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Bus - Sucre is only a couple hours away from Potosi, and 10 hours away from Uyuni. We were curious to see Potosi, so we took an evening bus there and arrived around 9:30pm. We bought our ticket to Potosi from the hotel we were staying at in Sucre.
Hotel in Potosi
Since we were arriving late, we wanted to have our hotel completely settled, so we tried to book beforehand. No one was answering their phones, and the one hostel that did was booked. I think we tried every place in the lonely planet. Our hostel in Sucre had a tourism newspaper with advertisements in it. We saw one for Potosi that sounded descent, so we called and made a reservation. I’m glad we did because Potosi is huge and I didn’t feel completely safe there. I wouldn’t have wanted to wander around there at night looking for a place to crash.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember the exact name of it or the exact price (around $20). It was something like San Marcos Hostel/Hotel on La Paz avenue. I wouldn’t really recommend it as my number one choice, but it is better than wandering around. The beds were comfortable, but the shower was horrible. The tepid water lasted for about 2 minutes before it turned freezing. They claimed to have heated rooms. It was really just one of those white space heaters that don’t do a lot of good. We snuck a second one from the empty room next door and that did help take the chill off the room. They also claimed to have cable, but although there was a TV in the room, it didn’t have cable. I asked them a couple questions about buses to Uyuni etc. They didn’t know anything. They were helpful in calling a travel agent who then came out to eat breakfast with us in order to explain about the options for Uyuni tours. I didn’t really like that because it made me feel obligated to buy something from her. We did buy the bus ticket to Uyuni, but not a tour.
If anyone knows the exact name of the hotel or the contact info â€“ send me a message. I don’t like leaving the info half complete.
Potosi was really not our best experience. We missed out on everything we wanted to do. We wanted to visit the Casa del la Moneda Museum. The hours were posted as 9-12 then it opens again after lunch. Our bus to Uyuni left at 12:30 and we wanted to get some things for Uyuni organized, so we thought we would go to the museum around 10 or 10:30 and stay for about an hour. That was not possible. Apparently you have to go on a tour with a guide, and the tour takes 2 hours. These tours only leave at designated times, so if you miss it you are out of luck.
We went to a nearby Saltina/empanada place, recommended in Lonely Planet, for lunch. It was PACKED! People were standing around in the entrance way just waiting for a table. We figured it must be good. We waited with them for a while, but our time was getting close to when we had to leave, so then we tried to order some to go. The waitresses were flying around, so it was hard to get them to talk to us. The one who did talked fast and was rushing around and we couldn’t understand her. After about 10-15 minutes of trying to get some empanadas. We were finally told they were out. So, we missed out on yet another thing and just had to get a boring sandwich to go from down the street and rush to catch the bus.
We didn’t have time to wait for a radio taxi, so we grabbed one that had just dropped other people off right outside our hotel. It was sketchily marked, but we were in a hurry, so we jumped in. We had only driven 2 blocks when another guys waves at the taxi and the driver stopped and let him in with us. I didn’t want him to because I read that was a bad idea, but it all happened so fast that he was in the car before I had time to protest. He was really chatty and friendly (almost too much). Then about 4 blocks later another man in plain clothes, but with a police badge waves the taxi down. Our driver tried to keep going at first, but then stopped. The guy checked the taxi’s papers, and like I said it was sketchily marked, so I thought, great, we are going to all get in trouble because he isn’t a real taxi. But, then he turned his attention to the passengers and asked for our documents. I had read that only the tourist police in uniform are allowed to ask for our documents, so alarm bells were going off in my head now. Chris didn’t know that and handed over our passports. Now, I’m freaking out because he has our documents, so he has a lot of control, but he gives them back and tells us we need to go to the immigration office or some such thing. That’s when I jumped out of the taxi and started screaming, â€œabre, abre!â€ and banging on the trunk to get our suitcases. I had no idea what we would do if he didn’t, but the driver got out and opened the trunk. We grabbed our stuff and ran before seeing the responses of the 3 men.
