We decided to leave late at night from Salta, and arrive at the border bright and early to have the best chances of avoiding the crowds and getting a bus to Tupiza, our first stop in Bolivia. The bus journey went well and we even managed a few hours of sleep as we wound our way up through northern Argentina in darkness.
Having never “done” a land-border crossing before, we were a little worried about how it all worked. Would it be similiar to an airport, with x-ray machines and loads of security? Would we need to pay a bribe? The answer is no – in fact, if you wanted you could simply waltz on into Bolivia (well it certainly looked that way!). It all seemed too easy…
Accompanied by two dogs, who followed us all the way from the Argentine side to the bus terminal in Bolivia (around 45 minutes walk) and two other travellers from our bus, we walked up to the first window on the right, and handed our passports over to the officer. 30 seconds passed – stamp. Check. We were had officially exited Argentina. We headed for the next window – entry into Bolivia. The only question we were asked – how long will you be in Bolivia? We answered around 3 weeks, which seemed to be enough information for the officer as he stamped each of our passports and we were on our way. The whole process took less than 10 minutes, there we’re no lines, no x-ray machines, no corrupt officers and basically no worries. Hopefully all of our borders are this easy!
We were now in Villazon, Bolivia, a dusty border town with “cambios” and souvineer shops lining the streets. With no Bolivianos to our name, the first point of call was one of the few ATMs in town. The first didn’t work (Mastercard we later discovered would be the thorn in our side!! We reccommend bringing Visa!) but a very friendly army-looking man pointed us in the right direction, and warned us to be careful of the delinquents in Bolivia. Boliviano’s in hand (or money belt rather) we decided to walk to the bus terminal, it didn’t look too far away, and we wanted to stretch our legs after 7 or so hours on a bus. It was a little hard to find, but locals were helpful in pointing out a large building at the end of a dirt road, which turned out to be the terminal.
Bolivian bus terminals can be a bit overwhelming – not only for the choice, but the ladies yelling the destination of their next bus trying to lure you in can give you a bit of a headache. We found what we thought was a good bus company, and for a mere 15 Bolivianos (NZ$3) we were on our way to Tupiza. I wish I got a picture of the bus, or the look on our faces, but what we were confronted with was a very old, very worn looking bus with stickers holding the windscreen together. Considering whether or not this was the best idea, we (and our travel-mates) decided “what was the worst that could happen?” and climbed aboard. Slightly suprised that we weren’t sitting on beer crates, we settled into our seats and braced ourselves for the next 2-3 hours. Apart from a few funny smells, and the steering being a bit off, the old girl didn’t go too bad and we made it to Tupiza in one piece!
Our hostel “Butch Cassidy” was across the bridge from the main town in Tupiza, however the stunning backdrop and fact that it was basically a hotel for NZ$30 a night made up for the short walk. The owners were the most lovely people – it seems to be run by a family with dad in charge of the bookings and their small supermarket next door, the son operates tours with his friend, and the daughters and mum in charge of house keeping and breakfast. Breakfast deserves a “best in Bolivia” award – fresh fruit salad, pancakes, donuts, different breads, cakes, cereals and hot drinks, plus ham, cheese and avocado. We were in heaven after 3 weeks of dulce de leche and white bread.
Our 3 nights / 4 days in Tupiza were spent exploring the markets in town (there is a street market each Thursday and Saturday by the train station – Thursday was much bigger than Saturday) and being amazed at how cheap it was to eat out, as well as eating out a lot. We became regulars at “El Alamo” which had some sort of funky American/Vegas/diner-bar feel and played old English songs just a little too enthusiasticaly. They also had “cerveza verde” which turned out the be exactly what it sounds like – green beer (with a very average taste). One night we even stumbled upon a basketball match – we just followed the sound of the band! Here’s a quick video if you are interested: https://youtu.be/G_XjtnfC4sM