Buenos Aires

People rave about Buenos Aires, so I didn’t want to like it. Yes, I’m that contrary. But when we arrived I couldn’t help but feel happy. The graffiti, the Carnaval parades, the faded red velvet seats in wooden subway carriages, the chaos of people at Retiro station, the dirty streets. It felt like a real city; the people looked tired just through sheer will of having to live in a place like this. It was like a sunnier, more colourful London. I almost felt at home.

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A postcard from the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago

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A visit to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA) in Santiago is almost worth it just for the first floor lobby. Topped by a glass cupola, it’s an expansive and impressive space which lets in light to better view its striking collection of statues. The museum hosts temporary exhibits from modern artists on the second floor, as well as a collection of paintings from Chilean and international artists. All in all, the collection is rather sparse, and a ticket to the fine arts museum doesn’t also get you into the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. Still, it’s a tranquil space and a nice escape from the wide, car-filled streets outside.

Located in Parque Forestal by the Bellas Artes metro stop. It’s in the same building, but with its entrance on the opposite side, as the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo (MAC).
Cost is C$300 for adults, children under 13 free and free for all on Sundays.
Opening hours are Tues-Sun 10am-7pm.

Corea Town

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I spent three years in Seoul, South Korea, during which time I took for granted what is probably the heartiest food on the planet. I miss galbi (갈비, barbecue) gimbap (김밥, Korean sushi), boiling stews (찌게), dolsat bimimbap (돌솥비빔밥, rice and vegetables, still cooking, served in a hot stone bowl) and having kimchi with every meal. Fortunately there’s a proper Korean restaurant in La Paz.

Corea Town, located on 2132 Avenida Arce, is the most authentic Korean restaurant I’ve eaten at outside of the Republic of Korea. You will pay for this authenticity (around 60 bolivianos for a stew or bibimbap) but if you’re going to splurge, it’s worth it.

Every detail, down to stone bowls, is just right. A generous helping of typical Korean side dishes is served with the meal. Only the tiny potatoes remind you you’re in Bolivia. The chopsticks are wooden, not metal, but it’s nothing to get worked up about when the rice, vegetables and soft tofu are prepared faithfully. Most Korean favorites, such as nengmyeon (냉면, cold, spicy noodles), jaeuk (제육, spicy pork) and samgyeopsal (삼겹살 , strips of fatty pork, barbecued and eaten with rice and lettuce or sesame leaf) are available. There’s even soju (소주, sweet potato liquor) if you’d like a real Korean hangover to go with your meal.
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Prices start from 30 Bolivianos for a main dish.

Looking for more Asian food? Try Chifa Dragon and Vinapho.

Córdoba

We ran from ATM to ATM, each one with a line longer than the last, until finally we gave in and decided to wait like everyone else. Soon enough though, we realized why the lines were so long. The machines were about to be closed for siesta. Not just the bank, but the ATMs themselves were to be closed between 2 and 4. This is traditional Argentina. This is Córdoba.

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Hiking la Muela del Diablo

The Devil’s Tooth.

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3,825m above sea level, this rocky outcrop overlooks La Paz to the North-West, Zona Sur to its North and Mallasa (and the Valle de la Luna) to its South-West.

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From Jupapina, we shared a taxi ride with some of the other Up Close Bolivia volunteers, to the north face of the Muela (60 bolivianos). It was a little hair-raising at times (especially for the person riding in the boot of the taxi), because the roads ascending through the small villages were in poor condition and we frequently had to stop and reverse along bumpy dirt tracks.

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At the final village we got out, thanked our driver for not killing us and began walking towards the Muela.

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It was a perfect day for hiking. Clouds studded the sky giving us a little shelter from the sun and insulating us against cold wind. Snow had recently fallen on the peaks of the Cordillera Real highlighting them in the distance. Far below we could see the Pigsty, the Bird House and the Green House where we all lived whilst volunteering.

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It looked as if we could just walk straight across the valley to them. But we soon realised how deceiving the landscape was once we started hiking east along the ridgeline – it took us about three hours before we found a place to descend, and another hour to reach the valley floor. By this point we had passed Jupapina long before and had to walk along the road in the dark (armed with stones to scare away dogs). We finally got a ride back along the road to get home and just made it in time for the tea and cakes being prepared for us.

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Getting to the Muela is easy: a taxi will get you the closest, or for a cheaper option take a minibus heading to Los Pinos from Zona Sur and walk the rest of the way up (40mins to 1 hour walk). You can either ask your taxi driver to wait (extra charge of course) or walk back down through the villages to Zona Sur.

