SAN JOSE DE GUAVIARE – NATIONAL PARK LA LINDOSA

SAN JOSE DE GUAVIARE – NATIONAL PARK LA LINDOSA

It was time to discover another hidden jewel of Colombia: San Jose de Guaviare and its surroundings with the national parks La Lindosa and Chiribiquete.

San Jose de Guaviare unfortunately still has the reputation of being a dangerous region in Colombia but this trip convinced us that the area is safe and should be explored by travelers. It is a totally relaxed town with friendly inhabitants (111.000 inhabitants live here) where you can stroll calmly through the streets. We stayed at the hotel Aeropuerto just across the street from the airport which provides a swimming pool, restaurant and nice rooms with hot water – so basically everything you need!

During our city tour through San Jose de Guaviare we passed the shopping street, the town square filled with sellers of fruits, ice cream and other snacks. Then we headed on to the river and local market place where the fresh fish was sold! After this visit a delicious lunch at the restaurant “Donde Juliana” awaited us where we enjoyed the typical meat of the region “la carne llanera” for lunch! Just delicious with a refreshing glass of “agua panela” – sugarcane lemonade!

Now we were ready to go for our 5km hike through the so-called “Valle de los Labirintos” in the national park La Lindosa. We passed beautiful landscapes full of different trees, plants and stone formations. The highlight was the stone formation “La puerta del Orión” – a huge stone gate in the middle of the wonderful green landscapes!

After that the beautiful river Caño Algas awaited us with the red plants that can only be seen from July to November and for which Caño Cristales (in the Meta region) is famous for! So this should be another reason for you to visit this beautiful region of Colombia! Walking along the river we found a great place “Tranquilandia” to take a bath in a natural pool – it was very refreshing as the climate is very hot and humid!

Our day finished with the visit of an indigenous community who told us more about their culture and traditions. We also tried the typical food – fish and some bread with a delicious jam after the kids presented their traditional dances.

The following days more highlights awaited us with the visits of the wall paintings “Pinturas de Nuevo Tolima” and the valley of different stone formations “Valle de las Formaciones” and tunnels as well as the spectacular overflight of Chiribiquete National Park! Of course you can read about these great travel experiences in my next blog article.

BOLIVIA – TITICACA LAKE & COPACABANA

BOLIVIA – TITICACA LAKE & COPACABANA

From La Paz we started our journey to the last destination of our Bolivian trip: Copacabana and Titicaca Lake. It takes about 4 hours from La Paz by bus to get to the little town of Copacabana. On the way there, we actually needed to get off the bus at the “Estrecho de Tiquina” and take the ferry to the other side while they were shipping the bus over there with another ferry for vehicles.

The little town of Copacabana is completely dedicated to tourism and you can find many restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and exchange offices there. The main attractions are the church “Basilica of our lady” and a great view point “Cerro Calvario”. Here we enjoyed the sunset in the beautiful surroundings of the impressing Titicaca Lake which just seems to be an ocean. With an elevation of 3.600m it is the highest navigable lake in the world.

The next day we went on a half day boat trip to visit the south part of Isla Del Sol. Unfortunately we did not have more time to explore the whole island as we needed to return to La Paz the same day. The boat trip takes about 1,5 hours to get from Copacabana to the Sun Island. We went up the southern part of the island where we found many accommodation possibilities on the steep way up. From here we enjoyed a great view of the Titicaca Lake. Then we also visited the temple of the sun which had many different rooms, for example the dream room or the “pachamama” room – and therefore  different meanings for the ancestors.

Actually I would recommend a full day visit of the Titicaca Lake as you will be able to visit the Northern & Southern part of “Isla del Sol”. There are different ruins around the island and you can do a four hours hike to see everything. In both parts  of the islands you can also stay with indigenous families or in little hostels if you want to spend a night in the beautiful surroundings of the Titicaca Lake. The northern part has beaches and is lower than the southern part.

After this nice but short visit of the Titicaca Lake we took the bus back to La Paz. Now it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful country of Bolivia which I must say has surprised me with its diversity and impressing landscapes! It is definitely worth a great journey – and not only to the famous parts of Salar Uyuni & Titicaca Lake – it has much more to offer with for example a visit to the mining city Potosi, the capital city Sucre with its beautiful surroundings, La Paz & moonvalley, travelling from Santa Cruz to Samaipata as well as the route of Che!

BOLIVIA – UYUNI SALT FLATS, LAGOONS & IMPRESSING MOUNTAIN LANDSCAPES

BOLIVIA – UYUNI SALT FLATS, LAGOONS & IMPRESSING MOUNTAIN LANDSCAPES

The following three days I would say the highlight of our trip through Bolivia awaited us: exploring the saltflats of Salar Uyuni as well as many other impressing landscapes with colorful lagoons, volcanoes and deserts.

