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  • meta 1,470 posts

    Report from 3-week trip to Bolivia and Chile plus Lima, Peru as starting and ending point.

    This was such an adventure, especially Bolivia! My partner and I visited La Paz and Uyuni in Bolivia, Atacama and Santiago in Chile.

    The itinerary was as follows:

    LHR-MAD-LIM-LPB(La Paz) -UYU (Uyuni) – (land) CJC(Calama) -SCL (Santiago)-LIM-MAD-LHRun

    Booking flights and transport

    Return flight flights on 241 voucher with Iberia. cca £450 in taxes and 105k Avios (peak/off peak combo) for 2 pax.

    Flights LHR to Madrid on Iberia booked during Amex statement credit £40 off if I remember correctly. Total £280 after 2x statement credits.

    Internal flights in Bolivia (La Paz-Uyuni) booked with BOA (Boliviana de Aviacíon) for cash. There is no domestic business class, just economy. £65 per pers.

    Flights Lima-La Paz, Calama-Santiago and Santiago-Lima booked with LATAM in Premium Economy and Business (Santiago-Lima). I had Lima-La Paz and Santiago-Lima booked with BA Avios in economy, but switched all to cash bookings when LATAM had some kind of sale on Chilean site in January so all came to cca £750 for two people.

    More on the bus from Uyuni to Calama and car rental in Chile later.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Flight/Airport experiences

    Heathrow Terminal 3/Madrid Airport- Flight to Madrid delayed by 2 hours due to strikes in France. Flew the day before and on the way back left 5 hours for connection. Confident about T4S-T4-T4S transfer, EU passport, so all quick. Also on the outbound checked in the suitcases the day before. You can check-in bags at Madrid Airport for the following day at any point in the 24hrs prior.

    Madrid-Lima/Lima-Madrid pretty uneventful flight on the A350 Crew was fine. The crew was slightly better and more cheerful on the inbound.

    Lima-La Paz – timing is awful. 3am flight on LATAM A320. There are very few direct flights from most South American capitals, so options limited. From Lima, there are no other direct flights other than 3-4 times a week at 3am. There are indirect flights, but with long connections. I also looked doing it in reverse, but the flights were about 30-40% more expensive. LATAM crew as always really great. Given the time of the day they proactively asked as soon as we bordered whether we want the meal (sandwich), gave us some water. We declined and they left us to sleep. Since we had PE tickets we could check in at the special Premium Check-in section at Lima Airport. Boarding fast and efficient, same as disembarking. Flight full. We departed 10 minutes earlier. Our bags were first on the belt as well as everyone else in PE.

    In Lima there are two contracted lounges run by the same management company: Sumaq (PP lists it as El Salon) and Hannaq. Both are nothing to write home about. You can access them via Priority Pass as well.

    La Paz-Uyuni on Boliviana- again very early flight, 7:20am start, but it takes about 30-40min to get from the centre to El Alto Airport and you need to arrive at the airport at least an hour before the flight. Small airport. There is a very small domestic lounge for max 10 pax available through Priority Pass. It wasn’t crowded, but it’s really a joke of a lounge, more like someone one’s 2-bedroom appartment. Machine coffee, not nice and some snacks/sandwiches are also available.

    It was first time for me on B737-7Q8. The flight was really scenic. The views of the salt flats, mountains and altiplanic lakes from above were stunning (sit on the right side of the plane!). Crew was mostly absent post-boarding given no service. Leg room was substantial.

    Important to note is that there are currently only 3 flights a week from La Paz to Uyuni and only the flight on Wednesday is direct, other flights are via Cochabamba which adds extra 3-4 hours. There is also an overnight bus option (10 hours), but the difference is around £30 between bus and plane. Pre-pandemic there used to be flights every day.

    Calama-Santiago again on LATAM was great. It was an evening flight. 1h30 Meal service (two hot options incl. vegetarian, one cold – sandwich/salad combo). No alcohol though! Small lounge (Pacific Club) with manned bar and they count how many drinks you take. You have to microwave the food yourself. Staff inexperienced. They pourred wine into a highball even though they had wine glasses right in front of them.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Flight/Airport experiences

    Heathrow Terminal 3/Madrid Airport- Flight to Madrid delayed by 2 hours due to strikes in France. Flew the day before and on the way back left 5 hours for connection. Confident about T4S-T4-T4S transfer, EU passport, so all quick. Also on the outbound checked in the suitcases the day before. You can check-in bags at Madrid Airport for the following day at any point in the 24hrs prior.