If you choose to hike along the ridgeline, take plenty of water, snacks and sun/wind protection because there is nothing along the way until you reach the valley bottom. There are no signs to show the route but the path is fairly clear. At two different points you will come to a barbed wire fence: climb over and continue (it’s meant for cattle not people). After the second fence (see picture above) begin descending, taking particular care as some sections of the path may have been damaged by landslides after rain.

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Make sure you have enough time to complete the hike! You don’t want to get stuck out here after dark. Plus the last minibus back to La Paz leaves at about 6:30pm, and it will likely be very crowded.

For a well-planned day out, I suggest going in the morning, eating a packed lunch at the Muela or along the ridgeline somewhere and then getting dinner on the outdoor terrace of the duck restaurant down in the valley. If you’re too late to get a bus home you can call a taxi from the restaurant to take you back to La Paz.

3 cool things in the Museo de Estancia Jesuitica, Alta Gracia

We went to Alta Gracia as a day trip from Cordoba. The town started out as a Jesuit estate and much of the tourism here is based around visiting the ruins (and Che Guevara’s childhood home).

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The museum, housed in the 17th-century Jesuit quarters, has a collection of artifacts relating to both the history of the building and local life through the ages.

These are three of my favourite items, discovered as we wandered up and down stairs and in and out of Jesuits’ cells.

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A gaucho’s stool made out of cattle bones.

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The ceramic water purification system used in the 19th-century.

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A gaucho’s cow udder bag.

Museum entrance fee: ARS$5
How to get there: take a bus from Cordoba, ARS$28 return fare. Tourist maps available from the bus station in town.

A postcard from Mirador Killi Killi

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Built inside a canyon, La Paz is a city of stunning views. Illimani sits in the distance, much more majestic than any George Lucas CGI’d triple waterfall. It never fails to be a source of awe when it pops into view as you step out from one of the city’s many narrow streets. It’s no wonder the indigenous people have worshipped it for thousands of years (I didn’t actually look that up, but it’s probably true).

One of the best places to get a view of the mighty mountain and a 360 degree view of the city itself is Mirador Killi Killi.

Killi Killi is also the site from which the Spanish controlled city was monitored during the siege led by Tupac Katari in 1781. Don’t worry though, because he died a long time ago and the siege is over.

Located in Villa Pabón, the site is free to visit and and has bathrooms (for a small fee) and a playground for your hyperactive children.

Transport in La Paz

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Taxi

This is the quickest option. I know it’s hard to believe, but some taxi drivers overcharge foreigners, so make sure you negotiate the price before you leave. The driver can tell you’re a foreigner even if you aren’t wearing stripey hippie pants and standing by Sagarnaga street. Also, make sure it’s a licensed taxi if you don’t want to risk getting EXPRESS KIDNAPPED. If you’re lucky, the front seat will have a seat belt. The back seats will not, but take comfort in the fact that the driver isn’t wearing one either as he passes on the right and runs red lights.

Train

You’re in the wrong city! Try Santiago, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.

Minibus

Always wished you were a little bit taller? You won’t as your head hits the ceiling while the driver goes over a bump. More like a van than a bus, this is the most intimate of travel choices. Passengers often greet those seated with a “Buenas tardes” as they board. This is because they’re probably going to be cozily squeezed between a couple of them. Probably the safest of travel options as the driver has to frequently slow down to pick up passengers. No, there aren’t any seat belts, but if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll have to rent a car. Look at the sign in the front window to see where the bus is going. Failing that, listen for the fare collectors shouting the destinations out the open door.

Microbus

Despite the name, microbuses are actually the largest type of intra-city transport. Usually blue or yellow, they are bigger than minibuses, but smaller than your average bus back home. When the seats fill up it’s standing room only. This is the slowest and cheapest of transport options. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re really broke, or if you’re in a hurry and the minibuses and trufis are all full.

Trufi

This is really just a mini-bus disguised as a taxi. Trufis, which also advertise their destinations with a sign in the front window, run set routes like buses, the only difference is that they’re generally a bit faster as they don’t stop as often to let people on and off. They’re ever so slightly more expensive than mini-buses, but the difference is negligible unless you’re on a really tight budget. And if you are on a really tight budget, well you knew that this job only paid 30 bolivianos an hour when you signed up.

Bicycle

It was nice knowing you. It’s honestly safer to cycle on this road.

Foot

La Paz is a great city in which to take a stroll if you’re training for the Olympics. The altitude combined with the hills will put you in peak physical condition, which you’ll need to fight off food poisoning. The cobblestone streets can be slippery, so I wouldn’t recommend parkour. Keep in mind that crosswalks are merely for decoration.