In influencer circles, Tyson Wheatley is the man. A former CNN boss based out of Hong Kong, he was influential in getting Instagram off the ground in the first place, working for a year at their HQ in San Francisco. We sent Tyson on an Intrepid trip in Bolivia – from the volcanic lakes of the Alitplano to the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni – to capture the beauty of the country and find out what makes it tick. If you’re debating Bolivia vs Peru vs Ecuador for your next South American adventure, this might just tip the scales. Prepare for serious wanderlust.
So Tyson, what’s your story?
I’m a commercial lifestyle and travel photographer based in Brooklyn. I’m part of a collective artist agency called Tinker Street * and I’m most recently developing a podcast about the creative process that I’m really excited about. I’m a dad and a running enthusiast. I’m passionate about travel and discovering cultures different than my own.
Out of all South America, why did you want to travel to Bolivia?
Bolivia stood out, in part, because of how little I knew about it. I was particularly keen to explore Bolivia’s unique and diverse landscape first hand and learn as much as I could about the Bolivian people – what food they eat, their history and traditions.
What were you expecting there?
I try to go into any new travel experience with an open mind but I had pretty high expectations for Bolivia. I expected lots of long, sometimes bumpy, travel days through dramatic terrain – and there certainly was. I also expected cold temperatures at such high elevation – but the weather gods blessed us with very comfortable temperatures. I’d heard the food wasn’t amazing, but we had quite a few incredible local meals – and must have eaten my weight in saltenas. Delicious!
What surprised you?
I was surprised by how untouched much of Bolivia is – the natural beauty of Bolivia is truly astonishing. We were also surprised at how few traces of the “Western World” exist there. We didn’t see a single McDonald’s or any western chain for that matter the entire time.
Three things you learned?
We learned that Bolivia is the only South American country without a coast – although it once did – a source of some still notable bad blood between them and Peru.
We learned of Bolivia’s rich silver mining history and at the beautiful city of Potosi was once the center of the coin minting universe.
We learned that the highest deserts in the world support a diverse ecosystem of wildlife – including llamas, flamingos, and foxes.
What was the highlight of the trip?
For years I’ve dreamed of seeing the Salt Flats near Uyuni and it didn’t disappoint. We spent most of a day exploring the flats, cactus island and for sunset discovered a shallow pool of rain water that created a natural mirroring effect as the sun went down over the mountains. The night, we slept in a simple Bolivian hotel, with walls and beds made of salt bricks and treated to a traditional Bolivian dinner. Its an experience I’ll never forget.
One thing you’d wished you’d known in advance…
I wish I had been better prepared for the adjustment in elevation. Turns out, altitude sickness is a real thing, and the first 48 hours of this trip were spent taking it very slow as our bodies acclimated. Local remedies – like drinking coca tea – helped but if I could do it again I would have brought prescription strength pills with me.