    Madrid-Lima/Lima-Madrid pretty uneventful flight on the A350 Crew was fine. The crew was slightly better and more cheerful on the inbound.

    Lima-La Paz – timing is awful. 3am flight on LATAM A320. There are very few direct flights from most South American capitals, so options limited. From Lima, there are no other direct flights other than 3-4 times a week at 3am. There are indirect flights, but with long connections. I also looked doing it in reverse, but the flights were about 30-40% more expensive. LATAM crew as always really great. Given the time of the day they proactively asked as soon as we bordered whether we want the meal (sandwich), gave us some water. We declined and they left us to sleep. Since we had PE tickets we could check in at the special Premium Check-in section at Lima Airport. Boarding fast and efficient, same as disembarking. Flight full. We departed 10 minutes earlier. Our bags were first on the belt as well as everyone else in PE.

    In Lima there are two contracted lounges run by the same management company: Sumaq (PP lists it as El Salon) and Hannaq. Both are nothing to write home about. You can access them via Priority Pass as well.

    La Paz-Uyuni on Boliviana- again very early flight, 7:20am start, but it takes about 30-40min to get from the centre to El Alto Airport and you need to arrive at the airport at least an hour before the flight. Small airport. There is a very small domestic lounge for max 10 pax available through Priority Pass. It wasn’t crowded, but it’s really a joke of a lounge, more like someone one’s 2-bedroom appartment. Machine coffee, not nice and some snacks/sandwiches are also available.

    It was first time for me on B737-7Q8. The flight was really scenic. The views of the salt flats, mountains and altiplanic lakes from above were stunning (sit on the right side of the plane!). Crew was mostly absent post-boarding given no service. Leg room was substantial.

    Important to note is that there are currently only 3 flights a week from La Paz to Uyuni and only the flight on Wednesday is direct, other flights are via Cochabamba which adds extra 3-4 hours. There is also an overnight bus option (10 hours), but the difference is around £30 between bus and plane. Pre-pandemic there used to be flights every day.

    Calama-Santiago again on LATAM was great. It was an evening 1h30 flight. Meal service (two hot options incl. vegetarian, one cold – sandwich/salad combo). No alcohol though! Small lounge (Pacific Club) with manned bar and they count how many drinks you take. You have to microwave the food yourself. Staff inexperienced. They pourred wine into a highball even though they had wine glasses right in front of them.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Flight/Airport experiences

    Heathrow Terminal 3/Madrid Airport- Flight to Madrid delayed by 2 hours due to strikes in France. Flew the day before and on the way back left 5 hours for connection. Confident about T4S-T4-T4S transfer, EU passport, so all quick. Also on the outbound checked in the suitcases the day before. You can check-in bags at Madrid Airport for the following day at any point in the 24hrs prior.

    Madrid-Lima/Lima-Madrid pretty uneventful flight on the A350 Crew was fine. The crew was slightly better and more cheerful on the inbound.

    Lima-La Paz – timing is awful. 3am flight on LATAM A320. There are very few direct flights from most South American capitals, so options limited. From Lima, there are no other direct flights other than 3-4 times a week at 3am. There are indirect flights, but with long connections. I also looked doing it in reverse, but the flights were about 30-40% more expensive. LATAM crew as always really great. Given the time of the day they proactively asked as soon as we bordered whether we want the meal (sandwich), gave us some water. We declined and they left us to sleep. Since we had PE tickets we could check in at the special Premium Check-in section at Lima Airport. Boarding fast and efficient, same as disembarking. Flight full. We departed 10 minutes earlier. Our bags were first on the belt as well as everyone else in PE.

