Tupiza, hiking the Inca Canyon in Bolivia

2014-02-11 11.31.03

04-07/02/2014

Born around the year 1535, nestled in a valley alongside the river in between precarious mountain slopes, hidden from the cold high altitude wind and settled on the ancestral grounds of the Chichas tribe, the village of Tupiza is a short pause on our travel schedule.  It’s a town with a relax atmosphere and rural ambient where nice and friendly are a daily obviousness.  After an overnight bus ride, coming from Uyuni, we arrive very early in the morning.  At 4 0’clock no hostel opens their doors for us so we lay down our camping mat at the bus station and sleep till the first ray of light resuscitates the life in the streets.  Fast we find a nice hostel with a cosy indoor patio that offers us a private room for the right price.  Tupiza, as many of the villages in the area, outcries the lost grandeur it once had as a miners paradise.  Great buildings showing off majestic towers with diverse architectural features at the town square expresses a past of welt while decaying with the passing of the time.

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And still, settled at the shore of the Tupiza River, the village did not fade away in time did not turn into a ghost village as many others did.  Agriculture took over from mining activities and could maintain the small population.  This area has rich landscapes with gorges, canyons and valleys that makes you feel like being in a western movie and a high but small mountain pass and bizarre rock formations amplifies the effect in settings such as those found in the Valle De Los Machos and the Inca Cañon.

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Popular and a great attraction are horseback excursions made to the hypothetical tomb of the legendary bandits Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, in the neighbour village San Vicente.  Another important tourist attraction of this town is the ‘Fiesta De Reyes’ to be held in the district of Remedios January 6.  Walking through the centre we become aware of the unwinding ambient here as trifling markets with vendors having time for a chat and a laugh meddle with happy children running on the streets and passageways and as young and old friends in the shade of carefully well-trimmed trees come daily play some kind of local billiard at an almost forgotten little square.  It feels good to see how simple live can be and how happy it can make people.

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Talking with the locals they tell us that there is a nice hike to do in which we can appreciate the full range of bizarre vicissitudes that erosion offers.  First the adventurous hiker walks the old railroad, then a turn to the right leaving Tupiza River behind him to pass through the ‘Cañon del Duende’.  El ‘Cañon Del Inca’ as a hike is not difficult but rather a long resistance test on the human body as both the solar radiation and the dry hot breeze brings you to your limits.  Once passed the Puerta Del Diablo (gate of the devil) where the sun high in the sky, shining luminous on the rocks, highlights the almost Valentino-red colour of the canyons but does not offer much shade to cool down.  Tower high cactus and some local thorn armed bushes are the only vegetation able to make it through the summer.

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With the devil left behind, scenery of incredible rock formations beautifies the abruptness of the ‘Valle De Los Machos’ as the hiker keeps on penetrating the purgatory.  A bit further the soil seems moist, and moist changes into wet by a hairbreadth and some few steps further wet becomes a tiny flow.  This micro river continually absorbed by the dry and thirsty soil grows by ever footstep the hiker advances into the narrowing gulch and ends up into a minor but very welcome cascade at Inca Canyon.  Clothes are taken off and a fresh shower in the canyon with no other soul around is a priceless reward for doing this hike.

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Our recommendation:

  • Hostal Pedro Arraya is a nice place to stay, close to both bus- and train station and the centre of Tupiza.  It has a small kitchen for you use but closes quite early on the evening (20:00hours!).  A good internet connection and comfortable rooms and dorms (without lockers) to spend some nights.  We paid 35 Bs a person per night in a private room.  The hostal offers tours and tickets for transport to the border.
  • The Cañon Del Inca trail is beautiful and cost nothing. Be aware to take enough water, suncream, food, …
  • For travellers heading for Argentina, use the banks and ATMs (most have the option for local bolivianos or American dollars) to obtain dollars as in Argentina changing a dollar on the street gives you about 25 till 45% more value for your money. Big notes of 50 and 100 are getting the best rate. Look for the wright rate at twitter (@DolarBlue) or on the internet comparing the many websites.  The same story for those traveling with euros (max 200€ notes!).
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