The first day we were picked up at our hotel Samaywasi in Uyuni. We got on our 4×4 jeep with our guide Milton. As drinks are about double the price in the accommodations, we bought some water and beer in town to be prepared for the next days! Our first stop was in Colchani at the  market where you can buy typical handicrafts or some gloves, scarf or hat to be prepared for the cold of the salt flats which are situated at an altitude of 3.600m and cover an area of about 12.000 square kilometers. It is said that about 112.000 years ago all of this area was a huge sea.

Then we continued our journey passing by the “Isla del Pescado” to the island Incahuasi which was full of huge cactus. We climbed to the top of the small mountain and enjoyed amazing views of the salt flats and surrounding mountains. On top of the mountain we had an amazing 360 degrees  view! When we returned from this short hike, our guide Milton had prepared lunch for us which we enjoyed in these beautiful surroundings. Our next stop was in the middle of the salt flats where we had a lot of fun taking different pictures. This wonderful landscape left us spechless. After this fun photo and video session, we continued to our hostel for this night in the little town Aguaquiza. The hostal Tinkuna was a very nice little accommodation. The walls and many furnitures were made out of salt and luckily they had enough blankets for us so that we spent a nice warm night there and even a warm shower awaited us the next morning!

The next day we started our journey at 8am after breakfast! Our first stop was at the so-called galaxy “galaxias” and a cemetery of mummies. In 2003 two men discovered an impressing formation which they named “galaxias”. One of the founders himself is giving the tour about his impressing discovery.

Today our journey took us through the Salar de Chiguana, Ruta Galaxia, volcano Ollague and lagoon Cañapa with flamingos. Many other lagoons and impressing mountain landscapes followed with lagoon Medion, volcan Corina, lagoon Honda, paso del Inca, and the seven-colored mountains of Silala.

Then we visited the famous stone tree “arbol de piedra” but as it was freezing cold we just got out of the car to take a picture quickly. Our journey for today ended with the visit of the colored lagoon “laguna de colores” where you can find up to 5.000 flamingos in high season. Afterwards we continued to our accommodation for the night which was just a very basic one and for sure it would be a cold night – but the sleeping bags saved us!

After we survived the cold night with about minus 12 degrees, we got up at 5am to visit many more places on our last day. The first stop was at the “Géisera Sol de Mañana”. These gushing springs are situated at an altitude of about 5.000m. Then we stopped at the hot springs “termales de polques” which are supposed to have a temperature of 37 degrees. But it was so freezing cold outside that we did not want to go in – not even leave the car. We continued to the Dali desert whose landscapes were just amazing. Then we passed by the volcano Sairekabul and the volcano Licancabur with an altitude of 5.916 m. Here you can also do trekkings. Afterwards we stopped at the green lagoon “Laguna Verde” – unfortunately it has dried out a lot and its color has changed from green to turquoise but it still looked beautiful.

Then we drove quite a while passing beautiful landscapes to the little village Villamar where we had lunch. The guides are actually always carrying all the food from Uyuni and prepare it in the accommodations of each night. Then we continued to a forest of stones to get to the lost city and the lagoon Mysteriosa. We were all very impressed by the different landscapes – everything is just so diverse and beautiful in this area.

Our next stop was San Cristobal. This village is famous for its colonial church which was brought from the mountains to town as they found silver and to explore it they wanted the church to be in town. Then we continued to Uyuni – our last stop of this amazing trip was the cemetery of trains. In the past the trains were used mainly by mining companies but with the collapsion of the mining industry in the 1940s the trains were abondened here. At night we took our flight back to La Paz.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The rainy season is between December and February in the salt flats. This is the time when you can see the sky like a mirror in Salar Uyuni. But you can only visit a small part of the salt flats as it is very dangerous because it is flodded – for example, you do not get to the Island Incahuasi and need to take another way to visit the lagoons and mountains of the 3 day tour which I would definitely recommend! If you prefer to stay in nicer accommodation with heating, this is also possible in the salt flats (best available accommodation are 3-star hotels).

BOLIVIA – POTOSÍ: THE MINING CITY WITH THE WORLD’S LARGEST SILVER DEPOSIT

BOLIVIA – POTOSÍ: THE MINING CITY WITH THE WORLD’S LARGEST SILVER DEPOSIT

After a 3 hours bus ride from Sucre we arrived in Potosí – now we were 4.000 meters closer to the stars! A difference of 1.300 meters which made a little difference! The best advise is to drink tea of cocaine leafs as it helps you to adjust to the altitude. Unfortunately I woke up with a huge headache which turned into feeling very bad in general but our guide Omar accompanied us to the pharmacy where I bought a very good pill – the “Sorrochi pills” against the sickness of high altitude and after an hour I already felt better. I guess it is better not to think about how much chemicals are in these pills – but all that counts was that I felt much better very quickly!

