Bolivia: Natives and Portraits in the Bolivian Andes – 10 days

Where are we going…

This photographic journey invites you to delve into the captivating Bolivian highlands, with our primary focus resting on the splendid locales of La Paz and Lake Titicaca. Acclimatization time is thoughtfully included to ensure a comfortable and immersive experience. The wonders of the Tiwanaku and Inca descendants await just a short drive from La Paz. To make this expedition truly remarkable, we’ve added a special segment, venturing to the remote and seldom-visited Apolobamba Range.

In the Apolobamba Range, you’ll have the unique opportunity to meet the revered medicine men of the Andes, including the yatiri’s, amautas, and Kallawayas. Come prepared to capture striking and emotionally resonant portraits amidst the diverse terrains, breathtaking vistas, and a tapestry of vibrant cultures. This photo safari promises to be an all-encompassing regional tour-de-force.

We Explore Bolivia’s Andes Mountains and Lake Titicaca

As we acclimatize to the rarified air of La Paz, each day brings new adventures. We venture into different parts of the city and nearby canyonlands, meeting and engaging with the locals as they go about their daily lives, tending to animal husbandry and agriculture. Agriculture plays a significant role in Bolivia, so regardless of our direction, we’ll encounter people working in the fields, with the majestic Andes serving as a constant backdrop.

After our acclimatization in La Paz, our journey unfolds towards the gem of the Andes, Lake Titicaca. Our first destination is the pilgrimage site of Copacabana, nestled on the lakeshore. The drive out of the canyon where La Paz is nestled itself is an awe-inspiring ascent, climbing close to 3,000 feet (900 meters) out of the canyon on a winding backroad. Soon, we find ourselves on the Altiplano, an elevated plateau averaging 13,000 feet above sea level in the north. We pass through El Alto, the largest urban center on our route, with its bustling streets and perpetual construction. Once beyond, we embrace open spaces as we head towards the tranquil beauty of Lake Titicaca.

Driving north, the imposing Cordillera Real graces our right, casting its dominating shadow. It serves as the primary water source for the cities of El Alto and La Paz. Rolling hills lead us to the southern coast of the smaller section of the lake known as Wiñaymarka. Here, quaint villages and hamlets dot the shoreline. Our journey climbs and dips alongside the lake until we descend to the Straits of Tiquina, where we cross to the Peninsula of Copacabana. This stretch of road is truly one of the most spectacular in the Andes, offering helicopter-like views of the lake below, the rolling foothills of the Andes caressing the snow-capped cordillera, crowned by ancient glaciers.

We spend a night in Copacabana to further acclimatize and explore the colorful markets and countryside. The subsequent days take us to the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), where we’ll wander among Inca ruins, witness breathtaking sunsets, and engage with the Aymara people, living in harmony with their environment. The island exudes a magical ambiance, offering respite from the modern world with its absence of cars and noise, leaving only awe-inspiring views of the rugged island, the glistening lake, and the ever-shifting dance of clouds over the Andean summits.

The remote Apolobamba Range…and the medicine men of the Andes

By now, everyone should be well acclimatized, and it’s time to embark on our journey to the Apolobamba Range. We cross back over the lake and the straits of Tiquina, heading towards the idyllic landscapes near Santiago de Huata as we trace the shores of Lake Titicaca. Our ascent brings us closer to the spiritual realm of the Apolobamba, a remote mountain range where the revered medicine men of the Andes call home. Our destination is the town of Charazani, where we’ll spend a few nights capturing the essence of these remarkable people as they prepare medicine and perform age-old rituals.

Imagine wise elders, weathered by the intense Andean sun, conducting ceremonies against the backdrop of glaciated summits and deep valleys below. If fortune smiles upon us, the spirit of the condor may grace us with its presence. The realm of spirits cannot be scheduled; it must be experienced and beckoned forth by those who can communicate with them. The Apolobamba is undeniably a profoundly special place; you’ll feel it in your very soul.

