Ruta de Lagunas, Bolivia

BoliviaPosted by Espen Sun, September 25, 2011 21:27:49

All overlanders have heard about Ruta de Lagunas by the time they reach Bolivia. It is a route going south over the Altiplano from the salt flat of Uyuni. It normally ends in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, but it is of course possible to also do a loop back east without crossing the border. And of course, you can also do the route in the opposite direction. The road is mostly rough gravel, but in some places it is more like well used tracks. Earlier, this route was considered quite “off-the-beaten-track”, but now, 4x4 tours are running all over the place.

We took a slightly more eastern road the first 50-60 kilometers going south from Uyuni. This took us down a fantastic valley and to the diagonal Valle del Piedras.

From here we went east to connect with “the route”. The first lagoon stop was Laguna Cañapa, and Malin went for the flamingos right away.

The new camera performs quite well!

Laguna Colorada is one of the wonders along this route. This lake is mostly red, but kind of changes color depending on time of day and the sunlight.

Its flamingos are even red’er than normal. We camped on the shore, and had the most amazing view of these fascinating birds (we’re not as close as it looks! (really!)).

We left the Laguna Colorada and kept driving south. The temperature high up on the Altiplano is well below freezing at night, and the wind never stops. At times we were a bit worried about our roof top tent, but it is still up there. However, every evening we were sitting inside the car in the front seats watching a movie. It was just too cold and uncomfortable being outside. For the high Andes we have concluded on taking a vehicle where we can live inside the next time…

On our way south we came across a sign pointing us to “Sol de mañana” which turned out to be a very active geyser, and where the road went practically through the middle of it.

Later that day we parked at Termas de Polques (hot springs), and this is a place that makes the Altiplano slightly more civilized. Even with strong winds and temperatures close to freezing, this was a pleasant break. We even decided to spend the night so we could have another dip in the pool the next morning. The problem was to get out of the pool after you had managed to strip and get in…

Here in the pool with Georg and Andrea from toyotours.com

On the Bolivian Altiplano was also the first time that I’ve had issues starting the Patrol. Many travellers have told us about how they have had to wait until the sun have warmed up the air (and the car/engine), but I was still a little surprised that this happened when we were there. The temperatures was not below -10 degrees Celsius (14 deg F), but it still took us 5 minutes cranking the engine before it started properly even after a couple of hours in the sun. In Mexico and Peru we also camped above 4000 meters and in similar temperatures, but never had these issues there.

I believe the explanation is the quality of the Bolivian diesel. We were told that a lot of it came from Venezuela, but I don’t know this for sure. The last few days of the Ruta de Lagunas we also experienced the water-in-the-fuel sensor regularly going off. I guess I’ll have to try to drain the tank or get some additives to solve this when we get to Chile.

Driving back down to the road between the “Piedras de Salvador Dali” after a lunch stop.

The final stop on the route is the Laguna Verde. And it really is green. Volcan Licancabur is in the "background".. We camped for the night and tried our best to empty out our fridge before crossing to Chile the next day. Chile has strict rules about what you can bring into the country when it comes to food. If you are unlucky (which means come across the wrong border guards) you can loose most of your food. We weren’t’ sure about the rules for wine and beer, but decided not to take any risks!

We crossed the border the next morning, and we will post the details on our website soon!


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Salar de Uyuni

BoliviaPosted by Malin Tue, September 20, 2011 02:50:46

Since we started planning this trip Espen has looked forward to Salar de Uyuni. Even more so after reading and seeing the amazing photos from the Salar in the summer edition of Overland Journal 2010.

And now we were in Bolivia and getting really close to one of the highlights of this trip.

In Sucre we meet up Andrea and Georg (www.toyotours.com) again. We both though it would be good to drive two cars together to Salar de Uyuni and Routa de Lagunas, for safety, and of course it is nice with some travel companions. Sucre was also where we stocked up with food, water and drinks that would last us for more than a week. Espen and I bought 1 kg of minced meat and 1 kg of chicken filets in the marked. I cooked it all (so it would last longer) and stored it in zip-lock bags in the fridge for the week to come. After one final Italian (Sucrean) pizza we were ready for the wilderness.

