After a semester of study in the gigantic city of Buenos Aires, I made on of the best decisions I have ever made and went on a trip through Bolivia and the North of Argentina. The plan was to go from Tucumán (North West of Argentina) to the Titicaca Lake on Bolivia’s border with Peru. In between, we first visited the numerous little villages along the beautiful “Quebrada de Humahuaca” in the region of Salta. This side of Argentina is truly a far cry from Buenos Aires; we could hardly believe we were in the same country. With no proper roads, supermarkets, or clubs, but instead plethora of waterfalls, colourful mountains, farm animals wandering aimlessly on the streets, and incredibly hospitable people.
After a brief return to civilization in Salta, we headed for Bolivia. The highlight of our Bolivian experience was definitely the tour we took in and around Uyuni’s salt flat. For four days we travelled in a 4WD and with each passing day, more breath-taking landscapes were uncovered. Bolivia has it all : volcanoes, lagoons (usually occupied by hundreds of flamencos), geysers, lakes, caves and more importantly, the world’s biggest salt flat. After capturing the memory with a thousand pictures, we headed to Potosi, the once prosperous city of the “Cerro Rico” from which tons of silver and gold had been extracted at the peak of the Spanish Empire. Nowadays, the city is still very beautiful (and one of my personal favorites) but the resources of the “Cerro Rico” have nearly run out. The workers in the mines, which can be visited, have a hard time finding anything, and work in truly horrendous conditions.
After this rather traumatic but awakening experience, we went to Sucre – Bolivia’s very charming capital– and then to La Paz, the second largest city in Bolivia. Our stay there enabled us to have very nice experiences such as cycling the “death road”, shopping at the strangest market ever where they casually sell llama fetuses, getting our fortune read in cocoa leaves, and so much more! It’s also a very convenient place for cheap Christmas shopping; my whole family loved the hats and socks made of 100 % llama wool! Then we went to the “Isla del Sol” in the Titicaca lake which might well be the most beautiful place I have ever seen. After this last piece of Latin American greatness, we reluctantly went back to La Paz to take our flight back to Buenos Aires, feeling like we had at last seen the true essence of Latin America.
If you are interested in visiting the area here are some practical considerations:
Youth hostels are numerous and very cheap (usually no more than 4 £ breakfast included). Buses are very convenient and fairly cheap in Bolivia, in Argentina, they tend to be more expensive and I would recommend the train when possible. I really enjoyed my 26-hour-long train journey from Buenos Aires to Tucumán; great opportunity for unlikely encounters (although for some dubious reasons, it was forbidden to play cards or drink mate – an infusion very popular in some Latin American countries –on board, which almost got us kicked out of the train). Neither my friend nor I ever felt in danger during the trip and we met lots of lone female travelers although I preferred having companionship on the trip.