Bolivia: Sucre

After our epic 4-day primitive extravaganza in southwestern Bolivia, we headed a few hours north to Sucre with a plan to stay for 10 days. We were ready to settle down in one place for a few days to relax, regroup and study Spanish, and Sucre was calling our names.

Sucre is located in the mountains at 9,214 feet above sea level. After being really cold in southern Bolivia I was hoping for warmer weather, but that didn’t exactly happen. The days were sunny and in the 60’s, but once the sun went down the temps dropped into the 30’s. Needless to say I slept in my jacket every night since we didn’t have heat in our room. Well, to be fair, there wasn’t heat anywhere we went – not at school, in restaurants, stores, etc. At least our hostel had hot showers and a comfortable bed.


Sucre is a beautiful city with Spanish colonial architecture, impressive churches, lots of parks and a main square that buzzed with constant activity. There are several universities in town and the abundance of students created a youthful vibe. There were also an overwhelming number of backpackers hanging around sporting dreadlocks and flipflops.

One weekend there was an exciting car race in the city. Literally in the city! Roads around the main square and throughout town were closed so loud, muffler-less cars could FLY down the streets and around corners. We couldn’t believe how close people stood to watch. The cars made a circuit through town, into the mountains, and back again. It was fun to experience this annual race with all the locals. It was family friendly event with street food, balloon animals and a lot of cheering.


Sucre Spanish School

One of the reasons we stayed in Sucre for so long was to take a week of Spanish classes. The price was right in that we each only paid $6.50 an hour for a private lesson. We were in class three hours a day for five days and we both really liked our teachers. My first class flew by and I was amazed when I realized that we hadn’t spoken any English at all in three hours.

One day our teachers planned a field trip for us and we took a bus to a huge market across town. We didn’t see any other tourists there which speaks to the authenticity of the market. My teacher and her mom shop there twice a week, so she knew how to navigate through the massive maze of shops and vendors. Yes, that’s a dead pig laying on the table (see picture below).


Many of you have asked how our Spanish is coming along, and it’s tricky to reply because we haven’t been learning in a conventional, systematic way… but we’ve been learning. Yes, we can both have basic conversations in Spanish, however we still understand more than we can speak. Our classes in Sucre made us realize that we’ve been living in a Spanish Bubble for a few months. We’re quite versed at “hospitality speak”, meaning we’re fairly proficient at communicating with hostel staff, bus and taxi drivers, restaurant staff and barbers, etc. I think we’ve come a long way since January, but of course there’s so much more to learn. Harry has a bigger vocabulary than I do, but thoughts roll off my tongue more freely. We still make a good team.

Hat Factory

Our Polish friend Aga joined us one afternoon to visit the Sucre Hat Factory. From the moment we stepped inside it was like going back in time. The felted wool hats were made with old fashioned elbow grease and machines that rattled and hummed.


Next Up: La Paz, the highest Capital City in the World

We’ve heard people say that when it comes to La Paz, you’ll either love it or hate it. We boarded a plane in Sucre and headed for the big city with a bag of coca leaves (to be explained later) and an open mind.


Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni *4-Day Primitive Extravaganza*

On May 3rd we started our 4-day primitive extravaganza to the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. Yes, this is salt, not snow. Pinch me!


Perhaps the most sought-after Bolivian experience by backpackers and travelers alike is spending three or four days in a jeep traversing the incredible landscape of southwestern Bolivia. The main attraction is the salar, nearly 7,000 square miles of bright white landscape dotted with cactus and rock formations.

What Do I Mean By “Primitive”?

We drove 500 miles in four days all on unpaved surfaces. In fact, there were many times that we weren’t even driving on a road at all. We were literally in the middle of nowhere for days on end. There were a few pueblos located in strategic places along the route with the sole purpose of supporting this popular tourist trek. These pueblos provided basic nighttime accommodations for tour groups like ours, and our cook – along with the other cooks – used the kitchens to prepare our food for each day.

At night the electricity turned off at 9:00 pm and it never came on in the morning. We bunked in rooms with at least four people and shared one bathroom for up to 13 people. We didn’t have any heat and trust me, it was cold! The temps got down to freezing two of the nights. Forget about showering. We were lucky if the toilets flushed.