    In Lima there are two contracted lounges run by the same management company: Sumaq (PP lists it as El Salon) and Hannaq. Both are nothing to write home about. You can access them via Priority Pass as well.

    meta 1,470 posts

    La Paz-Uyuni on Boliviana- again very early flight, 7:20am start, but it takes about 30-40min to get from the centre to El Alto Airport and you need to arrive at the airport at least an hour before the flight. Small airport. There is a very small domestic lounge for max 10 pax available through Priority Pass. It wasn’t crowded, but it’s really a joke of a lounge, more like someone one’s 2-bedroom appartment. Machine coffee, not nice and some snacks/sandwiches are also available.

    It was first time for me on B737-7Q8. The flight was really scenic. The views of the salt flats, mountains and altiplanic lakes from above were stunning (sit on the right side of the plane!). Crew was mostly absent post-boarding given no service. Leg room was substantial.

    Important to note is that there are currently only 3 flights a week from La Paz to Uyuni and only the flight on Wednesday is direct, other flights are via Cochabamba which adds extra 3-4 hours. There is also an overnight bus option (10 hours), but the difference is around £30 between bus and plane. Pre-pandemic there used to be flights every day.

    Calama-Santiago again on LATAM was great. It was an evening flight. 1h30 Meal service (two hot options incl. vegetarian, one cold – sandwich/salad combo). No alcohol though! Small lounge (Pacific Club) with manned bar and they count how many drinks you take. You have to microwave the food yourself. Staff inexperienced. They pourred wine into a highball even though they had wine glasses right in front of them.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Santiago-Lima on LATAM long-haul 787-8. 7:20am start. I purposely chose this plane to check LATAM’s long-haul service. This is a flight that continues from Lima to Los Angeles. The flight time to Lima is about 3h30. We were delayed by 45 minutes due to birds at Lima airport (not unusual). It’s a 2-2-2 configuration and LATAM has old seating here (still flat bad though!). It was great for mid-haul and for couples it’s perfect in 1A and 1C as you have your own box of two seats so no-one kicks into your seat from the back. LATAM offers free seat selection at the time of booking for both Premium Economy and Business flights. Small amenities kits distributed (contents are poor, but the pouch is nice), pillows, blankets, mattress and menus. It was breakfast service. It was fine food wise, but nothing special (omelette, cold platter or hot sandwich). No alcohol.

    LATAM Signature lounge at Santiago is amazing. Finnair lounges in Helsinki, BA Concorde Lounge all pale in comparison. You can get access to Signature lounge if you’re flying Business, have LATAM Black Status or Delta top tier. Premium lounge is for everyone else. These are two separate lounges that share
    one entrance. Lounge is open 24/7. Breakfast service was not to dissimilar to luxury hotel buffet plus you can order eggs. The bar has substantial collection of alcohol and it’s manned 24/7, so you can have really whatever you want. There are showers and a proper cinema room.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Hotels

    JW Marriott Lima for 3 nights (1 Free night certificate+ 5k points, 2 on points at 34k a night), applied SNAs to get 1-bedroom Executive Corner Suite (one below Presidential Suite) all cleared at T-5. Breakfast was in the lounge and free access as Titanium. We got a really nice corner suite overlooking both the city and bay on 24th floor. It’s a stunning suite. My only complaint is that they don’t have double vanity! On return to Lima for the final night (booked for cash on Luminous rate -$229 with $100 F&B credit -one of the few JW Marriotts where you also get the credit). We had the same suite type on the opposite side which had more of the city view and less of bay, still great though maybe slightly smaller. I again applied SNA which cleared at T-5. I did contact the hotel before hand to enquire about upgrades and they said they’d upgrade me to this suite unless there is an Ambassador member or cash booking, so I didn’t want to risk it. The JW Market has nice food, but we tried to use the remainder of $100 credit for lunch on final day at La Vista restaurant and the ceviche was just awful that we returned it after the first bite. The sous-chef came out to apologise and said something was really odd with the fish. He waived the charge including pisco sours. I’d stick to drinks and cakes only at JW Marriott Lima. There are just too many options outside and very cheap. Breakfast buffet at the restaurant is fine, but a bit crowded, preferred the lounge food as it was also of higher quality (no salmon at the main buffet!).

