[Day 11 +12] Relaxing like the locals in Madrid

I am combining day 11 and 12 because most of the days, I just hung out with my brother and sister-in-law. After our other brother’s family left, we just wanted some time to be lazy.

My brother and sister-in-law really wanted me to try this restaurant called Taberna El Sur so we headed there for dinner. This place was really small and I would recommend that you make reservation in advance. There are lots of bar seating if you are ok with that as well.

It was tapas style and we tried different things from the menu. We all got sangria first and ordered tapas like ropa vieja (braised flank steak) and carrillada (braised pork cheeks). They were so good. And the portions were good too. We ordered 4 tapas and it was enough for us.

After our filling meal, we walked to Plaza de Cibeles to see Cibeles Palace. I saw this place while driving by so I wanted a closer look. The building is all white but during the night time, they flashed different color strobes on it, making it look green, red, and more. We tried to go inside but they were closed.

TIP: I also did not realize how close this place was to Retiro Park. I would see this Palace first and head into Retiro Park for a half day tour.

And because it was the holidays, the streets were full of decorative lights. And by the Metropolis Building, they even had a giant Christmas Ornament. While walking back to Puerta del Sol, we saw several Christmas trees as well. It was really beautiful during the night time.

Our Sunday morning started with us visiting a church. We walked most of the way to church but on our way back, I got to ride the metro for the first time. The ticket was easy to use but we ended up getting off at the wrong stop and had to buy another ticket. They had pretty bad customer service.

We didn’t know what to eat for lunch and ended up at Tierra Burrito Bar and it was similar to Chipotle. But the portions were huge! They couldn’t even roll the burrito all the way, which was better for me ­čÖé I think this solved my craving for American food.

Afterwards, we headed to the Royal Palace of Madrid. I just wanted to see what it looked like. There were lots of street performers outside the Palace and many tourist and locals taking walks. It was pretty peaceful. I did not get to go inside since I did not have tickets but by the size of it, you would need to spend at least 3 hours to see the place.

I also got to see the Catedral de la Almudena and this was impressive. Even more so than the palace! The architecture was stunning. We couldn’t go in because it was too late but still amazing. I would recommend staying here and seeing the sunset. It would make a killer photo.

[Day 10] Easy day in Madrid

Today was the last day we were spending as a family in Madrid. We didn’t have a lot of time so we decided to take it easy.

First, we headed to Puerta del Sol and saw the KM 0 marker. It is easy to miss since there are no signs pointing to it and it’s in the middle of the street. It was used as a place people would come and set their odometers to zero when they were traveling. Sort of like mile markers.

Afterwards, we headed into the Square to see the statue of the Bear and the Strawberry tree. I’m not 100% what it means but it represents the coat of arms for Madrid. I know it is popular because I saw all the magnets and mug cups with the bear on it in several different gift shops.

The Square was full of people in lines to get the lottery tickets and we had to zig zag around them. For our last meal together, we decided to do something simple but impactful and ended up at Chocolater├şa San Gin├ęs. My brother told me that this was his favorite spot for hot chocolate and churros. And yes! I agree. This place was the best! The hot chocolate was thicker and less sweet and the churros were hot and crispy. We also got to try the porras, which were thicker version of a churros. (Personally, I like porras better. It’s more fluffy)

After snacking on our hot chocolate and churros, we had to say good bye to one of my brother and my sister-in-law. And I had to move my luggage to my other brother’s house which was between Puerta del Sol and Mayor, a prime location. After moving all my stuff to their house, we took a small break because it started to rain.

Since it was getting chilly, we decided to get some food that would warm us up! My brother really wanted me to try the pho place in Madrid and I am also down for pho. We headed to a restaurant named Vietnam and ordered pho. Their menu was not as extensive as the Vietnamese restaurant in the US but had the essentials. The pho was pretty good but the sauces were not the best. They had a different version of sriracha sauce and it was too runny and the flavor was not the same. But it still warmed us up well.

After our meal, we walked back towards Puerta del Sol and saw a line of people headed into a building. We weren’t sure what it was but decided to check it out. We later found out it was the Real Casa de Correos building and they have an annual Nativity scene display inside called Navidad el Sol.

The display inside was amazing and I was so glad we accidentally stumbled in. The nativity scene here wasn’t just the stable but all of Bethlehem! I couldn’t fit all of it into my camera in one go. You can imagine how big it was. They also had Christmas Forest with several Christmas trees. If you visit Madrid during the holidays, this would be a must see!

[Day 9] Touring Madrid

Our first full day in Madrid started with some bad weather forecast. It was going back and forth between cloudy and rainy and we were prepared for both.

First stop, Mercado de San Miguel for some breakfast. The market is not as big as the one in Barcelona but it has all the offerings. It is indoors and when we arrived around 10am, it was already bustling with tourists. Similar to La Boqueria in Barcelona, they had simple take out stalls as well as restaurants. I ended up getting empanadas and they had so many different fillings.

There is a sit down area in the middle of the market and several of the restaurants also had stools for their stalls. If you missed la Boqueria, this could show you what it is like at these Mercado.

