Our Man in La Paz: James Brunker

Aracari Travel. Discovering Bolivia

At Aracari, we are not just known for our expertise on travel in Peru; we have been arranging luxury trips to Bolivia for years now, and it is a destination that we highly recommend to those with a sense of adventure and a love of nature and culture. With increasing interest in travel to Bolivia, we have recently begun collaborating with an expert there, our insider in La Paz who coordinates travel services and ensures that Aracari guests are taken care of during their journeys.

Our man in La Paz is James Brunker, born in England (Kent to be exact), who has lived in the administrative capital since 2004 and is our source of knowledge on all things Bolivia. James greets our clients who travel to Bolivia with a phone call upon arrival and is in touch with them throughout their travels to check on them, explain the itinerary, give information about destinations and answer any questions that may arise. We spoke with James to learn a bit more about him and his insider tips on travel in his adopted home.

About James Brunker

James arrived in Bolivia as a tour guide, splitting his time between Bolivia and Peru with tour groups, until his interest in the city of La Paz drew him to try living there (a decision which he also credits to his wife who lives there). James began working in tourism right out of college as a raft and kayaking guide in the Austrian Alps before moving on to trekking and more general tourism activities, traveling for tours in Spain, China, Nepal, Costa Rica, Cuba, Panamá, Ecuador, Patagonia (Argentina / Chile), and of course, Peru and Bolivia.

Now James spends most of his time in Bolivia working as a freelance photographer, which began as a hobby he developed during his years traveling as a tour guide. Visiting the same places so frequently, James explains that he began to take photos in order to gain a new perspective on the sites and landscapes that had become so familiar to him in order to find the shot that was unique from the usual tourist photos. Since then, James has developed his portfolio, capturing images of landscapes, culture, daily life and festivals. You can see James’ galleries of stock photos on his website, Magical Andes.

Over the past few years he has been working for Getty Images Latin America, covering international football matches in Bolivia along with World Cup and Copa Libertadores (South American club competition) qualifiers. In addition, he photographs general news, and when they occur, visits of foreign leaders or celebrities to Bolivia.

La Paz from an Insider Perspective

Having lived there for a decade, James is our go-to for insider tips, especially on La Paz, a city he describes as incredibly unique for its views, geographical set-up (1,000m difference in altitude from high and low points), and the mix of atmospheres between political capital, sprawling indigenous street market and commercial center. Additionally, the diversity of the people, from all sectors of society in Bolivia adds to the feeling of La Paz being a melting pot of Bolivian culture. The recently constructed cable car takes advantage of the altitude (La Paz sits at 3,650m/11,975ft) and offers spectacular views of the city.

For travelers to La Paz, there are many restaurants and bars to choose from, which we have listed in our resources for our guests. Many of these were recommended by James, who feels that Bolivian gastronomy is often overlooked and has much to offer in the way of cuisine.

James’ recommendations for getting to the heart of La Paz? Exploring the street markets that give La Paz so much character from the famous Witches Market that sells statues, charms and medicinal plants to handicraft stalls behind the San Francisco Church. And for those willing to venture into the popular local markets, just about anything – from fruits and vegetables to clothes – can be found at good and negotiable prices. The markets in the center offer much as well,  (borrowing James’ words) from, “typical skirts, shawls and bowler hats worn by the ladies or ‘cholitas’, tools, toys, mobile phones, computers and all manner of electronic goods, coca leaves, fancy dress costumes etc etc!”

James’ Tips on Travel in Bolivia

Bolivia has intense landscapes that make it stunning to behold but can also make travel there a challenge. As James describes it, the “rugged terrain and relative lack of infrastructure has always made getting around difficult.”

Though the roads and airlines have improved in recent years, he recommends that travelers come to Bolivia prepared for delays and remain open to modifications to travel plans. As he expressed, a sense of humor and patience are necessary. Bolivia is still developing, and part of the challenge of traveling there is also the reward: in many destinations that are yet untapped by tourism, there is the sense of intimacy with the destination in which there are no other travelers to be found- as if it is all yours! The landscape and wilderness are unparalleled and worth the trouble to access them.

Some of James favorite destinations in Bolivia? Salar de Uyuni, the sprawling salt flats and Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in the Amazon are two of James’ favorite places to visit in the country. In addition, he lists Sajama National Park near the Chilean border and the Lipez provinces in the far southwest of Bolivia as some of his top picks. But, James added, “I’m sure there are locations on my ‘to visit’ list that will challenge these when I finally get to see them…”

Much remains to be explored in Bolivia! For those interested in travel to Bolivia with Aracari, you can rest assured that you will be in good hands with James, our man in La Paz. For more information about a journey to this enigmatic and adventurous destination, contact us for details.

To see some of James’ fine prints online, you can check the gallery here: James Brunker Art

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