    meta 1,470 posts

    Atix Hotel (La Paz) – there are practically no real luxury options in La Paz and there are no real chain hotels. There used to be, but they all left during Evo Morales reign. Atix Hotel is part of Design Hotels (though not part of Marriott). It’s very nicely designed four-star boutique. I booked for two nights when they ran 40% sale in January. £80 a night. They were very nice and gave us a room at 7:30am when we arrived, so we could catch up on some sleep. However, when we woke up we realised the heating wasn’t working, so had to switch the rooms which wasn’t too much of a problem with them. I booked a Deluxe Room which is in the corner and had stunning views of the mountains. Breakfast was included in the price and it was a bit basic, but adequate. Location is in Calacoto/San Miguel area which is in the south of the city and about 20-30 minutes to downtown La Paz by taxi or Teleférico.

    The hotel was maybe at 5% occupancy, explains the fact that they let us have the room early at no extra cost. This is also the running theme in Bolivia, there are very few tourists and most are from South America! We were the only ones at the dinner first night (most high end restaurants are closed on Mondays!), only ones for breakfast the next day and there was only one other couple at the pool on the final evening. We so no other guests, although some French walked in while we had dinner to enquire about the menu but didn’t stay.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Hotel Luna Salada (Uyuni)
    I booked one night at this salt hotel (3-4 star) because of a) unique experience b) being close to the salt flats. Room with Salt Flats (salar) view costs £160 a night. I booked via hotels.com as I had a £100 voucher. I also hadn’t booked any tours in advance as I was getting ridiculous quotes (in some cases $1000 per person for two-day private tour). The hotel is totally outside town and it takes about 30-40 minutes to get to the main town area. I would recommend to everyone to avoid staying at these hotels. The locals don’t like them as they don’t pay tax and it’s very difficult to get transport back to the hotel from the town. Staff are only interested in groups and those on tours and don’t care about individual guests. No information about facilities, breakfast. Had to ask millions of questions about everything. They also failed to inform us that in order to go to town we need to order a taxi an hour in advance. They have no transportation nor shuttle of their own.

    We did arrive at 11am (check-in was from 2pm) and knew we probably won’t get the room. To our surprise they did say they’ll have one in 20 minutes, so we said we’ll wait before going back to town to organise our tours. They gave us a welcome drink while we waited. I wanted coffee with milk, but they said only Americano. I offered to pay extra for milk, but they said that’s not possible. After 40 minutes of waiting our room wasn’t ready, so we had enough and said we want to go to town now after which miraculously the room was ready. So we dropped our luggage in the room and went back to reception to take a taxi to town at which point they told us it’s an hours wait as per above. They also told us that it’s not a problem to get a taxi back to the hotel from the town. This was absolute lie as we tried to hail a taxi for over half an hour (still daylight) and every single one said that they don’t want to take us there. When we called the hotel, they said it’s not their problem. In the end the owner of the agency where we booked a tour took us with his own private car. As a result we missed the planned sunset walk to the Salar. Apparently, it’s the same situation at the other salt hotel Palacio del Sal.

    Rooms are nicely designed and have a view of the sala (salt flats), but they have too many loose carpets that you can easily trip over. No heating in bathroom. (night are really cold in Uyuni/Salt Flats). Also the only heating is through air-con instead of radiators (there are marks on the wall where they used to be). The problem with air-con heating is that it’s directly facing the bed, so the air blows directly on you while sleeping. If you turn it off you freeze, if you turn it on you boil situation. There also some loose wirings on the wall.

