Trip-Spiration: Epic Salt Flats and Wild Flamingos in Bolivia
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If exploring the world’s largest salt flat sounds like an amazing adventure, you should probably add Bolivia to your bucket list. It’s no secret that the country’s capital, La Paz (which also happens to be the highest administrative capital in the world) is a budding destination for foodies and artsy types, and it’s on our List of Place to Visit in 2018. But it’s not just La Paz that’s up-and-coming — the whole country of Bolivia is full of immense wonders beyond the salt flats, such as the world’s highest navigable lake, ancient ruins and so much more.
What to Do
No trip to Bolivia is complete without visiting the Salar de Uyuni — over 4,000 square miles of white, glistening salt which is perhaps most famous for being the backdrop of some incredible shots you see on your Instagram feed. The expansive flat extends in all directions with seemingly no horizon, making for unique photo opportunities. So grab your camera and some props, and get creative!
Exploring the flats is relatively easy: A driver with a 4X4 vehicle can take you through the flats, and will make stops along the way so you can hike or take photos, but we recommend continuing on through the Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, famous for its volcanoes, hot springs, geysers and lagoons. You’ll likely spot flamingos — the reserve is home to three different species.
Of course we’re all #AvGeeks here at TPG, but if you also love trains (because really, who doesn’t?) the Salar de Uyuni also has a train cemetery. There was once a train car factory there, but now you can climb on and photograph these giant metal railway cars that have been left to rust in a deserted valley.
Visiting Lake Titicaca is a must. There are many small towns along the lake that make for a relaxing stay. Biking, hiking or taking a boat trip out onto the lake are all fun ways to discover the local culture and surrounding nature.
Spending time in the capital city of La Paz is a relatively authentic experience. It’s an up-and-coming city and less touristy (for now) than some of the other capitals in the region, so get there soon to beat the crowds that will inevitably flock there once the city is trending.
The city offers some unique attractions, such as the Witches’ Market, where you can buy things as normal as leather goods and as crazy as llama fetuses (in case you want to call on some Aymaran spirits). The Mercado 16 Julio is a much more “normal” shopping experience where you can purchase… well, pretty much anything under the sun. Just watch for pickpockets in this crowded space. If it’s food stalls you’re after, head to the Mercado Lanza, where you can find all sorts of culinary delights for under a dollar or two.
If you’re in the mood for something quirky, check out a Cholita fight. Think lucha libre, but for women! These tough ladies, outfitted in traditional petticoats and long braided hair, will have you laughing and cheering for some of the most unique “wrestling” you’ve ever seen.
The city is best seen from up above — although there are various lookout points around the city, the public Mi Teleférico cable car is a great way to not only get from A to B, but to also catch some fantastic panoramic views. Of course, remember that the higher you go, the higher than altitude, so be prepared.
For some under-the-radar activities, spot jaguars in the wild at the Kaa Iya National Park or the San Miguelito Jaguar Reserve. Or, explore Bolivia’s Beni region, thought to be home to lost civilizations.
Where to Stay
There actually aren’t many properties in La Paz where you can use points — the city lacks SPG, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and Marriott properties. Instead, stay at boutique hotels using your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card so you can earn 10x miles on purchases made at Hotels.com Venture. Basically this means is that you’ll receive 10% back on hotels booked at Hotels.com since Capital One points are worth 1 cent apiece when redeemed for a statement credit against travel purchases. You’ll have to book through a special URL, Hotels.com Venture, to receive the 10x miles (ends Jan. 31, 2020). Here you can book boutique properties such as La Casona, a colonial mansion-turned-hotel that also houses a museum, or the chic Atix Hotel, which has a rooftop pool and oxygen tanks for guests having altitude issues.
For something truly original, stay at the Palacio de Sal when exploring the salt flats. The hotel is made almost entirely out of salt. The walls, beds, tables and even the igloo-shaped room ceilings were built using salt. There’s also a spiral staircase and a lobby with floors, walls and furniture — all created from NaCl. You can even play billiards on a pool table that rests on four salt pillars. Although it’s not a good idea to ingest large amounts of the substance, being surrounded by it is said to be good for your health.
You can fly to La Paz’s El Alto International Airport (LPB) nonstop from Miami, Florida (MIA) using American AAdvantage miles. Since Bolivia is considered South America Region One, if you can manage to find MileSAAver Off Peak, you’ll only need to shell out 17,500 miles each way in economy or 30,000 in business. However, you should plan to go soon, because AA will be ending this route in July 2018, meaning you’ll need to have a layover somewhere if you plan to fly to La Paz from the US after July. However, AA will continue to fly nonstop into Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia (VVI), from MIA after July. If you’re planning on heading to Salar de Uyuni, hop on a 50-minute flight to Uyuni (UYU) on Amaszonas or Boliviana de Aviación — flights tend to go for around $100 each way.
TPG Insider Tip: Adjusting to the high altitude in many parts of Bolivia can be difficult — La Paz is at 11,940 feet and many of the highlands around the country lie at around 10,000 feet. Give yourself time to acclimatize, drink plenty of water and follow these TPG tips to battle altitude sickness.
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