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The Wonders of Bolivia....

Discovering incredible Bolivia - La Paz, Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats), Potosí, Sucre and Santa Cruz.

sunny -15 °C


I spent just over a month in Bolivia and had an incredible time.
The terrain here is varied, extreme and nothing short of spectacular, especially at high altitudes.

La Paz

La Paz is an enormous, sprawling city in the heavens and full of surprises.
La Paz's airport is at an elevated point even higher than the city itself. My flight arrived at 2am and my taxi driver zoomed down through the windy, narrow streets until we reached the hotel.
The journey from the airport in to town isn't the prettiest, but give it a chance... La Paz is a really nice city.

Graduation Day

During my stay, the entire city was celebrating graduation across their many tertiary institutions. They all set tp the same date, so students and their friends and families all over the city can celebrate together.
I visited the parades, and got talking to some newly graduated nurses and medical assistants. They had never met or spoken with a foreigner before, so there was a lot of intrigue on both sides.
They explained the whole graduation celebration to me and about the many places I should visit in La Paz, and other festivals around the country.

High Altitudes and Cable Cars

Exploring the city is great exercise. Almost every street has a steep incline.
La Paz has the biggest, most comprehensive cable car system I've ever seen. It looks like an amazing feat, and Bolivians are justifiably very proud of it.
I travelled to all of the far reaches of the city this way, which offered some great photo opportunities!


I flew from La Paz to what felt like a lunar base, Uyuni. We arrived at night, to something like -5 degrees! As the shared cab left the airport we had a very clear view of the enormous moon, and many of the star systems.
When I arrived at my hostel, I was warmly greeted and taken to my dorm where I met my new roomies from the Netherlands. They suggested that I'd be able to book my trip for the following morning, and head out to Salar de Uyuni straight away. Bonus.

I hunted around the very quiet flat, lunar base for some dinner. The pizzas in Uyuni are really good regardless of which restaurant you choose.
Note, that the tyranny of distance means that everything in Uyuni is much more expensive, even water.

When I got back to the hostel, I made a pre-emptive pack for a four day desert adventure.

Salar de Uyuni

I got up extra early and headed over to my target trip company....
Red Planet gets universally good reviews on Tripadvisor....
They had space for the same day, so I was in luck. Bag packed, I stored my big backpack, got some supplies and joined my group.
Our group spanning Netherlands, Canada, Ireland and Australia were split across into two Landcruisers with three rows of seats.
We had a nice briefing about the trip and set off.... first to the train wreck...
Basically a graveyard for old trains that once connected Uyuni to the world, and amazing photo opportunities to get us started.

The desert is enormous and stretches far and wide, connecting Atacama in Chile for example.

We drove for a good couple of hours before stopping for the mandatory trick photos!!!

Words can't really describe the feeling of being within this place. It feels a million miles away from anything, and there's no 3G or wifi out there, so you really are isolated!

This part of Bolivia was once under the sea (yet it is now elevated at 5000 metres above sea level). So, occasionally you see bommie like formations of coral. We stopped at this beauty for a hike, and seriously amazing views!!

There are several enormous lakes within the desert, most notably a big red one, coloured by a strange algae.

Many kinds of birds live up here, especially pelicans and flamingos!

We stopped at many gurgling geysers and truly boiling springs

The rock formations here are truly unique too.

Night Swimming

On the second night, we stopped at an accomodation centre with a naturally heated pool, staying at a consistent 40 degrees or so. At night the air temperature is -15 degrees, so the contrast is a bit of a shock to the system, both getting in an out. but oh so worth out.

Our group, plus groups from other companies congregated to the hot pool after dinner and enjoyed a swim and the incredible unobstructed view of the stars.
One of the guides treated us to a planetarium style explanation and guide to the star systems, with a bit of history related to naming ,etc. It was really fascinating.

The Salar de Uyuni trip was one of my favourites of all time. If you get the chance, don't miss it!


This town is known for being one of the highest on earth, and also for it's enormous mine. The Spanish knew of huge silver deposits here. Over 8million African and Indigenous slaves died pulling it out.
Today locals are still mining here, extracting whatever they can find, and send it down for refining.
I employed a local taxi driver to take me up and show me around. It's a courtesy to take gifts for the workers - stuff they need to get the job done - dynamite to blow up the walls, and coca leaves to keep them going throughout the day.
If you think you've seen hard yakka, wait until you see these guys at work. They graft in danger and dust all day for a pittance.

Santa Cruz

This city is unique in Bolivia in so many ways. So much so, that many locals would prefer to secede.
The city sits closer to the Brazilian border and over many years attracted immigration from all over Latin America, Asia and Europe. It's truly a sub amazonian multicultural hub. I stayed here for 10 days and had a great time.

The main square is truly gorgeous and a nice place to be at any time of day or night. Police constantly patrol so it's very safe. Uniformed coffee sellers also roam the park so you're never far away from a cup.

I had the good fortune of meeting nice friends here to show me around.
We went to a great Caribbean disco playing Salsa and Bachata and visited many of the great cafes here.


I had a really nice time here. It's a fairly progressive, tranquil and safe city, with great weather and a ton of restaurants.
Many people choose to stay here and learn Spanish.

The city was in the midst of preparing for a huge national festival when I visited. The main park was filled with different dance groups rehearsing. It was really nice to see.
My hostel was the departure point for a really terrific walking tour. We got to visit and know about all of the historic sites, plus commentary on historical and current politics of the country.


I had a great time in Bolivia. It was full of amazing surprises!!
On to Brazil....

Posted by SkinnyFists 13:56 Archived in Bolivia Tagged travel trekking deserts bolivia la_paz sucre salar_de_uyuni Comments (0)

Colombia: Cartagena to the max!

A short guide for visiting or living in Cartagena.

sunny 35 °C

Welcome to Cartagena

I lived in Cartagena for six months, working for a public institute.
It is a captivating, beautiful, yet sometimes confounding place to live.
Here is a guide to making the most of your time there, and some lessons learned.

The is South America The Caribbean

Many visitors arrive from Bogotà or Medellín, and find themselves in a very, very different world.
The climate, use of language, people, culture and atmopshere on the Caribbean coast is dramatically different to the southern areas of the country. But that's Colombia.... It's a diverse universe of itself, unlike any country I've been to.

When I first arrived here from Panama City I experienced genuine culture shock (in a good way) for the very first time. It was nothing like Panama. It felt like Cuba on steroids.
Cuba and Colombia certainly have a long standing kinship. Cuba played host to the epic peace talks between the Colombian Government and FARQ, and the two countries share a passion for music and dancing. Bars to barber shops curiously adorn Cuban flags on the walls, and Salsa is everywhere.

Viva Africa!

Cartageneros identify themselves primarily as afrodescentes before anything else.
It's worth noting that Colombia is the second biggest afro-latin country, after Brazil.
You will learn a lot about Colombia's afro culture and history here.

Have a listen to Carlos Vives' ode to the city in Fantastica and the chants of "Viva Africa!" here:

Cartagena was the first major city in the Americas where slaves were liberated (after the tiny Palomino), and was also the site of the first riots to end Spanish oppression.


Colombia is definitely a boisterous country, and not for the faint hearted.
Cartagena takes that idea to another level. The traffic is chaotic and loud music is everywhere!!

It is a remarkably friendly and open city. It doesn't take long to make friends in Cartagena!


Finding a place to live long term can be a little difficult here. The options on the internet are more tourist orientated and priced accordingly.
For long term apartments boots on the ground works best. Feel free to send me a private message for contacts.
There is a great Expats in Cartagena Facebook group that is also a great source of information and support.


Getsemani is the up and coming hipster area of the city.
There are many great restaurants, bars and hotels.
The area around Trinindad Square is a hive of activity every night - but especially on weekends.
Music blasts from family homes and blends into a wondrous mash of rhythm. Many families cook food from their homes and sell to revellers.

Every Sunday night, local Zumba instructors give a free class in Trinidad square which is seriously intensive in the heat... lasting nearly two hours.
it's a great way to sweat out the weekend's excesses!


Manga is a posh bayside suburb where I lived for six months.

It's tranquil by Cartagena standards, and has a gorgeous walking track lined with outdoor exercise equipment along the water - looking out to the myriad of boats that dock here.

It has a lot of great boutique restaurants and small bars. If you are going to live anywhere in Cartagena, I really recommend here.
it's very close to the old city.



Just like the other Spanish Caribbean ports, Cartagena is a baseball city!!

There are several pitches around the city, and in all the schools and colleges.
The interesting thing about pitches in Cartagena is that they often play loud music during the matches amping up the atmosphere.
It gives a great vibe to the games.

The main streets behind Getsemani are closed from traffic on Sundays to make way for a baseball tournament!!


Bodytech in Bocagrande rivals any high end gym in the first world.
It has two levels looking out to the ocean from the 5th floor and has every piece of equipment you can think of, including an MMA octagon.


Like the rest of Colombia and the Caribbean, music is an extremely prominent and important part of culture in Cartageana.
Salsa, Vallenato and Champeta rule the roost.

As Cali is now known as the world capital of Salsa... Cartagena is the capital of Champeta; a folk and melodic beat heavy genre from the Atlantic coast of Africa.

Champeta parties are great fun and really exemplify the open and boisterious nature of the Colombian north (and presumably the African coastal towns). You will also find Champeta in neighbouring Barranquilla and Santa Marta.

Music legend Joe Oroyo was a Cartagenero (though he adopted Barranquilla as his home later in life)
Here is one of Joe's more famous songs depicting the rebellion and revolt of slaves.


Champeta found it's way to Colombia via the Atlantic coast of Africa.
Champeta parties are great fun and raucus!! The great thing about Champeta is that you don't need to dance it with a partner, but of course many people do! You will notice friends dancing in big circles at Champeta parties, and also expect to be pulled in to join them.