After filling ourselves, we headed to Parque del Retiro to see the Crystal Palace. Retiro Park is huge and you can easily spend half day here. We took an Uber to the park and our driver dropped us around Paseo de la Argentina. This entrance leads straight to the Retiro Park Lake and to the view of the Alfonso XII’s monument.

This would be a great spot to relax and hang around when the weather is nicer and warmer. There were lots of benches and playground for kids. We also saw a lot of signs for different gardens, art gallery, and monuments. One in particular was the Crystal Palace. My sister-in-law highly recommended it and we wanted to check it out.

However, when we got to the Palace, it was closed! There were many people waiting outside so I thought maybe it wasn’t open yet. However, the time posted outside said otherwise. We thought we could wait until they opened again since we saw a staff member inside the building. So we waited and took pictures of the exterior.

As we were taking photos, a police car came by and told everyone to leave the park. The officers started to usher people towards the exit. Without any explanation, we started to walk towards the exit. The park was so big and we didn’t know where we were so it took a bit to get to the exit. And once we were outside the park, we saw a sign that stated “PARK CLOSED. HIGH WIND” sign on the gates. So a storm was coming.

After a few moments, it started to pour! Thankfully, we brought umbrellas but we had to rethink our plan. Our original plan was to visit the Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid but with the rain, we didn’t want to walk through the garden.

After some thought, we decided to visit the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple that was gifted to Madrid. When we got to the temple, there was a line of people waiting to get inside. Even thought it is called a temple, it is more of a museum and entry is free. Inside, you can see different gods and goddesses, scale model of the building, and learn about the history of the Temple. The inside is really small and you can see everything within minutes. Just be prepared for that.

And it would have been nice to see the moat filled with water but it was empty when we visited. We still got to walk around the walkway after we visited the temple. And because of the rain, no one was outside. Also, if you walk to the back of the temple, you can get a nice view of the city.

After seeing the Temple, we decided to take a break and headed back home. And before we got home, we stopped at Museo de Jamon. The name says it’s a museum but it is actually a store and restaurant. We stopped by to buy some jamon and cheese. They have so many different types of jamon, from front leg to back leg, and what feed the pigs were fed. If you are not sure what to get, ask for samples! The price range is quite wide and I’m sure you can find jamon that you like.

With our hands full of jamon and cheese, we came back home and rested. We snacked on the jamon and I kept going back to its saltiness. They are similar to prosciutto so if you like prosciutto, you will surely like jamon.

After some relaxation, we headed to our dinner reservation at Botin. A friend of mine had recommended this place for both the food and the history. It is considered the oldest restaurant in the world! Wow! Almost 300 years of history.

And my friend recommended the roasted Suckling pig. We ordered several dishes including the suckling pig and filet mignon. All the food was good but they were on the salty side. Ask for less salt if you do not like salty food. Also, make reservation! We had reservation right at their opening hour and there was a line already.

[Day 6] Seville Cathedral and Plaza de Espa├▒a

Today, we were going to spend the day explore two of the City’s main attractions: Catedral de Sevilla and Plaza de Espa├▒a. We had purchased tickets online for the cathedral from the official website the night before.

TIP: Buy tickets in advance! Time slots sell out fast and you might have to stand in a long line to buy the ticket. If you buy them in advance, there is a separate line that is much faster.

When we arrived, the line for the regular ticket was already long but we were able to skip the line and head straight inside. While walking in, you can see all the details of the building and it will awe you. I mean, it is the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world and an UNESCO site. Everything here is grand.

When you first walk in, you enter into an art gallery. There are several Madonna and Child portraits and statues along with Crucifixion. There wasn’t any English description on the art pieces but I still enjoyed the artwork.

We didn’t get the audio guide for the Cathedral so we roamed around freely. Once you pass the art gallery, you are guided into the Cathedral. And wow! The ceiling are so tall and they had several chapels and tombs for famous people such as Christopher Columbus. There were so much to see

We walked around, saw several alters, more paintings, more tombs, and decided to walk up the bell tower, Giralda. First off, this was a walk. It’s all sloped and is about 34 floors high. I’m not sure how the tower’s numbering system worked but it goes up to #34. My brother said that we were almost there starting at 16 and I’m so thankful that he kept pushing me up because the view is breathtaking!

From the top of the tower, you can get a full view of the city in all directions. You might have to wait a little to see the view because it is a popular spot and a lot of people were taking pictures by the fences. And it was super windy and I saw a couple people chase after their hats so watch your belongings!

From a different angle, you could see the Cathedral and its orange tree courtyard. While looking at this, I couldn’t stop imaging what it would be like if we came during blossoming season. The orange blossom’s citrus fragrance would definitely reach the towers.

We were able to enjoy the views for about 15 minutes and the bells started to ring. At first, we were going to waited it out but they were really loud. 25 bells ringing in sync is not something your ears can handle. We decided to walk back down. This time, a bit slower and I was able to look out the windows and admire the architecture a bit more.

Once you are done with Giralda, you walk into the orange tree courtyard. There were several people enjoying the shade and relaxing. It was a nice pace to be at. It was also nice to see the bell tower from the bottom up this time. Different views, different perspective.

