Arrive in La Paz at any time. Founded by Alonso de Mendoza in 1548, La Paz's proper name is La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (the City of Our Lady of Peace). Although Sucre is the official capital, La Paz is the Bolivian centre of commerce, finance and industry, and the de facto capital. This is a busy modern city, with its centre at the base of a canyon 5 km (3 miles) wide and sprawling impromptu housing all the way up the surrounding hillsides. The city is at nearly 4000 m (13,120 ft) above sea level, so visitors should be prepared for cool evenings and mornings. Explore the city’s many fine museums or its historic ecclesiastical structures, such as the Iglesia de San Francisco, whose architectural details reflect the indigenous and mestizo heritage of modern Bolivia. The city is also renowned for its many markets, including the Mercado de Hechicería (Witches’ Market), where Paceños and visitors may purchase potions and incantations made from all sorts of herbs, seeds, and secret ingredients to remedy any number of illnesses (real or imagined) and protect from evil spirits. With streets lined with market stalls and vendors, the pace on the street and the vibrant atmosphere is an incredible experience. There is also a thriving black market and a Carnaval market, where locals purchase carnival costumes. You’ll also find a wealth of shops selling all sorts of handicrafts, mainly alpaca wool products, silver jewellery, woven textiles and leather goods. Optional activities in La Paz include museums, a tour of the Valley of the Moon, or a visit to the world’s highest ski resort, Chacaltaya (5600 m/18,368 ft). To the south of the city is the Valley of the Moon, with crater-like formations made of sand.
Spend the day exploring La Paz before boarding an overnight bus on day 2 to Sucre. Often referred to as Bolivia’s White City, the country’s official capital, Sucre, is situated at nearly 2800m (9184 ft) and offers its visitors and inhabitants a more moderate, comfortable climate than cities at higher elevation. After getting settled from the overnight bus, we tackle the city as there is a lot to offer during our two days here. Optional activities include a visit to dinosaur footprints, a visit to an old tin baron’s mansion, a textile cooperative, mountain biking and hiking. Before the conquest, military, religious and political leaders of the local indigenous population made their homes on the present day city site. The site became the headquarters for the Spanish Royal Court, which by the late 1700s, ruled over colonial Paraguay, parts of Peru, Argentina, Chile, and most of Bolivia. In 1825, in the wake of the Latin American independence movement, the city was renamed Sucre, after Simon Bolívar’s second-in-command, General Sucre. The city’s fine museums, colonial buildings and ties to the independence movement make it a city of great historical interest. La Paz to Sucre Approximate distance: 416.40km Estimate travel time: 14 hours
Staying in the Bolivian highlands, we travel south to the city of Potosí. The highest city of its size in the world, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has had a tumultuous history as a silver mining centre during colonial times. Take an option to descend into a working mine for a close-up look at methods basically unchanged in decades, if not centuries. Situated at 4070m (13,350 ft), Potosí is the highest city of its size on earth. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in1987 in recognition of its tragic history in the mining of silver during the time of Spanish colonization. Potosí provided a large share of the silver mined and shipped back to Spain until the early 1800s, when both the supply of silver and world market prices began to decline. Working conditions for miners were appalling, and a large portion of the indigenous population was decimated. African slaves were brought in to replace the native workers, and it is estimated that as many as eight million indigenous people and Africans died in the mines during the first three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. There is time for an optional tour to the working mines of the Mountain of Silver, an eye-opening excursion.
We embark on our 3-day desert crossing. We spend three days in the stunning landscapes between the Salar de Uyuni and the Atacama Desert (Chile), exploring by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Driving across the salt flats is a fantastic experience, particularly for the contrast of piercing blue skies and blinding white salt on the flat lakebed. The area’s unusual landscape of mountains, active volcanoes, and geysers is like nowhere on earth. Twice submerged by a large, high-altitude lake, the salt flats now cover a total area of over 12000 square km (7440 square miles) and are one of the country’s main salt mining centres. The last large lake dried up about 8000 years ago, leaving the small lakes of Poopó and Ururu, as well as the salt flats of Uyuni. Absorb stunning views of the salt-encrusted lakebed surrounded by golden-hued mountains, snow-capped peaks and an endless azure horizon that will forever engrave itself in your memory. The tour takes us through Laguna Colorada, 4278 m/14,031 ft (a large red lagoon, the colour of which is due to algae & plankton growth in the mineral-rich waters), and Laguna Verde, at 5000 m (16,400 ft), a striking blue-green lake (high concentrations of lead, sulphur, copper and other minerals). The numerous geysers, boiling mud pools, and thermal baths, and Licancabúr volcano 5960 m (19,549 ft), which looms just behind the lagoon are clear evidence of the region’s association with volcanic activity. Surprisingly, both wildlife and flora manage to survive and even thrive in the desolate landscape; this includes vizcachas (of the rodent family), flamingos (3 varieties), and assorted varieties of cacti.
In the morning we take a bus further south to the dry desert regions of Argentina and Chile, where we stop in the little town of San Pedro de Atacama, on the edge of the Atacama desert—the driest place on earth. There are plenty of optional excursions here, like biking, exploring nearby ruins, horseback riding, and a tour of the Valley of the Moon.
We make our way to Salta, situated in the Lerma Valley of northern Argentina. Salta is home to Empanadas Salteñas - the delicious local specialty, and no visit to the town will be complete without giving them a try. In the evening experience the local celebration at one of the "Peña" folklore shows. On Day 13 you will have some free time to explore the area. The scenic Quebrada de las Conchas, and Cafayate, famed for it´s wine and vineyards, are recommended stops. The multi-coloured valleys in the region of the foothills of the Andes are sure to be a highlight.
We skip the long journey to the coast, and fly to Buenos Aires, the Paris of the Americas. The capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires is the ultimate cosmopolitan city. Travellers find that it has more in common with the cities of Europe than the rest of South America. Nearly 40 per cent of Argentina's 33 million citizens live in Greater Buenos Aires, and the Porteños are justifiably proud of their home. The city is comprised of a number of distinct neighbourhoods, some of which have become top tourist draws. For many, the highlight of their time in the capital is a visit to San Telmo for the weekend antiques market and street artistís displays. La Boca was originally settled by the successive waves of immigrants that contribute to the capital's unique character. Its brightly coloured walls and buildings draw Porteños and tourists alike, and it is here that the world-class football team, Boca Juniors, plies its trade. A Sunday afternoon match at the fabled Bombonera is not to be missed. Posh Recoleta, with its cafes, museums and cemetery, is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. During colonial days Buenos Aires was the seat of the Viceroy of La Plata. Almost completely rebuilt since the turn of the century, the heart of the city is the Plaza de Mayo, with the historic Cabildo (Town Hall), where the Independence movement was first planned, the Casa Rosada (Government Palace) and the Cathedral where San Martín, the father of Argentine independence, is buried. When you are done exploring, settle your weary feet and enjoy a drink in one of the many sidewalk cafes and restaurants and you will begin to understand the contemplative Argentine way of life. Try the succulent bife and parrilladas! Please note: You should be especially careful when wandering about the capital city on your own, particularly at night. Tourists are easy prey for individual pickpockets or groups of two or more people working as a team on the streets. Pay particular attention to anyone who 'accidentally' spills anything on your clothes or belongings (mustard, etc.) and then apologizes and offers to help clean up. They will clean you out instead! Be safe and leave your passport, credit cards, travellers cheques and cash funds you won't be using immediately in the hotel's safety deposit box. Most Porteños are honest and genuinely helpful and friendly, but be safe and enjoy the city!
Depart at any time.