The wild badlands of Tupiza are one of Bolivia’s undiscovered gems. Full of dramatic red rock canyons, sweeping cactus filled valleys and arid desert ravines, this wild west environment is best explored on horseback to fulfill those childhood cowboy dreams. The quaint little town is also an attraction in of itself, providing an authentic insight into rural Bolivian life.
Bus: Tupiza is a small sleepy town so there are usually only one or two departures per destination per day.
La Paz buses run overnight, take around 12 hours and cost 80 BOB (US$11.50). Potosi has daily departures, seven hours, 50 BOB (US$7). To Uyuni there are several daily buses and jeeps traveling over a terrible road, six hours, 50 BOB (US$7). Villazon has numerous daily departures, two hours, 15 BOB (US$2).
Train: The best way to travel between the north and south of Bolivia is by train. Stops include Oruro, Uyuni, Tupiza and Villazon with trains traveling three days per week in each direction. Tickets can be purchased online these days through ticketsbolivia.com.
Tupiza is a great place to stroll around and soak up the atmosphere of a relaxed Bolivian country town. The main plaza and central market are worth a look, as is the twice weekly street market which overruns a large section of town.
But the real charm of Tupiza lies outside its borders. This is the country where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their faithful end, a fact the town’s many travel agencies don’t hesitate to point out. There are several options to explore the region.
Jeep: The fastest and easiest way to check out the region. Most agencies can organize a half day jeep tour for 350 BOB (US$50) which can seat up to 4 people.
Horseback: The best way to explore the region for a true cowboy experience. Prices varying significantly depending on how many people in the group, but expect to pay 100-150 BOB ($US15-20) for a few hours on a trusty steed. Yee-haa!
Bike or on foot: For those on a tight budget, it’s possible to visit most of the sights independently, although those looking to walk should seek out public transport for some sections. Travel agencies in town can provide maps and information for a small fee and along dusty roads have written some great pointers on how to go it alone.
Starting a Salar de Uyuni tour in Tupiza is a great alternative to starting in Uyuni. Tupiza operators are generally better, investing more money on good quality vehicles that generally don’t break down and responsible drivers who don’t tend to drink on the job. But the biggest advantage is that Tupiza departures arrive at each attraction at a different time of day, meaning the region’s stunningly remote sites can be enjoyed in solitude rather than in the company of a hundred other rowdy tourists. Additionally, they visit the salt flats at sunrise on the last day, an ideal photo op and the perfect way to finish the tour.
On the downside, Tupiza departures cost significantly more. Prices range from 1200-1400 BOB ($170-$200) for a four day tour from Tupiza as opposed to 700-1000 BOB ($US 100-150) for a three day trip from Uyuni.
Tupiza Tours run a private two day excursion that follows in the footsteps of the legendary duo’s last days. The tour travels to the nearby town of San Vicente and includes a visit to a museum dedicated to the pair, the plaza where the final shootout took place and the cemetery where they are believed to be buried. Although the scenery and history involved aren’t bad, this one is best left to those with a keen interest in the story.
Budget: Hostal Bien Te Fue offers comfortable dorm beds in clean and tasteful rooms which at 50 BOB (US$7) are great value for backpackers on a budget. It’s right across the road from the bus station and includes free Wifi.
Mid range: Hostal Mitru is the town’s fanciest gig, which isn’t saying that much as there are no luxury hotels in Tupiza. Still, it boasts a nice leafy patio, swimming pool, as well as free basic breakfast and Wifi. Prices vary depending on the quality of the room, but the most basic singles start at 76 BOB (US$11).
Hostal Butch Cassidy is the other good mid range option. Travelers who miss a hearty breakfast (a rare commodity in Bolivia) will love this place for its free morning buffet of cold meats, cheese, fruits, cereal, coffee and even pancakes. The Wifi also works well.
Upon checking out the local dining scene, you might be left wondering if the town should be renamed Tupizza for the ridiculous number of tourist orientated Italian restaurants lining the main streets.
Milan Center Restaurant: Best pizzas in town for a reasonable 30 BOB (US$4.30) a pop. The coffee isn’t bad either, at least by Bolivian standards, but don’t even bother with the pasta.
El Alamo: A longtime favorite with a quirky, colorful neon lit decor reminiscent of a Texas steakhouse. They serve good quality and reasonably priced mains (25 BOB / $US3.50) of Mexican, International and Bolivian cuisine. On weekends it becomes a rowdy discotheque.
El Mercado Central: Best place for cheap and authentic Bolivian food, with mains from just 10 BOB (US$1.50).