    No kettle in the room. We ordered two teas for the room and it took them forever to deliver.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Cielo&Sal Hotel (Uyuni) – I booked two nights as a back-up in case we didn’t end up going on a two-day tour. £63 a night via booking.com. This turned out to be a good decision as we opted for 2x full day tours instead. The hotel is located outside the main centre of Uyuni, about 10-min walk. It’s a brand new hotel. We were the only guests at the hotel. The staff were really helpful, breakfast was good and the quality of food was really high. The rooms are big, but bathrooms are very small. There is central heating running all night. The only thing is that the reception is not manned and you need to call for them to open up. That’s certainly because there were no guests.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Nayara Alto Atacama (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)
    This was the most interesting part of the trip. I had four nights booked at Altiplaníco hotel (three on voucher, one full price), but on the morning of the stay while on the Bolivia-Chile border crossing, I received an email from hotels.com that they can’t honour the reservation as the hotel is closed. I checked and it is closed since 21 February, but hotels.com obviously didn’t bother to inform us until last minute. What ensued is me trying to chat/call hotels.com to put us somewhere else. Given poor signal in the high altitude border region this was impossible. It was not until we arrived at Calama (Chile) bus station that I managed to get through. This was around 2pm and we had to go and pick up the car the Calama Airport and drive for 1-1,5 hr to San Pedro. I spent nearly 40 minutes on the phone with hotels.com (luckily O2 so no extra roaming charges). They presented two available options – one was similar hotel to Altiplanico, Noi Casa, but without heating in the rooms, a hostel (clear not the standard I booked). I checked myself what other options are available and saw two other options which were more expensive – Nayara Alto Atacama and Tierra Atacama. The agent couldn’t confirm the booking at Noi Casa and in any case the hotel has no heating and I was not having it with the hostel either. He agreed that it’s not comparable. I didn’t suggest anything other than booking a comparable hotel. He then went to speak to the supervisor. He came back to suggest Nayara Alto and he called them to confirm. He then proceeded to book Nayara Alto which took 10-15 minutes.

    Now, this was a substantial upgrade. Nayara Alto is member of Leading Hotels of the World, Mr&Mrs Smith (bookable with IHG points). Night costs £700+. Hotels.com covered an extra of approx. £550 a night.

    Nayara Alto is a luxury lodgef situated in a valley surrounded by sand rock formations. It’s about 10-min drive from San Pedro de Atacama and a few minutes from Altíplanico hotel where we were supposed to stay.

    The room Catarpe faced the river and the sand rock. Desert-like adobe room design with many local touches. All the modern amenities, incl. hotel-branded lip balm. Check-in was efficient. We were given a welcome drink and water bottles as welcome gifts.

    The property has five different pool areas (only one main pool is heated though). There are also mineral pool baths which need to be pre-booked and you get an hour access for free once per stay. The spa looked nice, but treatments are pricier than most luxury hotels I stayed at in South America.

    Dinning is really cheap and excellent Wine is £2.5-3 per glass. Three-course meal max £30 for two people so much that we skipped all other pre-booked options apart from last night when we went to eat in town (we wished we stayed in the hotel). They also offered us free cocktails with two of the three dinners. They mostly cater to all-inclusive/half-board guests, hence why the dining is probably so cheap. Complimentary mini-bar (soft drinks and water only).

    We had some small issues with housekeeping not replacing hand towels (they gave us only one) and the staff proactively offered us free drinks.

    All in a all we wishes we could have stayed longer!

    meta 1,470 posts

    Tomorrow I review Ritz-Carlton Santiago, the bus ride from Uyuni to Calama, some restaurants in La Paz/Uyuni/Santiago and give general impressions of the whole trip.

    AFKAE 150 posts

    Nayara Alto Atacama (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)
    This was the most interesting part of the trip. I had four nights booked at Altiplaníco hotel (three on voucher, one full price), but on the morning of the stay while on the Bolivia-Chile border crossing, I received an email from hotels.com that they can’t honour the reservation as the hotel is closed. I checked and it is closed since 21 February, !

    That’s weird, we stayed at the Altiplanico from 16-20 March just gone.

    zio 266 posts

    @meta thank you for some interesting and useful notes. A similar trip is definitely on my radar. I look forward to part 2!

    meta 1,470 posts

    Nayara Alto Atacama (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)
    This was the most interesting part of the trip. I had four nights booked at Altiplaníco hotel (three on voucher, one full price), but on the morning of the stay while on the Bolivia-Chile border crossing, I received an email from hotels.com that they can’t honour the reservation as the hotel is closed. I checked and it is closed since 21 February, !

    That’s weird, we stayed at the Altiplanico from 16-20 March just gone.

    Interesting. We passed by and it was definitely closed. Did you book through an agency or on your own?

    gtellez 163 posts

    Wow very useful and detailed report. It is in my radar, as I’m relocating to Lima in the next few months, I will definitely consider doing something similar to your trip from Lima.
    One question, do you thing that Uyuni is doable with a well behaved and travelled toddler?