Bolivia have subsidized fuel for it citizens, 3, 70 bolivianos per liter of diesel (0, 53 usd). Recently the government made some regulations so that international customers had to pay the international price, 8, 60 bolivianos per liter (1, 24 usd). This is to prevent people from neighboring countries filling up with cheap fuel and take it across the border. So far we have had no problems filling up with fuel for local price, but between Sucre and Potosi we stopped at three gas stations before we could fill up with diesel. But we were not allowed to fill our 20 liter jerry can.

After a long day on the road we finally approached the city of Uyuni. It is this strange “last city” outpost in the middle of nowhere. Getting closer to the city we could see how plastic is produced, it grows on small bushes out in the desert…..

It is sad to see nature so full of plastic garbage. This is what happens in windy places when the garbage is just dumped at the side of the road, the wind picks it up and distributes it all over the place where it can tangle up.

There were three things we wanted in Uyuni and the first and most important was to fill up with more fuel. Here we were prepared to pay the international price, but as long as we did not want any receipt we could pay the local price. Even the jerry can got filled up. Second we bought bread, lots of bread. And the third stop in Uyuni was the train cemetery a couple of kilometers outside town. It was strange to see all these old trains parked out in the middle of nowhere next to the train tracks which they would never get back on.

By now the sun was setting so we had to get moving to get a glimpse of Salar de Uyuni before it got totally dark. We just made it as the last vehicles were leaving the salt flats for the evening.

Where you can enter the Salar de Uyuni at Colchani there is quite a bit of water, and since this really salty water is not good for the car we wanted to avoid it. We had been told that it was just to drive 300 meters more to the right to avoid the water, and this turned out to be right. The Patrol got onto the Salar with almost dry tires. After driving a few kilometers out in the dark we found a nice flat spot, which is not really very difficult on the world’s largest salt flat… And set up camp.

When arriving in a new place in the dark it is always exciting to wake up in the morning and see your surroundings for the first time. Climbing down the stairs from the roof top tent in the morning I felt like being in Antarctica. As far as I could see it was white, white, white, and flat, with just a few hills in the distance. What made me realize that it was not Antarctica was that the mountains had no snow on them and when you walked around on the “snow” you did not break through the hard surface. Since the Salar de Uyuni is up at 3650 meters is was cold in the morning so breakfast was enjoyed with the down jacket on (best piece of clothing in the world!).

From the “entrance” of the Salar we headed to Isla Incahuasi which was 80 km away driving over the salt. On the way to the Island we stopped and played around taking some photos.

Espen felt tempted to have a taste of a Toyota (still prefer Patrol….).

Happy travelers that actually managed get synchronized and jump at the same time on try 16, or was it 36?

Isla Incahuasi is an island in the middle of the Salar where hundreds of Cactus grows. An information sign told us that some cacti are 900 years old… Talking about age, I got one year older the day before, but we had no time to celebrate then because of the long driving day.

So among the cactus, that is way older than me, and at a salt table, it was time for some red wine!! After wine it was time for dinner, and it was cooked on salt… If you notice the small white and blue container, it is salt.

We managed to bring salt to the world’s largest salt flat where the Bolivians produce 18.000 ton of salt a year for human consumption.

Salar de Uyuni is an incredible and amazing place to travel and to be for a few days. It feels surreal driving on this surface with a vehicle, but of course even the largest salt flat in the world had to come to an end as we travelled south towards Ruta de Lagunas. More about that soon!


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The Death Road

BoliviaPosted by Espen Thu, September 08, 2011 02:11:32

Death Road Special

It took us more than an hour to cross La Paz from Hotel Oberland to Road No. 3 going north east. Today there is a new road going from La Paz, over the La Cumbre pass, and then drop more than 3500 meters (10500 ft) to the town of Coroico. From here it continues north and east into the Amazon jungle.

