, it was pretty cold on the bus (all the locals on the bus knew better and brought blankets for the trip). Rain seeped in from the windows and fell on me as I tried to sleep.

The journey

The journey

Fortunately, we arrived safely to the Tupiza bus terminal around 6 am. I was exhausted and pretty zombie-like at that point, but I had no place to rest. I meandered down the streets until I found the La Torre – Tupiza Tours office so that I could start my epic four day jeep journey from Tupiza to Uyuni that morning.

Since I booked my tour over email and not in person, I really didn’t know what to expect from the trip – or even, what I needed to bring or do for the tour. I just knew that I was going to see the salt flats of Uyuni and some amazing landscapes.

That last statement is actually an understatement. It was AAAAMMAZZINGLY gorgeous!!

For the next four days, I spent most of my time traveling in a jeep with two other tourists from Switzerland, our guide Juan Carlos, and his mama – who cooked for us during the trip. Besides our jeep, there were a handful of other jeeps that were also doing the same route as us (but from different tour companies), so I had a little bit of a chance to meet some other folks along the way.

There’s not much to say but to show the trip in pictures. If you like landscapes and nature and don’t mind driving in a jeep for most of your day, this is the tour for you.

DAY 1: FROM TUPIZA TO THE MOUNTAINS

We started off in Tupiza by driving to a mirador of the Badlands:

Tupiza's Badlands

Tupiza’s Badlands

Blue and red mountains

Blue and red mountains

We later stopped off for lunch behind a small adobe church. I learned that just the day before I arrived, a bus from the same exact bus company (leaving the exact same time of the day) had hit a curve on the way from Cochabamba to Tupiza and crashed – EIGHT people died! SO FCKING CRAZY! While the odds are generally in your favor, the buses out here are really a crap shoot…you just never know what might happen…

Lunchtime in a small town behind a church

Lunchtime in a small town behind a church

Like most of my tour guides in Peru and Bolivia, our trip’s tour guide, Juan Carlos, was a local who actually grew up in one of the small towns we stayed at with his family. He told us about how he and his family once went to a party at a neighboring town and had to walk a day in the rain to get there. The rain was so heavy that the way to get they were pretty much walking through a river that that point.

Ostrich crossing

Llamas grazing in the distance

Llamas grazing in the distance

Later that day, we drove past fields of llamas and a few random ostriches to arrive at the small town that we would stay at for the night. Despite the rain, we went up on a hill nearby to check out the landscape. We accidentally scared all the sheep out of their pen though – their owner was a little bit pissed!

A rainbow near our small town hostel

A rainbow near our small town hostel

Sheep checking us out

Sheep checking us out

A view of the town, from the hillside

A view of the town, from the hillside

Cold but pretty happy

Cold, but pretty happy with my baby alpaca hat

Since we had to get up at 4 in the morning to be on our way the next day, we made like old people and went to bed at 8 pm, to the sounds of the rain and the other tour groups singing and playing songs on their guitar into the night.

My bed(s) for the night, Day 1

My bed(s) for the night, Day 1

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