After leaving the Cathedral, we walked to Plaza de Espa├▒a and this was a long walk. Longer than I expected. And once we arrived, according to Google map, we were met with a fence. It wasn’t the entrance. Or at least it was closed when we got there. We followed the road along the fence and found the entrance. Once you are inside, you forget about the walk you just had to take to get here. It is beautiful.

Every corner of this Plaza is picturesque. There were families resting on benches, children playing by the water fountain, couples taking a stroll. It was just peaceful. The architecture is also unique to the region and I really loved seeing all the arches.

And because we were visiting during off season, there weren’t a lot of tourist around. We were able to enjoy time here like locals and hung around the benches and just talked and relaxed. The fountain turned off and turned on so you have to time it right for pictures. Also, walk inside the building to see the wall decors and the arches!

After all the relaxing, we were getting hungry so we took an Uber back to the Cathedral area. There were several restaurants gathered here and we decided to eat at Bar la Catedral. We ordered some Sangria for the table and more tapas and of course, paella.

And it was a good thing we decided to sit inside because right after we ordered food, it started to pour. With the sound of rain drops, the small chitchats of the restaurant, the smell of all the delicious food, we really enjoyed the food. And by the time we finished paying for the food, the rain stopped and we were able to walk home and relax.

[Day 5] Off to Seville

Our last day in Barcelona. We were lucky that our airbnb had a late checkout. We left our luggage and headed into the city for the last time. A lot of the places were closed on Sunday and because of this, a lot of cafes had lines out the door. So if you had a place in mind, make sure to make reservations!

We ended up at a Korean style cafe called Bing Bing Cafe and it was pretty legit. They had several bingsu flavors that are authentic to Korea which was pretty rare. We wanted to try some bingsu but we were here for brunch. And their brunch menu was also pretty good. They had several different bowls, smoothies, pancakes, hamburgers, and more. I got their poke bowl and it wasn’t too bad. If you are looking for something with a kick, I would recommend the Benedict Thai.

After our brunch, it was time for us to head to the airport to fly over to our next location, Seville. The check in line was long but we were able to check in online and only needed to tag our bags and send them off. The check in desk lines were long here so please check in online before coming to the airport. After we checked out bags, we headed through security. Weirdly, the line for the security seemed long but moved really fast.

Once we were inside, we headed to one of the lounges to relax before boarding our flight. There were several lounges but we settled in Canudas VIP Lounge. They had a decent food selection, mostly finger foods and snacks, as well as their drink selection. One thing about their drinks were that they were all bottles and you could not take them with you. It was weird to see glass bottles but also felt fancy.

When you are at the lounge, just check the time of your flight gate frequently. The airport is rather large and it might be at the end of the terminal. We had to run at the end and we were practically the last ones on board. But we made it to Seville safely.

We took an Uber to our airbnb and the driver could not get us to the front of the house. He ended up dropping us off a block away and told us which way to walk. So if you plan on bringing a lot of luggage, ask the airbnb if a cab can drop off at the front of the house.

Once we settled in, we started to look for a place to eat. We were pretty close to all the major attractions and had an array of restaurants to choose from. We didn’t want to go too far so we ended up at place called La Bartola. It was a small bar and we were lucky to have gotten the last seats at the bar. And this place was really good! They had an extensive wine list and a full list of tapas. Again, we wanted to try everything so we ordered one of each. They did have several tapas that also had meal size available. One that we really wish we got the meal size was the pork cheek stew. Carrillada Iberica con Parmentier de Patata. This was so good. We definitely need more. Everything here was good and I would recommend it. It is small so make reservation if you would like to try their pork stew!

With the travel, we wanted to be at our best condition the next day, so we decided to relax at home. We bought some snacks and wine from the local store and headed home. Nice day to relax a bit.

[Day 4] Gaudi, Gaudi, and more Gaudi

Today was our grand Gaudi tour. We started the day with a visit to La Sagrada Familia. We had purchased tickets from the official website for Sagrada Familia with Towers and picked the Nativity Facade. One of the reasons we wanted to see the Nativity Facade was that it was completed by Gaudi himself in 1935. And it was really a good thing that we purchased from the official website. I’ll explain in a bit.

We bought morning tickets and the line was pretty short. You have to go through security similar to the airport and they have several lines so it moves quickly. Once inside, you have to get in a separate line to pick up the audio guide. And with the audio guide, you are really left to venture around yourself until the time for the tower rolls around.

And wow. This place is just amazing. The gothic details on the facade are definitely a sight you don’t want to miss! Just standing here, you are facing one the world’s most prominent architecture that is still being built. We spent a lot of time here, carefully listening to the audio guide, learning about Gaudi and his masterpiece. The nativity scene here is decorated with different plants and animals and all was intended by Gaudi himself. Just wow.

And when the time for us to go up to the tower came, we realized that there was no line. At first, we were excited to the first one but saw the line was blocked off! We asked the staff what was going on and they told us that because of high wind, the towers were closed for the day for everyone’s safety. WHAT?! No!!! I was looking forward to going up to the tower but weather was something out of our control. And this is the reason for buying with the official website. They told us that within a month, we should we getting a portion refund for the towers. If you buy with a 3rd party, most of the time, you would not be able to get anything back.

We were sad that we couldn’t go up the towers but we were able to spend more time inside and see the sunlight start shining through the stained glasses and wow. What colors! I would really recommend staying longer to see the colors.

