Tupiza, in southern Bolivia, is often missed on the gringo trail, bypassed in the journey between Uyuni and Potosí. However, it is worth visiting if the idea of spending a couple of days in Bolivia’s Wild West is appealing.
The town sits at 2950m above sea level in the Río Tupiza valley. Founded in 1574, the population has grown to its current 20 000 habitants. But the appeal of Tupiza is not the town itself, which has little to offer tourists, but the surrounding countryside which is great for daytrips.
I stayed at Hotel Mitru, a popular choice for backpackers with all the usual commodities, not to mention the more unusual – a swimming pool! Another bonus of this budget hotel is the on-site tour agency, Tupiza Tours.
However, most hotels organise day-trips and there are several tour agencies within the town. Jeep tours and horse-riding seem to be the popular choices, although mountain-biking is also an option. Checking out the quality of the bikes beforehand is advisable though – the roads around Tupiza can at best be described as dirt, and at worst non-existent, so make sure your chosen vehicle is up to it.
I opted to do horse-riding, available from three hours to three days. I chose seven hours, feeling any more would be pushing it – such is my ability on horseback! The tour agencies cater for all needs and abilities, and when booking you are asked if you would like a “tranquilo” horse or not. Only go for “loco” (crazy) if you really mean it, as you will most certainly get what you ask for, judging by some of the entries in the comment book!
Me, my tranquilo horse Tobaco and our guide set off early in the morning. The first place we visited was Valle de los Machos, a bizarre place full of bright-red phallic-looking rocks and pinnacles – definitely worthy of a photo or two!
We rode on, stopping at various places for photos, or simply to stretch our legs, until lunchtime, which we took by Río Tupiza. As I did this trip in September the river was almost dry. The route changes during and after the rainy season (December-March), as riding along the riverbed is clearly not an option. However that is the route we took, and it made a pleasant change to see the green trees which lined the banks after so much red rock and dust. Following the river back to town, we arrived in time for me to have a quick lie beside the pool before the sun went down.
The jeep tours head out of the north side of Tupiza and visit different places to those seen from horseback so it’s worth doing both to get a true feel for the area. However jeep tours will only leave when full, so it’s best to ask around upon arrival if any are leaving, as horse riding can be done solo. Prices of both are dependent on group size.
Getting to Tupiza is fairly easy – buses travel directly from Potosí and Tarija twice daily. Both journeys take eight hours. There is also a train station and services run three times a week from Oruro and Uyuni.