Watch famous Cartageneros, Bazurto All Stars brand of Champeta here:


Donde Fidel

Donde Fidel is probably the most famous spot in Cartagena.
A relatively small and unassuming bar that plays Salsa and only Salsa... very, very LOUD.

Music at Fidels is so loud that folks can sit in the tables, outside - on the other side of the street to enjoy the music.
Inside, the walls are lined with photos of Fidel himself with many of the Salsa legends from Colombia, Cuba and Puerto Rico over the past 50 years!
The vibe is casual and reflects the working class boisterous nature of Salsa lyrics and culture that Latino musos established so long ago in New York, and took to their home countries.

I met all kinds of people here - from Colombia and abroad.
Folks bring drum sticks to bang out rhythmns, and dance betwen their tables; either in tuxedos after the many weddings in town or just in shorts and thongs after a day at the beach.

Bazurto Social Club

This is the home of Champeta in Cartagena and also the namesake of Cartagena's most famous Champeta band!

I love this place and made many new friends here.
The decor is great and vibe is friendly.

Champeta Parties

Keep your ear to the group for Champeta parties, including the monthly Champetú.
They are so much fun and have a unique, friendly and fiery vibe of Cartagena.


I mention this place, but really it's the worst club in town with the best view.
They play electronic/house music and as such really only pulls in backpackers and their hangers on.

Each time I was dragged in there, I waded through sweaty gringos who had inhaled more of the white stuff than their bodies could handle, inflating their sense of importance and eroding their sense of decorum.
If you're missing home and "getting on it", then by all means, but it's not a very Colombian place to be.

Jamaica Club

This is a bit further out in the burbs in a small complex of different clubs.
As the name suggests, the club plays a lot of Jamaican dancehall and also Bachata, Salsa and Reggaeton.

Torre Reloj

As the weather is either hot and balmy or hot and swealtering, many people just congregate and drink in the many public plazas.
You might wonder how this can happen without trouble.... well the simple thing is that law and order works in Colombia.

The cops have a presence and are formidable. I've seen them deal with even moderate rowdiness with brutal, military precision.
Dont worry about drinking at night with your friends, just don't be an idiot or talk back to cops, because they will not hesitate.

The plaza at the famous Clock Tower is eye and ear opening.
The raucous tunes blasting from Donde Fidel provides a soundtrack for the myriad of tourists who roam the gorgeous area, along with the many ladies who stand relatively unassumedly in their finery looking like fashion models; availing their company for wealthy tourists.

Cafe del Mar

The only place you MUST visit just once.
Words really can't describe it.
It has an amazing view, nice cocktails and decent service.

The Wall

Around the wall, you will find many impromptu parties and vallenato buskers roaming the ornate surrounds.
Tourists and locals alike congregate around the wall, where the sea breeze provides gives reprieve to the heat and the illiminated ancient city in the background looks amazing!


As Colombia's premier destination there are awesome restaurants everywhere for all budgets!!
I don't even need to list any here, none will disappoint though, my favourite restaurant experience in Cartagena is....

Cuba 1940's

The walls of this huge old building are lined with photos from pre-revolution Cuba.
The area in front of the band stage is a swimming pool where clients and sit and dip their feet after dinner or whilst sipping coctails.


Cartagena's beaches are not the best in the country, or even the Caribbean coast of the country - but their are the most lively.
Music blasts, folks sit and wade in groups, drinking beer and eating.
The beaches of Cartagena are somewhat hedonistic - especially "Playa Hollywood" (Hollywood Beach) where literally everything is within reach of the many touts.


Cartagena has several malls, that are pretty standard, but be aware prices vary depending on the neighbourbood. The same pair of Adidas will be pricier in Bocagrande than at Caribe Plaza....Caribe Plaza is the biggest and best of the bunch, and throughout the old city are myriad of jewellers and awesome clothing stores that cater to hot weather.
Bocagrande Plaza is a must visit, if not simply for the amazing view out over the beach to the Caribbean sea.


Is Colombia safe?
Well generally speaking it is. The kind of thuggery that happens in the suburbs of my home city in Australia is unheard of in Cartagena.... simply because the police presence in Colombia is really strong, visibile and formidable. Colombian cops have leverage to act as the situation requires - and they use it... and everyone knows it.

At closing time in Gertsemani, a group (of what looks like hundreds) of cops march through the streets and make sure everything is closed and that people are moving on.
Drinking in the street, for the most part is legal and most young people drink and socialise in public spaces - the same as most latin countries but I have never seen any act of disorderly behaviour in an entire year in the country.
Cops are almost always within eyeshot.

One day after teaching class, I was walking along a main road. As I passed a police check point a male and female officer were dancing together to music blasting on their cell phones, and occasionally stopping cars for shake downs, but kept the music on. As they ushered the cars away, they resumed their boogies with big smiles. Only in Colombia.

Adieu Cartagena

It's hot, humid and chaotic, yet beautiful, majestic open and friendly.
i had an awesome six months living there and made great friends and took away wonderful experiences.

Posted by SkinnyFists 10:02 Archived in Colombia Tagged travel shopping colombia cartagena colombia_safety Comments (0)

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