Once we were done with the inside, we came out to the other side and you see a whole new style of detailing. The Passion facade is a bit more bulky and more masculine. The scene here is the Crucifixion of Christ and the feel here is different from the nativity side but still amazing.

After seeing all around, we headed to La Boqueria. During the day time, the market was packed and they had so many different types of foods, from raw materials to cooked meals. While here, we tried all of them. From sandwiches to juices. They were all very good. It isn’t really cheap here so I would suggest that you share the snacks to try different ones together.

Afterward, we headed to Parc Guell. We did not buy tickets in advance since we were not sure what time we would head over but please buy it online. The line gets really long and during busy season, they can even sell out. When you buy tickets, there is a time of entry so make sure you buy the one that works. The staff were very strict on time. We bought our tickets when we arrived and we had about one hour to kill. We were able to look around the free parts of the park beforehand. The free portion of the park is higher up so you could get a good view.

And once our time came around, we were able to go inside and see the park. However, there were lots of construction going on and some parts were even closed off. Even with that, the park was very pretty and interesting. We first started off with Casa del Guarda, the gatekeeper’s house. Inside, they had an exhibition about the park and it was worth a look. The blue colors of the walls were really pretty.

The architecture here is interesting too. There are lots of arches and curves. I really loved their use of mosaic tiles in multiple places, including on the colorful chameleon. He was much smaller than I expected but cute regardless. And once you follow the road up to the top of the park, there is this huge open space and the view of the city from here is spectacular. The tiles on the benches and the backdrop of Barcelona cityscape is just perfect for pictures.

After spending some time here, we wanted to check out more of Gaudi’s work so we headed back to the city. We didn’t know which one we should go into since we didn’t have much time. We had to pick one between Casa Mila and Casa Batll├│. They were the same price and they were only 2 blocks from each other. After some deliberation, we decided on Casa Batll├│.

Casa Batll├│ also used lots of colorful stones on the exterior and the sunlight made the building sparkle. Even the roof was colorful. And their audio tour was very interesting. They used AR technology with their audio tour which provided a more interesting walkthrough of the building. When we arrived, the sun had already set and I think it would be better if you visit during the day.

As interesting the exterior is, the interior is also fascinating. Starting from the entrance, the floors, the walls, everything was made with intent. And t he blue tiles on the inside makes it seem like you are outside and they had snow flurries and it really looked as if you were looking into a courtyard. And through the audio tour, I learned that the tiles were placed inside to reflect light into part of the house and I really loved the idea.

After seeing the house, we headed back to Font Màgica de Montjuïc to see the Magic Fountain show. We arrived perfectly for the show at 9:30pm and it was very pretty but cold. The wind was strong this day and the water from the fountain got everyone wet. But the music, color, and splash of water was truly magical. They used different types of music including classical, pop songs, and traditional songs. It was really fun to watch.

The show as quite long so you don’t have to be there at 9:30pm but if you want front row, you should come early. I wouldn’t recommend it since you will get wet and even the view from the back is really good.

We headed to grab dinner at Ciutat Comtal and I highly recommend this place and you 100% should make a reservation. We had a huge party and luckily, they had a table for us. I was recommended this place by a friend and she told me that we have to try their honey cod and I agree! We had several tapa dishes including the honey cod and we ended up ordering more cod. Look for Bacalao al Allioli de Miel. We also tried their gambas, calamari, razor clams, and of course, sangria. They are all very good and the price wasn’t bad at all for the quality of the food.

After our delicious meal, we wanted to end the night on a sweet note so we made our way to a churro spot. Both my brother and I found a same place named Xurreria. It had really good reviews and we were down. What we didn’t know was that the one we picked was an outdoor stall. But do not look down on these stalls. The staff made the churros fresh in front of us. And eventhough it was cold and late, there were several locals who came by for takeout.

What a day!

[Day 16] Last day in Bolivia

Last day in Bolivia. I wanted this to be a lazy day and the accommodation I picked was the best for that. The official check out was until 1pm! I’ve never heard of a hotel’s check out time being this late. However, this was my only full day in La Paz so I wanted to check it out.

I packed my bags, checked out of the hotel around 11am, stored luggage at the hotel, and ventured out.

First, we headed to st. Francisco church to meet a new travel buddy for the day. As this trip was my first trip alone, I tried to gather people to travel with, before and during the trip. And I think I was very successful. Throughout my whole trip, I was with someone and everyone has been awesome.

So today, I met up with my new travel buddy and headed to Valle de la Luna. Before, I looked at tour agencies but could not find something that suited my schedule. So I decided to take the local bus. After some searching, a lot of people were pointing me to bus #43. However, after waiting for over 30 minutes, we asked the police for help. They told us to take #902 going to Mallas.

The bus was only 2 bol but the traffic was awful! If you are going to visit Valle de la Luna by bus, please go early in the morning. It took over an hour and the road was rough. The bus system was interesting. It was more l ike a mini van. People would fill in the seats and when it was full, the driver would not stop at any of the other stops until someone got off. And people paid the driver as they got off.

