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Signature Bolivia: The final frontier

14 days from £3,681pp

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Signature Bolivia: The final frontier

14 days from £3,681pp
 

Private Journey

 

UK clients depart, arriving Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the following day.
 

UK clients depart, arriving Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the following day.

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Day 1

Transfer to your hotel in a quiet quarter of the city.
 
Transfer to your hotel in a quite leafy quarter not far from the city centre.

The dynamic city of Santa Cruz doesn’t quite reflect how most people imagine Bolivia. With plate glass and concrete, the sparkle of luxury four-wheel drive vehicles, and good restaurants and shopping malls the rapidly growing city wears its new-found oil wealth on its sleeve.

This prosperous lowland metropolis is wholly different from its Andean sisters, in climate, in politics and in ethnic mix. People have poured in from the altiplano to join German Mennonites, Brazilians and even Japanese in search of a better life. The sun can be fierce, the siestas always long, with heavy rain showers in the summer months.<

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Santa Cruz

Day 2

Guided city tour of cosmopolitan Santa Cruz.
 
You’ll have a guided tour of the city, purpose-built in a series of rings. You will visit the huge, shady main square, the baroque cathedral which dominates it, and the indigenous Abasto craft shops.

After the tour you might decide to explore the city some more: there are lovely parks with lawns, fountains and street art, tawdry but fascinating street markets selling everything from mobile phones, electric saws to gold jewellery andmangoes, spread over the streets around the handsome colonial core.

Coffee shops, open air bars and ice-cream parlours abound - if you need a breather.

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Day 3

By road into the mountains to Incan el Fuerte; on to Vallegrande via Samaipata.
 

Drive out of Santa Cruz up in to the mountains: for the next three days you have your own driver and guide and can stop at will to take photos or look around. You pass through several market towns, and the landscape soon changes from cattle farms and fields of sunflowers to orchards and villages speckled with summer homes.

Canyons with blood-red cliffs fringe a winding river; follow the valley up to the prosperous little resort of Samaipata (120km).

Just before reaching the town you will turn off to visit the Inca Ruins at el Fuerte, a UNESCO World Heritage Site sitting on a ridge from where there extensive views. The site has pre-Inca carvings and post-Inca Spanish colonial buildings super-imposed on Inca walls. Owing to its relatively remote location there may well be no-one else there but it is a fascinating place.

Continue to Vallegrande, another typical Spanish-style mountain town, the place to which Che Guevara’s body was taken following his death at the hands of the Bolivian military. You can visit the laundry where he was laid out, now a shrine for his followers, and the museum dedicated to his exploits. Overnight in a small hotel here.

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El Fuerte

Day 4

By road to Che Guevara’s ‘shrine’ at La Higuera; continue to Villa Serrano.
 

Today you’ll be driven deep into Bolivia’s rugged mountains, the foothills of the Andes.You’ll appreciate how Che thought he could remain hidden here: the fractured, mostly treeless landscapes support only a few hamlets and simple farmsteads, range after range of purple-green sierras rise into view as you continue to La Higuera (3hrs approx), the village where Che was killed, now adorned with statues and street art commemorating his campaign. The majority of the few inhabitants will be out in their fields, making for a rather surreal experience.

Continue for a further 3 hours along an unmade road to red-roofed Villa Serrano, home of famous sculptor and musician Mauro Nuñez which has a museum and the largest charango (Andean lute) in the country. The town is well known for its December music festival. Overnight.

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La Higuera

Day 5

Drive on through mountain landscapes to Sucre.
 

Continue on a good quality road to Sucre (4hrs) which lies in a remote valley at, for Bolivia, a relatively benign altitude of 2,800m. Provincial in outlook, it is nevertheless the legislative capital of the country.

There are some nice cake shops and ice cream parlours too. Afternoon at leisure to relax in this sunny city.

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Sucre

Day 6

Guided tour of this elegant, whitewashed colonial city.
 

Your guided city tour takes you to the Casa de la Libertad, an impressive house on the main square where the declaration of Bolivian Independence was signed in 1825 and La Recoleta, a Franciscan convent which offers splendid views over the valley. It has beautiful cloisters and gardens where an ancient cedar tree still stands. The adjoining chapel is notable for its intricate woodcarvings. In the third cloister is a museum exhibiting sculptures, paintings and other religious works.

You also visit the ASUR indigenous Art Museum - a 17th century colonial building. Exhibits include ancient textiles, musical instruments, costumes and ritual artefacts. A highlight is the Weavers’ Gallery, where you learn about indigenous techniques and designs.

Should you be in Sucre on a Sunday however you’ll be offered an optional (extra cost) excursion to the extraordinary indigenous market at Tarabuco, where the local costume includes a headdress based on the Spanish colonialists’ helmets. Their russet and gold weavings are celebrated worldwide for their intricate embroidery. (In this case the city tour of Sucre will take place the previous day).

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Day 7

Climb to the bleak altiplano and Potosí; guided tour and visit imperial Mint.
 

A scenic 3hr drive to Potosí along a paved road ascending to the high plains of the stark wilderness of the altiplano, passing crops of peas, beans and cereals.

At an altitude of 4,090m Potosí is the highest city in the world. Its former wealth lay in its silver; today it lies in the vestiges of its history and the grand buildings born from a city that was quite literally founded on a mountain of wealth - the Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) with its rich seams of silver.

Today you'll find ornate churches, monuments, neat cobbled streets and the Casa Real de la Moneda (Royal Mint), one of South America's finest colonial buildings. The tunnels which honeycomb the Cerro Rico, are as dark and poisonous as the city's gruesome past.

However, with its narrow streets and grandiose architecture it is one of Bolivia's great treasure troves. Your walking tour takes you to some of the city's principal historical attractions. These include San Lorenzo church, with its baroque façade of flesh coloured stone mined from the nearby hills. Inside, works of art adorn the ornate altar along with two original paintings by Holguin.

