Discovering Tupiza, Bolivia’s Secret Red Rock Canyon

Tucked into a desolate corner between Tarija and Uyuni, lies the red rock canyon of  Tupiza, Bolivia. It is a place like Mars or the moon, or so the people say who have never been to either. What I can tell without conviction, it does resemble the famed red-rock canyon. The one in the North American state of Utah.

We stand in the middle of distinguished rock formations and I chuckle over the irony of our location. For nothing more than the cost of Bolivia’s over-priced gasoline we stand in the middle of stunning red canyons. Canyons that I once believed were unique to the American SouthWest. No entrance fees, no permits, no required guides, no tourists…just red rock canyons.

It reminds me of our days in Peru when we learned about Colca Canyon. A canyon supposedly deeper than America’s iconic Grand Canyon. Yet, we had suspiciously never heard of it before. This lead to me wandering around wondering. Why is South America shrouded in natural beauty kept secret from a world who would love to see it?

This place hosts a startling rawness that makes it feel like we are among the first people to see it. Other than the landmarks named for tourism like the Puerta del Diablo (the Devil’s door), Canon del Inca (Canyon of the Incas), and Valle de Los Machos (Valley of the  Males) ; there is no sign of government infrastructure. The roads are unpaved and dusty, the scrappy trees unmanicured. The points of interest are without legible signage and the paths unmarked. Except for the dusty footprints of horses who trod before us.

It is a wild place that does not even seem to have an official name. In fact, as far we have seen, it is not being promoted even from nearby tourism destinations. In other words, unless you land here as an overnight stop to Uyuni, it’s likely travelers would never know of its existence.

That was indeed our plan, to simply catch our z’s in Tupiza, while en route to Bolivia’s most famous attraction: the Uyuni Salt Flats. But, from the moment we came around the bend outside of town, we felt the allure of the canyons. We asked about camping but learned that the toasty days still turn into frosty nights. So, we checked into our hostel for 5 nights rather than 1. We spent all of these days around Tupiza. Even through a national holiday, traipsing around the backroads and trying not get lost in the desert countryside.

What we saw were glimpses of the earth’s creation, like we’ve never seen before. Winding roads that scaled to the tippy tops of jagged mountains. Then, plunged down again to the rocky, riverbeds of echoing canyons. Mile after mile without a trace of other humans. Vistas that enhanced our comprehension of weather and terrain. Imagine a snow cloud dusting massive cacti perched on shards of earth pointing into the sky. Scenery so incredible it often left us speechless.

The kids were at such peace here. Without any persuasion or introduction, they were naturally drawn to investigate one hundred rocks or more. And, then to throw their voices high and low into the surrounding landscapes, testing the power of sound and space through echo.

Carlos and I were content to push the limits of our beloved Landcruiser, Magma. Once more, she performed without hesitation, taking us wherever we dreamed to go.

The city of Tupiza, Bolivia and her cradle of red-rock canyons are a lesser known South America destination. They should not be missed, particularly for those who love undisturbed nature and off the beaten path adventures. For those who love Utah (like I do), it’s a fun place to make a comparison about opposite ends of the Americas.

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3 Replies to “Discovering Tupiza, Bolivia’s Secret Red Rock Canyon”

  1. Wow, what a place. And we were probably quite close to it. What’s the altitude there?
    Gorgeous photos, especially the one below “trying not get lost in the desert countryside”

    1. Hi, Alison! Yes, it sure is a special place…and you very well might have driven right past it! I think many people do and have no idea. Thank you for the compliments. 🙂

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