Once at Valle de la Luna, there was an entrance fee of 15 bol and there were several different trails, all marked with how long it takes, and we decided to take the 45 minute one. The trail was beautiful and presented itself with a very different kind of view than what I expected. Since it was named Valley of the Moon, I was sort of expecting craters or something similar to it. However, the Valley was filled more more sharp peaks and cliffs. Luckily, the trail had a lot of railings for safety. They also had lots of picturesque areas to take photos so even on the 45 minute trail, it took longer.

Also, it was really hot! The Valley did not provide any shade and since we were there around 1pm, the sun was really on top of us. Make sure to bring a lot of water because the trail doesn’t have any fountains. The trail is one way so you just have to keep going. There are lots of ups and downs so be ready to walk.

After finishing the trail, we decided to go back to the city. This time, we wanted to take the telefarico. So we took a cab to the closest line, which was the green line. The cab was 25 bol and at the green line, we bought tickets to Prado, which was 15 bol for 3 people.

From the green line, we transferred to the blue/celestial line and got off at Prado. From here, we walked to Witch’s Market. It was so small. Smaller than I expected. There were small, individual shops that all sold similar things like stones, perfume, incense, and items for rituals like dried animal and animal parts. I wasn’t sure what to buy here so I just took pictures. I wasn’t super impressed but very unique.

So we headed to dinner. We wanted to find some traditional Bolivian food so we searched for a place and found “Luciernagas Restaurant” and this place was amazing. It was all home cooking and tasted great. The restaurant is in a residential area so while looking for it, I thought we were so lost.

Once we were at the restaurant, we met the owner and his wife. The owner recommended our meals and the wife cooked for us. It was a family owned business and really great for home cooked meals. They had an extensive menu but there were several things that were not available, so ask! We ordered a soup and main entree to share. The portions were pretty big here.

After dinner, we wanted to see the city light up the night. I was told the best view of the city was at Killi Killi park. I was told the Park could be dangerous at night but when we were there, it didn’t seem too bad. There were several travelers taking photos there and some locals playing around. It was cold but the view was nice. The lights from the city sparkled and provided a good city view.

One thing that worried me was the ride back. Our hotel was nice enough to get us a cab when we went up to the park but the way down was different. We tried to call an Uber but they wouldn’t come. We thought about walking down but that was a long walk. Lucky for us, a tourist came up and we were able to take that cab back to the hotel.

While going back, we saw the night market and it was really lively. I wish I could have visited. It looked like there were lots of food vendors. Once we were at the hotel, I said good bye to my travel buddies and headed to the airport.

Since I was taking the night plane out of Bolivia, the airport was very empty. It took only minutes to check in and it was very simple and quick. I wasn’t looking forward to ending my trip but was looking forward to sleeping in my bed again. After checking in, I headed inside to use the lounge. It had a small selection of things but had warm food like pancakes, cold food like cereals, and drinks. They have 3 different local beers and pepsi products.

This concluded by trip to Peru and Bolivia. It was my first time traveling in South America and it was amazing. I cannot wait to come back soon.

[Day 15] Last day in Uyuni

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do another tour before leaving Uyuni but everyone I talked to said that day time is different from sunset so I decided to do a last tour. (3 tours just in Uyuni!) There are usually several tours each day and they are all separately by time.

Starlight+Sunrise is the earliest one, usually from 3am to 7:30am. Day time is 10am to 3:30pm. There is also Day time+Sunset which is from 10:30am to 8:30pm. The one I did previously was the Sunset+Starlight, from 4pm to 10pm. And lastly, there is just Starlight, which is from 11pm to 3am. The times could be slightly different for each tour agency but it would be very similar to this.

I checked the moon and sun phase to make sure I would be able to see the stars. Depending on when the sun sets and when the moon rises, you might see more stars in the Sunset+Starlight or Starlight+Sunrise. They are all beautiful.

So the day time tour was from 10am to 3:30pm and since it was our last day, we also had to check out. So we woke up early, packed our things, eat our last breakfast, checked out and headed to the tour agency. We were able to leave our luggage at our accommodation and they also told me that they can provide the shower after the tour. Score!

We requested another Photography session with As and headed out. As told us that if we go with a photographer, usually the driving route changes so that people can get more of the salt flat shot. However, since we requested it, we were able to visit the train cemetery. It wasn’t as impressive as I imagined but still very cool to look at. There were several trains that were just abandoned on the unused tracks. Interesting enough, there was actually an active track right next to the cemetery. We were able to go on the trains to take pictures but As told me that there were several accidents here so be careful.

After looking around the train cemetery, we headed into the salt flats. First, we visited the dry flats. This was our first time here since for the Sunset+Starlight, they only take you to the wet flats. The dry flats were so different. The ground was sharp and it felt more like a desert. And it was 100% less crowded compared to the wet flats. I mean, we were the only ones here.

There were 4 of us taking photos with the photographer and in between our sessions, we took pictures of each other. We were able to do some illusion shots with different props that the tour agency provided. This includes the dino shot, wine bottle shot, and the stomping shots. These are probably the most common photos you would see online if you searched Uyuni. Our driver was nice enough to take some photos of us while we waited for our photographer!

*Remember! They are your driver, not your photographer! Some of them have had this job for a long time and may have experience taking these types of photos but they are not required to take them for you. If they do take photos/videos of you, make sure to tip well for their extra service.

