Bolivia Highlights - Feb 27 - Mar 7, 2019

Traveler: Dave F. - Local specialist: Milenka Omireis

We have now returned from our recent trip to Bolivia which you organised on behalf of KimKim. As I will outline below, there were a lot of things which did not go to plan, which led to a very unpleasant holiday experience. I will start from the beginning and outline the failing's chronologically and then make some general observations at the end:

27th Feb: Our driver arrived 30min after we had exited the airport. We were the only foreigners in a strange airport and I wish I had not paid extra for your transfer. I should have simply paid for a taxi off the rank to avoid an uncomfortable experience (we were approached several times which was discomforting). Surely your drivers have access to the internet to check flights details? A very poor start to our trip.
28th Feb: Anna-Marie was our guide for the Sucre 1/2 day city tour. Although she knew her town well, she spoke poor English making it very difficult for us to understand her points. We stayed far too long in the 2 museums we visited, the textile museum was of limited interest (max 30mins), but the museum containing all of Bolivia's presidents was frankly boring and we were there nearly 90mins. I made it quite clear that we wanted to move-on, but she kept to her script. We were very bored and frustrated by the tour - I told her I liked Architecture and was keen to photograph many of Sucre's best buildings, we saw little of interest and didn't really establish much about the Bolivian way of life. We were disappointed with Anna-Marie and left her no tip.
1st Mar: Our driver met us on time to drive from Sucre to Potosi. The man spoke no English and drove like a maniac. He drove more than double the speed-limit for most of the journey, so much so that we were sweating in the back seats, unable to talk as we hung on to the car interior handles petrified that we were going to crash over the steep precipice and die. He completed the 3 hour journey in just over 2 hours. We didn't stop for photo's (one of the main reason we were on this trip). We mentioned it to Willie in Potosi and he was shocked and said he'd look into it.
1st Mar: Willie was our guide and he spoke good English and was very informative and also a good driver. However we were unable to undertake the main highlight of our visit to Potosi (the Mint House) as it was unexpectedly closed. To make matters worse we then set-off on a 4hr drive to Uyuni? At no stage was this long drive ever mentioned (it's not in our information pack PDF) and we were certainly not expecting 7 hours of scheduled driving on this day. Willie generally provided good service, so we tipped him.
2nd Mar: Jamie our guide for the longest part of the trip (3 long days) spoke no English. This was a major disappointment as he was unable to explain the day's schedule and we only had your itinerary to refer to (which didn't include any times). We missed out massively as we had no understanding on how the salt flats were formed, the wildlife or how they change through the seasons. Jaime wasn't a guide, he was a driver. We got so confused at one stage, that Jaime had to ring his colleague Oscar in the office who spoke excellent English. Oscar should have been our guide for the money we paid.
2nd Mar: To make matters worse, I contracted Salmonella and Paula food poisoning and we had to spend 2 days in hospital. We incurred a bill over $1000 during our stay in hospital. After carefully researching Salmonella, we are certain that this was caused by the chicken lunch served by Jaime. He had no refrigeration services in his vehicle (not even ice blocks). The only other food we ate before falling ill was in the hotels chosen by yourself.
3rd Mar: I had experienced a dreadful night's sleep with a temperature and bad dreams/hallucinating. I tried to explained this to Jaime at the start of our day, but he couldn't comprehend - so we set off for what would be a 5 hour drive morning drive. At no stage were we told to expect a 5 hour drive on unsurfaced roads. Needless to say at this stage I was nearly unconscious and unable to eat lunch. Tourists from another group could see I was in trouble and came to my rescue interpreting to tell Jaime how ill I was. I decided we should avoid another 5 hour drive on more unsurfaced roads in the afternoon and instead go straight to our hotel - nowhere did our information pack state we'd be spending 10-11 hours on gravel roads in a single day, this is very poor indeed. Nearly 3 hours later we arrived and the hotel owner could see how ill I was and took my temperature (nearly 40C) and said we must drive straight to hospital. Jaime drove well into the night for another 3 hours to get us to the hospital whereupon the doctor was visibly shocked by my condition and insisted I was given immediate oxygen and placed on a medical drip and stay overnight under multiple medications. I was very ill indeed and Paula was also treated for food poisoning by the hospital.
4th Mar (my birthday): We spent most of the day in Uyuni hospital, eventually leaving and having to pay a further $350Bol for a day room in Uyuni before Jamie took us to the airport for our flight to La Paz. We obviously missed numerous inclusive meals whilst we were unwell/in hospital and were unable to travel to the colourful lagoons or hot springs. At the time I was unsure as to the exact root cause of my salmonella, so we did tip Jaime to thank him for driving me to hospital into the night.
4th Mar: Laz Paz hotel was ok, but our room faced over the main road and with it being carnival we were kept awake with loud music until 2:30am, only to be awoken at 5:00am with fire-crackers - there was no double-glazing. We endured 2 dreadful night's sleep despite the hotel staff being very helpful. The buffet breakfast was very poor at the hotel - dried meat which had curled up at the edges, warm cheese/butter and the pineapple had turned brown. Certainly not what we needed with our salmonella and food poisoning!
5th Mar: We met our guide Carlao who was a very bubbly individual. Sadly his English was dreadful. He said "Oh My God" or "Yes" almost every time he opened his mouth. This was both annoying and very unhelpful as we could never get a straight answer from him. We quickly established he was Brazilian and his main job was an Archaeologist, he'd only done guide-work twice before and he implied that he was only doing this job as a big favour to his friend Tomas?! He also confirmed 100% that our salmonella/food poisoning would definitely have been caused by Jaime's chicken lunch. He knew virtually nothing about Bolivia and by the 2nd day we realised we needed to refer to Lonely Planet to get the real information as he frequently made up stories. eg in Copacabana Cathedral he stated that the British Army had robbed the gems from the carvings. I researched this online and the British Army has never even been to Bolivia and would certainly never do such a thing. The actual theft was in 2013, alleged by a Swiss collector. Such lies and deceit were not helpful. This man is not a guide and should never be employed again as one.
5th Mar: Carlao didn't take us to the Moon Valley as listed in our itinerary, though we did visit the horrible Witch Market which stunk of urine and was displaying grotesque 'toys' of baby llama's that Carlao said had been killed for the carnival - this really isn't what today's eco-friendly tourists want to see. We would have much sooner been told information such as: www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2018/feb/22/rise-bolivia-indigenous-cholitas-in-pictures

