January 2021 is nearly over. While we are still trying to stay safe and hoping for better days to be back in our lives, this is also the time to be grateful for what we have, what we have experienced and plan for the future.
In the last few months, I have enjoyed browsing through the old photos on my phone, my laptop or even the ones I have, printed and arranged in old school style albums. It reminds me of the wonderful places I have travelled to, the people I have met, some of whom have even become close friends.
I wanted to write my first blog of 2021 about a place which I found quite unique. Bolivia is one of those countries. Bolivia is landlocked and shares it’s border on the north and east with Brazil, in the southeast with Paraguay, in the south with Argentina, in the southwest and west with Chile, and in the northwest with Peru.
I travelled to Bolivia by road from Puno in Peru, after visiting Lake Titicaca, which is shared by Peru and Bolivia. The border between these countries lie somewhere in the middle of this natural wonder. Lake Titicaca at an elevation of 12,500 feet (3,810 metres) is also the world’s highest commercially navigable lake.
From Puno, I travelled to Copacabana, did a tour of the Isla Del Sol and then to the capital city of La Paz. I did not have a chance to visit the famous Salar De Uyuni – the Bolivian Salt flats, in this trip. Hope I can visit that exotic place someday in the future.
ISLA DEL SOL FROM COPACABANA
After crossing the border, on reaching Copacabana, there are lots of boats or catamarans to travel to the Islands of the Sun (Isla del Sol) and the Moon (Isla de la Luna). Both these islands, which are on the Bolivian part of Lake Titicaca, are sacred Inca sites. I travelled to the larger of these islands Isla del Sol.
Isla del Sol is known for its Inca sites. The stone terraces which exist are from Inca times. The staircase, Escalera del Inca, in the Yumani village, leads to a spring which was once believed to prolong youth. The Roca Sagrada is considered to be the birthplace of the Inca Sun God, Inti.
I had a wholesome lunch at the Uma Kollu Archeological Restaurant under the open sky with gorgeous views. The weather was good and the view of the Cordillera Real from Isla del Sol was breathtaking. After that it was time to travel back to Copacabana.
One of the famous sights at Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca is the Copacabana Basilica. The Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana houses the Virgin of Copacabana. The basilica is a 16th-century Spanish colonial moorish style architecture.
CROSSING THE STRAIT OF TIQUINA
The journey from Copacabana to La Paz includes crossing Lake Titicaca at Strait of Tiquina, which is approximately 45 minutes drive from Copacabana. The strait is around 850m across at its narrowest point and separates the rest of Bolivia from the Copa Peninsula. The crossing runs between the towns of San Pedro de Tiquina and San Pablo de Tiquina.
At this crossing, all passengers have to board small motor boats, which can be a bit scary. All other vehicles and buses are ferried across to the other side on barges.
From San Pablo de Tiquina, it is about 2 hours and 30 minutes drive to La Paz. The overall landscape throughout the journey is incredibly beautiful and a treat to the eyes. There are valleys, incredible views of the snow-capped Cordillera Real mountain range and the blue waters of Lake Titicaca all around.
I reached La Paz quite late in the evening and enjoyed a much needed sleep in a nice cosy hotel in the city centre.
In the morning after breakfast it was time to explore La Paz. Bolivia has two capital cities. The historic city of Sucre, where the Supreme Court is established, is the constitutional capital and La Paz, where the executive and legislative branches of government are present, is the administrative capital.
La Paz at an elevation of 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above sea level is the highest capital city in the world. La Paz has subtropical highland climate, with rainy summers and dry winters due to its high altitude. It is best to acclimatise to the altitude as lots of people suffer from altitude sickness.
The city of La Paz is set in a canyon created by the Choqueyapu River. Overlooking the city are the peaks of the Illimani, the highest mountain in the Cordillera Real, which is a subrange of the Andes. They are mostly covered with snow and can be seen from many parts of the city.