    AFKAE 150 posts

    Nayara Alto Atacama (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)
    This was the most interesting part of the trip. I had four nights booked at Altiplaníco hotel (three on voucher, one full price), but on the morning of the stay while on the Bolivia-Chile border crossing, I received an email from hotels.com that they can’t honour the reservation as the hotel is closed. I checked and it is closed since 21 February, !

    That’s weird, we stayed at the Altiplanico from 16-20 March just gone.

    Interesting. We passed by and it was definitely closed. Did you book through an agency or on your own?

    Booked through an Argentina based agency called Trips-SouthAmerica. I can’t imagine there’s more than one. It was about a 10 minute walk up a dusty road from the main Caracoles street.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Yes, that’s the one. It was closed. I am thinking because you booked through an agency they exceptionally opened because it was a group or bulk booking.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Wow very useful and detailed report. It is in my radar, as I’m relocating to Lima in the next few months, I will definitely consider doing something similar to your trip from Lima.
    One question, do you thing that Uyuni is doable with a well behaved and travelled toddler?

    I envy you. Apparently it never rains heavily in Lima (second driest capital after Cairo) and it’s always warm. Yes, there is fog and mist. The food is just exquisite and cheap.

    Regarding Uyuni – It’s dusty, at high altitude (3800-5000m) and I wouldn’t risk it with the toddler. Wait till they get a bit older.

    JDB 4,627 posts

    @meta very interesting and detailed trip report; thank you. Look forward to reading review of RC Santiago – we weren’t impressed, although it was a few years ago. Was also surprised to find Chilean wines at the hotel for higher prices than the Four Seasons Carmelo, Uruguay. The city is surprisingly badly served by decent hotels.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Continuing report

    Ritz-Carlton Santiago

    I initially had Mandarin Oriental (ex-Hyatt) booked for £180 a night and I negotiated free breakfast and $50 credit per night. It was a toss between MO and RC really. RC has a slightly better location (walkable to Sky Costanera and lots of restaurants around). Then Marriott double promo came and I decided to switch to Ritz Carlton, but also the points rate was really good (35k per night) that it made sense to do at least part of the stay on points. So I rebooked on a combination of points and cash (STARS rate). Booked Club access room for $209 a night and tried to negotiate Club access for points nights, but they quoted $50 per person per night, so decided against. In the end for the points part of the stay, at the check-in they offered us breakfast for $15 instead of $25 per night which we took. Upgraded a few days before arrival to 1-bedroom Executive Suite (only Master Suite and Presidential Suite are above).

    Suite was stunning, high-end finishes and amenities (incl. Dyptique toiletries). I especially liked the bedside lighting which had a cool wall feature around the headboard. Nothing much to fault in the room. There was some issue with air-con, but they fixed it while we went out for drinks.

    The check-in was quick, we arrived at 8:30pm so there was no queue. They gave us a welcome drink voucher. The bell boy then gave us another welcome drink voucher when bringing the suitcases. He said this is to make us feel at home. This continued throughout the stay as he kept on giving us the vouchers. We never paid a single drink! I wonder whether it’s because of my Titanium status and they don’t get many elites. The hotel was full though, mostly business people as it is in Las Condes/Barrio Le Golf area which is a financial district.

    We weren’t impressed with the housekeeping and the breakfast and restaurant service. Housekeeping, like in many hotels in South America we stayed at, generally forgets things (no toilet paper, missing towels, amenities, clearing one waste bin, but not the other, etc.)

    In regards to service, it seems they have gone US. All they cared for was tips! The first two mornings they gave us the bill before we even finished eating and without us asking for it. Mind you we had breakfast added onto the room, so weren’t expected to sign. It was also for the full amount plus 10% for the tip. At least there is an option on the bill to refuse. The waiters were disinterested and it was very robotic. We did tip as felt that they’d be even worse to us without it; though the tips were removed from the bill at the front desk when applying the correct breakfast rate.

    Breakfast was buffet plus one made-to-order dish (eggs, waffles, pancakes). Four different types of salmon! We had breakfast in the lounge the other three mornings. Just avoids the hassle of tipping the free breakfast. The food was better in the lounge anyway and you could also order in from the main restaurant. The lounge also has better vibe with great views of the area and high-rises.