I thought the weather was perfect for pictures. No cloud in sight. However, we found out it was a bust when we got to the wet flats. The wind was too strong and we couldn’t get the reflections at all. You could see ripples everywhere. It was unfortunate but we still had fun. This time, the photographer brought some props along, like flower bouquets and colorful umbrella! It was different and difficult, taking pictures with props. This was my first time taking pictures like this so I felt so awkward. If you are interested in doing a photo session, make sure to practice at home!

The day time tour was short compared to sunset+starlight so we were back in the city a little past 3:30pm. When we got back to our hotel area, we realized there was a huge market outside our hotel and we wanted to check it out before flying out.

First, we decided to take a shower. However, the hotel told us that they could provide the shower but no towels. Luckily, I had brought a towel just in case and was able to take a quick shower. They even provided a rest space if you wanted to take a nap. It was a smaller room upstairs with a single size bed. Because Uyuni is a tourist town, hotels might offer such service. Make sure to ask the hotel you are staying in to see if they have such space.

After washing up, we went out to the market. This market had everything! They had live animals for sale, mostly chickens, clothing for all ages, kitchenware, and of course, food. I walked down for about 10 minutes but I was still seeing rows of shops. However, it looked like they were still setting up. So I decided to check out the city a bit more.

Walking up the main street, there was a decent size super market. From here, I got an ice cream bar and it was so refreshing! During the day time, the sun was still hot so it was nice to just chill and eat some ice cream.

Also, right across the street, there was an arcade. They had several different games from street fighter, tekken, FIFA, and more. But their biggest thing was PUMP. I was so surprised to find a PUMP machine here so I just had to play. All the games were 1 bol. I didn’t have coins on me but there was someone here that did the exchange. I wanted to play more but after 1 game I was done! Not because I was tired but because of the altitude. My lungs were just screaming for air but I had a lot of fun, walking dancing through memory lane. While I was catching my breath, I watched some of the local kids play games and did not realize time was passing so fast.

When I walked back outside, the market was now bustling with people. A lot of kids were out with their parents, shopping and hanging out with friends. I wanted to grab something to eat before heading to the airport so I looked around the market. I really wanted the fried chicken cutlet again but it was closed. I’m guessing it was because of the market being open. So I looked around the market and several of the places looked like it had lines.

I knew I didn’t have much time now and I needed to get something to-go, so I found a stall that was selling chicken and other things. I wasn’t so sure what was on the menu but I pointed at the chicken and chorizo and was able to get it to-go.

After getting my food, we took a cab to the airport. It was 15 bol per person this time. The cab ride was short and the check in process was even shorter. It took less than 5 minutes to check in. We were flying with Amazonas and they allowed 1 free checked bag. So I checked one of my bag and ate my dinner using my other bag as a table.

The chicken was cooked perfectly and the chorizo was spicy enough. As I was enjoying the food, more and more people were coming into the airport and the line was getting longer. There were only 2 people working the check in desk but it was moving pretty quickly.

Soon, they told everyone to move into the actual lounge area. Before moving, we had to pay the airport tax. You cannot fly out of Uyuni without paying the tax. It was 11 bol and they gave me change back.

To get to the lounge, you had to go through a metal detector. However, they did not have one for bags. Some of the bags were hand checked but not all of them. It was a very short process and also very interesting. They also do not mind if you bring water in. And as I stated before, it was a very small airport. We had to walk to the tarmac again to get on the plane, just as we did when we got here.

The plane ride was uneventful. Once we were out of Uyuni’s range, it was pitch black outside. It really felt like there was nothing out there but soon, the lights from La Paz started to glow. When we got to La Paz airport, we had a taxi driver waiting for us and we got to the hotel safely.

We were not planning on doing anything too crazy the next day so we decided to Netflix and chill for a bit. The Loki Boutique, our accommodation, had free Netflix, so we watched John Wick. What a good way to relax and end the night.

[Day 13] Off to Uyuni

We woke up early in the morning, packed up, and headed to the airport at 6:30am. The hotel was able to get us a taxi fairly quick. The city of La Paz at sunrise was beautiful. The pink tone building with the early morning light was a sight to see. The road was clear so we were able to get to the airport in no time. Check in was a breeze too and headed to grab some breakfast.

Not all the restaurants in the airport were open and we had limited options. And since we were in Bolivia, I wanted to try something Bolivian. So I got Huminta, a Bolivian style tamale, and Tikimanas, a Bolivian style empanada. They were both really flavorful and filling. I actually couldn’t finish both of them because of their size. I didn’t realize how big they would be. But my travel companions were there to help me. For both, it was 17.5 bol. Not bad for breakfast at the airport.

The airport was so small that even the check point took only about 5 minutes and they didn’t take my water away. Once we were inside, we wanted for our boarding time. It was interesting since the boarding time was the same as the last call. There were a lot of people getting to the gate at the last minute, including us!

The plane that we took was really small and the ride was pretty bumpy. Once we got to Uyuni airport, we all got off at the tarmac. The Uyuni airport was TINY. It was the smallest airport I’ve seen. They did not even have a baggage claim belt. It was just this one corner they used as the baggage claim area. They don’t check tags or anything so keep your eyes open for your bag.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. The interesting thing at Uyuni was that the taxi charges per person! So they try to fill the car up before leaving. The cost from the airport was 10 bol per person. With that, no one has to worry about if you are getting cheated on your taxi fare.

