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Icy cold winds blow what little air there is through the dizzying altitudes of the Bolivian Andes as buses born before the War hurry along the windy roads, wheels suicidally kissing the lips of impossibly high cliffs.
We were apprehensive about this foreboding country. Here, nature is in charge and she cares little for you. Erin suffers from motion sickness, hates the cold and isn’t a fan of people peeing on her bag (Girlventures told us a tale of the people on an overnight bus, er, going on the floor in front of them).
Yes, our first bus journey from the border to Tupiza was bone-shakingly rough, but Erin’s Dramamine held out, it was surprisingly hot, and no-one relieved themselves on our backpacks. Like the horror stories we heard all over India, when we arrived in Bolivia we discovered things weren’t that bad after all.
An Easy Introduction
The small, tranquilo town of Tupiza is a perfect introduction to this land of extremes. Mountains of red rock rise above it all around and after travelling up through Northern Argentina, we had slowly become accustomed to the new culture.
There were some distinct differences, though. Vibrant market stalls manned by traditionally dressed women selling freshly squeezed orange juice for 30p a glass made us aware that, although superficially things may appear familiar, underneath lies a totally different and proudly unique heritage.
Tupiza wasn’t as touristy as we expected, with only a handful of travellers around and hardly any tourist orientated shops (where could we buy our llama wool hats?!). All of the streets had shops aimed at locals.
This one street that leads to the pretty main plaza has six identical gringo restaurants. Not similar, identical – from the same Italian menu to the same bamboo décor. Even the model pirate ship (to celebrate Bolivia’s maritime heritage, I guess) made of dead cactus is the same.
Somewhere, someone is making a fortune selling Tupiza women Italian Restaurant Kits.
Unfortunately, the food is average at best, although the thin crust pizza was actually better than in Argentina. Shamefully, we ate it three nights in a row as local Bolivian restaurants aren’t exactly vegetarian friendly.
Erin did make the mistake on the last night of ordering the Eggplant Parmigiana to mix things up a bit. Yes, she had forgotten how easy it is to cook eggplant very, very badly…
There isn’t much to do in town and the highlight is undoubtedly getting out to explore the amazing Wild West scenery of the surrounding area. This is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came to their end. There are lots of walks you could do, but in the desert heat horse riding is the way to go.
We went riding twice in Argentina, but this was much better. For only 75B ($10) we got an excellent 19 year old guide Ariel; lovely horses (Simon’s was a bit slow but that was probably for the best); the important safety equipment of chaps and a cowboy hat; and three hours riding through gorgeous landscapes.
Under the big blue sky we walked and galloped past red mountains, giant cacti, ravines, canyons and crazy rock formations. We had a number of rest/photo breaks, with the chance to climb up the Puerta del Diablo (Devil’s Door) and Cañon de las Incas.
Where to Stay
Two days travel from Salta had left us exhausted so we headed straight to the best hotel in town Hotel Mitru. To be honest there isn’t much competition, but despite the not so friendly staff and slightly smelly bathroom we were happy with our choice. For 130B ($18) we got a comfortable, spacious, sunny room with a desk(!) and plenty of storage space. So much better value than Argentina.
There’s even a pool, which is great to chill out by but painfully cold to swim in (we think the Lonely Planet reference to solar heating must have just meant the sun). There’s no wifi, and just one computer with slooooow internet, but we had been prepared to be offline.
We booked our riding and four day jeep tour to the salt flats through the attached agency Tupiza Tours. We highly recommend them – more about our incredible jeep tour coming soon.
Note: There’s no ATM in Tupiza, so if you are coming from Argentina get cash out at the machine in Villazon at the border.
Hi, nice review, we did pretty much the same thing. We came up from Salta and experienced a real Bolivian bus ride on the way to Tupiza. However we stayed at La Torre which only cost 50 Bs per night and it was really good. We also booked the wild west horse riding with them and the Salar tour. Nice web design portfolio too. Do make enough to support your travels? Have a good journey.
The bus ride on the way to Tupiza is rather bumpy! I heard good things about La Torre – glad you had a good experience.
It took us a while to get to the stage where our earnings completely covered our travel expenses (we started with a savings cushions) but we have got there now.
I am currently helping a small, horribly underfunded horse shelter here in Georgia raise money. Would you mind helping us out by relaying the information to your readers? Here is a link to the synopsis:
the 3rd picture looks very nice “gringo alley”
its that a restaurant or a shop!?
you’ve went so many places, a wonderful choice of horse riding,
and sharing your experience to us.
It’s an Italian restaurant. Gringo Alley is full of them and they all look the same and have the same menu!
Hi, Simon and Erin,
great adventure in Tupiza! Speaking about slooow internet. We were in Bolivia beginning May this year and figured out that the best solution for us was getting local prepaid SIM card (Tigo) and used internet on the phone. At that time they had option of paying 5B per day for 45 or 50MiB and it was more than enough for us (although, we didn’t have a laptop). Coverage was average. Between cities there’s usually no coverage at all, but once you get to populated area, it’s ok. Mostly Edge, though, but in cities like Oruro and La Paz there’s even 3G. We went into Tigo shop in Oruro and half an hour later we had internet. If I remember correctly, we prepaid 50B and they even gave the SIM card for free.
Thanks for the tip. We did look into that (we don’t have a phone but were going to get a USB modem) but the problem is the coverage isn’t very good in rural areas, and that’s where we need it most!
Tupiza – first horseback riding ever… last horseback riding ever haha
PS the staff at Hotel Mitru were awful… but the man across the street that ran that little restaurant was AWESOME! he made our lives for the 3 days there.
Haha! Riding isn’t for everyone I suppose, but I spent my childhood around horses so I love being in a country where it’s affordable.
I wish I liked it, I really do…. but it was scary and my horse was an asshole haha.
Ahhh, I LOVED Bolivia! I hope you have the best time there. That 1st pic is AWESOME!!!!!!
Hi Simon – I never been to tupiza, but it looks pretty interesting. You always goes to a very different unique place on your blog. Love the location you picked. I’ve done horse riding but not in that type of area. Great Post
Thanks very much.
Erin’s more the horse riding expert – I just kind of sit on it and bounce along whilst finding faith in higher powers that I never thought I had.
Looks great, but would you do it again?
Absolutely! I would definitely do the whole day ride or even the 2 day trip they have where you stay overnight in a village. Simon has less experience though and he felt 3 hours was just right, as he was feeling a bit sore.
Great looking blog you have here. What a different kind of trip. I’ve never been to Tupiza or even gone horse back riding. Was this your first time riding a horse? Do you need any experience or do they just saddle you up and hit the trail.
Thanks Michael. I rode a lot when I was younger but haven’t done much in the last 10 years. Simon has only ridden 4 times. You don’t need any experience, and if you don’t want to gallop you don’t have to. Simon managed it just fine though without much experience.