During our city tour in Potosí we visited different churches, the central market and the museum “Casa de la Moneda”. We were pretty amazed by the things we learned in the museum.  For example, that actually in history all money was made in Potosí as all the material was found in the “Cerro Rico”, especially silver. Furthermore the symbols of currencies found their origin in the money making in Potosi as they overlapped the letters of PoToSi to define the currency. Besides that the museum holds a collection of coins, medals and many machines that they used in the past for the money making. The most impressing machine was an old wodden construction which was shipped from Spain to Argentina and from there was transported with mules to Bolivia. This machine was used for the lamination process to get 3mm of material and it was moved by mules in the below part of the construction. The machines can still be found in its original place. Then it was lunch time and we ate the typical soup Kalapurka in the Restaurant El Empedradillo. This soup is served with a stone in the middle to keep the soup hot – and I can tell you, it was delicious!

In the afternoon we continued a tour to discover the mine: the Cerro Rico! It is the same mine where they have been taking out the silver and all materials for the making of coins for many years and are still exploiting it for more minerals and silver. We got all the equipment to be prepared as a miner: rubber boots, pants and jacket as well as a helmet with a flash light. On the way we stopped at the famous street for miners in Potosí – the only street where EVERYONE can buy dynamite, 96% alcohol, special cigarettes and cocaine leafs. This is actually the survival package of each miner. The miners masticate cocaine leafs for different reasons: it indicates the time of their work as they chew it for about 4 hours and then it looses the taste and they repeat the process, besides it keeps them awake as they sometimes work up to 24-48 hours and it takes away the feeling of getting hungry or thursty. A pretty sad life in the dark…

Then we entered the mine, walked and crawled through the various paths of the mine and our guide showed us all the different levels of the mine. Furthermore we talked to some mine workers and they showed us the different kinds of minerals they are looking for as well as the various ways how they put the dynamite and explore the exploded parts of the mine afterwards. They count the sounds of explosion and then wait for about 2 hours – so that the explosion powder has disappeared and they can discover the detonated parts. Normally they work in a team of 3 and need to take out 30 waggons of material each day. Furthermore they have a ritual twice a month with the uncle “tío” which is a figure that they have constructed themselves. The first Friday of each month they ask the “tío” for a successful month by finding many minerals. Then they use the celebration of the last Friday per month to thank the uncle “tío” for the passed weeks. In both ocassions they put cocaine leafs all over his body, smoke cigarettes and drink the pure 96% alcohol “with him” which means they drop the alcohol on him and put a cigarette in his mouth and sit down to drink and smoke “with him”- so it is actually a ritual and celebration they do with him. Due to all these circumstances and hard work, mine workers sadly have an average life expectation of only 45-50 years.

We left the mine after about 1,5 hour and must say that we were very happy to see the day light again! But for us it was a great experience and I must say these experiences always teach one again how much we should appreciate this life we have!

After this great day in Potosí, we took a 4 hours bus ride to our next destination: Uyuni!

 

 

BOLIVIA’S CAPITAL CITY SUCRE AND BEAUTIFUL SURROUNDINGS

BOLIVIA’S CAPITAL CITY SUCRE AND BEAUTIFUL SURROUNDINGS

We arrived late in the capital city of Bolivia which is not La Paz as you might think but Sucre in the middle of the country! Step by step we were coming closer to the sky again as Sucre lies at an altitude of 2.800m. Here we stayed in the beautiful hotel Samary – just a pity that we actually did not have much time here. Near the hotel we visited the  famous viewpoint “Mirador” from where we had a great view of the city.

In the morning our guide Betty picked us up to start our tour to the surroundings of the capital city. About 300.000 inhabitants live in Sucre. All its houses have white fassads (at least in the historical centre) and actually need to be painted every year – if not they will be charged a penalty.

First we visited the Virgen and the sanctuary “Santuario de la Chataquilla”. Here is also the beginning of the inca trail which takes you to the small town Maragua. Unfortunately we did not have the time to go for the trek and therefore we continued our journey driving zick zack along the mountains. We were very impressed by the beautiful landscapes of colored mountains from red, blue, green, grey to yellow.

Then we went for a small walk to the devils’ neck “garganta del diablo” and its waterfall. Afterwards we visited the village of Maragua and a house of an old lady who was doing weaving handicrafts.

In the afternoon we went for a 1,5 hour hike through beautiful landscapes to find the dinosaur prints in Niñu Mayo in Maragua. In 1998 the local people found the prints on a stoned wall after an erosion. To be honest I thought the dinosaur prints would be much bigger imagening dinosaur Rex but there were just small footprints of little dinosaurs. So if you go on this tour with high expectations of dinosaur prints you might be disappointed – but if you like to hike in the surrounding of amazing landscapes – this will be a wonderful trip for you! After this visit we returned to Sucre which took us about 2 hours. From here we caught a public bus to our next destination: Potosi.