Unique 4WD expedition through Bolivia and Chile
This unique expedition takes us to the heart of the Altiplano, to discover its breathtaking landscapes. Lagoons and flamingos at almost 5000 m altitude, omnipresent volcanoes, salt deserts,... this circuit is made for lovers of wide open spaces ! The route begins with a hike to Lake Titicaca, to acclimatize and enjoy this colorful place full of legends. We head west to the Sajama National Park in Bolivia, where we cross the Chilean border to enter Lauca Park. Then head south driving along the Cordillera of volcanoes, through the great national parks of northern Chile (Vigognes Park, Surire, Isluga Volcano, Alto Loa), to reach the Atacama Desert and the pleasant village of San Pedro. We then go back to Bolivia to go back to the north. The lagoons of altitude are linked, in the middle of the deserts of Lipez. We'll be amazed by the Uyuni salt flats!
PROGRAMME DAY TO DAY
El Alto Airport - La Paz
Our private driver will pick us up in the hotel lobby at 9:00 am for a full-day tour around the best points of view over the city and into the Moon Valley. La Paz, world’s highest capital elected in 2014 as one of the New 7 Wonders Cities, is surrounded by the high picks of the Andes.
From many parts of the city we can admire the white summits of the Cordillera Real and the imposing Illimani, protector of the city. From the K’Illi K’Illi mirador and the Laykakota Park we will enjoy a panoramic view over the capital.
The Montículo, in the bohemian Sopocachi is the classical meeting point of lovers and newlyweds for romantic pictures.
Since 2014 La Paz is proud of its new cable cars. From the sky the panorama over the city and the mountains is unique and we can have a feel of the social gaps while flying over different neighborhoods.
We will then drive to the south, across the rich "Zona Sur" and get out of the city to enter the Moon Valley. Here we can enjoy the quietness and walk amongst the lunar rock formations during an hour.
In the afternoon we will go back to the historical center and wander around its colorful markets.
NOTE: The K’Illi K’Illi mirador and the Laykakota Park are closed on Mondays.
La Paz - Copacabana
Copacabana is a small and quiet city located at the shores of Titicaca Lake, between two hills. It attracts all year long visitors willing to enjoy the peace and beauty of the lake, as well as pilgrims of the Copacabana Virgin.
The tradition here is “challar” one’s car; this ceremony ensures protection to the vehicle and its drivers for the rest of the year.
We will walk along the center, the market and the port and visit the cathedral.
Night at La Cúpula hotel***.
Copacabana - Yumani
Yumani - Copacabana - La Paz
We will return to La Paz in private transportation (about 3½-hour).
La Paz - Sajama
Departure from the hotel at 9 a.m. in a private vehicle for the beautiful altiplano crossing. We will head south to Patacamaya, from where we will then turn to the West guided by the majestic Sajama Volcano.
On the way, we will stop by chullpas (carangas sepultures) now empty because of regular pillaging. Short stop in the village of Curahuara de Carangas with its colonial church known as the Sixteen chapel of the Altiplano. The church keeps indeed some perfectly preserved intricate frescoes, contrasting with the abandoned atmosphere of the village.The paved road then climbs through a surprising landscape of canyons and rock formations, before arriving to the Sajama’s desolate plateau. We will enter the park by a dirt road taking us to the ranger station.
Night at the Oasis hostel*.
In the morning, we will head to the geysers by 4WD. This particularly active area is a unique display of bubbling pools spread over hundreds of square meters. From there we will follow up the stream until the Laguna Khasiri Kota (el. 5050 m.a.s.l. / 2½-hour hike). During our lunch break we will be able to observe different aquatic bird species, particularly the Andean geese (Huallata in Aymara) never very far from their recognizable nest (large floating platforms made out of algae and grass.)
It is another hour to reach the plateau containing the beautiful Laguna Sorapata. This magical place, surrounded by impressive copper colored mountains, will be perfect for our lunch break. We will then descent to the geysers while enjoying the magnificent view of the volcano Pomerape (el. 6280 m.a.s.l.). We will get back to our 4WD to join Sajama.
