On the Buses – Bolivia

Howdy all. Back again looking at how it was crossing South America by bus. Last week I looked at Peru and Ecuador, today I continue southward through Bolivia. I expected to write about Bolivia and Argentina together but it turned out there was quite a bit to write about Bolivia on its own, so Argentina is saved til next week!

In Bolivia I resolved to not take any night buses. I suspected the bus standard might not be as good as Peru, and I felt the distances and time required weren’t as far and as much as in Peru. So, after three night buses in a single week, I was sticking to (mostly) day time travel.

My first trip was from Copacabana on Lake Titicaca, south to the capital of La Paz. It was almost a bus of only foreigners, and I bought a ticket in one of the shops on the main street. There seemed to be a lot of buses in the evening or afternoon, but hardly any leaving Copacabana in the morning. I didn’t want to arrive in La Paz after dark, so I hunted around and managed to find a 930am bus for a ride which in the end took around 4 hours.

Bus to La Paz on a ‘ferry’.

Bus gets loaded on a ferry.

Manco Kapac was the company name, and the ride was one of the most interesting bus journeys of the entire trip to South America. The bus goes on a special sort of ferry to cross over from the peninsula Copacaban is on to the ‘main land’ for want of a better way of describing it considering Bolivia is a completely landlocked country. Whilst the passengers had to alight to take a passenger boat across the way, the bus was driven onto a strange long, thin ferry which took it over to the other side. Then, we had to find our bus. It seems there were buses and trucks and other vehicles constantly crossing.

La Paz from the bus.

As we arrived in La Paz, set in a valley, we seemed to go through countless suburbs, redirected off the main road for a major upgrade along unsealed roads which slowed us right down. The suburbs seemed to go on forever before we descended into the centre of town, and I decided that I didn’t feel like stopping in La Paz. So, I decided on going to Potosi that night.

La Paz streets

The bus stopped though not in the centre, but at what seemed like some random street somewhere, and it was a 10-15 minute taxi ride to the central bus station. I took a bus, in pretty poor condition, with the company “Urus” to Oruro which took a little over three hours. It would have been quicker but it stopped in the outer suburbs of La Paz seemingly looking for (and finding) more passengers. It was stopped there for at least 20-30 minutes.

The bus was packed and had plenty of people without seats and we were all squashed up quite a bit. I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out and if I would be able to catch a bus for the remaining 5-hour journey to Potosi or if I was going to have to stay in Oruro. As it happened, there was a bus waiting at Oruro about to go. As you’ll find at most South American bus stations, someone is standing around shouting out the name of the destination.

Arriving at Oruro.

I was now on a ‘Trans Azul’ bus to Oruro. It was a double-decker, and was probably the most comfortable as I had two seats right at the back as the sun went down, leaving Oruro at around 6pm. It arrived in Potosi shortly after 11pm. It stopped not at a bus station but on the side of the road somewhere and I had to negotiate a share-taxi into the centre to find a guesthouse. Not a recommended way of doing it but it worked out okay and I’d gotten to where I wanted to go.

I used the line ‘6 de Octobre’ next, and that was a journey for 7ish hours from Sucre to Uyuni. Another bus mostly for tourists, it took a long time to traverse the windy road back to Potosi before taking more passengers and hitting wild expanses towards Uyuni as things became more dessert-like. Another two-level bus, I was near the front at the top. We stopped in the middle of nowhere at a little eatery for lunch where there was soup and chicken.

I took the company ’12 de Octobre’ from Uyuni to Tupiza. Actually that was the second bus company from Atocha, the first ’11 de Julio’. Yes, they like naming bus companies after dates in Bolivia. It was a less comfortable smaller bus that left early in the morning – again most buses are overnight to Tupiza. We had to get off and change with a 45 minute wait in Atocha on the way. Then we were in a bigger bus.

View on the ride from Atocha to Tupiza.

At Atocha waiting for the next bus.

Bus that took me from Uyuni to Atocha.

They were building a new road out there in the dessert-mountains of southern Bolivia. The bus driver didn’t see a need to slow down though and we shifted left and right on the sandy parts. It was beautiful – the barren mountain scenery, and it was terrifying because it seemed like only a matter of time before we slid off the side of the road and down to our deaths in the valleys below. And then we stopped twice or three times to let the engine cool down. At some points, it looked as if we were driving along a river bed. It was that sandy!

This bus took me from Atocha to Tupiza. At the end of the journey. Still in one piece!

Somehow we made it to Tupiza though in plenty of time (all up 7 ish hours again I think) and I could take a fast mini-bus to the border with Argentina run by ‘Flota Chorolque’. That was a new mini-bus on a suddenly good road.

So, there’s a summary of my time ‘On the Buses’ in Bolivia. It really was an adventure. Have you taken them? What did you think?

The Bolivia-Argentina border.

Thanks for reading – and May the Journey Never End!

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