After a few days in this extraordinary setting, our route meanders back towards Lake Titicaca for additional days of capturing the essence of the region. We visit Suriqui island, known for its legendary totora-reed boat builders, a brief sail from the southern shore near the town of Huatajata. We spend a night onshore before heading to the heart of the Andes, visiting the mountaineering basecamp of Mt. Huayna Potosi, a towering 6,000-meter mountain situated a mere two hours from a major metropolitan city.

Our journey takes us past a hydroelectric lake and into the Zongo valley, where the upper reaches of Huayna Potosi’s glaciers give birth to small streams, eventually merging with the tropical Yungas valleys. These waters embark on a remarkable journey, culminating in the Amazon River, surrounded by lush jungles, before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean over 3,000 miles to the east!

We conclude our incredible adventure by returning to La Paz for a final dinner together, a celebration of our deep dive into the heart and soul of the Bolivian Andes.

Tour Length
10 Days
10 Nights
Start / End City
Arrival: La Paz, Bolivia
Departure: La Paz, Bolivia
Best Season

April to December

Group Size Limit

10 Guests

Transportation

4x4 vehicles

Accommodations

Hotels & hostels

Challenge Level

Level 3 - Moderate

Highlights

  • La Paz, Bolivia – the world’s highest Capital city
  • The Andes Mountains – the world’s longest mountain chain
  • Lake Titicaca – the world’s highest navigable lake at 3,810 m (12,500 ft)
  • Aymara and Quechua Indigenous societies
  • Bolivia’s Altiplano – 500 km long x 200 km wide with an median height of 4,000 m (13,000 ft)
  • Unique flora and fauna of the Andes; condor, vicuña, llama, alpaca, Suri, Queñua tree
  • 4×4 vehicle overland adventure – taking you to remote and stunning landscapes
  • Visit Inca ruins that are the roots of the most expansive empire in South America
  • Visit the medicine men of the Andes in the remote Apolobamba Range

Prices

Our tour prices are based on a tiered pricing modelMore guests = lower price, per person.  That means the prices go down on a per-person basis as more people book onto a specific tour departure.  Prices are based on double occupancy / twin share basis.  All prices are in U$ Dollars.  

Contact us for guidance on a quote for your group or private trip.

Lowest7-10 travelers$ 5,825 / per person
Average4-6 travelers$ 6,015 / per person
Optimum2-3 travelers$ 6,195 / per person
Highest1 solo traveler$ 6,575 / for 1 person
  • Single Supplement Fees are quoted per tour.  Contact us for details.
  • Deposit: $ 700.00/per person (non-refundable administrative fee, included in the final price).
  • International airfare is NOT included in price.
  • For airline tickets, contact Geo Travel at 210-225-7903

Daily Itinerary

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Day 1: Arrival in La Paz, Bolivia (AM) – City Tour (PM)

 

Airport Arrival, Immigration & Customs

Depending on your international flight schedule you will arrive very early in the morning (between 2-6 AM) at El Alto International Airport. The airport is located in the city of El Alto which is on the edge of the Altiplano at 4,023 m (13,200 ft) above La Paz (downtown La Paz is at 12,000 ft). You are now at high altitude; so, you need to be aware of the effects of altitude on your body; you may feel light-headed and short of breath, but that’s normal.  Once we drop down 900 m (3,000 ft) in elevation to your hotel 3,100 m (10,200 ft), you should feel much better.

Upon arrival, you go through Bolivian Immigration for your tourist visa (issued upon arrival) then Customs (Aduana).  Your guide will be waiting for you at the general passenger meeting point, just look for the sign from Sergio Photo Tours.  We will take your luggage to our private vehicle for transport to the hotel.

Private vehicle transport to your hotel

We drive from the airport to the lowest elevation in the city of La Paz down a winding mountain road with breathtaking views of the valley below. We head to Hotel Mitru Sur (or similar) located in the  Calacoto/Achumani neighborhood.  You’ll check in and rest until lunch time (on your own) at the hotel.

The best way to acclimatize to altitude, is to move slowly, drink plenty of water and rest when you are tired.  Acclimatization time is a very personal affair, some do it quickly, and others take more time. It can take a few hours or a few days.  Listen to your body.  We design all high-altitude itineraries with acclimatization time built in.

