27 October 2014

Haquira to La Paz: To Bolivia around lake Titicaca by the back roads

After a relaxing rest day in Haquira, which coincided with local election day in Perú, we began the final push out of the mountains and into the altiplano that would lead us to Bolivia. By now the weather had been far from ideal, with storms in the early afternoon and occasionally in the morning. Our routine had been simple...leave early, clear the high(er) passes first thing in the morning, and make it to lower grounds before storms hit. Luckily, there were only three such passes to clear before we hit the altiplano, which brought a welcome change in landscape, weather patterns, and local culture. Despite four great months in Peru, we were excited to see what Bolivia had in store.

We left Haquira along more beautiful roads through a river valley..

...and soon crossed into the Cusco department, where stone replaced adobe as the primary building material (but the custom of painting political propaganda on houses remains).

We arrive into Santo Tomas and are surprised by its colonial main plaza and church.

We ask at the municipalidad about a place to stay, and one of the women working there suggests we can stay with her family.

Her dad, Silvio, had a daily sports-themed radio program, so we went on to talk about our trip. In the morning, the morning news program also had us on.
We thought that maybe the radio station had very low listenership, but riding out of town the next day we received many thumbs up from drivers who were familiar with us on the radio, and even spoke to a campesino tending his sheep who had heard us.

After a night in Vellile (where we were offered a hospedaje for free, also due to our radio appearance), we climbed our last high pass and soon descended to the long-awaited altiplano.

We crossed our last departmental limit in Peru... Bolivia was so close we could almost taste it!

In the morning, we enjoyed being back on mostly good-quality dirt roads.

The clue should have been in the village's name (Salinas) but we were surprised to see our first salt lake so soon.

Once onto the altiplano, cycling was suddenly a viable mode of local transportation again.
And, with storms imminent, spent another night indoors, this time in the house of a kind shopkeeper in the small village of Jayuni.
Next day we arrived in Ayaviri, with another colonial church. Alberto took this opportunity to get sick again, so we had a few days off...

... but at least we had plenty of pedi-cabs to keep us amused.
With Alberto feeling better again, we set off towards Huancane, on the north side of Lake Titicaca.

We inadvertently camped very close to a village, and so at 6 am in the morning had a large group of curious visitors...

...who asked if we would wait while they called someone to bring a camera by motorbike, and each family wanted a picture with us. Suddenly we were the tourist attraction instead of the tourists

Before Titicaca came Laguna Arapa, giving us a taste of things to come...

...including some stiff headwinds along the lakeshore...

...and some more machacas in the vicinity.
The riding was very pleasant, and we got a glimpse of the non-touristy side of the lake, with its crops and llamas

With dark upon us, and with not much free land to wild camp on, we asked at one of the schools on the way by the lake Titicaca

The morning of our last day in Peru was an scenic one, climbing 300 m over the lake to enjoy the views...

...until we eventually made it to the super chilled out border crossing to Bolivia
Once in Bolivia, the kind policemen of Escoma let us crash on their floor

...before we continued onwards towards La Paz. Even though the views were amazing, we were shocked with the erratic driving of the Bolivians...which was even worse than the already suicidal style of the Peruvians
...and so with some 120 km left to La Paz, we decided to put the bikes in a colectivo bound for El Alto
Arriving into El Alto (4080 m) the only thing left is a fast 500 m downhill to La Paz proper. But before, we stop on the edge of the hill to take in what it is probably the most amazing views of any big town to date...

...and contrary to what most cyclists do, which is to go downhill on the gentle autopista, we follow our GPS directions down some steep stairs...
...eventually arriving at the cyclists hotspot in La Paz that is Cristian's apartment
 Route notes:

- Haquira to Espinar: all paved, with plenty facilities.
- Espinar to Ayaviri: all unpaved, road surfaces can be bad at times, especially close to Espinar, with lots of local traffic. Plenty of small villages with shops etc.
- Ayaviri to Huancane: mostly all paved, unless you take the shortcut we did to Azangaro (ask the locals)
- Huancane to Tilali (last border town in Peru before Bolivia): this section is now all paved, has very little traffic and the option of taking the lakeshore if wanted, or cut across some small hills. There's plenty of small towns along the way, and very little hidden camping opportunities a few km past Moho.
- Tilali to Puerto Acosta: the section Tilali-Puerto Acosta remains unpaved, and the surface isn't great. As noted on many other blogs, you need to get your exit stamp in Puno (we did it from Huancane, 2 h one-way via Juliaca) and your entry stamp in Puerto Acosta (recommended to get the Puerto Acosta before noon as the officer may be on his extended lunch break). We learnt from other cyclists that the officers in Puerto Acosta may demand money to stamp your passport, which is illegal. There's no immigration services in Tilali, so you cannot get your exit stamp there.
- Puerto Acost to La Paz: all paved, and relatively quiet until Achacachi. After that it gets busier with colectivos, trucks, and buses. We found the Bolivian drivers to be incredibly dodgy, so instead of riding the last 120 km into La Paz, opted to jump on a colectivo (Bs 10 plus Bs 5 for the bikes) and get a lift to El Alto. From El Alto is an easy and scenic downhill to La Paz.
- In La Paz there's the once-called Casa de Ciclistas, which unfortunately nowadays operates like a hostel without being one, with a fix Bs 20 per person per night fee (more on this on our next blogpost).


  1. go go Al & Lucy!!! :))))

  2. It looks like you're not letting your South American celebrity status go to your heads!

  3. We´ll never forget the little people!