Bolivia: Canyons of Tupiza

Days 5 and 6

Categories: Bolivia, Hiking, Road Trips

After our full day of walking around Sucre we decided to head to Tupiza in the Southwest portion of the country. Our epic 13 hour drive from Samapaita left us concerned about how the roads would be so we got a good start on the day. In general, things went much faster. We passed through attractive lands of sparsely forested rolling hills and farmland. There were still some long rough patches but there were also good stretches of pavement. I think the highlight of that drive would be entering a town that was the regional center for a Sunday market, drawing residents from all the other nearby towns. After driving through numerous towns in the hours previously that seemed nearly deserted this one town was completely packed with people. We had a difficult time in that village because all the roads out of town were blocked off and there were so many people in the streets we had zero visibility trying to find an alternate way out. It was like driving in India, where we were brushing peoples clothing with the car and practically pushing tent canopies out of the way with our hands.

A bridge to nowhere in the middle of nowhere.

Some cool exposed rock mountains.

We began driving through towns all but abandoned, built of mud.

We couldn’t resist stopping at a crumbling Spanish church ruin.

It had gotten to the point where the roof had collapsed. Peeking through the locked doors revealed nothing but dirt inside.

Still, they were trying to save it and had put a brand new bright orange roof on it.

The trees slowly disappeared until we were in the true desert.

Tupiza is a desert city located less than 40 miles (60 km) from Argentina. It’s rumored to be the town near where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their end at the hands of Bolivian authorities. I always wonder what kind of vacation pamphlet Butch had in Utah to make him decide on Bolivia. Interestingly it looks very much the same as certain parts of Utah, so maybe that was a factor. There are also huge areas of nothing to the west, including no roads, so that also could have been a factor.

Tupiza is a major stopping point for the Dakar Rally, the largest rally race in the world, and one of the only races I like to watch. All over town are signs, stickers, hats and jackets referring to the race. Overall, Tupiza does feel like a stopping point more than anything else. It’s small and dirty, with frequent dust storms and poor accommodations and food. It seemed we had entered a supply town for more hardy explorers, as I saw a great many well outfitted off road vehicles equipped for  multi-day overland trips where it would be necessary to be self sufficient (and not much worse than staying in town).

From a distance the red rock towers look similar to what you would see in the North American Southwest.

It had been another long day of driving and we lost the sun almost as soon as we got to the canyon.

This is our cruddy little car that we tortured for 3 weeks. It tortured us in return.

The Great Wall of Tupiza. It’s official name is Puerta del Diablo.

Tupiza was on our list of destinations based on my desire to see the South American Desert, and so see it we did. There are a ton of tour outfits offering ATV/Jeep tours,horseback rides, and even 4 day trips to visit the remote west where you can see multi colored volcanic lakes, flamingos and salt flats. Those trips involve sitting in the back of a jeep for 11 hours a day on rough roads and sleeping in unheated shacks at 14,000 feet (4,267 m) or more.

Due to all the wall maps and pictures around town we were able to pick out some short hikes and find the roads that led to them. We picked two only about 10 miles outside of town and they both were really neat, very easy hikes. Although from a distance the rocks look red like the American Southwest, they are actually some kind of conglomerate rocks, very stony and loose. Another major difference, aside from the high altitude, was that there were absolutely no reptiles and virtually no insects of any kind either.

The canyons west of Tupiza are made up of an intricate network of almost wafer thin layers of conglomerate rock, then tilted upright nearly 90 degrees.

Passing through the gate into Canyon del Inca!

Beyond the portal we walked up a dry wash. I felt like I was in an alternate reality version of Utah.

On the right are some large desert plants i’ve never seen before. They look like the fast growing type, taking advantage of seasonal moisture in the streambed to grow and germinate before they are washed away by the next flood, but I’m guessing.

A close up of their flowers looks more familiar to me.

We had entered the canyon from down by that wall. You can see how the canyon walls are like vertically tilted stream beds or alluvial fans full of riverstones. The canyon walls looked like a crimson version of the mud canyons of Anza Borrego.

Fluted towers. A weird coincidence where the canyon walls and the cactuses had the same forms.

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