Roughly 115 kilometers from La Paz, Desaguadero makes an interesting site, combining natural views with cultural borders.
Taxis, vans and buses to Desaguadero, leave from La Paz main cemetery - roughly half the way down from the Andean High Plateau to the downtown area (which here is literally "down"). The vehicles leave from the Asin Street, near the Cemetery main gate (from the market to the right if looking toward the impressive wall of the plateau). Buses and vans cost 10 BOB, while taxis cost 25 BOB. I strongly recommend choosing the taxis, also for security and visibility of the way. The small, old and beaten taxis carry one passenger in the front, up to three in the back and one or two extra passengers with the luggage. I strongly advise against sitting next to Bolivians or Peruvians, though I’ll refrain from giving specific descriptions. During rush hours the trip can take more than two hours; early in the morning it’s the best time for the adventure.
The taxis leave from here towards the Ballivian Plaza, a secondary access point connecting between La Paz and its twin city, El Alto, which already is on the Andean High Plateau. Once we reached this point, the driver asked from the people sitting in the luggage area to hide, so that the many police in the plaza won't spot them; even here traveling in such a fashion is illegal. After this point was reached, the driver followed a highly irregular route through El Alto, until it reached the narrow two-lane road leading westwards. The road is paved, but in bad conditions, and local drivers simply don’t know how to drive under such circumstances. Apparently they think the horn provides safety while blindly bypassing other vehicles. Avoiding travel after dark is advised.
At the Rio Seco Junction - near El Alto’s west end - the road splits in a "Y" shaped pattern. The right side leads to Copacabana, roughly at the center of the Titicaca shoreline, while the left side leads to Desaguadero, at the very bottom of the lake. The last name roughly means "the place where the water spills out," and refers to the small river taking excessive waters from the lake into the plateau; the river evaporates in the Oruro Department.
The first road – to Copacabana - is more popular with tourists crossing the border to Peru. Beyond the bonus of Copacabana and the Inca islands in the lake, this road offers awesome views of the Cordillera Real. The sights include the Illimani, Mururata, Huayna Potosi, Condoriri and Illampu mountains. Yet, it passes so close to the last three that it's not possible getting a good view of the whole range. However, the road to Desaguadero offers the same views but from a greater distance, letting the traveler enjoy views of whole chunks of this range.
Moreover, on this road, the traveler has a better feeling of how the Andean High Plateau looks; the other road is too close to the mountains delimiting it. The plateau is not exactly flat; it contains undulated hills and slightly tilted: El Alto is higher than the Titicaca shore and that Oruro. Designing the trip so that the two roads would be explored is a good idea.
A few kilometers after leaving El Alto, Laja is reached. This small town is the foundation site of La Paz. Later on, the city was moved to its actual location in the hope its actual location would provide a hotter climate and more gold. Yet, a beautiful colonial cathedral can be still seen here from the road. This is also where the "Pan de Laja" (this is a pita-type of bread popular in La Paz) is produced. A toll gate causes a minor delay here; drivers collect the names of the passengers and hand them to the police manning the spot. There is no privacy here. Shortly after, Tiwanaku can be seen on the right side; unluckily, the ruins cannot be seen from the route.
The next major even along the way is Guaqui. The vehicles stop here for an inspection by the army. Passengers are requested to leave the vehicles and show IDs to the soldiers. Guaqui was in the past the largest port along the Bolivian side of the lake and a railway connected it with La Paz. Nothing is left from that, except for the awesome views of the lake. From here until Desaguadero, the lake can be seen all along the way. The broken line of its shore is breathtaking, especially due to the deep blue color of its waters. Totora creates a spiky separation between the shore and the waters; brownish barren hills allow differentiating between the waters and the skies.
Soon a small town that strangely seems to be located partially over the lake appears. Houses looking like large cubes of Lego-bricks cover the adjacent hills. "Welcome to Desaguadero, the Bi-National City," a sign in Spanish says.