A Few Unexpected Days in Tupiza

Serendipity disguised as misfortune had us spend two whole days in a town that most travelers skip and we couldn’t be happier.

Our bus from Tarija to Tupiza was uneventful, taking about seven hours, with a lunch stop at a small restaurant in the middle.  We arrived at 5pm, checked into our hostel, and immediately set out to find a tour through the salt flats, ideally the next morning.  Of course, it was pretty late, and nothing was available, so we realized we’d be spending a day in Tupiza.

Tupiza is a small town in Bolivia just south of Uyuni and west of Tarija.  For most tourists this city is either overlooked, or they are only passing through.  The largest attraction nearby is the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, and most tours start on the north side where tourists leave from the town of Uyuni. If they arrive in Tupiza at all, they immediately take a bus out. We decided to do our tour the opposite direction starting in Tupiza, as we heard it can be less crowded, and it also means the salt flats are the grand finale of the four-day tour, rather than at the very beginning.  

We started our first full day in Tupiza by going to book a day trip in the local area since we wouldn’t be leaving for Uyuni that day. We chose to do a seven-hour trip with José Luis from Green Planet that started with 1.5 hours of horseback riding leaving at 11am. With that booked, we went to the Natural Adventure office to book our tour to Uyuni. We had chosen Natural Adventure because of good reviews and how helpful the man who explained their tour had been the day before. Unfortunately there was no one in the office, so we waited around for a few hours before we could sign up. At 11am we had to leave for our day trip and at that point Natural Adventure only had three people registered but assured us that the Jeep would fill up.  A tour needs 4-5 people to do the trip, or it costs a lot more.

So, onto the day trip!  It was awesome. The horse back riding was easy, and not too long, even though Jess’s horse seemed reluctant to move at all.  We stopped at Puerto del Diablo, which is a spectacular wall of rock with a large crack in the middle. We would learn later that there was once a large lake contained by this wall, and millennia ago “the dam broke” so to speak, leaving the large opening behind.  

We then began the walking tour through Canyon del Inca and Canyon Colorado in the Ecoparque “Encantado”.  This was one of the best hikes we’ve been on in South America.  The terrain was interesting as we walked through various geological formations. It seemed that almost the majority of plants are aromatic and are used either for cooking, medicine or hallucinating.  Our guide, José Luis, was incredibly knowledgeable about the plants and geology of the region.

Geology Aside:
José Luis explained to us that the layers of these tectonic plates are formed by centuries of sand and rocks piling up and the pressure of the layers compresses them into sandstone.  If there are other rocks that get mixed with the sandy layers you get a conglomerate rock that looks like concrete. This particular mountain range was two very different tectonic plates colliding.  One plate was the reddish conglomerate rock (conglomerock?), around 45 million years old, and the other was an older, black rock.

Green Planet is focused on conservation efforts in the area and José Luis was excited to explain about the importance of this mountain range.  The city of Tupiza has a very mild, pleasant climate largely because the mountains warm up with the sun and then warm up the cool air that continuously comes from the highlands.

Pretty steep hiking!

During the hike José Luis offered us coca leaves to help with walking at altitude, and when we were all the way up at 3,250 meters, we were glad for any help we could get.  This was some of the most challenging hiking we’ve done, in some places similar to a certain ravine hike. There were numerous places with a one-to-two meter vertical, which we needed to go up and down.  Fortunately José Luis was very patient, and happy to show us good places for our feet and hands. At the end of the hike José Luis requested that we record a short “testimonial” of how we enjoyed the trip, so here it is, the beginning of our great acting careers.

Pioneros en ecoturismo y turismo de aventura en la Nación Chichas."Aventura, interpretación y protección ambiental"Video testimonio de la experiencia inolvidable con nuestros amigos de Estados Unidos Erick y Jessica en el Área Protegida Municipal “ECO PARQUE ENCANTADO” – REGION “C” DIFICULTAD BAJA – MODALIDADES:- Horse ridding-Trekking-Mountain Climbing –Canyoning.Gracias amigosINFORMACIÓN Y RESERVAS:Dirección: Av. Crnl. Pedro Arraya Nro. 294, frente al Coliseo de Tupiza a unos 30 mts. hacia el norte desde la Terminal de Buses (vereda izquierda -Zona Central)Departamento: Potosí – Provincia Sud Chichas – TupizaCódigo Postal: 591Página Web: www.tupizagreenplanet.orgFacebook: greenplanetetnoecotravel.Correo: tupizagreenplanet@gmail.comMóvil y WhatsApp: 67007607LA MEJOR AVENTURA EN LA NATURALEZA ES LA QUE NO TERMINA.PRESERVA EL MEDIO AMBIENTE Y PLANTA UN ÁRBOLCENTRO DE INTERPRETACIÓN "GREEN PLANET" ETNO ECO TRAVEL SRL

Posted by Green Planet Etno Eco Travel on Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The hike ended at the bottom of the Canyon Colorado, which connects directly with the outskirts of town, and we walked back to Tupiza.  Upon arrival, we went to check in with Natural Adventures, only to discover that our car still wasn’t full! Somehow no-one came in to fill our Jeep all day.  This was pretty frustrating, as we had already spent one more day in Tupiza than we originally planned, and now we were looking at a second day. Fortunately, Sylvia, who was running the office was very understanding.  She offered us a free night in the adjoining hostel, and also a free Jeep tour the following day, so we wouldn’t have to spend extra money for the delay. We really appreciated this, and so agreed to wait the extra day for a full Jeep.  

The next day came, we moved hostels and lounged about. Two people did indeed show up to join our Jeep for the big Uyuni tour, and we met them at 3PM when we went to start our short jeep tour for the day.  There is a second valley that connects to Tupiza called Canyon del Duende (Canyon of Elves!!) and it’s normally a much longer walking tour to see this. A driver named Tito picked us up and we went in search of elves!

Another beautiful hike ensued.  First Tito showed us a beautiful low lying area surrounded by a river and mountains called Toroyo.  The flat spot is used by school trips, and apparently locals still do a small amount of pan-handling for gold in the river, San Juan de Oro. Most of the gold has been removed, but there are still a few grams here and there.  We climbed rocky trails up one of the nearby peaks, and got a stunning view of the area.

What a view from a peak!

At the entrance of the Canyon del Duende, Tito dropped us off and let us explore, telling us to come back in time to rest up for our big tour, which started early the next day.  As we went into the canyon, it really was a remarkable place. At every new area we’d say “ok, we’ll go to that corner then turn around” but just around the next corner were cool rock formations, neat trees, and generally awesome canyon terrain.  This particular canyon is quite narrow, which gives it an intimate feeling not always present in mountain hikes. When we finally found a spot that was difficult to pass and decided to turn around we finally encountered our first elf! This one made soft “hoot hoot” noises, and appeared just once in a flash of wings we saw out of the corner of our eye.  We left slowly, listening to the occasional owl call, and hoping to glimpse the duende again. Alas, he stayed hidden, so we left the canyon, returning to Tito and a short trip home.

All in all, our time in Tupiza was delightful. The hiking is great, and our last day was restful, letting us prepare for the next big adventure, a four-day tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats!

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