On our way up to the pass we came across this funny motif of a military troop preparing for a shooting exercise. Notice the local women doing their laundry a few meters away. Hope they are good…

The view from the pass is stunning, as most of the highlands of South America. More on that particular subject a little later.

The new road is also supposed to be an engineering marvel, but we wanted to find “the old road”, or “The most dangerous road in the world”, as it has been referred to for years. We took off from the paved road onto a small dirtroad, and around a bend we saw it…

The Death Road

We are pretty sure that this really was a scary experience when all the trucks were driving this route. However, these days all the traffic you encounter is downhill cyclists and a pickup truck carrying their lunch and some spare tires.

Still, there is definitely a reason that this road had its share of accidents. The sides are STEEP, and there are no safety fences. We read that the worst accident on the road was a bus dropping off the cliff and killing more than 100 people.

Fortunately we didn’t meet any vehicles on our way down, and I guess we will describe the drive as kind of average Andean mountain road. Spectacular, but so are they all!

Down in Coroico we decided to find an alternative route south, and ended up driving rough dirt roads for three days, well beyond any maps (the “best” map; the German Reise Know-How was WAY OFF!). Our biggest challenge was to find fuel.

This part of Bolivia is also known to have the best "chewing coca" in the country. It is a huge area, and we drove along coca fields for hours and hours.

Back on the “overland route” in Ouro, we decided to make a run for it, and drove 610 kilometers to Sucre. Good to fill up at a normal gas station again. Here waiting in line with the truckers.

We settled down for a few days in Alberto’s garden in the middle of town. This certainly is an oasis in Sucre, but it is not an official camp site. PM us for coordinates. Here we also teamed up with toyotours.com for driving to Uyuni and Ruta de Lagunas. More about that in the next post!


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Titicaca and La Paz

BoliviaPosted by Espen Thu, September 01, 2011 00:05:38

It was late in the afternoon when we drove from the Bolivian border station. From our maps and notes from other traveller we knew there was a hotel in Copacabana that allowed campers in their parking lot. We paid 30 Bolivianos (4,5 usd) and we could sit in their lounge and enjoy the views of Titicaca in front of the fireplace. And WiFi was included.

The next morning we had a stroll in the town, and it kind of seemed like low season. Plenty of boats and restaurants, but not many tourists.

On the way out of town we were stopped at a checkpoint, and they wanted 20 bolivianos before we could pass. After driving in Bolivia for a while now, we have kind of become used to this “municipality tax”. And in most cases, it looks like the Bolivianos (not from the actual town) have to pay as much as us.

From Copacabana the road ends at a small strait where you have to use a “ferry”. The ferry is a small wooden barge, and it is about 10-12 meters (30-35 ft) long. This would definitely be scary in some waves. The barge was relatively “soft” and moved with the waves, and for a moment we were wondering if this was a bad move. Then we saw the bus, and figured we would be okay…

About two hours later we drove into El Alto, a suburb of La Paz. The traffic is heavy and chaotic, but not too aggressive. Later in the day I noticed a small scratch on the side of my front steel bumper that hasn’t been there before, but I have no idea what or when it happened.

Our mission in La Paz was a visit to Ernesto Hug’s garage to see if he could help us change the bushes in our rear trailing arms. These have been bad for a while, but Nissan in Peru could not get us the needed parts. We punched in the coordinates for his garage, and the Garmin Nuvi took us all the way to his front door. We were even allowed to camp in the garage as long as it took to fix the car.

It was definitely about time to change these...

After a couple of days working on the Patrol we finally drove off from the city center and found our way to Hotel Oberland. This is the overland meeting point in Bolivia, and we found of course some fellow travellers staying there. We spent two nights here before driving on, and we also got to try cheese fondue for the first time as this is a “Swiss” hotel.

In the next post we’ll find out if “the most dangerous road in the world” is as dangerous as they say…


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