With glaciated peaks over 21,000 feet high and mighty rivers rolling through the largest forest on earth, Bolivia is a land of superlatives. Explore diverse extremes from the Andes to the Amazon on this complete 18-day itinerary, starting in one capital, Sucre, and ending in the next, La Paz. Along the way, you'll visit high-altitude lakes and bubbling mud and geysers in Eduardo Avaroa Reserve, herd llamas and farm quinoa in Santiago K, trek Isla de la Luna on Lake Titicaca, and seek out exotic wildlife in the Amazon's Madidi National Park.

Highlights

  • Tour the famed Cerro Rico mine in Potosí and meet the miners
  • Marvel at the white expanse of Salar de Uyuni from Isla Incahuasi
  • Cycle down "Death Road" through cloud forest, past waterfalls, and jungle
  • Discover the indigenous communities around Lake Titicaca
  • Ride Mi Teleférico cable car network for encompassing views of La Paz

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Fly from Santa Cruz to Sucre Sucre
Day 2 Transfer to Potosí Potosí
Day 3 Explore Potosí - Transfer to Uyuni Uyuni
Day 4 Explore Salar de Uyuni & Isla Incahuasi - Transfer to Tahua Tahua
Day 5 Transfer to Siloli Desert via Eduardo Avaroa Reserve Solilo Desert
Day 6 Discover lakes, geysers & hot springs - Transfer to Santiago K Santiago K
Day 7 Llama herding, quinoa farming & Laqaya - Transfer to Uyuni Uyuni
Day 8 Fly to La Paz - Visit Tiwanaku La Paz
Day 9 Bike El Camino de la Muerte La Paz
Day 10 Transfer to Lake Titicaca & Isla del Sol Isla del Sol
Day 11 Explore Isla del Sol - Transfer to Isla de la Luna Isla de la Luna
Day 12 Isla de la Luna hike - Return to La Paz - Fly to Rurrenabaque Rurrenabaque
Day 13 Transfer to Madidi Jungle Ecolodge Madidi National Park
Day 14 Discover wildlife of the Amazon Madidi National Park
Day 15 Explore the Madidi Jungle Madidi National Park
Day 16 Return to Rurrenabaque - Fly to La Paz La Paz
Day 17 Free day La Paz
Day 18 Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Fly from Santa Cruz to Sucre

Bolivia - Sucre - Convento de San Felipe Neri
Discover the white-washed buildings of Sucre

This morning you'll head to the airport for your hour-long flight to Sucre where you'll transfer from the airport to the heart of this UNESCO-protected colonial city. At around 9,000 feet above sea level, Sucre's whitewashed buildings and narrow cobblestoned streets, make it the perfect place to rest and acclimate before heading higher up into the heart of the Bolivian highlands. 

Sucre was once the home of the Spanish aristocrats who were made rich by the silver mines of Potosí but came to this temperate valley to escape the harsh climate near the mines. You can spend the afternoon strolling the bustling streets of this now-college town and pausing in quiet plazas under the stone walls of centuries-old cathedrals and mansions.

Day 2: Transfer to Potosí

Bolivia - Potosí - city center
Spend time strolling amid the colonial buildings of Potosí's city center

The three-hour drive in a private car from Sucre to Potosí takes you deep into the gorge of the mighty Pilcomayo River and up onto the high plateau of Potosí—13,000 feet above sea level. In its heyday several centuries ago, the city of Potosí rivaled the largest capitals of the world in terms of population and splendor, a past still visible in its ornate stonework.

After lunch, find your way to the Casa de Moneda museum for a vivid portrayal of this past. Among many other artifacts and artwork that tell the city's story, the museum features the donkey-powered mint where the Spanish made the silver coins, the world's first, real global currency.

Day 3: Explore Potosí - Transfer to Uyuni

Cerro Rico and Potosí, Bolivia
Tour the Cerro Rico mine in Potosí

Above Potosí's stone mansions and cathedrals and adobe and cinder-block walls and tin roofs of its outskirts, rises the Cerro Rico mountain. Cerro Rico holds veins of silver so rich that they continue to be mined 500 years after their discovery.

Learn how little the mining methods have changed since then on a tour of the mine. After loading up on coca leaves and other gifts for the miners in the market, you'll be outfitted with a hard hat, light, and coveralls. You'll then venture down the twisting, anthill passageways to where crews hack at the stone walls with their pickaxes. If you are feeling inspired, leave a gift for the Tío statue, the god of the underworld and mines to which the miners pray for safety and fortune.

