Your eclipse travel adventure was wonderful! Recently I returned from a 19 day trip, alone, to Peru and Bolivia. I adored Bolivia and will return. I am a 48-year old American woman who speaks fluent Spanish. Only twice on the entire trip did I feel the slightest bit apprehensive, but both situations were easily remedied. I was never threatened or accosted. In fact, I was treated with great courtesy in both Peru and Bolivia. I did not travel with a group, although I normally signed up for day trips (with Spanish speaking tourists) to ruins. I normally stayed in $20 to $30 a night hostels or hotels.
I stayed five nights in La Paz. I began at the Hotel Sagarnaga in the Indian quarter, but moved to the Hotel El Dorado after the first night. The Hotel Sagarnaga was one of the two places on the trip where I felt apprehensive. I did use their travel service, Diana Tours, for two days trips and had a great time on both trips. The first trip was to the Tiwanaku ruins and the second was an adrenaline junkies dream -- a bus trip to Coroico! This is one of those journeys where you wonder if you'll come back alive. I loved it! The scenery was magnificent! I'll go back and spend some time in Coroico next time.
I love folkart and have a house furnished with things from my travels over the years. I always wanted my house to look like Frida Kahlo's house in Mexico City... I bought most of my "treasures" from this trip in La Paz. The exchange rate was much, much better in Bolivia.
I spent an afternoon at the Thursday street market in El Alto, against everyone's advice, including the taxi driver who drove me up there. El Alto is the Aymara barrio/city of 400,000 by the international airport. I was the only foreigner there and had a wonderful time searching for an outrageous "manta", one of the shawl's that the chollas (Aymara women) wear. I found an absolutely gorgeous one with lace on one side, fringe, and embroidered roses on satin on the other side that I will wear to the theater here in LA. It cost me $23 US.
I traveled to La Paz, via Puno and Copacabana, from Cuzco on the train across the altiplano. I loved the train trip, but then again I love the train and almost no train trip disappoints me. In Puno I stayed at a new hostel called Hotel Hacienda, a block from the Plaza de Armas. It's a former bank. I felt incredibly safe walking around Puno at night.
I spent my one day in the Puno area traveling to Taquile. Machu Picchu and Taquile were absolutely the best parts of my entire trip. The wonderful travel agent in Cuzco, Percy Salas from Munditur (telephone: 621152/cellular phone or 223677 or 240287, both home numbers), who arranged all these little "jaunts" for me had strongly recommended that I spend the night on Taquile with a family. I didn't because they don't have flush toilets. What a fool I was! I will return to Taquile. I will stay with a family -- flush toilets or no flush toilets. It is a glorious place! Don't be put off by the hike up the mountain. I am terribly out of shape and smoked for more years than I want to admit. I had my trusty hiking boots and stopped to breathe (pant) every 10 or 15 feet. It took me much longer than my boat-mates to get to the top, but I made it. Next time I'll take a walking stick and stay overnight.
I took the catamaran across Lake Titicaca. What a bore and what a waste of money. Other travelers I met who made the trip from Puno to La Paz got bogged down by washed out roads on the Bolivian side of the lake (it was summer/rainy season), so I guess that leaves the more expensive alternative of the hydrofoil to try next time. The bus trip on the Peruvian side was great. Bolivia has little infrastructure, so the "tourist" highway from the lake to La Paz was dirt (mud) and we forded one river along the way.
I spent part of the '96 summer in Bolivia and despite the altitude found it to be interesting. LaPaz hums but with the headaches and other maladies was not able to take full advantage of all that it offered. When they say "altitude sickness" they mean it. Follow all the rules that you might read very carefully, as I did, and you might get away with only three days of excruciating headaches. Drink lots of water, chew coco leaves. The landscape is very poor and barren, there is a lot of boring stuff to look at, but then you have a greater appreciation of the good stuff. Copacobana was an interesting city, small. Would have liked to spend more time there. Everyone, guides, etc. seem to think Peru is superior and constantly put down Bolivia. I thought Bolivia had its own charm and culture. I would like to go back but because of the altitude probably will not.
What a great spell-binding story! I am contemplating an Eco-Trip to Bolivia in March or April of 1997, and am trying to find and read as many traveler's accounts as I can. Have recently heard that due to tougher law enforcement in neighboring Peru, crime is now on the increase in Bolivia. Wondering if you have any comment about that, or have otherwise heard anything in that regard? Thanks again for the great travel summary!