A friend who lives in La Paz said that there was a train, which ran once a month, I could take to visit the Tiwanaku ruins which are around 70km outside La Paz. I was keen to visit as the site predates the Incas and the civilisation came into prominence around 600BC. If you can’t take the train then the ruins are easily done in a day trip with busses leaving the El Alto bus station, I know people who did this and it’s a good budget option, or alternatively you can take a tour. Getting the bus is much cheaper, the entrance fee to the ruins is 100bs and you can hire a guide for 130bs. I paid 80bs for the train but I was happy to do so as I’ve not been on a train yet in South America and those of you who know me will know that my favourite foe, of transport is travelling by train. I also liked the idea of the extra stop at Lake Titicaca which is a place where western tourists don’t tend to go. If you are interested in this trip you can find out more here.
The train was due to leave El Alto at 8am, there is no station as there is no regular train service to La Paz, more the train just pulls up in the middle of the street. I awoke at 6am to get in my taxi for 6:30 and arrived at 7:30. I was a little hesitant to get out of the taxi but there were people milling around and food stalls. The taxi driver asked if this was the place and some of the people waiting comforted it was so I paid and waited for the train.As I said there is no station so just look for the people. You will find it hard to miss the train when it arrives. It wasn’t there when I arrived.
So I waited on the street and 8am arrived and went, more people were arriving and things can sometimes run a little late in Bolivia. Then 8:30 came, and 9am. I started to become a little anxious and found some Germans who had the same tickets as me. I couldn’t see anyone official around to ask, there were people but they were fairly discreet and I did find this throughout the day. It was difficult to find people to ask where to go and what time to be back for the train. The Germans told me that there was a reported problem with the train but it was on its way. I was also told that this wasn’t usual and it’s normally ontime-hopefully if you do take the train this won’t happen to you.i can’t really complain as I’ve had good luck with my transport so far.
The train finally arrived around 9:30am and it was huge. We boarded and it took around half an hour to get everybody on, so the train left around 10am. I was annoyed that I had had to awaken so early and to pay for an expensive taxi only to wait around in the cold for two hours but we were now moving and I wanted to make the most of the experience.
Above are shots from the train window as we left El Alto. I really love the mountains in the background especially how they look when you see them next to industry. I’ve said it before but everything is better with mountains.
One thing that I didn’t capture is all of the people who stopped what they were doing to watch, photograph, film the train passing. Boys who were playing football, bus passengers, car drivers, passers by all got out and waved and smiled. Train is the best form of transport and rare to find in Bolivia. This only runs once a month so it was fun to wave at everyone out the window and see their smiles.
We left the city behind and passed through another town where we stopped to pick up more passengers before heading into the open countryside.
So I expect the question you are all asking is what is the model of the train and what did it look like. Well the first question I can’t help with but the second question look no further!
It took around three hours to get to Tiwanaku, which is much longer than the bus, as the train is not the high speed kind we are used to in Europe. The only problem is that we arrived around 1pm which was much later than scheduled. If everything runs on time you only have around 90mins to view the site which is tight but doable but our time was cut short.
The first thing I had to do was to buy a ticket, at the cost of 100bs, it’s 15bs for locals and there is a theme in South America where they charge tourists much more which is starting to annoy me. I wish they were just discrete about it and local people also have said, unprompted, that it’s not fair. But let’s not get into an argument about prices as this is an observation more than a complaint. The ticket took about 20mins to buy and there were four sites I could visit. Two of these were museums so I ignore this and went to the biggest ruins. I didn’t have a guide so I didn’t have to opportunity to learn much but the site is fascinating. I’m going to read up so I’ll add in more once I learn what each thing is. I may even caption some of the photos one day.
One of the striking things about the site is the statues. There is a wall of faces in one of the temples and big statues in the biggest ruins of the temple.
I tried to take my time as much as possible as I wanted to reach the second site but as I reached the exit and brought a bottle of water the train started looking like it was ready to leave and not wanting to be left behind I climbed aboard.
The train continued its journey through the spectacular landscape for another hour until we reached Lake Titicaca. We went to a part that is popular with Bolivians but is not offers visited by tourists. In all honestly there is no tonnes to do here. There were some restaurant buildings and a museum that were closed but there were plenty of stalls selling food that if you’ve been anywhere in Bolivia then you will be used to them.
The highlight is a boat ride on the lake and lots of people were jumping on boats. I was quoted 40bs for a ride and hesitated taking another look around. I returned to the boats and this time was ushered on without paying. Afterwards I took out 40bs I order to pay and I was told by a fellow passenger that is should be 5bs. I gave the woman 20bs and got 10bs back. I considered that a win. But below are the photos I took fro,he boat and it’s worth doing as the scenery is stunning.
Back at the port I had a little time to kill and took advantage of the scene art to shoot some more photos.
The train departed around 5pm and took four hours to return to El Alto. The train dropped us in the same place that we started and El Alto is not the kind of place where you want to be after dark. There were no taxis or minibuses there to meet us so I headed quickly to the biggest road and within seconds flagged a taxi heading to the yellow line. I arrived at 9:15 and annoyingly the line closes at 9pm on a Sunday. There wasn’t really anything for it but to take another expensive taxi back to Jupapina. All in all it was a very long but fun day, although I’d think twice about getting the train if you are not really into train journeys.