Hiking time: 6/7h (option to do it in 2 days); Elevation gain: +600m/-600m.
Night at the Oasis hostel*.
Sajama - Putre
We will pass the Chilean-Bolivian border in the morning to enter the Lauca National Park. A short stop at Lake Chungara (el. 4570 m.a.s.l.), dominated by the impressive Volcano Parinacota (el. 6340 m.a.s.l.), will allow us to observe Andean geese and ducks, as well as flamingoes and other bird species typical of high altitude lagoons. We will then descend towards the village of Parinacota and its charming colonial church of an interesting Andean style. A pleasant track will take us to the maze formed by the Lagoons of Cota Cotani, before descending to the village through the bofedals (3 to 4-hour hike). We will reach the village of Putre by 4WD at the end of the day.
Putre - Cariquima
Heading south through Vicuñas national park, we will follow the base of the active volcano Guallatiri (el. 6063 m.a.s.l.) before reaching the Salar of Surire (el. 4245 m.a.s.l.), which name comes from the ñandus (“suri” in Aymara). We can observe there 3 varieties of flamingoes with numerous llamas, alpagas and vicuñas.
Lunch stop by some hot springs before starting a small track heading south through the Isluga park.
We will cross the colonial villages of Enquelga (el. 3850 m.a.s.l.) and Isluga (el. 3980 m.a.s.l.). Arrival in Colchane or Cariquima late in the afternoon.
Cariquima - Pica
From Colchane, the track will take us to the South to a No Man’s Land on the border. We will drive around the volcano Cariquima (el. 5390 m.a.s.l.) then over the Potezuelo Pass (at an elevation of 5075 meters!) to arrive to the Salar de Huasco. This natural basin surrounded by volcanoes, at an elevation of 3700 meters, impresses by its starkness. It is the most beautiful imaginable spot for an outdoor lunch!
In the afternoon, we will descend to 2400 meters of elevation to reach Pica. The desolate Pampa will be replaced by a green oasis of orange and lemon groves and guava trees. A pure pleasure!
Pica - San Pedro de Atacama
From Pica, we will continue the descent towards Pintados, were we can admire interesting gigantic geoglyphs. On the slopes of the surrounding hills, the pre-Columbian civilizations had drawn about 350 figures showing human, animals and abstract shapes. We will reach the famous “Pan-Americana”, the road linking Alaska to the Tierra del Fuego, before crossing the whole Pampa de Tamarugal. This desolate area was the site of a real rush at the end of the 19th century, not for gold but for Saltpeter. Many abandoned “oficinas” are the remaining trace of this ephemeral and tragic past. We will then head towards Calama, and San Pedro de Atacama, where we will arrive at the end of the day.
San Pedro de Atacama
Departure at 4 a.m. for a trip to the Tatio where we admire the geysers roaring in the cold air of the Altiplano. The valley looks like a giant pot with water spurting here and there. This geological curiosity is a mix of a still frozen ground with clear water springs at more than 70°C. We will observe many volcanic formations, before continuing with an excursion to the village of Caspana, beautifully built in a canyon of the same name. Visit of the Chiu Chiu village and the Lasana Fortress. We will finally descend towards the town of Calama, which wealth is due to the largest open copper mine in the world. Return to San Pedro de Atacama at the end of the day.
San Pedro de Atacama
We will drive in the morning to the archaeological site of Aldea de Tulor (2800 B.C) and its surprising shelters, preserved in the sand for almost 5 millenniums.
The visit will continue through the “Devil’s Canyon” until the pre-Inca fortress of Quitor. This last place was the site of merciless battles during the Spanish conquest. All the cacique atacameños (local chiefs) were decapitated there.
We will then follow the Rio San Pedro over a few kilometers until reaching the archaeological ruins of Catarpe before returning to San Pedro for lunch.
Our vehicle will take us at 04.30pm to go to the Cordillera de Sal (or Salt Cordillera) and the Valley of the Moon with its impressive landscapes of dunes and sculpted Sandstone Mountains. We will there admire the sunset (superb colors over the contorted scenery) before returning to San Pedro.
