BOLIVIA – Sucre to Potosi to Uyuni by car: Pulacayo is a must stop (and more)

When I visited Bolivia, I decided going by private car from Sucre to Potosi and then from Potosi to Uyuni would be best. This gave me the most flexibility when I was planning my amazing 10-day Bolivia itinerary. I had just 10 days, so everything had to go as planned and slow busses where not an option. Going by plane crossed my mind but then I would miss several places of interest along the way. Make sure picking up some coca candy at the local pharmacy, it will help a lot battling the altitude. For the rest, relax and enjoy the scenery!

Villa de Yotala (and Glorieta Castle)

If you plan to go by car I recommend skipping the Glorieta Castle day trip I covered earlier and make that your first stop of the day. It’s on the way to Potosi and you’ll have plenty of time. It’s a castle with a peculiar history. My pickup at Hotel Villa Antigua was at 10:00 which was early enough to do everything I wanted to see this day.

Villa Yotala is a small town just 20 kilometers out of Sucre and the perfect spot to pick up lunch for a picknick. When I arrived in Villa Yotala it was as if I stepped back in time. Its cobble stone streets lined with colonial houses didn’t change over time. Local traditions play an important role in the locals lives. The town is also famous for its university and arts theatre but as I just had an hour in town I didn’t have the chance to explore much. I picked up lunch and continued to the next stop.

EXTEND YOUR TRIP: If you want to extend your Bolivia itinerary you could add a day in Villa Yotala as it’s a charming old town which didn’t change over time.

 

Puente Arce Suspension Bridge

Puente Arce is a suspension bridge and a must visit if you drive from Sucre to Potosi. You can’t miss it as it’s a huge 200-meter-wide construction over the Pilcomayo River. You can either visit from the top and walk up and down or have the driver drop you at the lower side and pickup you up at the main road again. I stopped at the main road from where I crossed the bridge.

Puente Arce was constructed at the end of the 19th century and recently restored as a heritage site. The bridge is different as any other bridge I have seen because of the style. It has a kind of Renaissance style towers which supports the suspension cables. It served trade routes through Bolivia. The surrounding landscape is beautiful with sandbanks and lots of farm fields. Locals will probably approach you to buy snacks and drinks. As the small village near the bridge lacks facilities I decided to buy a 2nd lunch. I then continued up the Bolivian Altiplano towards Potosi.

Street views Sucre to Potosi

The remainder of the drive from Sucre to Potosi is full of amazing view of the Bolivian Altiplano. Keep in mind the altitude and possible altitude sickness as the day goes from 2800 meters in Sucre to over 4000 meters in Potosi. I was just adjusted in Sucre but did feel it again in Potosi. Not sick, but exercise wasn’t possible for me. It was a beautiful day and the private car gave the me flexibility to make photo stops where I wanted to. In Potosi I stayed at Hotel Coloso Potosi which is a place I recommend. I planned two nights in Potosi on my 10-day Bolivia itinerary which was enough to explore town.

Potosi to Uyuni with Laguna Chacna

Uyuni has a slightly lower altitude as Potosi but along the way some passes are even higher. My first stop was at the mining town called Porco. It’s a small town compared to Potosi and doesn’t see much tourists. My driver however knew his way around and we visited the (private) mining museum, had a look at the mines and the main square. I didn’t go into the mine here as I already entered the one in Potosi. I think, however, a visit inside the Porco mine is much more adventurous. For my business I also wanted to visit he town to buy some raw silver ore.

 

The views from the road when driving from Potosi to Uyuni are even more magnificent as those from Sucre to Potosi. At some point you’ll see a huge green flat area on your right side which is the Laguna Chacna. It’s a beautiful place dotted with alpaca’s as you can see in the photo below. I made a huge gigapixel (read my gigapixel guide) there of which the 2nd photo is just a small part. Close to Uyuni I made the final stop of the day at the old Pulacayo mining town.

Pulacayo mining town

Just 18 kilometers before Uyuni there is a small mining town called Pulacayo which surrounds the Huachuca mines. It’s inscribed as Pulacayo, Industrial Heritage Site, on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Pulacayo was founded in 1833 and quickly became the 2nd largest silver mine in the world with over 6000 inhabitants. Today the mines are closed, and the town and industrial complex is a ghost town. Not a ghost town as the Humberstone Saltpeter Mines in Chile which I visited earlier when I did a 14 days Chile trip because still a few hundred people live in the area. As Pulacayo is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site had to visit as I knew I would not return to the area for a long time.

There is a small entrance fee to be paid to the guards, but it was so small I don’t even remember how much it was. Just after the entrance there are several old trains, much nicer as those at the train graveyard of Uyuni. The train that got robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid can be seen there too. The very first Bolivian locomotive is also on display Aniceto Arce’s house. Aniceto Arce is a former president of Bolivia and was the owner of the Huanchaca mines. It brought a lot of wealth to the area. I was lucky to be able to visit the interior of the house as reconstructions were going on and I could wander around. See some photo’s in the gallery below.

The Huanchaca mines were the first mines where modern steam engines where used and started the industrial revolution. Those machines can still be seen in the refinery, electrical plant and spinning mill. It’s quite a large area but if you just visit the core area it will take around 3 hours to get a good impression. If you visit the interior of the house too add an hour. Pulacayo is a great spot for photography too. I enjoyed my visit and it was already late afternoon when I left to the Luna Salada Salt Hotel where I would stay two nights.

If you’re short on time I highly recommend having a private driver drive you from Sucre to Potosi and from Potosi to Uyuni. A taxi is possible too, but they might not know as much as a private driver and a nice SUV is much more relaxing. It comes at a small price of course. The views from the road are amazing and I’m happy I was able to see more of the Bolivian Altiplano and its country side. Pulacayo was of particular interest just before entering Uyuni where I did a magnificient Uyuni Saltflat tour. Make sure to read my 10 days Bolivia itinerary to see what I did more during the other days.

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Did you visit the Bolivian Altiplano too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Pulacayo and altiplano

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

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