La Paz is known for its unique markets. One of these is the Witches’ Market run by local witch doctors. One of the strange items sold in this market are dried llama foetuses. These are buried under the foundations of many Bolivian houses as a sacred offering to the goddess Pachamama, who is revered by the indigenous peoples of the Andes.
LA PAZ: PLAZA MURILLO AND AROUND
The Plaza Murillo, located in the old town of La Paz, is the central plaza of the city of La Paz and this open space is connected to the social and political life of Bolivia. Main buildings around the plaza include the Presidential Palace, National Congress of Bolivia, and the Cathedral of La Paz (also known as the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace).
A very interesting sight in the Plaza is the clock on the National Congress of Bolivia. The clock runs anti clockwise!
The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is a cathedral and minor basilica. It was built in 1835 in a neoclassical style architecture with Baroque elements.
The National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore museum housed in a beautiful 18th-century building has collection of textiles, hats and potteries from different regions of Bolivia.
Mamani Mamani Gallery features artworks by Mamani Mamani who is an Aymara artist from Bolivia. His art works showcases indigenous Aymara tradition and symbols and has been exhibited in many cities around the world.
Another famous sight in La Paz is the Basilica of San Francisco, which is a Catholic church under the advocation of Francis of Assisi. The square, in the centre of the La Paz, where it is located bears its name and is called Plaza San Francisco. The basilica was built in the 17th century but its tower was built in the the 19th century.
LA PAZ: URBAN CABLE CAR NETWORK
The unusual topography of La Paz offers unique views of the city and the surrounding mountains of the Cordillera Real from various viewing points. One of the best way to enjoy the magnificent views without much effort is by travelling on La Paz’s largest urban cable car network in the world.
The gridlocked city traffic in La Paz can be quite stressful so the best way to travel and see the lovely city is by taking the aerial cable car urban transit system, Mi Teleferico. The cable car system covers the areas of La Paz and El Alto. The majestic views of the city with Mount Illimani in the background is colourful and beautiful.
VALLE DE LA LUNA – THE MOON VALLEY
In the afternoon, I visited a place of natural wonder which is situated around 10 kms from La Paz, Valle de la Luna – Valley of the Moon.
This valley is said to have been named by astronaut Neil Armstrong. The mountains within the area have been eroded by winds and weather conditions over a long period of time. These mountains are mostly composed of clay and sandstone and what remains are tall spires which looks like something from a lunar landscape and hence the name, Valley of the Moon.
Because of the different mineral content in the mountains, these spire formations are of many colours throughout the huge landscape. There are walking trails within the area but some are quite narrow and also the soil beneath can be loose. So it is best to exercise caution while walking through this valley. You can also spot many varieties of cacti within the valley.
FOOD AND DRINK
In La Paz, I enjoyed a nice glass of Singani, the national liquor of Bolivia, which is made from white Muscat of Alexandria grapes. It is produced only in the Bolivian mountain regions and has been produced in Bolivia since the 16th century. It is classified as a brandy and has a Domain of Origin and a Geographical Indication.
Also had the ubiquitous Saltena which is the Bolivian version of the baked empanada, filled with juicy meat or vegetables and spices. Eating it requires a bit of practice else the juices run all over the place. Saltenas varies according to the regions in Bolivia and in La Paz these are enjoyed as mid morning snacks. The road side vendors start selling these early in the morning.
- Due to La Paz’s altitude a lot of people might experience altitude sickness. So it is best to take it slow and acclimatise first.
- If you are travelling by air, La Paz landing views are one of the best in the world. Do try to get a window seat.
- As with any travels, it is better to travel in group or with local guides.
- Local people are very helpful but as usual it is good to exercise caution in busy areas and markets.
- Adventurous travelers might want to do a bike ride on the infamous Death Road – the world’s most dangerous road
- Evenings can get quite cold, so warm clothings are essential.
- Good walking shoes are a must.
- US Dollars are accepted in most places but for small shops, it is best to have some Bolivian Boliviano.
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