Code: 4WLIPEZ Duration: 9 days
This trip includes the most interesting attractions in the Bolivian highlands starting and ending in La Paz city: Sajama National park, Coipasa & Uyuni salt flats, Colorada & Verde lagoons, Tupiza canyons and Potosi silver mines. The itinerary and timing has been designed to enjoy all these places avoiding crowds as much as possible following an optimal route.
Sajama National Park is the first protected area created in Bolivia; it hosts the highest Keñua tree forest in the planet, geysers, hot springs and spectacular views of the highest volcanoes in Bolivia. After Sajama our route will take you to the Uyuni salt flats, ideally visiting Coipasa salt lake on the way (depending of the intensity of the rainy season, Coipasa can be sometimes flooded and therefore dangerous to cross).
Uyuni salt flats were originally called Tunupa by locals before the foundation of Uyuni Town in 1889; approximately 200 km wide, this is the biggest salt concentration and one of the most impressive landscapes in the planet. Located at an average altitude of 3,653m (11,981ft) and with very low rain precipitation (100 to 325 mm per year), this is one of the driest areas in the Bolivian territory, a very delicate and unique ecosystem.
It is true, surrealistic places really exist!. Not only in Salvador Daly paintings or Stanley Kubrick movies, they are in Bolivian deserts too. Imagine multicolored lakes: deep purple with yellow beaches, emerald green with black rocky cliffs, intense red and white Caribbean sandy flats; hundreds of metallic colored volcanoes surrounding the valleys, cobalt blue sky, and then an infinite white salt flats. There are more volcanoes per square kilometer in the southern Bolivian highlands than anywhere else above the surface of the planet, although disperse, a lot of them are concentrated in two areas at the east and west sides of this desert.
Despite the arid terrain and lack of water, the surrounding deserts have been cradle of several old, native cultures. On the shores, there are many ancient ruins and archaeological remains of the past. Today the most important ethnic groups living in the area are the Urus, the Uruquellas, the Llipi, the Chipayas, and the Aymaras.
There is no camping in this trip and accommodation is the best available in each region but not necessarily the most expensive. In the region of Uyuni salt flats and the Lipez desert, we use the Tayka hotels, otherwise we have selected the most charismatic and charming *** hotels.
Day 1. Transport to Sajama. Hotel.
Day 2. Transport to Uyuni salt flat. Hotel.
Day 3. Transport to Quemez. Hotel.
Day 4. Transport to Ojo de Perdiz. Hotel.
Day 5. Transport to Colorada, Verde lagoons and to Quetena. Basic hostel.
Day 6. Transport to San Pablo. Hotel.
Day 7. Transport to Tupiza. Hotel.
Day 8. Transport to Potosi. Hotel.
Day 9. Transport to La Paz.
- Spectacular views of Sajama National Park; volcanic landscape, the highest Keñua tree forest in the planet, geysers, hot springs, alpaca & llamas herds.
- Great sightseeing of Coipasa & Uyuni salt flats.
- 4WD journey through the most popular attractions in the Bolivian southern highlands: stone tree, and Colorada & Verde lagoons.
- Splendid views of Tupiza canyons; last known location of Bush Cassidy & Sundance Kid.
- Potosi city and its silver mines.
- 2300km total distance covered.
- Meals mentioned in the itinerary.
- Full land transportation during the trip.
- Hotel accommodation as mentioned in the itinerary
- Bilingual guide during the trip.
- Luggage transportation in the vehicle (20 kg/44 lb per person max weight).
- National Park entrance fees.
Services Not Included
- International & local flight tickets & fees.
- Transfers IN/OUT to airports.
- Meals & accommodation while in La Paz and other main cities.
- Insurance of any kind.
- Any expense due to a rescue operation (rescuers fee, transportation, or medical cost).
Day to day details
A pleasant drive traversing the flat highlands will take us to Sajama National Park where we will enjoy a great landscape; a microclimatic high-altitude valley dotted by thousands of Alpacas, Vicuñas and Llamas, and surrounded by the highest volcanoes in Bolivia.
Despite its height this protected land host a bizarre forest of Keñua trees, some of them subsist up to 5100m (16728ft) or higher, according to some scientists being the highest forest in the planet.
There we will experience the hospitability of the local Aymara indigenous that own Tomarapi lodge where we will spend the night.
On the way, if we can find the key keeper, we may visit the church of Curahuara de Carangas, considered the “sixteenth chapter” of the Bolivian Andes because of its magnificent mural paintings. Before getting to our lodge we will make a short visit to the geysers and the hot springs; those who want can enjoy a relaxing bath (the local community charge a small extra cost).
Overnight: Tomarapi Lodge
El Alto 4,100m (13,450ft)
Tomarapi 4,260m (13,972ft)
Driving: 5-6 Hrs (325km)
After traversing a sandy desert southern than Sajama National Park, we may cross Coipasa salt flat if it is not flooded during the rainy season. Although smaller than Uyuni this salt lake is really spectacular containing a huge volcano island and a salty water lake in its center.