San Pedro de Atacama - Quetena
We will leave from San Pedro at 08:30 a.m for a steep climb to the Altiplano until the border post of Hito Cajón, the entrance to the Lipez area. At the Laguna Verde, at the base of the Juriques and Licancabur volcanoes (el. 5960 m.a.s.l.) where we will arrive before midday, we can see the curious phenomenon of the wind rsing and changing the color of the Laguna Verde to a spectacular emerald color.
We will then cross the Dali Desert (named because it reminds of one of his paintings) before skirting the Laguna Salada and stopping at the thermal baths of Polques.
We will head north passing the Laguna Verde and though the Challviri Salar from where we will bifurcate to the north to reach the village of Quetena early in the evening.
Cold lunch. All included.
Night at the Doña Braulia accommodation (basic comfort).
Quetena - Siloli Desert
Departure in the morning from the village of Quetena to drive to the active volcano Uturuncu (“jaguar” in Quechua). We will follow one of the highest drivable tracks in the world, an old mining road, at 5700 meters above sea level. Depending on the snow level, the vehicle might drop us at about 5000 m.a.s.l. From there, we will start the climb following the dirt track to its end. A last effort will take us to the summit.
It takes about 4 hours to reach the summit of the most accessible 6000-meter peak in Bolivia. 1 to 2 hours for the descent.
Return to the Laguna Colorada at the end of the day. The intense red-brick color of this lagoon is due to the light sensitive phytoplancton present in its water.
The track continues on through the superb landscape of the Siloli Desert and its famous “árbol de piedra” where we can often spot viscachas.
Cold lunch. All included.
Night at the Hotel del Desierto***.
(availability of double room with matrimonial bed not guaranteed)
Siloli Desert - San Juan
Heading north along the Chilean border on the scenic “route of the Jewels” which name is due to all the lagoons along the way: lagunas Honda, Ch’arkota, Hedionda, Cañapa, sanctuary to 3 varieties of flamingoes. We will stop at the mirador of the volcano Ollague. This volcano is still active and shelters one of the world’s highest open pit copper mines. The track then descends from 4200 to 3600 meters of altitude. We will cross the small Salar de Chiguana at the base of the volcano Tomasamil (el. 5900 m.a.s.l.), before reaching the village of San Juan, where are kept the famous mummies of the “lords of Lipez” (1200 A.D.) and a little museum.
Night at La Cabaña de Sal hostel* (basic comfort).
Salar Sector Room.
Jirira - Uyuni
Early morning start for the ascent of the volcano dominating the Salar. Exceptional view from the mirador (el. 4700 m.a.s.l.) which can reached in 3 to 4 hours. The summit (el. 5400 m.a.s.l.) cannot be attempted, the ascent becoming too dangerous after the mirador (rock cliffs on the way).
Return to Jirira in the afternoon and then to Uyuni at the end of the day, via the salt hotels and a salt exploitation in Colchani.
Hiking time: 7h; Elevation gain: +850m / -850m.
Night at the Tambo Aymara hotel***.
Uyuni - Potosi
We will leave at 8:30 a.m. to drive to Potosí (4 hours), crossing the Cordillera Frailes before reaching the Imperial city in the afternoon. We will stop on the way in Pulacayo, which was the second most important silver mine on the continent in the 19th century . It is now an almost abandoned village where we will find a museum telling its past glory.
Free time for the rest of the day (we recommend the visit of the Santa Teresa Convent).
A day to discover Potosi, classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Today we will get to know the history and current life of Potosí, city listed as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO (full-day tour). Our guide will pick us up at 09:00 am at the hotel lobby and we will go to the Cerro Rico to visit the mine and see the miners at work. This encounter can be overwhelming since the miners (of all ages) work in very hard conditions. We will then go back to the city-center to visit the Casa de la Moneda. The coins of the Spanish crown were minted in this beautiful colonial house until the 19th century. It is now an important historical museum.
NOTE: It is possible to visit the mine everyday but the miners do not work on Sundays and the activity is greatly reduced on Saturdays and Mondays. The Casa de la Moneda is closed on Sundays afternoon and Mondays.
Potosi - La Paz
Long return journey to La Paz, via the city of Oruro (8/9 hours).