La Paz to Uyuni, Bolivia: The worst flight ever

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Once upon a time, a travel writer (yours truly) who has flown on everything from a blimp to sea plane to a jumbo jet finally boarded what would be the worst flight of her entire life–and frankly, can’t say she was even the least bit surprised at the outcome.

It all started while planning a trip to South America. Thanks to some Google Images (a great way to come up with a trip itinerary, by the way!) I decided that a major detour from Peru to Bolivia was well worth it to take in the incredible Uyuni Salt Flats. Let’s just say it was great idea in theory, and poor in execution (as all great stories go).

We had a two hour layover in La Paz, Bolivia after flying in from Cusco, which turned out to be more like three and a half hours when the plane failed to show up at our gate with no explanation. Little did we know, the fun was just beginning. The Amazonas plane finally pulled onto the runway, and 18–yes, only 18–of us excitedly handed over our boarding passes and walked across the tarmac to the plane. I didn’t think much of it when one girl stopped to take a photo of the rather small jet, but as soon as I got inside I realized we were in trouble.

You could not stand up inside.

Passengers crouch as they make their way down the aisle.

Passengers crouch as they make their way down the aisle.

Think about that for a second. You could not stand up. The nine rows were made up of one seat on each side of the plane, and three across the back (hubby and I got the back three). Everyone was giggling as they crouched down in the aisle, slinking towards their seats, and plopped their carry-ons into the aisle. There were obviously no overhead bins, bathroom, flight attendant or drink service. No matter, it was only a one hour flight, right?


And hence began the worst flight of my entire life.

I have never had the privilege of being on a private jet, but I imagine they’re about the size of the one we boarded. So WHY ON EARTH was there so much TURBULENCE on this one?! It began immediately, and I was hoping it was just because we were ascending. No, no, my friends. It lasted the Entire. Hour. I know turbulence doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but imagine being tossed around, your stomach dropping like you’re on a roller coaster, wedged into a tiny seat with no air, for one hour. After only about 10 minutes I was feeling awfully queasy, and began eying the ‘barf bag’ the airline so kindly tucked into the seat in front of me. After 15 minutes…I had to use it.

Yup, for the first time ever, I lost my lunch on an airplane. Then lost it again. And again. By now, the Germans in front were passing their barf bags back to my husband, who was doing his best to comfort me as he tried to control his own retching stomach. Oh, and did I mention that I actually missed the bag at one point, and ended up getting you-know-what all over my jeans, arms, hair and shirt? Of course, there was nothing around to clean it up with.

Grossed out yet? Great, there’s more! Between rounds of you-know-what, I glanced up to see the men in the four rows in front of me all fanning their wives with airline booklets, trying to keep the hot flashes at bay as we all got sicker and sicker. I don’t know what it was about us gals, but we were dyin’ in there! Finally, after what I can confidently say was the longest hour of my life, we landed. Oh sweet, sweet tarmac we made it. I have to admit, at one point I didn’t even care if our crappy old plane crashed: I just wanted it to be over.

The Amazonas plane.

The Amazonas plane.

The kicker is that after limping into the teeny airport on shaky legs, passing other passengers who were basically curled up on the floor trying to fathom what we’d all just been through, I made my way to the bathroom to clean up. And what did I find there? Umm, nothing. Yup, no soap, no toilet paper, no hand towels, nothing. Bolivia is pretty awesome sometimes.

So there you have it. I can now say I have been on the worst flight ever. I know that there is a God, because on the flight back to La Paz there were about 50 passengers, meaning we got a big plane and a smooth, easy flight. My advice? If you ever make the trek out to the salt flats and find out you’re due to get on the tiny plane–take the 12 hour bus ride instead.

Have you ever had a terrible flight? Share your story below!


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21 Responses

  1. Oh dear!! That sounds likes a truly horrendous experience. You poor things! Don’t think we could get on a plane so small…. Thanks for the tip – we’ll be sure to take the slow road to keep our lunch down.

  2. TheTravelHack says:

    Oh you poor thing, this sounds absolutely horrific.
    I totally feel your pain as I always get travel sick (although I’ve never been on a plane that sounds this bad!)
    I think from now on I’ll always carry wet wipes, just in case!

  3. Oh no Monica, you get travel sick all the time? I’m a big believer on having Gravol on hand now, but wet wipes sound like a great idea too! Wise Monkeys, I’ve heard the buses in Bolivia aren’t the greatest depending on the route, so if you do choose to do that make sure you don’t sit in the back, as that’s where it’s the bumpiest!

  4. Tom & Kelly says:

    You should try the bus journey! I think that route is traumatic whichever way you tackle it haha

  5. That sounds horrible! I’ve been trying to decided whether to fly to Uyuni or take the bus. I was worried about the overnight bus ride being too uncomfortable for me, but this post helped me make up my mind- bus it is!

  6. Naga says:

    Hi Tamara, Thank you for your post. I was about to book this flight as I wanted over night rest before the salt flat tour. I was not decided for long whether to take the overnight bus or the flight. Perhaps the bus is way better provided there are no roadblocks and reach well in time to go for the tour. I am really sorry for what you had to endure during the longest hour of your life. Hope you never get through that situation again.

    • Thanks Naga! As I mentioned, the flight is fine if you’re lucky enough to get booked on one of the newer, larger, normal planes like we did on the way back. Hopefully there’s a way to see what your options are first, so you don’t end up on the same horrible flight I did!

  7. Abel says:

    I am thinking about taking this flight on my trip to the Salt Flats. I will risk the air sickness as I a limited time and can’t afford to spend 10 hours on a bus. My question is in regard to the Baggage Policy on the plane you flew on, does the plane have check-in baggage allowance? Or do you do only have space for carry-on or backpacks? Thanks.

  8. A fellow Bolivian says:

    Hi, as a Bolivian I am shocked that you didn’t expect this. Since I know most tourists just by the wind in La Paz, can foresee this. Since the turbulence is because of the great winds that La Paz, (You know the city with a big altitude??), has. Plus all the states in Bolivia have a great altitude… Anyways.
    Also, I just read your article about Copacana. And Honey! There are so many great things to do in the small town! I have seen tourists have a hella time of their lives over there. I believe that you just got lazy with your research prior to your trip and shy to ask people around. Like you mentioned, you went to the restaurant with most tourists. Why didn’t you ask them? There is a club in Copacabana. Then don’t forget about the calvary? Plus there is always fortune tellers around the town and the little market. Did you at least visit the church? DO you the Virgin Mary is surrounded by real gold? Next time you go somewhere in South America, research things to do prior to your trip. And a tip. Why not try the food from the town instead of getting the typical “Desayuno Americano” of eggs and bread. Anyways, got finals to study for… or else I would have written a long asf essay.

  9. paul says:

    “newer, larger, normal planes” – no, it was turbulence.

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