In the afternoon we will get to the Uyuni. Arriving to this salt lake; the largest salt concentration in the planet; is a really amazing experience. There we will stay in a town called Tawa located in the northern shores; our hotel is mostly built with salt bricks.
Overnight: Hotel de Sal Tayka
Uyuni: 3,665 m (12,021 ft)
Driving: 9-10 Hrs (443km)
Today we will spend almost all the day exploring and enjoying Uyuni salt lake. Along of the way, we’ll enjoy the wild landscape that surrounds the salt lake with its colored volcanoes.
Once at the Uyuni Salt Flats, we will navigate over the rock hard salt. In the midst of the Salar's blinding sea of white (take sunglasses!) there exist several solid rock and earth islands each having distinct flora and fauna.
We will visit one of them called “Fishback” island where we will hike to a spectacular viewpoint. After having lunch somewhere in the middle of the salt lake, we will head south towards Quemez. There we will stay in hotel made of rocks; very charming but a little cold inside.
Overnight: Hotel de Piedra Tayka
Quemez: 3,712m (12,175ft)
Driving: 5-6 Hrs (120km)
This morning we will enter the provinces of Lipez, an area that was called “The Andean Tibet” by the National Geographic; one of the most spectacular places in the Andes. The color-washed volcanoes, deserts, lagoons, bizarre formations of petrified lava, Geysers, fumaroles and the wildlife are complementary to the landscape’s immensity and the intense blue sky.
After crossing Chiguana salt lake, we will start climbing towards “Eduardo Avaroa” National Reserve of Andean Fauna, on our way we will cross beautiful high-altitude deserts dotted by colorful lagoons and flanked by numerous impressive volcanoes. We will stay in a Lodge located in the middle of a desert called “Ojo de Perdiz”(Partridge’s eye).
Overnight: Hotel Desiertos Yayka
Ojo de Perdiz: 4,528m (14,852ft)
Driving: 7-8 Hrs (175km)
On the way to the village of Quetena we will visit several attractions including: the “Rock Ladies” (bizarre rock formations that include the famous “stone tree”), Colorada Lagoon (red lagoon), the geysers of “Sol de Mañana” (morning’s sun), the rocky monuments of “Dali Desert” and Laguna Verde (green lagoon).
Once at Quetena, at the foot of Uturuncu volcano (the only 6000er in the region), we will stay in a basic hostel.
Overnight: Basic hostel
Road pass: 4,900m (16,072ft)
Lag.Verde: 4,397m (14,422ft)
Quetena: 4,146m (13,599ft)
Driving: 7-8 Hrs (310km)
Back to the highlands again but probably this time we will not feel the altitude and can enjoy the return to the high Andes since we will be already acclimatized. San Pablo is the capital of the province of Lipez but do not expect too much. It is just a village of no more than 5 streets.
On the way we will visit the old ghost town of San Antonio, once one of the largest silver mines during colonial times.
The hostel, the only accommodation in town, is again a very simple but clean service.
Overnight: Hotel Los Volcanes
San Pablo: 4,250m (13,940ft)
Driving: 6-7 Hrs (132km)
Before getting to the “lower” lands towards Tupiza at the eastern side of the Andes, we will cross and impressive landscape of highlands and innumerable extinct volcanic cones.
Tupiza is known because it hosted, almost a hundred years ago, a couple of American villains: Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. In fact there we will feel being in the Wild West while walking along the canyons and rocky formations around the valleys of Tupiza where the landscape and vegetation is extremely dry and harsh. Several natural “treasures” are hidden into these canyons where we will hike for several hours.
As usual, we will be at the best hotel in this sleepy town.
Overnight: Hotel Mitru
Road pass: 4,750m (15,580ft)
Tupiza: 3,000m (9,840ft)
Driving: 6-7 Hrs (136km)
The paved road to Potosi is very nice; first we will drive along of Tupiza canyons and later traverse rolling hills with strange vegetation typical of really dry deserts with its mountains changing colors at every turn.
On our way to our hotel we will stop in Potosi city where we will have lunch, and walk around the main attractions of this unique mining city; we will be transported to XVII century when walking the streets of this city with such a rich colonial history.
During the afternoon we will drive into a valley where we will overnight in Hacienda Cayara, one of the oldest colonial farms of the Americas, like staying in a museum. The hotel has its own museum but we can also visit a museum in Potosi like “Casa de la Moneda”; one of the largest and finest museums in the continent; or Santa Teresa.
Overnight: Hacienda Cayara
Potosi: 3,941m (12,926ft)
Cayara: 3,551m (11,647ft)
Driving: 4-5 Hrs (275km)
A long day to drive to La Paz, the paved road traverses interesting highland landscape yet the most fertile part off the “Altiplano” and one of the most populated areas of Bolivia.
Road pass: 4,300 m (14,104 ft)
La Paz: 3,650 m (11,972 ft)
Driving: 6-7 Hrs (390km)