While the accommodations were bare-bones, the tour, the people and the scenery more than made up for the saggy mattresses, frigid temperatures and long bathroom lines.

Our International Peeps

There were 13 of us in three jeeps. Lilia (our Canadian friend), Harry and I were in one jeep with Laurie, a Chinese woman living in Paris. Our driver was a 24 year-old Bolivian named Antonio who has been working the circuit for five years. The cook also rode in our jeep with us. There were two British backpackers and one German in another jeep, and the third jeep was filled with a French family — mom, dad, two young kids, grandma and grandpa. The family of four is traveling around the world for one year! We had fun playing card games with them at night and being goofy with them during the day.

Day #1

We drove up and out of Tupiza and immediately felt worlds away from the small western town. Our wildlife safari began almost immediately when we saw five condors flying above the edge of the canyon. Antonio actually pulled over and jumped out to take a picture, making us realize what a special occurrence it was. (Credit to Lilia for the condor photo). Everyday we saw countless numbers of alpaca and their vicuna cousins roaming on the varied terrain.


We saw sand dunes one minute and high mountain, snow-covered peaks the next.


This massive peak was in our sites for quite a while and it was fun to watch it get bigger and bigger the closer we got. We stopped to walk around the ruins and we were quickly out of breath due to the high altitude. I’d never been at 13,000 feet before! For reference, Mt Hood in Oregon is 11,200 feet. Our hearts worked overtime to pump oxygen into our bodies and we were all a little dizzy.


Shortly after the ruins we reached our high point of the trip at just over 15,000 feet. Woohoo!


It was cold sleeping at 14,000 feet! I went to bed wearing most of my clothes and slept inside my sleeping bag, under the covers. The weight of the several heavy wool army blankets made turning over a real challenge.

IMG_8024KR Sleeping

 Day #2

Damn, it was hard to get out of our sleeping bags because it was so cold! Luckily we had each other to cuddle with in the jeep, because wouldn’t you know it — there wasn’t heat in there, either. Our first stop of the day was the Llama Hotel.

IMG_8030 IMG_8041IMG_8061IMG_8057

Later that day we had our first glimpse of a salt field, a sign of things to come. We just couldn’t get over how quickly the landscape changed.


We visited an area of impressive geothermal activity and felt like we were on the moon.


The minerals in Bolivia’s soil are rich and varied, turning the lakes different colors. This lagoon was literally red. And yes, those are pink flamingos!

IMG_8227Red Flamingo

We played card games in the evening before the lights went out, and it should be noted that some of us got a little competitive. It’s no wonder that the young French kids stuck to playing UNO with their grandparents.


Day #3

We saw a petrified tree and played on some big boulders. Behind Harry is the semi-active Ollague volcano, which sits on the border of Chile and Bolivia. Unfortunately you can’t see the smoke spewing out of it’s top. We visited another lake with more flamingos, had a picnic from the back of the jeeps, and marveled at the hard, rough green lichen growing on the rocks.


We spent our last night at the Salt Hotel, and guess what? The bricks for the walls, beds, tables and chairs were all made out of salt! I felt like a princess in a palace…. we all know how much I love salt. And no, I didn’t try to lick the walls. I was happy to discover that salt bricks have an insulating factor which meant that it wasn’t ridiculously cold inside.


Day #4

We left the Salt Hotel at 5:00 am and drove an hour to catch the sunrise from the top of a coral island. On the way there we officially drove onto the salar. Antonio turned off the headlights for 10 minutes and drove in the dark using the light from the moon reflecting on the salar to guide him.

Bundled up (but still freezing cold) we watched the sunrise. What a spectacular, special experience.


We hiked back down for breakfast and hot tea. To warm ourselves up we played soccer on the salar as the sun rose in the sky. Two of my favorite things: soccer and salt! That’s when things started to get a little surreal.


We were chased by a red dinosaur and Harry and I had to personally put him in his place. But then I made up with him because he sure was cute – and just a little misunderstood. 


I’ve got this guy in the palm of my hand…



And that, my friends, is the story of our 4-day primitive extravaganza across southern Boliva. We will always be inspired and humbled by this experience. Viva Bolivia!