La Paz city tour

At 2 pm we’ll begin a 4-hour city tour of this fascinating city deep in the heart of the Andes; visiting open air markets, colonial neighborhoods, the witches’ market and take in the vast canyon of La Paz from breathtaking viewpoints.  We return to your hotel so you can rest before dinner.

Hotel & welcome  dinner 

After the city tour concludes you can freshen up and rest before dinner.  We will get to know each other better over dinner and talk about the rest of the trip in detail.  We will make sure everyone is set with all their clothing and equipment questions and anything else they need to do.  Once we leave La Paz, we are not coming back until the end of the trip.  We recommend a light dinner, avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime.  During the day you may want to enjoy a Mate de Coca (coca tea), a local herbal tea that helps with acclimatization, but refrain from it at night.  Anise and chamomile teas help with digestion as well.

Keep drinking water, it’s very important for acclimatization.

Hotel: Hotel Mitru Sur (5*)

Meals included:  D

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Day 2: La Paz – Andean Foothills and Valleys – La Paz

 

After breakfast we depart and head east to the spine of the Andes…our objective is the high-altitude agricultural valleys as we head towards Mt. Illimani 6,440 m (21,122 ft) sentinel that looms over La Paz. The geographical ruggedness of this region is stunning, and you will see a great deal of canyons, multi-colored cliffs, deep river valleys and never-ending stacks of mountains. Great photographic opportunities abound of people working the fields with stunning backgrounds. We will have lunch at a local restaurant while en-route. We return to the hotel in the late afternoon. Dinner together at a local restaurant.

Hotel: Hotel Mitru Sur (5*)

Meals included:  B, L, D

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Day 3: La Paz – Altiplano – Lake Titicaca - Strait of Tiquina – Copacabana

 

We depart after breakfast and head via the Altiplano towards the Peninsula of Copacabana and the port-side pilgrimage town of Copacabana. The route goes next to Lake Titicaca on our left and the Cordillera Real on our right, with plenty of spectacular locations for photos of both locations, many including both the lake and the Andes. The road will head north to the Peninsula de Copacabana and across the Strait of Tiquina where the vehicle will cross on a barge and our group will take a motorized boat to the other side to meet our vehicles. Once across you will continue your journey high above the lake with spectacular views of the Altiplano, Lake Titicaca, the Cordilleras Real and Apolobamba and the Islands of the Moon and Sun before arriving in the lakeside town of Copacabana in time for lunch. After checking-in to our hotel on the slopes of the Calvary hill, we can either explore the town a bit or head into the further points of the peninsula where quiet coves hide little villages and hamlets where people still farm and tend to their animals as they have for millennia. We return to our hotel before sunset.  You will have time to freshen up before we have dinner together at a local restaurant.

Hotel: Rosario del Lago (4*)

Meals included:  B, L, D

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Day 4: Copacabana – Island of the Sun

 

After breakfast we will depart to the Island of the Sun in a private boat, sailing along the rocky shores of the Peninsula de Copacabana then crossing to the Island of the Sun for about an hour.  We will land on the northern point of the island and head up to the Chincana Inca ruins before continuing south along the crest of the island to our hotel, which is located towards the southern end of the island. We will plan to have a picnic lunch en-route. There is no more spectacular location for a hotel like the Estancia Eco-Lodge with unrivaled views of Lake Titicaca below with the majestic Cordillera Real above. Sunsets and sunrises are a dream come true for anyone lucky to spend the night here. We have a plethora of beautiful scenery to enjoy as we walk across the island, enjoying the peaceful quiet as no motor vehicles are allowed, everything is done on foot. There is no need to walk far, as you can catch the sunset today and the sunrise tomorrow, all within the comfort of your cabin or from the main lodge.