In the afternoon, you'll transfer to your accommodation in Uyuni. Along the way, enjoy the scenic drive through a landscape of llama herds and pastures, dunes, cacti forests, villages under red rock canyons and the distant view of the vast Salar de Uyuni and its looming volcanoes.

Day 4: Explore Salar de Uyuni & Isla Incahuasi - Transfer to Tahua

Salar de Uyuni, Incahuasi, Bolivia
Climb the rocky outcrop of Isla Incahuasi and marvel at the white expanse of Salar de Uyuni

After an early start, stop at the surreal train cemetery before carrying on across Salar de Uyuni, the vast salt flats the size of Connecticut and the flattest place on planet earth. You can use the endless horizon to take pictures that play with perspective, and a thin layer of rainwater turns the flats into a perfect mirror, suspending you in an ethereal world of sky and clouds. 

From there, you'll stop at the cactus-studded Isla Incahuasi (Incahuasi Island). Here you can climb through the spines and twisted boulders to the island's peak to appreciate the vastness of the Salar and walk the desiccated shoreline to examine the intricate geometry of the cracks in the salt to get a sense of the vast solitude of this desert wasteland. The journey then continues to the community of Tahua, a quinoa-farming village at the foot of the mighty Thunupa Volcano. After today's rugged trip in a harsh landscape, you'll be able to rest well in a high-class hotel built of salt blocks.

Day 5: Transfer to Siloli Desert via Eduardo Avaroa Reserve

Laguna Hedionda, Bolivia
Stop to snap pics of Laguna Hedionda and its flamingos

In the morning you'll head south, deeper into the wild altiplano of the Andes and through the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve to your hotel in the Siloli Desert. Keep an eye out for vicuña, a sleek, wild cousin of the alpaca and llama, or the ñandu, an Andean ostrich. 

The route passes by a string of high lakes—Cañapa, Hedionda, Ch-arkota, and Honda—each with their distinct coloration and waterfowl, including three species of flamingo. You’ll cross the salt flats of Chiguana with the Ollagüe volcano, a massif on the Chilean border, belching clouds of sulfurous smoke in the distance. Looking more like petrified trees, the twisted rock formations in the area shelter mounds of green moss further adding to the alien landscape. Check into your hotel near Laguna Colorada in the Siloli Desert.

Day 6: Discover lakes, geysers & hot springs - Transfer to Santiago K

Bolivia - Sol de Manana -
Warm up in Sol de Mañana 

In the early dawn, you’ll reach Laguna Colorada, the crown jewel of the high lakes in the region. Its salty blood-red waters teem with flamingos. From there you'll jump through plumes of warm steam hissing up through hidden cracks in the Sol de Mañana geyser field. The streams with no geothermal source may be iced over and sparkling like gems strung out across the desert, but you won't have to suffer from the cold. The waters of the Polques Hot Springs will be steaming and welcoming.

After a relaxing soak, the journey continues through the Dalí Desert, with strange formations and lines that inspired the painter's surrealism. Beyond the desert are the emerald waters of Laguna Verde. The massive Licancabur volcano, on the Chilean border, sometimes sends gusts of wind down its flank that beat the green water to a foamy arsenic froth. You'll spend the night with a Quechua-speaking community of quinoa farmers in Santiago K and stay the night with a local family fully immersing yourself in the lifestyle of the Salar region.

Day 7: Llama herding, quinoa farming & Laqaya - Transfer to Uyuni

Planting quinoa near Santiago K.
Work with a farmer to grow quinoa near Santiago K

Experience a day in the life of a local today in Santiago K. Spend the early morning hours releasing llamas from their stone corrals and help herd them to their pastureland, allowing you to learn the vital importance llamas play throughout the Andes. Next, you'll visit quinoa plots to see how the pseudocereal is grown. If you're up for it, consider joining in on the farming work.

In the afternoon, you'll visit the pre-Colombian site of Laqaya for further insight into the region's history, from the Inca conquest to the Spanish invasion. You'll then say goodbye to your hosts and set off to Uyuni for a restful night.

Day 8: Fly to La Paz - Visit Tiwanaku

The Gate of the Sun in Tiwanaku.
Wander the sprawling Tiwanaku ruins and visit the Gate of the Sun

A short flight brings you to El Alto, near the city of La Paz, and from there you'll transfer to the ruins of the ancient city of Tiwanaku, the center of an empire that flourished long before the Inca, from the 5th to 10th centuries. Discover cryptic designs engraved into stone palaces and temples of a city that once reigned over northern Argentina and Chile to southern Peru. At the archeological site, you will explore the main temples, the Pyramid of Akapana and Kalasasaya, as well as the inspiring Gateways to the Sun and Moon.