I wanted to try something new while at Uyuni and decided to stay at the salt hotel. We stayed at Hotel de Sal – Casa Andina. This is not the famous salt hotel but it had salt components in the hotel and the location was decent. We were a bit early for check in, so we left our luggage here and headed to book our tours.

There were several different tour agencies in Uyuni that specialized in Salt Flat tours. We decided to go with Brisa Tours. They had a tour with a photographer (extra cost) and I wanted some good photos with the stars. I had never done night photography before and since I was already here, I thought I wanted to get some nice photos.

At these tour agencies, they have papers outside that have different type of tours that are available and how many people can sign out. Anyone can come and write their name down and pay inside to make the reservation. We planned on doing the “Sunset + starlight” tour with Photographer As, who was part of Brisa Tours. The tour itself was 130 bol and we had to pay the photographer extra $120.

After we booked our tour, we decided to venture around a bit and grab something to eat before heading out on the tour. We found the local market and noticed that it was very similar to Peru’s market. And while following our nose, we found a fried chicken booth on the back side of the market. It was a bit hidden but those are the best, right?

The fried chicken was amazing! It was close to a chicken cutlet since it was so flat. It came with rice and veggie and the best part. It was only 8 bol.

After our meal, one of my travel companion decided to cut all our hairs! She is a hair designer in South Korea and she brought most of her tools to volunteer in Peru and Bolivia. I wanted to go super short and she just chopped it all off! After my hair cut, she asked around the hotel to see if anyone else wanted a cut and ended up cutting the receptionist’s hair too.

Our tour was at 3pm so after our haircuts, we headed back to the agency. They had a 8 seater van waiting for us. We drove about 20 minutes outside the city to this house to pick up rainboots and drove another 40 minutes to the salt flats. The ride was bumpy and we were told that some parts of the salt flats have sink holes so we all have to be careful. At first, the area was just dry flats and I was really worried we wouldn’t see water since it was dry season. But once we were out there, the view just made me speechless.

The weather was just spectacular with no clouds in sight. Also, the wind wasn’t too strong so we were able to get some good reflections. There was enough water to make the reflection too. Even though it was dry season, the tour agencies all know how far to go in to get the water so you do not need to worry about it.

It was just so pretty! When we got there, it was still very bright. But the sun started to set and the view just became even more amazing. The colors of the sunset seemed different here. And it really felt like we were the only ones here. It was so quiet, so surreal. I took the time to just bask in the sun.

Once the sun was gone, we had to wait for the stars to come up. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to see a lot of stars because the moonrise timing wasn’t that great for us. But slowly, stars were coming out and I was surprised that we were able to see so much of it with our naked eyes.

You could even see the Milky Way with your eyes. This picture was taken with my camera (Sony 5a) on a tripod on a timer. No filter whatsoever. Our photographer brought props that made the photos more interesting. The stars were just memorizing. I couldn’t believe I could see so much with my eyes. When I wasn’t taking photos, I was just looking up in awe. And the camera doesn’t do it justice. It was more mysterious in person and I cannot recommend the Starlight tour enough!

And one thing for sure. Make sure to wear layers or bring more clothes. Especially socks! While taking photos, we had to take off our shoes to get on the roof of the vehicle and in the process, our clothes, mostly our socks, got wet. So next time, extra socks! Also, it was extremely cold outside. Cold enough that my camera lens froze and wouldn’t focus. I had to take it inside the van to heat it up a bit before taking more photos.

After all the photos, we headed back to Uyuni. Even though it was late, everyone was so excited to have seen such a view that we kept talking about it. I definitely was amazing and worth it. I was not 100% satisfied with the pictures I took because it was my first time but it is a learning curve.

I did not plan much of Uyuni because everyone had said that everything is up to chances and luck. You might get lucky with day time weather, but not with night time weather. I heard so much of “what if” that I wanted to give myself a lot of buffer to work with.

I was debating doing a full day tour but I decided to wait to see what my body thinks the next day.

[DAY 12] From Peru to Bolivia

The bus … even the downstair ones wasn’t that comfortable. However, I still managed to pass out for a bit. A lot of places complained about the smell from the bathroom on the 1st floor but there was a door that separated the bathroom from the main area so I didn’t smell a thing.

Also, before taking off, a staff member took breakfast orders for when we arrive at Puno. It was 9 sol and optional and I ended up opting out and slept in more. After breakfast, we were taken to the pier and took a motor boat to the Uros Island. The guide gave us a quick history lesson about the Titikaka lake and how the Islands formed.

Once we were out in the lake, we were able to see several islands. These islands were all manmade with weed from the lake. It was amazing to see this plant-weaved island just floating. We visited Isla Los Uros Suma Chaulla and the people there were very welcoming. They also gave us a history lesson on their Island, how to weave the island, and how they stay afloat. It was facinating.

