Visitors to Bolivia have many options when it comes to enjoying the best of what this country has to offer, but rather than highlight the traditional tours, we're focusing on some of the specialty tours.
If you do choose to fly into La Paz, make sure that you allocate a day or two to adjusting to the altitude before commencing a structured tour or activity. They actually have oxygen tanks at the La Paz airport (at the luggage conveyor belt) in case it hits you immediately. I personally took a day or so to feel up to speed with symptoms similar to having a migraine. I suggest drinking coca tea or taking coca tablets to get your equilibrium back. Any trip to Bolivia is well worth this slight initial discomfort.
For the past five years Dr. Ric Finch of Rutahsa Adventures (tel. 931/520-7047; www.rutahsa.com) has led a Bolivia Carnival tour that is unsurpassed in its attention to detail and knowledge of the local Bolivian landscape. Dr. Finch takes his group off the beaten path to experience a lesser known Bolivia, resplendent with color, vigor and hospitality. In previous years this tour began in La Paz, but the 2007 19-day trip starts in Santa Cruz and then goes up to Sucre, thereby avoiding altitudeÂ sickness problems that travelers may experience by starting in La Paz.Â Highlights include the charter over flight of the Salar de Uyuni (the world's largest salt flat) in a meticulously restored DC-3, 18th-Century Jesuit missions in the lowlands, two-nights at Albergue Tomarapi lodge in spectacular Sajama National Park (an area inhabited by llama-herders in villages scattered across the altiplano with great wildlife viewing including flamingos, vizcachas, rheas, vicunas and foxes), colonial Sucre, Tarabuco market, the historic mining city of Potosi, La Paz, an overnight cruise on Lake Titicaca and, of course, the famed Carnival in Oruro.
The cost for this 2007 trip is $2,844 per person, based on a group of 16 staying in double-room accommodations (a single room supplement is $275). This price includes all lodging for 18 nights (17 in hotel rooms and one in a cabin aboard a catamaran), transportation (including airport transfers, ground transportation by private bus & 4WD vehicles, catamaran transport across Lake Titicaca, a flight from Santa Cruz to Sucre, and a spectacular charter flight aboard a DC-3 from Uyuni to Oruro), all entries to museums and other sites, breakfast daily, nine lunches, five dinners and a bilingual local guide service; this year the tour will be led by a highly experienced bilingual Bolivian tour conductor, Ms. Gloria Maldonado. Airfare to Santa Cruz and return from La Paz is not included in the price, nor is the Bolivia departure tax of $25. Rutahsa recommends Solar Tours (tel. 800/388-7652, ext. 106; www.solartours.com) for purchasing airfares to Bolivia. Book early as this trip will invariably sell out, plus all bookings must be finalized by November 1, 2006 due to the high demand for hotel space in Oruro during Carnival.
Global Exchange Reality Tours (tel. 800/497-1994, ext. 242; www.globalexchange.org) take travelers beyond the realm of traditional tourism and immerses them in the socio-political framework of the destination, including educational programs, environmental analysis and cultural discovery. The idea that travel can be educational and positively influence international affairs is what inspires the company, and it plans programs based on these principles. For this reason no two trips are alike, but if what interests you about a country is its people and its issues, then travel with a conscience on a Reality Tour. Their "Bolivia: Righting the Past, Creating the Future" trip runs from October 8 to 18, 2006, coinciding with the third anniversary of Bolivia's first "Gas War," a dark day in Bolivia's history when 67 unarmed civilians protesting for rights to natural resources in the city of El Alto were killed by the then government's military and a further 300 were wounded. Part of the program involves talking with the Bolivian committee coordinating the campaign for the extradition of the former Bolivian president and his top advisers from his safe haven in exile in the U.S. to face charges. Program highlights include meeting government representatives, social movement leaders, academics, and intellectuals in Cochabamba, La Paz, and El Alto, visiting the Chapare coca-growing region to discuss the US war on drugs in the region with coca-worker federations, learning about the ancient traditions of coca leaf used by indigenous communities and visiting the Altiplano highlands to speak with Aymara women leaders.
This land-only trip is priced at $1,400 plus $50 registration from Cochabamba and that includes ten-nights-hotel or guest house accommodation based on double share, ($200 extra for single room), three meals per day, transportation to and from all programmed activities, guides and translators, a qualified trip leader, all program activities and reading materials. International airfare, airport departure taxes and tips are additional. A limited number of partial scholarships are available for low-income applicants. American Airlines flies to Cochabamba from Miami.
Adventure Life (tel. 800/344-6118; www.adventure-life.com) has a seven-day "Chalalan Lodge Bolivian Amazon" land-only trip from La Paz that is priced at $895 per person with a single supplement of $150. The Chalalan Ecolodge is situated in the middle of Bolivia's pristine 4.5-million-acre Madidi National Park. The basic but comfortable accommodation (no electricity and shared bathrooms with no hot water) is surrounded by protected wilderness and is owned and managed by the indigenous Quechua community with support from two foreign-aid organizations. Quechua guides take visitors on tours through the rainforest with regular sightings of exotic fauna and teach guests how rainforest plants are used for medicinal purposes by local people. The trip features three-nights rainforest lodge accommodation and three-nights in hotels, tri-lingual tour guides, breakfast daily, most other meals and a round-trip dugout canoe trip from Rurrenabaque to the lodge. The round-trip flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque is additional (approximately $140) and arrival and departure transfers are available for $25 per person. The emphasis of this trip is on wildlife and indigenous culture and this is definitely not a five-star tour. The trip is available throughout the year but April until the end of November are the best months, whereas December to March are considered rainy season with hot, humid and wet conditions. Paying by credit card incurs a 3% fee.
Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) certainly lives up to its name by exposing travelers to tourism options that give back to communities. Departing on April 12, 2007, their Bolivian Animal Sanctuary volunteer program is a six-week placement (four week programs are also available) at two parks, Parque Machia and Ambue Ari. The trip is priced from $3,154, of which $1,288 goes directly back as a contribution to the project. The program involves at working with jaguars, pumas and monkeys to rehabilitate them back into the wild after being rescued from illegal animal traders who prey on these endangered species. Parque Machia was established by the Inti Wara Yassi foundation ten years ago and is 89 acres of forested land near the town of Villa Tunari in the Chapare region of Bolivia. Due to threats of confiscation of the land by the local government the Inti Wara Yassi purchased Ambue Ari (meaning "New Dawn") over fifty times the size of the original park in a more secure, remote and natural location. Volunteers' time is split between the two parks. While at Parque Machia volunteers are assigned responsibility of one animal at the sanctuary and at Ambue Ari, volunteersÂ assist with the construction of new facilities. The age of volunteers generally ranges from 18 to 35 and this adventure is perfect for those with a love of animals and a concern for the plight of endangered species. The trip price includes ground transportation, basic accommodations, meals and cultural activities.
Miami is the main step off point in the U.S., for direct and non-stop flights to Bolivia, including La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. American Airlines (www.aa.com) has regular flights to La Paz and Santa Cruz, with prices starting at around $700 plus taxes round-trip from Miami to either city. Lloyd Aereo Boliviano (known as LAB Airlines) (tel. 800/337-091; www.labairlines.com.bo) is Bolivia's national carrier and flies to Santa Cruz from Miami and Washington, D.C.; with connections to La Paz, Cochabamba and Sucre. The flights from Miami depart every Monday and Saturday, and from Washington, D.C. every Monday. Fares start from $679 out of Miami or $869 out of D.C. for fall departures. Also consider flying via other South American or Central American countries, for example Brazil or Mexico as fares can often be lower than flying direct.
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