Also visit Santo Domingo church and the vast 16th century Cathedral.

You’ll also visit the Casa de Real de la Moneda which occupies an entire block near the cathedral. This mint created the currency for the entire Spanish Empire. The museum has a fascinating history, comprising not just the Royal Mint, but also a prison, fortress, and HQ for the Bolivian army during the Chaco War. The museum displays crafted silverware, oil paintings and Bolivia's first locomotive train.

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potosi

Day 8

Drive through skeletal landscapes to Uyuni, overnight in a salt hotel.
 

Continue by road across the bleak altiplano en route to Uyuni, travelling through dusty landscapes punctuated by weird wind-fashioned rock formations. It is in this region that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are reckoned to have ambushed hapless folk transporting money and minerals to and from the mines.

Upon arrival in Uyuni you can look around this isolated, chilly highland town and visit the “train cemetery” full of abandoned, rusting engines evocative of more prosperous and dynamic times.

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Uyuni Salt Flats

Day 9

Explore the dazzling salt flats and lagoons by 4WD vehicle.
 

Travel by 4WD vehicle to the Salar de Uyuni. The bleak plains of the southern altiplano make for an austere, uncompromising wilderness, scoured by bitter gales, where cut-glass lakes and un-trodden, luminous salt pans reflect the vast dome of an icy sky.

At 3,650m the salar is the highest salt desert in the world and arguably the largest, covering over 12,000 sq km. When the rains fall, the desert is turned into a mirror, salt plains and sky fuse, and the world is turned upside down. In the dry season, however, the dazzling white of the salt crystals extends as far as the eye can see: an other-worldly sight.

While its few wind-buffeted Aymara inhabitants scratch a meagre living from the dusty soil, there are landscapes of unexpected variety and surreal beauty. You’ll observe desolate, denuded peaks, sunlit lagoons of gem-stone clarity and a white sea of salt that bends the horizon.

Conditions permitting, travel on to the foothills of the Tunupa volcano and the village of Coquesa with its ancient fort and preserved mummies. The road takes you deep into the salar to the Isla de Pescadores, a small volcanic island covered in giant cacti. Return to Uyuni.

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Uyuni Salt Flat

Day 10

Transfer to Uyuni airport, fly to the capital, La Paz.
 

Transfer to the airport for your 1hr flight to La Paz. If it is clear you will have staggering views of the landscape, and will appreciate the vastness of the altiplano.

Set in a deep canyon, dominated by the snow-capped peak of Mount Illimani, La Paz (3,632m) is the highest capital in the world. The colonial core around Plaza Murillo retains much of its quirky Spanish charm, lively with families and children with balloons at the weekend.

Beyond, there are cavernous indigenous markets with restaurant grills open to the street and narrow alleyways lined with museums, churches and craft shops. Ambulant vendors in felt bowler hats and colourful shawls crouch below the skyscrapers in tree-lined modern avenues.

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La Paz

Day 11

Guided city tour with cable car ride over the canyon.
 

At first sight La Paz is an anarchic jumble of buildings clinging to craggy slopes and marching down a sinuous river bed.

But partly owing to this topography it's easy to get around, the streets are tightly packed and crammed with interesting features. A city tour takes you to the narrow lanes around the colonial heart, exploring markets such as the famous Mercado de las Brujas (Witches' Market) as well as the stately boulevards of the modern business and residential neighbourhoods.

How the city's structure knits together is best appreciated from the air, and it is now possible for you to enjoy stupendous views from a cable-car erected primarily to relieve traffic congestion on the commuter routes between La Paz city centre and the city of El Alto on the canyon rim, hundreds of metres above. Eventually this system will be the largest urban cable-car network in the world: for now, it has the added asset of being a superb new attraction for visitors.

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La Paz

Day 12

Drive to lake Titicaca; boat trip to Sun Island, overnight.
 

It’s a 2.5hr drive (shared tourist transport) to Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca which attracts many pilgrims who make the trip often from great distances on foot.

Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake, is also the most sacred in the Andes. Set on the grassy altiplano, it is a body of deep sapphire water lapping shores of fertile silt where cereals and vegetables are cultivated from a surprisingly large number of relatively prosperous indigenous communities. The local people use the swaying tortora reeds to build their traditional boats and even islets and homes (the Uros Islands). The birdlife is abundant and varied, bird-watching can be extremely rewarding here.

You’ll board a hydrofoil to take you across the lake to Moon Island. Visit the Iñak Uyu Sun Virgins temple, considered to be one of the most important ruins on the lake. From there it's a 10min crossing to Sun Island, birthplace of the Inca gods. Take a scenic walk along Inca trails to your hotel in time for lunch.

You have the afternoon free to explore the island trails, dotted with ancient ruins and tiny villages, and not a car or road in sight.

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Isla del Sol

Day 13

Return to La Paz.
 

Descend to Yamani harbour and visit the Inca stairways and Sacred Fountain, believed to give eternal youth and happiness. Lunch at the archaeological and panoramic Uma Kollo restaurant, which has lake views from its balcony and original Inca walls.

Cross the lake to Copacabana (30mins) before boarding the bus to Huatajata, visiting the Andean Eco-Village at Hotel Inca Utama. The project encompasses all aspects of local culture and nature, and includes reed boat and altiplano museums, a handicrafts workshop, mortuary towers and botanical garden.

Continue back to La Paz (approx 1hr). (Although travelling on shared transport services you will be accompanied by your own guide, who will lead you around the visitor sites on a private basis).

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Copacabana, Bolivia

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flights or extension to Amazon jungle.
 

Transfer to la Paz airport for your international flight home.

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14 days from £3,681pp

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