    Lounge is open 24 hours. They also serve afternoon tea, dinner (substantial). Wine, soft drinks, desserts and snacks are available all day. Staff in the lounge are great.

    The pool/spa area – We only used it for an hour one evening. There were very few people. Staff were a bit surly.

    We had number of free drinks in the lobby lounge/bar. Old-style country club design, but the waiters were a bit pushy. I don’t think they liked the fact that the bell boy gave us so many drinks vouchers as they lost on tips.

    We also had dinner one night at their restaurant, Estró, to use our STARS credit. The starters were great, but the rest of the food was just bland and tiny amounts. We ordered wine pairing for $24, but we constantly had to remind the waiter to refill the glasses.

    Btw. this is the only Ritz-Carlton in South America and this year they’re celebrating 20th anniversary. They had a special cocktail and a cake on the menu which we tried, but it was just a boring opera cake.

    We also didn’t get in-room welcome gift which is unusual for this standard of the hotel. We even got chocolates at JW Marriott in Lima!

    Mixed feelings about the stay really. If it weren’t for the nice suite, the bell boy and check-in agent, it wouldn’t have been a great stay.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Bus Uyuni-Calama

    This is definitely not for the faint-hearted or those who don’t stand extreme cold/heat/dust.

    The only option to travel from Uyuni/Bolivia to Atacama is by joining a three or two-day expensive tour ending in San Pedro or by bus from Uyuni to Calama. There are no flights and even from La Paz to Santiago there are only two direct flights a week. It’s extraordinary how Bolivia is little connected with the rest of South America.

    There are two bus companies operating Uyuni-Calama route – Cruz Norte and Trans Salvador. I booked bus tickets via ticketsbolivia.com for Trans Salvador. $40 per person (one-way). This was for 4:30am bus with an advertised journey time of 10h, arriving in Calama at 2:30pm.

    I tried booking Cruz del Norte, but it wasn’t available. I think they operate seasonally. They are supposedly $8 cheaper. They also start the journey later at 6am with arrival at 4pm.

    The booking site advertises semi-lie flat beds for Trans Salvador buses, but it was just a normal bus.

    You need to have a printed copy of the reservation voucher which is then exchanged for the bus ticket at the station. Check-in is half an hour before. Nobody speaks English, so be prepared with some Spanish (not too much of a problem for me). You also need a passport and they give you a QR code with a form that you need to fill for border crossing (same one as when entering into Bolivia).

    Although we were supposed to leave at 4:30am, we didn’t leave until 5:30am. Nobody provided any information as to the delay. Driver came in and out of the bus, but nothing happened. Apart from us, there was only one other tourist from Brazil. Everyone else was local. At about 5:0am the locals started shouting vamos loudly. Then the driver came back in and started engines, moved further down the road and stopped and we waited for about another 20 minutes or so before we were finally on the move.

    There are no proper roads in this parts of Bolivia, so it’s pretty a bumpy ride until the border. There is no heating or air-conditioning. So you need to dress up really well or bring blankets with you for the first part of the journey. We had scarves, gloves, winter jacket and a hoodie, on top of two layers and were still freezing. Remember we driving were at 4000m+ and it’s desert-like. On top the bus is really dusty. We snoozed off and when waking up the the only part not covered in dust was the bits where our hands were. Later when you want to take everything off you

    According to Google Maps, the journey normally would take only six hours, but the border crossing takes a minimum of four hours. It’s really an onerous process at both Bolivian and Chilean side. First on the Bolivian side, you have to take out all your now dusty luggage and schlep it across the dirt to the immigration, then to customs where it’s thoroughly checked. Similar at the Chilean side except that there we were lined up prison-style for luggage inspection. It was really like in a film, as we were all treated as some kind of international smugglers.

    Despite all this, the views along the ride were just out of this world. It was also the most interesting and fascinating part of the trip. The border crossing experience just demonstrates how lucky we are in most Europe (Schengen and all), but I do remember times as a child crossing the borders in Eastern and Central Europe. It was similar.