I’m not sure if all 3 of them or just the immigration officer and the additional passenger were in on some kind of scam. I’m not really sure what they wanted, and they obviously weren’t very good at whatever it was they were trying to do, but I’m glad we got out of it safely and with all our things although a little shook up.
Some suggestions: use the radio taxi’s when possible; keep your luggage with you in the car that way you can grab it and run if you need to; lock the doors; don’t let other people go with you; don’t hand over your passports. If he had kept them, we would have been totally screwed.
We made it to the bus with a few minutes to spare.
Bus â€“ The buses to Uyuni don’t leave from the main bus station (only one large bus does). They leave from a designated spot down the street. Taxi drivers will know where to take you if you tell them you are going to Uyuni.
We bought our ticket from the travel agent. I’m glad we had it ahead of time because the bus was packed. It was a mini bus for 18 people not the full sized one. It was pretty uncomfortable because it was a 7 hour trip on dirt roads and the seats were not the plush full sized bus seats, but we made it which was fortunate.
As you are probably aware, Bolivia has problems with road closures due to one form of protest or another. As we were driving along a bus that was heading towards Potosi was turned back because the road had just been closed behind us. We kept meeting people along our trip who were turned back because of road closures and when we figured it out they were only 1 day or even hours behind us, so it really is just luck of the draw. Plan some buffer days in your trip if you plan to visit on a time schedule.
DirecciÃ³n : Calle Cabrera NÂº 473 Tel : (+591) 2 693 20 76
Price â€“ We paid $20 for a double with 2 beds, bath and breakfast. They quoted us $30 for a matramonial, but we asked them for something cheaper that’s what they offered. They did have 1 dorm with 6 beds. I’m not sure the price.
Cleanliness â€“ Very clean
Comfort â€“ The beds were good. It was cold, but they had extra blankets if you wanted them. The shower was amazing. Nice pressure and it stayed hot the whole time. The bathroom was a little small, so the toilet was half in the shower. That was a little weird, but not a big deal.
Character - The decorations are very feminine. Lots of pinks and peaches and flowers, but it was cute and tastefully done even if it isn’t my style.
Amenities â€“ breakfast was descent, local TV (no other kind in Uyuni or so I was told), luggage storage, and a cute 5 year old girl who will talk to you if you are nice and patient with her. After our 3 day trip in the desert we were filthy. All I could think about was a shower. We were leaving that night on the train, so we paid $3 each to take a shower when we picked up our luggage. It was worth every penny.
Recommended - $30 seemed a bit much, but for $20 definitely. It is right across the street from where the buses drop people off from Sucre and Potosi. There are some buses that arrive around 2am. This would be a great place if you arrive on a late bus. Just walk across the street and you are there. It isn’t on the main drag though, so you have to walk a little ways to get into the tourist part of town.
Pizzaâ€“ Minute Men â€“ The best pizza we had in South America. It is run by an American, so the style is more American. It was GOOD. We went there twice. We ate dinner there after returning from our trip and stayed until 10pm when we left to catch our train. They can get really busy so there may not always be room, but it was nice to have somewhere to stay until it was time to go.
We booked a 3 day trip with Andrea Tours based on the recommendation of LP and support from people’s blogs and other reviews. The information booth that many people recommended was closed by the time we got there (8pm) and the next morning, Sunday, so we couldn’t rely on those reviews.
Salar de Uyuni â€“ 3 day trip with Andrea Tours
Find contact info in LP. Their office is in the tourist plaza by the clock tower on the left hand side if you are walking towards the train.
$70 for 3 days including everything but the entrance fee to the cactus island ($1.50) and the national park.(around $4) and optional visit to a museum (75 cents), public bathrooms along the way (75 cents for each visit).
