Cycling Through Bolivia: A Photographic Journey

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Though we only spent six weeks in Bolivia, it has easily become one of our favorite countries as the people are friendly, the food is cheap, and the cycling is absolutely spectacular. We cycled up a dozen or so 4,000-5,000m passes, camped in the -20C chilly high altiplano, and passed through and stayed in a multitude of small villages. We struggled across frozen streams, survived steep climbs in the humid and hot Yungas region, and ate the typical “lunch,” and “dinner,” of soup plus a plate of potatoes, rice, and meat whenever we passed through towns. We also got to do a little mountaineering when we climbed Huyana Potosi (6,000m). Without further ado, here it is; Bolivia through the lens.

A friend who once said that “it doesn’t have to be fun, to be fun,” and I couldn’t help but think that his quote fit our first 500km in Bolivia perfectly. Though I’ve always preached that cycle touring is a lifestyle, this first section was definitely more of an expedition than anything else. We carried eight days of food and a fare amount of water which made our bikes heavy as we struggled to climb a 4,800m+ pass (or two) a day. That being said, this alternative lagunas route was definitely the highlight of Bolivia for us as well for the sheer isolated beauty of the high Andes.

Headed into Bolivia, it's just around this corner!

Headed into Bolivia, it’s just around this corner!

Admiring one of the funny colored lakes: colored due to the minerals.

Admiring one of the funny colored lakes: colored due to the minerals.

We got dust thrown on us during the first 100km as cars (tourist jeeps) past. Thankfully after that we were all alone!

We got dust thrown on us during the first 100km as cars (tourist jeeps) past. Thankfully after that we were all alone!

Cycling into the Andes!!

Cycling into the Andes!!

The mountains certainly made us feel small.

The mountains certainly made us feel small.

All around was sand upon sand, though thankfully, the route wasn't all that bad.

All around was sand upon sand, though thankfully, the route wasn’t all that bad.

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Laguna verde (green).

Laguna verde (green).

You can see Kevin to the left, a tiny blob cycling in a vast landscape.

You can see Kevin to the left, a tiny blob cycling in a vast landscape.

Another lake along the route.

Another lake along the route.

More sand!

More sand!

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There was a whole lot of salt due to the mineral deposits throughout this region.

There was a whole lot of salt due to the mineral deposits throughout this region.

These were some of the weirdest roads we have ever been on!

These were some of the weirdest roads we have ever been on!

Kevin far ahead.

Kevin far ahead.

Kevin in his "I'm going to rob a bank" outfit, which also doubles as great skin protection from the wind and sun. He caught this fish in a small stream at 4,300m making it by far his most unique catch!

Kevin in his “I’m going to rob a bank” outfit, which also doubles as great skin protection from the wind and sun. He caught this fish in a small stream at 4,300m making it by far his most unique catch!

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Beautiful camping!

Beautiful camping!

A false summit. Still a few meters to go!

A false summit. Still a few meters to go!

This is what makes all the hard climbs worth it!!

This is what makes all the hard climbs worth it!!

We got snowed on during one of our climbs which made the world even more beautiful!

We got snowed on during one of our climbs which made the world even more beautiful!

Kevin crossing a half frozen stream barefoot as its snowing. Miserable!

Kevin crossing a half frozen stream barefoot as its snowing. Miserable!

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Contemplating the ride.

Contemplating the ride.

Riding through a small altiplano village.

Riding through a small altiplano village.

After a few days off in the extremely touristic down of Uyuni we then headed out and across the jeep tour heaven of the Salar de Uyuni (largest salt flat in the world) before crossing a desolate forty kilomter sandy “road” which led us to the start of another slightly smaller salt flat where we didn’t see a soul the whole time. Sleeping on the salar, completely alone amongst the millions upon millions of bright stars, was definitely the best part about this 300km section.

My four dollar Chilean cowboy hat has been a savior out here! The sun reflected off the salt and burned any exposed skin.

My four dollar Chilean cowboy hat has been a savior out here! The sun reflected off the salt and burned any exposed skin.

Kevin far off in the distance. The Salar de Uyuni (though not the smaller one I'll talk about next time) has this hexagon shaped natural marks all over the whole thing.

Kevin far off in the distance. The Salar de Uyuni (though not the smaller one I’ll talk about next time) has this hexagon shaped natural marks all over the whole thing.

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No hands!

No hands!

The hexagons of salt were so defined, we assume it has something to do with how the water evaporates because every rainy season the salt flats turn into a lake.

The hexagons of salt were so defined, we assume it has something to do with how the water evaporates because every rainy season the salt flats turn into a lake.

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We ate lunch on the island on our second day.

We ate lunch on the island on our second day.

Some of the best camping ever!

Some of the best camping ever!

Us, our bikes, and our home!

Us, our bikes, and our home!

Beautiful sunset in solitude.

Beautiful sunset in solitude.

Finally a cycling photo of both of us!

Finally a cycling photo of both of us!

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Typically when we stop cycling for the day I start cooking as Kevin sets up the tent.

Typically when we stop cycling for the day I start cooking as Kevin sets up the tent.

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This, for us, is a road. Little jeep paths such as these are what makes Bolivia so fun!

This, for us, is a road. Little jeep paths such as these are what makes Bolivia so fun!