Hotel:  Estancia Eco-Lodge (4*)

Meals included:  B, L, D

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Day 5: Island of the Sun – Yampupata – Copacabana

 

For those that like sunrises don’t miss this one in the morning – as the views south to Illimani and the Cordillera Real are stunning!  All you have to do is open your window and there it is! After breakfast we head south to the port which heads down the Stairs of the Inca and the Sacred Water Fountain.  This southern end of the island is where the majority of the people on the island live so we will have time to wander a bit on the narrow trails, talking to people and making portraits.  We will have lunch at lakeside and enjoy some time to relax before we sail back to the mainland.  We board our private boat back to the village Yampupata where our vehicles will be waiting. En-route you will have plenty of opportunities to photograph the local Aymara people tending to their normal daily life; farming, tending to their sheep, sending their kids to school. From Yampupata we head towards Copacabana via a spectacular dirt road high above the lake before arriving in Copacabana after sunset. After a delicious meal of fresh lake trout (or other nice options…) we head to our hotel to rest and sleep soundly for the night.

Hotel: Rosario del Lago (4*)

Meals included:  B, L, D

Young Quechua girls enjoy a moment of playfullness before the sun sets in the Apolobamba Range of the Andes in western Bolivia.

Day 6: Copacabana - Santiago de Huata – Achacachi – Charazani

 

By now, you should be very well acclimatized after spending a few days in La Paz then moving onto Lake Titicaca and the Island of the Sun.  Today we head into high-altitude territory – the Cordillera de Apolobamba, a little-visited group of glacier-covered mountains next to the Peruvian border, just north of Lake Titicaca.  Our route takes us from Copacabana, back to the Straits of Tiquina and then northwest towards the Gulf of Achacachi and the towns of Santiago de Huata and Achacachi, before beginning the steady climb into the southern Apolobamba Range.  As we leave Lake Titicaca behind, the road meanders across ridges and farmland and we come face to face with the rugged peaks and deep valleys where medicine men make potions that are used throughout the spine of the Andes.  Narrow mountain roads with stunning views of glacier-covered peaks will be the order of the day.

This is the world of the Amautas, Kallawayas and Yatiris…a select group of people who have been keeping secret recipes and perform rituals for generations, only to be shared with the people that need them.  Outsiders do not get to see how the medicines are made, but they can get help from a medicine man in order to cure ailments.  One can feel the spiritual energy as you enter the realm of the Kallawayas.  We will end up in Charazani, a small-town clinging to the side of a very deep canyon where the melting glaciers of the Andes flow into the rivers of the Amazon further to the east.  We will have a picnic lunch en-route and take time to see and speak with the locals before arriving in Charazani at the end of the day.  In this part of the world, accommodations are basic, but we think the trade-off will be worth it.  Dinner and basic overnight accommodations in Charazani.

Hotel: Hostal Mi Tierra (2*)

Meals included:  B, L, D

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Day 7: Charazani – Amautas - Condor Canyon - Charazani

 

As we peer around our basecamp for the next couple of days, we can see small villages on far-off ridges, once in a while, plumes of smoke coming from thatched-roof houses.  We are now in Quechua territory.  These are the villages and homes of the Amautas, the wise men of the Andes.   In the period of the Inca dynasty, they were the scholars and teachers of everything the children of the Inca kings needed to know about their society.  This knowledge was maintained through an oral tradition, as they had no written language, and passed it on to future generations.  We will visit a village where these people will perform a ceremony for safe travels, good health and abundance.  Afterwards we will have a traditional lunch overlooking the mountains.  In the afternoon, we head to a canyon that has a very robust population of condors, the sacred bird of the Andes.  We return to Charazani in the late afternoon, after sunset.  Dinner and basic overnight accommodations in Charazani.

Hotel: Hostal Mi Tierra (2*)

Meals included:  B, L, D

An elderly Aymara man smiles easily while conversing in the vill

Day 8: Charazani – Escoma – Huarina - Huatajata

 

The mornings are very quiet in the mountains, and this is a great time to be out and about walking the narrow, steep streets of Charazani.  As the locals begin their slow rhythmic morning pace this is a great time for photos, so take advantage of the opportunity and explore early.  After breakfast we will begin our drive out of the canyon, crossing various passes until we see Lake Titicaca again.  We drop elevation quickly on curvy roads with views of the Apolobamba Range in our rear-view mirror.  The stark shimmering blue of the lake will be a powerful and colorful change from the beige and black mountains.  We will have lunch en-route.  We spend a good amount of time driving on the shores of the lake with breathtaking views of the Cordillera Real on our left.  There will be plenty of time for photos of the locals and landscapes from when we leave Charazani until we arrive in the port of Huatajata.  Dinner and overnight at the Inca Utama hotel.