    I’d do it again but perhaps bring another layer or two of clothes. Maybe a warm bottle. My partner probably wouldn’t do it again, but I am more adventurous.

    More on other parts of the trip to follow later today.

    meta 1,470 posts

    @meta very interesting and detailed trip report; thank you. Look forward to reading review of RC Santiago – we weren’t impressed, although it was a few years ago. Was also surprised to find Chilean wines at the hotel for higher prices than the Four Seasons Carmelo, Uruguay. The city is surprisingly badly served by decent hotels.

    Yes, I’m not impressed by luxury hotel options. IC looks dated, MO is Grand Hyatt conversion, etc. I found the restaurants not great either. Wine is great everywhere, but Chilean wines are cheaper outside Santiago!

    We also had some great Bolivian wines on the trip which was a discovery! Shame we couldn’t take some bottles with us due to land border crossing.

    meta 1,470 posts

    Some tips for Bolivia
    – some knowledge of Spanish is essential
    – menus in English are not always available (I would say rare)
    – Be prepared that everything takes time, so plan your time accordingly. I wish we built in an extra day or two, so we could have time to relax and process
    – Despite what everyone says, book your Uyuni tours in advance especially if you are not going to do the standard 3-day tour. You might save $20-30 per person when booking on the spot, but it’s not worth the hassle. 3-day tours (2 nights) are half the price on the spot though, but still expensive. You’re looking at $300 per person for group tour with basic accommodation (no hot water, no heating at 4500m!) and cca $500 per person for a bit more upscale accommodation hot water and heating at certain hours) and private tour. For English tours add extra $50-100. More on this below.
    – There other nice places around Uyuni off-the-beaten track so don’t hesistate the tour companies to propose something different to standard tours
    – In Bolivia we were constantly at 4000+ m altitude and this is totally different to Andean Peru and Atacama where you sometimes descend to below 3000m. It has an effect on your body (breathing), so take it slowly. We didn’t have much altitude sickness, but had sometimes breathing issues when lifting and climbing so we learned to take it slowly and instructed guides accordingly. This is especially important if you haven’t done any high altitude training. No headaches for us, but it might be a symptom of altitude sickness for you.

    meta 1,470 posts

    La Paz
    I really enjoyed the brief stay in the city. The first day we took an Uber for £4 one-way to downtown and back. We did a walking tour on our own. I had a pre-planned tour with explanations. The mega-buildings next to colonial architecture are something else. This is especially striking on government square (Plaza Murillo). Jaén street is where all of the interesting museums are located (we only went into one gallery as were short on time). We also went to coca tea museum. 15 bolivianos entry (cca £2). Everything is really cheap. If you’re going to Peru and Bolivia, buy all the alpaca stuff here as it’s at least 50% cheaper than in Peru. Area around Sagarnaga is very touristy. It’s nice for a short stroll, but I didn’t like it much. This is the only place we encountered a lot of tourists on this trip.

    The second day we explored the city using public transport – teleferico or the cable car. It is great and cheap. We paid £3.75 for the day ticket and rode around to see the city from the above on one day. You must go all the way to
    El Alto (close to airport), views are great and you get a great overview of how the city is spread out.

    The first night we ate at the hotel (Atix)as it was Monday and all the major restaurants are closed that day. They currently have a pop-up restaurant by Proyecto Nativa. We had a starter and a main plus two singanis (national alcoholic drink of Bolivia). Bill came to £35 for both. The food was fine, but they only had salads for starters and the menu stated crema for two of them, so I thought it was a soup. Crema in every other South American restaurant on this trip means soup, but apparently not in this hotel.

    We booked Gustu restaurant for the second dinner (co-funder of Copenhagen’s Noma is the owner and chef is the Marsia Taha, rising star of the Latin American’s restaurant scene). Bill came to just under £50 for 2 people for three-courses incl. four alcoholic drinks. The menu is new Bolivian cuisine (similar to novoandina cuisine) and the food was delicious and you get you try all the most wonderful local ingredients. There is also a tasting menu for £50 per person, but we felt it would be too much. On next visit we want to try Ancestral.

    We also had nice small plates and snacks such as quesadillas, empanadas and La Salteñas(national snack) in downtown La Paz. All very tasty.

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