Bolivia: Border Crossing + Tupiza

We took an early morning three hour bus ride north from Humahuaca to the Argentinian border town La Quiaca. We waved good-bye to Argentina and walked across the bridge into Villazon, the Bolivian border town. We read that the border crossing could possibly take hours so we were thrilled that it only took twenty minutes. We were also pleased that a bribe wasn’t required in order to obtain our passport stamp.

We walked up a busy commercial street to the bus station, overstimulated by all the merchants and street vendors. I’ve never seen so many North Face down jackets (fake, of course) in one place before. Harry was in his element, bopping into a number of currency exchange shops, looking for the best exchange rate.

Eventually we bought our tickets, paid the police officer a “tax” (bribe?) to get on the bus, and were soon on our way to Tupiza, elevation 10,000 feet. The road was equal parts steep and windy with phenomenal views as we cut through the mountains. We quickly understood that we were going to be living life quite high up while in Bolivia.


We enjoyed the few days we spent in this sweet little mountain town. Legend has it that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were taken down by the Bolivian army near Tupiza, ending their notorious string of bank robberies. Several restaurants capitalized on the wild west theme which was fitting because Tupiza itself was like a western movie, Bolivia-style. We loved the colorful markets and ate local food, grateful that Bolivian cuisine has more flavor than the typically bland Argentinian fare ever did. I am a cautious eater, and a vegetarian to boot, but I love it that Harry will eat almost anything. It’s nice to have a travel buddy with adventurous taste buds and a stomach made of steel.


Taking Care of Business

Harry needed a haircut so I tagged along…. it’s not like I had anything else going on and I was curious to see what a Bolivian barbershop experience would be like. When we entered the salon it was like walking back in time. The barber was watching a game show on an old tv with rabbit ears, complete with fuzzy lines racing across the screen. I refrained from taking a picture of the poster with half-naked women on the wall circa 1975, but trust me – it was there. The barber was friendly and the three of us chatted in Spanish while he cut Harry’s hair. We obviously had a lot to talk about because we were there long enough for him to shave Harry bald. At least he won’t need a haircut for a while!


What’s the Difference? 

As I’ve mentioned before, in Argentina many businesses close between 1:00 – 5:00 PM every day for siesta (nap time). We asked our hostel owner if the same was true in Bolivia, and he rolled his eyes, saying “No, we’re not like Argentina, we don’t close for siesta! We do, however, close for lunch from 12:00-2:00”.

Friends Are Fun! 

One of the best things that happened in Tupiza was reconnecting with our Canadian friend Lilia, whom we met at Spanish school in Buenos Aires in February. We’ve kept in touch over the past few months and when we realized that we’d all be in Bolivia within days of one another we did a happy dance. It was so fun catching up with her and sharing tales of our adventures.

Puerta del Diablo (Devil’s Door)


Lilia and I took a break in the shade to chat while Harry forged ahead to further explore the canyon. Off in the distance we heard rustling and bleating, and before too long a bunch of goats crossed our path! In fact, 200 goats walked right by us accompanied by three herding dogs and a goat keeper. It was quite a site to see them come down one side of the mountain, traverse the flat land and cruise on up the side of the next mountain. Later we saw Harry chatting it up with the goat keeper.


Next up: Salar de Uyuni, a Primitive 4-Day Extravaganza 

One of the main reasons travelers visit Tupiza is because it’s the gateway to a multi-day tour in southern Bolivia. Culminating at the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, the journey is supposed to be epic. We coordinated our schedule with Lilia so we could all do this trip together. We were beyond excited to see what this next adventure had in store for us!

Argentina: Crossing the Andes

We left Santiago on Monday, April 13th and headed east to Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina. Over the past three months we’ve been on many bus trips, and we’ve had a variety of experiences to say the least, but this one definitely comes out on top because of the amazing views we had along the way. The journey took six hours even though we were only going 200 miles because we had to cross the Andes in addition to going through immigration in both Chile and Argentina.

Reaching more than 10,000 feet in elevation, the road cut through long tunnels and zigzagged through mountain terrain. On our ascent we went up an impressive series of switchbacks, each turn steeper and scarier than the last. The bus company was called “El Rapido”, and had we been thinking when we bought the tickets we might have used a different company. Guess who’s driver thought he was on a race track?


We were traveling on a beautiful, clear day with 360 degree views all around us. Fortunately we were able to get a glimpse of the snow capped Mt Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas at nearly 23,000 feet.

IMG_6905For hours we stared out the bus windows in awe. There were two couples sitting in front of us from Quebec, and they were just as excited as we were to have such spectacular views. It was fun having others appreciate the scenery as much as we did.


Guess who’s excited to be back in Argentina?


Chile: Pucon *Active Volcano*

Chile is Argentina’s neighbor to the west. The two countries are divided by the volcanic Andes from north to south. Chile is a long, narrow land mass with its widest point only 217 miles from east to west. Even though I’ve loved my time in Argentina, I was excited to experience something new.

As the crow flies we’ve been really close to Chile several times the past month, but officially crossing over the Andes takes some planning as there aren’t that many bus-worthy roads connecting the two countries.

We decided to use San Martin de los Andes, Argentina, as the launching pad for us to enter Chile. Our first destination was Pucon, five hours northwest by bus. The old man who sold Harry the bus tickets winked as he assigned us seats on the left side of the aisle because he knew we’d be staring out the window at the amazing volcanic mountain Lanin for hours.


Immigration: No Meat Allowed

The reason the bus ride took five hours was because we had to stop at two different immigration centers. The first time we got an exit stamp from Argentina, which we needed because our ninety-day stay was almost up (I know, can you believe it?). Now our slate is cleared and we can spend another ninety days in Argentina if we choose.

The second stop was at the Chile immigration center. We’d been reading how Chile has really strict laws against bringing any food into the country. Normally we bring lots of snacks on our bus rides, but not this time. We made sure our food bag was empty before we got on the bus. Apparently this young Israeli guy didn’t do his homework because, under the instruction of an immigration officer, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a raw steak. I’m not kidding! Everyone standing in line burst out laughing while he looked bummed about having to throw away his dinner.


Pucon + Volcano Villarrica

A go-to destination for outdoor adventure activities of all kinds, Pucon is a thriving tourist town during the summer and winter months. We were more than happy to be there during its tranquil off-season. Surrounded by the volcanic Andes, Pucon is a beautiful place. We spent a few days taking local buses to the outskirts of town for hikes and walks. We spent an afternoon at a beautiful mountain lake one day, and on another day we bathed in some nearby hot springs. But honestly the most exciting part of staying in Pucon was was being surrounded by the smoke-breathing Volcano Villarrica!

Three weeks before we arrived Volcano Villarrica, one of South America’s most active volcanoes, blew its top after 30 years of dormancy. The explosion didn’t hurt anyone or damage any of the surrounding towns but it sure created a lot of excitement. The volcano is the region’s showpiece, visible from every angle. Everywhere we went we stared off into the not-so-distant sky to see if it was smoking or not; its behavior seemed to change hourly. Locals stood on street corners looking at Villarrica with awe, respect and fear, wondering if, or when, it would blow again.

A 4A 6A 8A 1A 9A 7

Up Next: The Big City of Santiago

After spending the last month on the road, we had a hankering to spend some extended time in one location. We’ve both come to realize that we prefer to stay in places longer rather than moving about every three or four days. Santiago seemed like the right choice so we booked bus tickets for an 11 hour journey north.