After an easy 200km on the paved highway, we came to Oruro where we spent a few days wandering around the hundreds of vendors and markets which sprawled through dozens of streets, before heading through a 400km, 10,000m altitude gain section through the hot and humid South Yungas. This jungle-like terrain showed us a different side of Bolivia where villages and towns are perched atop the huge green hills amongst fields of cocoa leaves and bananas. We spent days climbing up and down through the low altitude valleys before climbing all the way back up to the altiplano with a 4,800m pass which led us straight to La Paz.

Sleeping in a field of quinoa.

Sleeping in a field of quinoa.

A lady watching her sheep.

A lady watching her sheep.

Llama llama showering off her earrings!!

Llama llama showering off her earrings!!

Some of the towns throughout this area were deserted as many people are headed to the cities.

Some of the towns throughout this area were deserted as many people are headed to the cities.

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These patchwork hills were stunning!

These patchwork hills were stunning!

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Little villages in the middle of nowhere!

Little villages in the middle of nowhere!

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Switchbacks anyone!?

Switchbacks anyone!?

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These guys were not happy to see us on their road! Most aggressive Turkey we have ever met.

These guys were not happy to see us on their road! Most aggressive Turkey we have ever met.

This is where we slept the night before, the soccer field belonged to these few houses hidden in the hillside.

This is where we slept the night before, the soccer field belonged to these few houses hidden in the hillside.

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Cycling through a stream, great way to cool down!

Cycling through a stream, great way to cool down!

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A lady and her son walking down the road.

A lady and her son walking down the road.

Typical farming house.

Typical farming house.

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A cyclists nightmare; tunnels.

A cyclists nightmare; tunnels.

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After a few days of rest and socializing in the Casa de Cyclista of La Paz, we set out to climb Huyana Potosi – a 6,088m/20,000ft mountain I climbed four years ago as well – with another America cyclist we befriended in the city. After “sleeping” at a 5,300m base camp, we reached the summit right before sunrise and watched as the sky and surrounding mountains turned brilliant colors.

On the summit! Thanks John for the photo!

On the summit! Thanks John for the photo!

Huyana Potosi with miners graves in front.

Huyana Potosi with miners graves in front.

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Climbers coming up the last section before the summit.

Climbers coming up the last section before the summit.

El Alto (sort of like the upper part of La Paz) in the early morning.

El Alto (sort of like the upper part of La Paz) in the early morning.

Mountains, mountains, everywhere!!

Mountains, mountains, everywhere!!

Happy to have exchanged my bike for a backpack for the weekend!

Happy to have exchanged my bike for a backpack for the weekend!

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Only one dollar for this delicious street meal of potatoes, rice, and meat!

Only one dollar for this delicious street meal of potatoes, rice, and meat!

For those of you who are interested in cycling through Bolivia, I would highly suggest checking out the Pikes on Bikes as they have written extensively about these amazing routes.

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Make sure to check back next week to begin following our adventures through Peru which should take us through our highest, most difficult, and most impressive routes yet! The Peruvian Great Divide, here we come.

Facemasks ready for the wind and dust!

Facemasks ready for the wind and dust!

For a photo of the day and other updates follow me on facebook here, and for some awkwardly cropped photos from our journey, follow us on Instagram @awanderingphoto!

21 thoughts on “Cycling Through Bolivia: A Photographic Journey

  1. I read “only six weeks” in Bolivia and started drooling (six weeks is pretty much what I have in terms of leave over a period of two and a bit years).

    Then I continued reading and my drooling just increased. I know very little about Bolivia and only saw it on a Top Gear special, but these photos make me think that I ought to plan a visit there very soon.

    Thanks for having taken me there, albeit only virtually and congrats for your lifestyle!

    Fabrizio

  2. Great photos and blog, thanks for sharing. I’m currently pedalling through Europe for a few months, however I keep reading about how fantastic South America is for touring, so it’s gonna have to go on the list for the future!

  3. Thanks again for your wonderful photos and writing. In about a year we will be cycling there too, starting in Cuzco heading down south, spending the majority of that time in Bolivia. Can’t wait to see your Peru pics, dwelling in good memories when we cycled there. Stay safe!

    • We can’t wait for the Peruvian divide!! Will be starting next week, and though we won’t have Internet for over a month, once we do again, there are sure to be some crazy mountain pass photos involved!

  4. Ahh, so beautiful! Like you, I at first explored SW Bolivia and Salar de Uyuni on one of the jeep tours but now you have me eager to do it by bike someday! I very much prefer to do things on my own terms and be able to take my time. I’d love to get back to Bolivia and experience even more. Enjoy Peru! I lived there for a few months and miss it quite a bit.

      • Oh I’m sure! Well, it is a good reason to go back. 🙂 And I was living in Cusco, but I did work in Urubamba as well and around the Sacred Valley in general. I know you’ve been to Peru – did you make it to Cusco last time? And are you planning on going this time? By the way, I have heard amazing things from friends who went to Choquequirao. It’s similar to Machu Picchu, but zero crowds and it requires a two-day trek there. Unfortunately I didn’t make it (so I have to go back – this is a trend, haha), but it seems like something you might be curious about! My friends were completely alone there and played a game of frisbee. 🙂

      • We are in cusco right now! I went to Machu Picchu last time and don’t want to do it,but I’ve also heard about those other ones so we may be going sometime this week!

      • Oh! Haha! I did find Machu Picchu worth seeing but given the time it takes to get there, it is definitely worth it to go see some of the MANY other places the area has to offer if you have already been. I am looking forward to reading about your Peru adventures and to hearing what you do. 🙂

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