You'll then leave behind the silent stones of a vanished culture and plunge into the colorful bustle of La Paz. With houses spilling down the canyon walls at 12,000 feet above sea level below the glaciated hulk of Illimani Mountain, La Paz is a jumble of tradition and modernity. Cholitas (women in typical dress dating back to colonial times) float serenely over the chaos in the world’s most modern urban gondola system, Mi Teleférico. Wander the maze of steep streets and stairways, visit the number of museums and markets, like Witches Market, and be sure to check out the historic downtown and lively nightlife.

Day 9: Bike El Camino de la Muerte

Bikers perched on the edge of Death Road.
Sail down Death Road stopping to take in the breathtaking views

The gimmicky name of this downhill mountain bike route has just enough truth in it to keep things interesting. It follows the path of what used to be the main thoroughfare from the high Andes to the Amazon, where many vehicles have gone over the edge of the narrow single-lane road. But while motion-hungry daredevils will find plenty to feast on during the route's 11,500-foot vertical drop, the enduring value of the ride is the landscape. Meet your guide to grab your bike and gear up for an exhilarating day of cycling El Camino de la Muerte (Death Road).

You'll start on the crest of the Andes, at over 15,000 feet, before plunging into green glens reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. As you descend, the air becomes moister and the streams more full and powerful. Fringes of jungle vegetation begin to appear, and you ride behind a series of waterfalls draped in moss and ferns. On your left, the mountainside falls away into a jungle gorge, and you continue to descend past more cascades and larger and larger forests, alive with the vibrations of hummingbirds. The ride ends at 3,500 feet in the town of Yolosita, where transportation awaits to return you to La Paz.

Day 10: Transfer to Lake Titicaca & Isla del Sol

Boliva - Isla del Sol - Lago Titicaca
Explore Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca

After driving along the shores of Lake Titicaca under the glaciers of the Cordillera Real, and crossing the Straights of Taquina on a rustic barge, you'll arrive at Copacabana. The main port town on the Bolivian side of the lake, Copacabana has an ornate basilica with a black Virgin Mary waiting for you to discover.

From Copacabana, you'll take a boat to Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and ascend the 500 steps of the famous Escalera del Inca staircase to viewpoints overlooking the beautiful azure waters below. A local guide will take you along the crest of the island above the terraced slopes, still farmed by the Aymara people, recounting legends and myths. As the light fades, you can enjoy the sunset over the highest navigable lake in the world.

Day 11: Explore Isla del Sol - Transfer to Isla de la Luna

Sunset over the lake edged with reeds used for millennia to make fishing nets.
Take in a quiet sunset over Lake Titicaca from Isla de la Luna

After visiting the Inca temple of La Chinkana, the most important Inca ruin on the south side of Isla del Sol, you'll take a boat to the lesser-traveled Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon), the female counterpart of the former. Here you can share a traditional apthapi "potluck" meal with the Aymara community, and see the landscape and archaeology of the island. Consider participating in the ancient reed-net fishing methods of the lake-dwellers before settling in for the night.

Day 12: Isla de la Luna hike - Return to La Paz - Fly to Rurrenabaque

The path along the shoreline of Titicaca.
Trek the ancient path along Lake Titicaca's shoreline

This morning you'll board a private boat and ride to the village of Yampupata on the mainland. From here you'll trek along the ancient stones of a pre-Colombian path. Three hours of hiking take you through Sampaya and Jinchaca, untouched by tourism, whose village residents will be hoeing their fields of purple-flowered tarwi beans or tending to their herds of llamas between the bright blue expanse of the altiplano sky and the sparkling waters of the lake. A vehicle will take you from the hike's end back to Copacabana, where you will board the return bus to the La Paz airport.

Board your 40-minute flight to Rurrenabaque. Make sure to grab a window seat for breathtaking views of turquoise glacier lakes sending their waters into the rainforest below. Thick jungle clings to inaccessible folds of mountains where a single slope could hold more biodiversity than entire continents. And at the foot of the last fold, where the mountains give way to the flooded forests and savannas of the Amazon, lies Rurrenabaque.

Day 13: Transfer to Madidi Jungle Ecolodge

Canoeing through the Bala Gorge.
Enjoy the scenery as you pass through the Bala Gorge

In the morning you'll depart in a motorized canoe up the Beni River, through the Bala Gorge before continuing along a smaller tributary until you arrive at the Madidi Jungle Ecolodge. This low-impact rainforest eco-venture is wholly owned and run by indigenous people from the heart of Bolivia's Madidi National Park, a park which is recognized as one of the most biodiverse places in the world—its 1,254 bird species represent 14% of all birds known to man.