The rise of Bolivia’s indigenous 'cholitas' – in pictures | World news | The Guardian - News, sport and opinion from the Guardian's US edition
In Cholita’s Rise, the photographer Eduardo Leal has created an exhibition of work that portrays their accomplishments and celebrates their success while also looking to inspire others

6th Mar: We endured a further drive to Copacabana, and Carloa said it would be over 4 hours - again we had not been expecting such a long drive. Yet again the driver drove way too fast, putting all of our lives in danger and not stopping for photo's, unless I loudly shouted 'Stop!'. It was a very unpleasant drive which he completed in just over 3 hours after taking far too many risks on dangerous roads. We checked into our hotel (Las Olas - very nice) and then set off on the boat to the Sun Island. When we got there we were shocked at the walk Carlao lead us on - according to our phones we climbed 46 flights of stairs that day, something that we were not prepared for. Paula broke her ankle last October and at no stage does the itinerary indicate how physical the trip would be with quite so much climbing. We managed it, but better communication is needed.
7th Mar: Perhaps the final straw, our boat was hit hard by another boat whilst making the ferry crossing - Paula was badly shaken by this experience as the boat missed her head by a few cm.

As you can read, the whole trip from start to finish was a disaster. We requested to be part of a group wherever possible, but instead ended-up paying more for a private tour with dreadful guides who spoke little to no English and knew very little about Bolivia.

We are experienced travellers and both work in the travel industry. We have visited over 150 countries and have never encountered such poor service, or indeed set foot in a local hospital. We paid a good price for this trip, but after careful consideration I must now request a full refund for the reasons listed above.

Milenka Omireis profile photo
Milenka Omireis, local specialist, responded to this review:

Dave, I am finally able to respond to your last email. I hope that Kimkim's resolution to your complaints and the partial refund and generous travel credit you received was helpful to you and to bring closure to the matter. I would like to mention, once again, that many of the experiences you complained of were events that were out of our control and/or total anomalies, such as the possible source of your gastrointestinal problems. For better or for worse, many travelers to Bolivia do... read more

Dave, I am finally able to respond to your last email. I hope that Kimkim's resolution to your complaints and the partial refund and generous travel credit you received was helpful to you and to bring closure to the matter. I would like to mention, once again, that many of the experiences you complained of were events that were out of our control and/or total anomalies, such as the possible source of your gastrointestinal problems. For better or for worse, many travelers to Bolivia do experience food-related illness and we are very sorry that you had to be one of them, whatever the source may have been.

That said and as you already know, we do accept responsibility for the transfer conditions between Sucre and Potosi and have made the necessary follow up and quality control measures with your driver.