Hotel: Inca Utama (4*)

Meals included:  B, L, D

A local Aymara Indian smiles toward the camera in Bolivia

Day 9: Huatajata – Suriqui - Huatajata

 

The placid mornings on the lake have a peaceful tone and provide a smorgasbord of photo ops when the light is still soft.  We depart after an early breakfast for the brief sail to Suriqui Island, home of the famous Aymara totora reed boat-builders of Lake Titicaca.  These are the same people who Thor Heyerdahl hired to build the Ra II in 1970 from Ethiopian papyrus reeds that sailed from Morocco to Barbados.  We will have lunch at an appointed time before sailing back to the mainland.  The rolling hills next to Lake Titicaca is where we head for more exploration and to catch the sunset.  We return to our hotel in Huatajata for dinner and rest.

Hotel: Inca Utama (4*)

Meals included:  B, L, D

The glacier-covered summit of Mt. Huayna Potosi (19,985') is seen in the distance from Mt. Pequeno Alpamayo in the Condoriri Group in Bolivia's Cordillera Real.

Day 10: Huatajata – Mt. Huayna Potosi - La Paz

 

Today is our last day on Lake Titicaca as we head into the heart of the Cordillera Real.  A short drive away is our turn-off so we head high into the Cordillera Real, the massive range that has been keeping watch over us for the past 9 days.  Our destination is the alpine lake and basecamp to Mt. Huayna Potosi 6,088 m (19,970 ft) before we drop into Zongo valley.  As we head directly east on this windy dirt road, little windows of the Cordillera Real will pop into view around every corner, delighting the senses.  Glaciers, rocky summits, fast-moving clouds and historical mining centers and cemeteries are part of what we will see today.

Once at the lake we can take a walk on the edge of the lake, enjoy the heady views and then we drive down the other side to the Zongo Valley where we will have lunch.  The small stream that has been blocked by the damn above us becomes larger and larger as we head down valley.  We will find a nice, secluded spot to pull off and have lunch.  There will be time to chat with the locals and enjoy the views, warmer temperatures and lower altitude.  At an appointed time, we head back up the valley, up and over the hump of the Andes and wind our way back to the city of El Alto and eventually to the city of La Paz.  We should arrive at our hotel in the late afternoon, so you have time to freshen up before our farewell dinner together at a local Bolivian restaurant.

Hotel: Mitru Sur (5*)

Meals included:  B, L, D

Mt. Illimani at sunset as seen from La Paz, Bolivia.

Day 11: La Paz - Airport transfer day

 

Based on your flight schedule, we will coordinate a departure time from the hotel. The ride from hotel to the airport takes 45 minutes. Domestic flights require 1.5 hours before departure and international flights require 3 hours before departure.

Hotel: none

Meals included: none.

 

End of our services.

Included

  • airport Transfers IN and OUT of your arrival city
  • private vehicle and driver
  • bi-lingual photographer guide
  • all hotel / hostel /estancia accommodations for all nights (based on double occupancy)
  • all daily meals as denoted on the itinerary as ‘B, L, D’ (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
  • all entry fees and permits to protected areas: national parks, islands and museums
  • domestic airfare within the destination country (if there is a domestic flight in the itinerary, it’s included)
  • unlimited bottled water per person per day
  • snacks during the whole trip
  • more than 25 years of tourism experience

 

 

Not Included

  • international airfare to destination country
  • visa requirement and fees
  • personal expenses of any kind (liquor, laundry, personal purchases, etc.)
  • telephone, email, mobile phone, Wi-Fi services
  • emergency evacuation expenses
  • personal travel or health insurance, doctor visits
  • gratuities to guides, drivers and other staff members

 

We, of course, would do whatever is necessary in case of medical emergency and evacuate to the closest hospital or clinic to make sure you receive medical care.