After lunch and swinging in hammocks, an afternoon hike takes you to a mammal salt lick, where you will have the chance to see white-lipped peccaries, red howler monkeys, brown capuchin monkeys, toucans, guans (a type of bird), and many bird species. Later, there is the option to do a night hike to see other insects, reptiles, and amphibians.

Day 14: Discover wildlife of the Amazon

Madidi National Park lodgings, Bolivia
Fall asleep to the sounds of the Madidi jungle 

Take the morning to hike along the Mapajo and Almendrillo trails to find the Giant Kapok, Almendrillo, and Strangler Fig trees. Here, you will learn about the different forest plants, and discover their medicinal and spiritual uses, as well as their role in the ecosystem. A different set of trails takes you back to the lodge, where the tranquil lunch-and-hammock-siesta rhythm continues.

In the afternoon, you'll take a short boat trip upstream on the Tuichi River to the Serere trail for a riverside hike to a floodplain to spot native wildlife. Here you might see yellow squirrel monkeys and hoatzin birds, the most ancient bird species in South America (related to the dinosaur). And if you're up for it, consider fishing for piranhas at the aptly named Piraña Lagoon, before forging ahead to check out a recently discovered salt lick and then returning to the lodge.

When darkness falls, if you're feeling brave, you can venture out again in search of nocturnal wildlife, like tarantulas and frogs. Whether at the lodge or on the night paths, you can't help but hear the creatures perform their grand nocturne.

Day 15: Explore the Madidi Jungle

The capybara: the world's largest rodent.
Keep an eye out for capybaras along the river bank to and from Santa Rosa

Day three of your jungle retreat holds many options to explore your surroundings further. In the morning, take the Biwa trail (3-4 hours) to see more jungle wildlife such as the tapir, black spider monkey, and more. In the afternoon, you can learn from the local tribes' members how to make traditional handicrafts, like rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings from seeds and nuts collected from the jungle. When it's time for dinner, settle down to the local dish of dunucuabi (catfish wrapped in leaves) followed by a chance to hear from your guides about the history and culture of the tribes in the area.

Alternatively, you can take a two-hour boat trip to the spectacular Santa Rosa Lake, a natural paradise where you can canoe, fish for piranhas and view wildlife in the deepest Amazon. The boat trip upstream and downstream is a great opportunity to see capybaras, caimans, tapirs, and hopefully spot the elusive jaguar.

Day 16: Return to Rurrenabaque - Fly to La Paz

Rurrenabaque, Bolivia
Return to Rurrenabaque

This is your final morning to soak in the jungle's peacefulness. Or if you feel like shaking off the tropical stupor, you can go up the Tuichi River to float its rapids and calm sections on an inner tube (life jackets provided). 

On the way back to Rurrenabaque, spend a little time visiting Caquiahuara to look for the red and green macaws and other parrot species and when you're ready, set off again to complete the 2-hour boat ride back to Rurrenabaque. Saying farewell to the Amazon, board your plane for your quick trip back to La Paz in the Bolivian highlands.

Day 17: Free day

Illimani stands tall over La Paz.
View over La Paz with Illimani standing tall

Spend today exploring La Paz; the possibilities are endless. One option is to visit the gritty, heavily indigenous neighboring town of El Alto, the epicenter of the Aymara, where you can catch a unique show of the wrestling cholitas (a cross between native Andean women and WWE). You can also dip again into La Paz's cauldron of cuisine and culture, from the Novo-Andean restaurant Gustus to the wild folkloric nightlife at Gota de Agua or the frenetic rhythms of the Afro-Bolivians at Malegria.

Day 18: Depart

Bolivia - La Paz Mi Teleferico and downtown
Ride the Mi Teleférico to the airport for your onward flight

Spend a little time this morning shopping for last-minute gifts and souvenirs before you ride up to the world's highest commercial airport. On the gondola, if the day is clear, you will see all of the apus, the mountains worshiped as deities, standing guard over the vast plateau. Enjoy one last look from your airplane window over waterfalls and rivers, and the Amazon on one side of the mountains and of the shimmering waters of Lake Titicaca in the distance on the other.

Map

Map of Explore Bolivia: Andes to Amazon - 18 Days
Map of Explore Bolivia: Andes to Amazon - 18 Days