The everything is:
ï‚• A Toyota 4 wheel drive land rover type vehicle that seats 8 (6 tourists)
ï‚• A driver/guide who speaks Spanish only and a cook (very good. We caught a glimpse of what other people were eating and ours was definitely better)
ï‚• 3 meals a day + little snacks like candies, tea, salty biscuits. (Bring some of your own snacks especially water)
ï‚• 1 night stay at a â€œhotelâ€ with 2 people per room shared bath with a shower you can pay for. 1 night stay at a â€œhotelâ€ with all 6 of you in a shared room. Shared bathroom, no running water.
There are a couple different options.
You can go for 3 or 4 days. Unless you are a die-hard scenery enthusiast, I would recommend 3 days. It was enough and I didn’t feel like we were rushed at any time.
You can do a loop where you start and return to Uyuni (what we did). The last day involves a long drive.
You can see the Laguna Verde and then get taken to a bus 20 minutes away where you will be taken to the Chilean border (what 2 of our group members did). You miss the long drive back and a visit to an interesting lava flow and the formations that were created because of it, but not much else.
If you go with specific companies you can go to Tupiza which is about Â½ way between Argentina and Uyuni. I think this goes on a different route and I’m not sure what places are the same and what is different. The advantage would be missing out on the return trip and then a shorter train ride to the border.
When to go: September/October is a good time to go because it is dry season, so there are minimal breakdowns. However, you do miss the hallucinogenic effect the water creates on the Salar. You have to go in the rainy season to see that. But, then expect more breakdowns and higher prices because the salt water damages the trucks. I didn’t realize we wouldn’t see it and was disappointed. Otherwise, I think it is similar.
Suggestion: Go to the museum and the funaries when you stop for the 1st night. Our guide just mentioned it as something to do. The museum was informative and important to go to first because it explains about the culture of the people who you will see in their graves at the top of the hill. Note: you actually see the skeletons. If you get really creeped out then perhaps give it a skip, but it was fascinating. I’ve never seen people get buried in such a way before and as death always does you are reminded of your own mortality.
Tip for the ladies: Not to gross anyone out too much, but the bathrooms (especially on the second day) are few and far between. That means a lot of squating. There are some obvious places that are good to use because the view is obstructed a little, but it is sad and gross to see all the little wads of toilet paper laying there. I might suggest taking a little baggy to put your toilet paper in or wearing a pad instead of using tp and then stowing your used pads in a baggy until you can throw it away later.
Uyuni to Argentina
The train only goes on certain days and the times change depending on what day it goes. Andrea Tours bought our ticket for us while we were gone because the ticket office was closed when we tried to go. Even if the office is closed, you can still go look at the time table. There are 2 different boards with different time tables and different information. It was pretty confusing, but the people who work with the tourists have the schedule down pretty well, so you should be able to ask someone to get the answers you need.
We took a 10:30 pm train that took us all the way to the Bolivian border. There are 3 different classes of train tickets. We were recommended to avoid the lowest class, but that both the 1st and 2nd class were fine. Our ticket also included breakfast. We arrived around 7am.
The train station would be in reasonable walking distance from the border without suitcases. With suitcases, it was a little more difficult, but I was worried about taxi drivers because of hearing how they often pull scams around border towns. I don’t know if that would be the case here as well, but I just wanted to avoid it alltogether. So, we walked.
Getting the exit stamp in Boliva was a piece of cake and took 20 seconds. Getting into Argentina took a little more effort. There was a long line of people and only 1 guy working. We stood in line barely moving for at least 20 minutes. I couldn’t find the typical entrance forms you need to fill out anywhere, so I figured I would just have to wait until we made it to the front of the line and then waste time filling it out while other people waited behind us. Then, an officer came down the line and collected the passports of all non South Americans. He dissapeared for about 10-15 minutes and then returned with all our passports stamped and processed and we were able to go through. We never had to fill out a form.
We took a taxi from there to the bus station and I’m glad we did because it was uphill, not that close for walking with suitcases, and the buses fill up quickly with all the tourists who just got off the train trying to catch a bus to their next destination.