The people of Uros Islands made their living from tourism mostly. So their income was based on people like us visiting their islands and they also sold handmade souvenirs. The souvenirs are cheaper on mainland but they do have some unique Uros items. To get to the next location, you had the option of taking the motor boat or taking the Uros boat (weed boat in the picture above) for 10 sol. I opted for the Uros boat since it looked interesting.

Once we were on the other side, we got back to our bus and headed for the border. At the border, there were several money exchange booths and I exchanged all the sol to bol. The rate when I went was $1 = 6.9 bol.

Once you are done exchanging currency, you head up the road with your luggage and cross the border. They don’t do luggage checks or anything. And the last thing of Peru you see is the red Peru sign. A lot of people were in line taking pictures with it.

I also wanted to take a picture but I wasn’t able to get my Bolivian Visa before my trip so I had to get it here.

There is a Visa office at the entrance of Bolivia and there are stores here that have internet and printing for a fee if you didn’t bring all the documents. I forgot to bring a copy of my passport so I made a copy here for 1 bol. The Visa was $160 US dollars and you have the option to pay with cash or credit card. They don’t take cash that is damaged so be aware.

It took about 15 minutes to get my Visa and the Peru Hop bus had to wait for me. The officers here are not fast workers and they do make you wait. So if you think time might be an issue, make sure to get your visa in your country before coming.

Also, people were telling me that I might need to get some shots before to apply for the Visa but the office did not ask for any sort of document. However, I have heard from others that they do check for shots and if you don’t have them at the border, you might be out of luck. So again, get your Visa before coming.

Once we were all cleared, we got on a different bus (this one said Bolivia Hop) and headed to Copacabana. This was a beautiful lake city. It was the same lake that bordered Puno, Lake Titikaka. We were now seeing it from the Bolivian side. It seemed like a resort town. With lots of small boats all around.

I was super hungry since I didn’t get to eat breakfast. So we headed to the waters. When you walk towards the lake, on the left side, you see a lot of tents. These tents were all individual Kiosk for Trucha, Trout. They are caught in Lake titikaka and are famous “must have” for this region. We visited Kiosk #12. My companion told me that #12 was famous and the chef has been featured on different shows and such. When we got to the kiosk, it smelled so good and made me even more hungry!

We ordered the garlic trout and the Diablo. With a name like that, I thought maybe it might be spicy. Wrong guess. But it was still really good! The fish was cooked to perfection. The outside was crispy and in the inside was juicy. And the flavors were on point! And both of the trouts came with yuka fries and was very filling. We must have came during the workers lunch time because right after cooking our food, the staff and chef all came out to eat. They were very generous and gave us some of their foods (different things from the menu) and they were also really good. I think one of them was the pork rind and it was really juicy! They also gave us 1 soda for free! So for 2 trucha, 1 soda, and some other tasty foods, it cost us 50 bol.

After lunch, we decided to walk to the top of the trail “El Calvario” to get a better view of the city. The hike was pretty hard. Lots of rocks. Also, there is no bathroom up top so make sure to use the down at the bottom of the trail. The trail itself only took about 50 minutes and we were able to spend some time at the top just enjoying the view, taking in fresh air, and laying about.

There are no signs that point to the trail but since there is only one trail, all the locals know where it is. Also, google map works pretty well here and I used it to find the entrance. There is plenty of time to do the hike so I highly recommend it! I mean, look at that view!

After the hike, we headed to the local bar/restaurant to relax before getting on the bus again. With the Peru/Bolivia Hop bus, you get a wrist band that gives you some discount at local places. This KM Zero Pub was one of them. I ordered Pineapple Juice which was 10 bol but I got a 15% discount! Score. It was so refreshing to just sit, relax, and drink.

The bus was supposed to come at 6pm so we walked back to the lake side but the bus was nowhere to be found. So I walked around the pier area and took some pictures as the sun was setting. There was a couple playing some music by the lake and it was just beautiful. If I had an extra day, I would have visited the Isla del Sol but I have been told that there were some violent incidents recently. So I opted out. Maybe next time.

Once we got back on the bus, I thought this was it. That we were heading to La Paz. Yes, we were heading to La Paz but we had one more major stop. We got off at this lake and we had a take a smaller boat across the lake and they also had to ferry the bus. It was fascinating! Once we were on the other side, there was a bathroom (1 bol) and some food stalls. Use the bathroom here since the new bus doesn’t have a bathroom in them. And if you needed dinner, this is the spot. The 2 stalls I took a look at were both sandwich places and the prices ranged from 7 ~ 15 bol. They don’t really have a menu and I believe you pick the meat and if you want fried egg or not. If you are feeling adventurous, go for it!

Once we were back on the bus, they played a movie for us (Major Payne) and gave us popcorn. If you are interested in seeing the movie, sit up front! And with almost perfect timing, we arrived in La Paz as the movie was ending. The guide took everyone’s accommodation so we were being dropped off one by one. Most of us were not dropped off right in front of the hotels but our guide told us which way to walk. Overall, the bus ride was good and I would recommend it to people who are traveling between Cusco and La Paz and have time to spare.

Our accommdation for the night was at Loki Boutique. We were only staying 1 night since we were going to Uyuni the next morning but it was a good place. The room was a bit chilly even with the space heater but the shower had plenty of hot water. I mean.. really HOT. And the blankets were thick enough.