Some 200km southeast of Uyuni, the isolated town of TUPIZA nestles in a narrow, fertile valley that cuts through the harsh desert landscape of the Cordillera de Chichas. Sheltered from the bitter winds of the Altiplano by steep jagged mountains, the town enjoys a comparatively warm climate, while its friendly and laidback inhabitants help make it a popular stop for travellers passing through southern Bolivia. The real attraction, though, is the dramatic desert scenery that surrounds Tupiza, a landscape of red, eroded rock formations, cactus-strewn mountains and deep canyons that is ideal for hiking, mountain biking, horseriding or just touring in a jeep – all of which are easy to arrange in town.
Tupiza was founded in 1535 by the conquistador Diego de Almagro. For most of its history the town’s economy has been dominated by mining operations in the surrounding mountains. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was the base of Carlos Aramayo, one of Bolivia’s biggest mining barons, and the mine payrolls were rich enough to attract the attentions of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who are believed to have died some 100km to the northwest. Today, the mineral deposits are largely exhausted, and Tupiza’s economy depends more on its role as a market centre for the agricultural communities of the surrounding region and, increasingly, on tourism.