Tupiza: How to Enjoy Bolivia's Wild West On A Budget
Tupiza, a small quiet town in Bolivia is a great place for budget travelers. Use our guide to hike among weathered rock formations, tall cactus plants, canyons, and valleys. You can also use Tupiza as a starting point for Salar de Uyuni Tour or horseback riding tour.
Tupiza is not the most well-known city in Bolivia but is slowly gaining travelers' attention. The hot climate with low precipitations (even in the rainy season) is welcoming, and there is no shortage of things to do either. It doesn't matter if you just crossed borders from Argentina and want to take a well-deserved break in a town where the time flows at a slow pace, or if you decided to start here your Salar de Uyuni adventure or if you came, as we did, to explore the beautiful Tupiza's surroundings. In any case, you have just arrived in the right place. We would like to guide you through the incredible scenery near Tupiza which you can enjoy on a budget.
Although for us, hiking the red rock landscapes was the main reason to visit Tupiza, this is not the only activity visitors can do here. The scenery around the city is very unusual and encourage travelers to many activities. Apart from independent trekking, another favorite activity is horseback riding or jeep tours, but as we travel on a budget, we did not find necessary to spend money on tours here because walking around seemed to be easy enough.
Every year more and more visitors decide to set off on their Salar de Uyuni tour in Tupiza. You can read about our experience although we did the 3-day tour from Uyuni, journeys are almost similar, only tours from Tupiza are usually one day longer and also a little bit more expensive (but on the other hand less touristy as they follow a different schedule).
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE HIKING IN TUPIZA
We felt completely safe when in Bolivia, however, it is still a fact that it is a poor country and it is better not to walk around in brand new clothes or show off your costly electronics. When going on a hike, take only your camera, phone with Maps.me app and a small amount of cash (there is no entrance fee, but you might want to use public transport to get to the trailhead).
The heat can be unbearable as there is no shade, and unless you start before sunrise, there is a good chance you'll be hiking around midday. Pack at least two liters of water per person and don't forget sunscreen, sunglasses, and hat.
You'll be hiking in almost 3000 meters above sea level (under the harsh sun), and altitude sickness prone people can feel it. Enjoy a couple extra days in Tupiza to get used to the altitude. If you’ve visited north part of Bolivia, like mysterious Lake Titicaca or La Paz, you shouldn’t have any problems.
You can be a dog lover, but it is better to stay away from strayed and wild dogs (there is so many of them in Bolivia). The potential problem can arise when they don't stay away from you. We were lucky and did not have any encounter with dogs along the way, but still, we carried our South America safety hiking kit with us - sticks and rocks.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF BUTCH CASSIDY AND SUNDANCE KID
It would have been impossible to visit Tupiza and not to hear two names: Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. Those two were American notorious outlaws who lived by the turn of the 19th and 20th century and were known for bank robbing and train robbing. After committing several crimes, they had to leave the USA and fled to South America.
First to Argentina and then to Bolivia where they met their end when they were recognized and subsequently killed by the Bolivian army. Although it did not happen in Tupiza but in a nearby small mining town San Vicente it is believed that they moved around dramatic red valleys near Tupiza a lot, and it's why every single travel company invite travelers from all around the world to follow in the footsteps of those two anti-heroes.
CLIMB THE HILLS TO ENJOY SUNSET
Where else get the true sense of the place than from viewpoints overlooking the town. You don't need to climb up Cerro de la Cruz, but any hill around Tupiza will provide you with excellent views. The best time for a walk is around sunset to see the red formations around turning red.
HIKING AROUND TUPIZA
Several agencies (with a sign tourist information) we visited refused to provide us with the map of the area saying it is only for their customers (well, we believe that their clients don't need a plan because they have tour guide), but you can use Google maps or Maps.me app to see trails around Tupiza, and you can navigate yourself safely.
Several interesting rock formations are dispersed around Tupiza, and unless you don't want to spend here longer to explore the area thoroughly, we can recommend you to take the one day hike we did. It is not necessary to use public transport (unless you want to), you don't need to pay any fees, and overall you will have a nice day out. On this day, you will visit Canon del Duende, Valle de Los Machos, Puerta del Diablo and Canon del Inca. It is a picturesque hike where you'll be wandering around the area which might remind you American Wild West.
In Tupiza, find the old rail tracks and follow them in the south direction. You'll be walking along the tracks for approximately twenty minutes until you reach a place where you can either carry on straight or turn right. In case you want to skip this unappealing and a bit tiring part, you can take a collectivo running along the street for Bs 2. Turn right and walk on the road around newly built houses and dump station. To get to the first stop Canon del Duende, follow the main road (there is a little traffic), climb the short hill and right after you will see a dirt road on your right. Leave the main road and follow the dusty one to enter the canyon. Here, you can walk as far and as long as you please.
To get from Canon del Duende to Valle de Los Machos and Canon del Inca, you must walk back the same way you came and turn left just before the developing area. There is no sign but you should not have a problem to find it as all trails are marked in the map. Follow the trail lined with cacti trees (you can make sure you walk right when you see horse poop on the trail) and once you cross a short hill and get down, turn left - you'll be walking through Valle de Los Muchachos to Canon del Inca.
Once you'll have enough pictures of the red rock formations, you can walk back, and on the spot where you emerged from Canon del Duende, go left. Walk through spectacular Puerta del Diablo, turn left and follow the dusty trail until you get on the paved road, walk around another dump station and get to Tupiza from the opposite side. The whole trek is approximately 20 kilometers long and will take five or six hours to finish.
HOW TO GET TO AND FROM TUPIZA
Although Tupiza still doesn't have a firm position on every traveler's itinerary, it is fairly easy to get there by bus (or also by train). From La Paz, you will have to change buses in Oruro, but there are direct buses from other cities such as Potosi, Sucre or Uyuni. From Tupiza, there is also a connection to Bolivia's wine region represented by the city of Tarija, or you can carry on to Argentina which is accessible via Villazon.
WHERE TO STAY IN TUPIZA
One advice first. In case you would arrive in Tupiza early in the morning (like we did at 4 AM), you can check-in in the hotel (in case they have a room available), but to get in, do not ring on the doorbell, but knock hard otherwise no one will hear you. When it comes to accommodation, Tupiza has several decent options for every budget.
Budget: Anexo Mitru - a central hostel with good wifi, clean facilities and more than decent breakfast for the price.
Mid-range: Hotal La Torre - reasonably priced hotel with comfortable beds, great reviews, and location which is hard to beat.
Luxury: El Grano de Oro Hotel - Tupiza don't have many luxurious hotels, so if you are looking for a treat, this hotel is your best bet.
TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
We never leave our home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip.
World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover your trip essentials. Don't forget to arrange your insurance before arriving in Bolivia!