Early this morning, depart by private vehicle for a 4-hour drive to Oruro. Upon arriving, transfer to your hotel and check-in. With your private guide, explore Oruro, a mining town whose name means “where the sun is born”. Visit the church, the Santuario de la Virgen del Socavon, the site believed to be the inspiration for one of the main stories told during the Oruro Carnival. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary’s image appeared before miners in a mine shaft. The mine is known as the Socavon de la Virgen (Grotto of the Virgin), and the church has been built on this site with the Virgin of Socavon becoming the patron saint of Oruro’s miners.
Today is the main parade with dance groups coming from all over the country and regaled in colorful, ornate costumes that compete in splendor with those found in Rio’s Carnaval. These costumes, the rhythm of the music, and the choreography all tell stories based on Christian symbols and stories as well as Uru and Inca legends from the pre-Columbian times. The most famous is La Diablada, or Dance of the Devils, a story of the underworld that originated among Bolivian miners and is now quite famous throughout the world.
The day is spent with your private guide to witness this spectacle and to learn the stories, both traditional and modern, involved with a festival described by UNESCO as “a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” You have a reserved seat along the main parade route as you watch the procession of an estimated 30,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians over the course of a twenty-hour celebration. Travelers have the flexibility to go back to the hotel at any point to relax and rest to return energized to the parade.
To take into consideration a long night of watching the parade, breakfast is late, followed by a visit to the San Jose silver mine that has been working since 1589. Walk around the mine property and hear about its history and witness the continued cultural and economic importance of this active mine. Travelers have the chance to enter the mine and “visit” Tio Supay, the deity who owns the mines and rules the underworld. The miners seek to pacify him through offerings in order to prevent accidents from occurring underground.
Around 7:00 pm, board the night train to Uyuni.
In a four-wheel drive vehicle, head out into the Salt Desert of Uyuni. Start your adventure by visiting the train cemetery. Later, learn about the production of salt bricks in the village of Colchani, and watch graceful flamingos wading through briny water. Also see a historic hotel actually built of salt, and visit Incahuasi Island, a bizarre island surrounded by salt and studded with 20-foot tall cactus. On your last day, climb Volcano Tunupa for a spectacular view of this great expanse of salt. Those feeling strong enough might make it to the crater’s edge at 16,500 feet.
Today it’s off in four-wheel drive trucks to Potosi. From Uyuni, you travel through tortured canyons and past adobe villages where time seems to stand still. Cross a pass of over 15,500 feet before arriving to Potosi.
At over 13,000 feet above sea level, Potosi is the highest city of its size in the world. After the discovery of silver in Cerro Rico (Rich Hill), Potosi grew into the largest and most opulent city in the Americas. The city's rich colonial architecture and tragic history as a colonial mining town has earned recognition from UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Your time here is free to explore the cobblestone streets and possibly visit the working mines of Cerro Rico. With no mechanization in the mines, a visit into the maze of tunnels is sure to leave a lasting impression.
This morning a comfortable bus takes us to the colonial city of Sucre. At 9200 feet above sea level, Sucre enjoys the perfect spring climate year round. Today is yours to explore its colorful market and visit several colonial buildings, museums, and churches while wandering the narrow streets of this pleasant town. For dinosaur buffs, you can take a half-day trip out of town to see 60-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex tracks.
You’re off to Hacienda Candelaria. Although well into her golden years, Dona Aby still runs this working hacienda, overseeing the planting and harvesting of corn, potatoes, and chili peppers each year. Her daughter Elizabeth shows you some old fashioned hospitality during your stay. In the morning awake to help bake the breakfast bread in a traditional adobe oven. Then it’s off to the village of La Candelaria where the women are famous for their fine weavings, and you can visit the textile museum. Growing up near the village, Elizabeth is a local expert on these tapestries and good friends with the Quechua-speaking artisans. Visit several homes to talk with weavers.
Sunday is market day in the village of Tarabuco, where farmers and weavers from the countryside join together in a festive atmosphere to trade foodstuffs, fine weavings, and exchange gossip with far away friends and relatives. After trying your wits with the local vendors, return to Sucre in the afternoon.
Transfer to the airport and fly to La Paz.The day is yours to explore the markets or take an optional tour of the Tiahuanaco ruins or the Valley of the Moon. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with your guide.
Catch your international flight. With more time, visit the Jesuit Missions near Santa Cruz, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or travel to the Amazon basin. You can extend your time in La Paz as well to visit Lake Titicaca.
$700 single supplement
Rate based on 2 travelers
$4,495/person for three travelers
$4,095/person for four or more travelers
Trip starts in La Paz on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday