Another border crossing, but this time from Argentina to Bolivia, then on to Tupiza – let’s hope we get through…
For anyone that’s ever crossed overland borders in any continent, you know the feeling of apprehension that overcomes you, whilst wondering whether the crossing will be simple…
You never know what you’re gonna get – Forest Gump
After spending too many days in Salta waiting to cross the overland border into Chile’s Atacama Desert, and today’s 13-hour fruitless bus journey turned back before Chile’s border, it’s time to finally leave Salta.
Taking the midnight bus from Salta’s busy bus station, about 8 blocks from the main plaza, we settled in for another restless overnight journey.
This trip takes around 7 to 8 hours – I hope.
The bus is indeed uncomfortable and doubt I even closed my eyes, even momentarily. I can’t tell you much about the landscape as night time isn’t great for travelling, but it’s always lovely to see a sunrise.
Glad to finally arrive at La Quiaca, this is the end of the Argentinian adventure, but the start of the new Bolivian jaunt.
Interesting how local faces and traditional clothing are changing markedly, the further north we travel.
Argentina’s small border city, La Quiaca sits along the river that shares the same name, in the Jujuy Province and opposite Villazón, which is Bolivia’s border town.
From the bus station in La Quiaca, we walk for about 15 minutes to the ‘passo de frontera’ (border crossing). Either follow the flow of traders and people walking to immigration, or ask along the way as it’s not well-signposted. This is a trading and transit hub, which sees goods and travellers heading north.
Notorious for long queues, La Quiaca this morning is not too busy or intense – perhaps it’s the early time of morning.
Just like Checkpoint Charlie, miserable officers stamp us out of Argentina. We’re free to go next door to the Bolivian office but it is closed as we are still quite early. This is not a 24/7 immigration service.
Finally, doors open, we smile at immigration, and people pile in. A smile goes a long way – mostly.
As Australians, we receive a 90-day stamp on arrival and it’s free.
Passport stamped and smiling gratefully, we walk across the Rio de La Quiaca’s old stone international bridge and to Bolivia’s Villazón to another bus, for the onward journey to Tupiza.
Unlike what I’ve read that this crossing can take 6 to 8 hours, today the border crossing is effortless and not stressful – how lucky are we?
- Ensure you complete a green immigration form and keep this in your passport, as immigration will request this form when you exit Bolivia.
- Check the day before you travel whether this border crossing is open, as it is notorious for closures.
Onward bus to Tupiza
Now for the 10 to 15-minute walk straight up a steepish hill with all our backpacks, to yet another bus station.
Who on earth would think of building a bus station at the top of a hill – makes sense?
Purchase your ticket inside the bus terminal and disregard the touts outside – you will get burnt with ticket prices or fakes.
Already, the difference in the cost of the ticket is noticeably cheaper in Bolivia. I hope this is a reflection of what is to come whilst travelling in this country.
The public bus to Tupiza is rammed with locals, chickens, and has seen better days. This leg takes up to 2 hours, depending on the number of stops along the way. Speaking of which, arriving at a bridge’s road block, we didn’t turn back, nor could we continue forward.
The old bus went off-road travelling around a bridge, then along a rocky very dried up river bed for about half an hour – shaking our bones even more – before joining the road again.
Welcome to Bolivia – who needs roads!
By this stage and having been awake for 30 hours non-stop, just needed to stay awake until the evening, to then crash in bed.
Refreshed from finally laying horizontal, decided Tupiza now deserved exploring.
As really the first taste of Bolivia, Tupiza has a lovely quiet and more rural feel than Salta. And because of its location close to the Chillcobija mines, which are rich in lead, copper, zinc, and silver, Tupiza is an important mining centre. Although looking around, I don’t see any wealthy locals.
Founded between 1535 and 1536, stroll around this sleepy town and to its outskirts, to soak up the local atmosphere whilst observing Bolivian life.
For those of you that have read my other posts, you know that wherever I land, my favourite pass time is to drift around streets and capture local faces.
The gorgeous surrounds provide dramatic backdrops with cactus-filled valleys, craggy ravines, and beautiful red rock canyons named Cordillera de Chicas – all within easy reach of this small town.
Indulge in striking 10-kilometre walks or treks if the season is right, or a spot of horse riding. The terrain makes you feel as if you’re in a scene of an old Western movie.
Chaco War monument
The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay lasted from 1932 to 1935, although prior to this in 1928, hostility broke out for a wilderness region of over 259,000 square kilometres.
Today, only the monument stands proud as a reminder of the fallen.
And then there’s also an army base here…
Horseback half-day tour
Fancy following some of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’s trail whilst in Tupiza? After all, did you know that these two infamous outlaws lived their last days in Tupiza?
You can book a much longer tour that follows Cassidy and the Kid’s final footsteps, and to where their bodies are still buried in San Vicente cemetery. But for today, Tupiza Tours offered a good half-day deal.
A little hesitant about riding a horse for half a day after ruining my back horse riding in 1985 in Egypt, decided that I’m not going to miss out, regardless…
If you haven’t heard of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, check out this official film trailer of these two bandits from the late 1800s, which brought their story to life (although not historically accurate in every aspect).
Back then, Tupiza was a party town. Miners came from surrounding tin and silver mines to spend their hard-earned cash – a feast for these two outlaws that enjoyed fast money and fast women.
Travelling at a comfortable pace on horseback surrounded by soaring canyons and sprawling valleys, you can’t but help feel as though you are passing through the past, as time is moving forward.
Everything stands still here with nature the only importance.
Absorb yourself whilst picturing scenes of bank robbers on horseback, traversing these stunning vistas, or being chased after a robbery.
With this terrain, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Cassidy and Sundance, eluded officials for some time.
If you find yourself in Tupiza, then this little fun tour is well-worth the time, especially to soak up the striking vistas that swallow and enclose you, in towering outcrops.
Love wandering the streets and learning about Tupiza, and street art is a great indication of a town’s political climate.
Andean women of indigenous decent traditionally wear their hair in two long plaits under a wonderfully stylish 19th century European bowler hat. A colourful silky shawl (Manta), pleated-skirt (Pollera), and very thick tights are also worn.
Tupiza dogs are also quite relaxed.
Introduction to Bolivia’s Bowler Hat
As this is my first post on Bolivia, I’m introducing you to the Bowler Hat, which is worn throughout Bolivia.
First introduced in the early 20th century to South America by British railway workers, indigenous Aymara and Quechua women, known as ‘Cholitas’ wear this piece of clothing attire with pride. Although this hat has since become an unsaid national dress and even men wear Bowlers.
It seems that everyone wears this hat with their own specific flair and style. Some are precariously and impossibly tilted high on the head, whilst others are scrunched right down. Colours and shapes vary as does the Bowler’s height, which can be tall or short – just love it and want one!
The Hostal Pedro Arraya offers basic rooms with private bathroom and is close to the river, and a good location. Although I have read some updated reviews, which suggest this hostel has lost its charm.
Tours to Salar de Uyuni
At 2,950 metres, Tupiza is a great stop to acclimatise before the trip to the Salar de Uyuni, as the world’s largest salt flats is almost another 1,000 metres higher.
Organising the 4-day tour is the prime reason for staying in Tupiza, so we shopped around for prices and details.
Many tour companies offer a similar experience and stop at the same destinations such as beautiful lakes, before arriving at the Salar.