Spanning a multitude of microclimates from the Amazon to the Andes, Bolivia is a vast and untamed country just begging to be explored.
From bustling La Paz, to the Amazon jungle, to the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, you will find some of the most surreal sights on earth in this seldom-visited country. Its iconic sights include Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world; the Salar de Uyuni, highest and largest salt lake on earth; and La Paz, the world’s highest de facto capital.
Bolivia is varied, alive and unforgettable.
La Paz Capital City
La Paz is the highest capital in the world and therefore it is highly recommended to spend a few days getting used to the altitude to prevent altitude sickness. As La Paz is Bolivia’s transportation hub, you will most likely find yourself in La Paz more than once when traveling to other destinations in the country.
La Paz is full of top quality restaurants, colorful markets where you will find Bolivian textiles which are traditionally made with sheep, alpaca, vicuna and llama wool and street art. A must-do is to board a cable car and reach the summit to enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the city.
Very close to La Paz (only 11 km away) is Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), a complex labyrinth of spires and canyons which was created through a process of erosion. It’s a perfect spot to experience the serene atmosphere minutes away from the busy city. You will discover otherworldly views that look like the surface of the moon. Walking along these jagged rock formations will make you think that you’ve just landed on another planet!
Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni is Bolivia’s best-known geological wonder, thanks to its extraordinary white landscape. Widely known as the world’s biggest salt flat, Uyuni is home to some of the most surreal sights on earth, from multi-colored lagoons and glorious peaks, to water-covered surfaces of salt that mirror your own reflection.
The largest continuous salt desert in the world, a natural wonder that extends for 12,000 km², reaching its greatest expression of beauty between the months of January and March, when slightly covered with water, it manages to reflect the clouds of the sky as a perfect mirror.
In the middle of the white plain, the Incahuasi Island, also known as "The Fish Island", constitutes one of the highlights of the salt flat, hiding hundreds of giant cacti that can reach 10 meters in height.
During the colonial era Potosi was one of the most prosperous cities in Bolivia and America, home to the largest silver mine in the world located on the slopes of the mountain known as Cerro Rico, enrichment that permeated the city with luxurious Baroque colonial constructions.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, you can walk through its narrow cobbled streets appreciating the ancient splendor of its colonial buildings, including churches, monasteries, temples, palaces and large houses.
Potosí was the Great Babylon of the seventeenth century. There, everything is measured, and continues to be measured, around Cerro Rico, which, at 4,000 meters above sea level, hides hundreds of galleries of the most important mine in Latin America.
Potosi is also the story of blood and slavery that stained the Andean highlands red. Always at the foot of the hill that is still in operation, it shows us a prodigious architecture, with the surcharge of the Baroque in the various Christian temples and the power of the palaces at the time of the conquest. The Casa del Moneda, known as El Escorial de Bolivia, shows one of the places where millions of coins were minted with silver from Potosi.
The visit to the city is highly recommended, but also the tour of the mines to feel the harshness of the mines by putting on your helmet and entering the galleries to feel for a few hours what life is like in this terrible place and what it really means to be worth a Potosí. Organized visits to the mines are extremely tough, but very necessary to understand an essential part of the history of the American people.
A word of advice:
La Paz, Potosi and Uyuni all are situated at high altitude. Even at 9,800 feet above sea level, the air is a lot thinner and it can take a bit of time to adjust. Although altitude sickness can affect anyone, it’s important that you’re healthy enough to travel, as pre-existing medical conditions can worsen at high altitude. During your trip, ensure you monitor your health carefully and ask your doctor if you can travel to Bolivia.
While Peru and Bolivia both share this highest navigable lake in the world, in my experience a trip to Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side is a must. The Peruvian side is great for the floating islands, but the Bolivian side gives you a more intimate and serene travel experience.
When you are there, definitely visit the Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, the twin islands believed to be the birthplaces of the Sun and the Moon, as per the local legends.
On Isla del Sol, you can hike to numerous Inca ruins, all the while being next to the spectacular beauty of the lake and breathtaking landscapes.
Sucre and Cal Orcko
The official capital of the State is probably the most pleasant and beautiful city in Bolivia. Without being as cold as La Paz or Potosí, in its architecture recalls the Seville of the seventeenth century with white and yellow colors on the facades of dignified palaces and other buildings. In fact, its historic center was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO due to its great state of conservation and being a fabulous example of civil and religious architecture from colonial times.
Sucre is a pleasant city, worthy to stay at least a couple of days sheltered by its mild climate, its clear skies and the good life offered by its streets with numerous restaurants, shops and museums.
Sucre and Cal Orcko are located 5 miles away from each other. Cal Orko, meanwhile, is considered the largest fossilized footprint site in the world, harboring nearly 5,000 footprints, some up to 25 meters in length, attributed to titanosaurs. One of the curiosities of the site is to house the footprint of the longest "walk" in the world, reaching 350 meters, an invaluable fossil record attributed to a predatory saurian.
One of the longest-lived pre-Inca civilizations in all of South America is that of Tiahuanaco (also called Tiwanacu). It is said to have arisen in 1580 BC and collapsed around 1187 AD. We speak of a duration of twenty-five centuries of a culture that spread from Bolivia to the Pacific, touching the south of Peru and much of the north of present-day Chile. It was born on the shores of Lake Titicaca, although the monumental and ceremonial complex that can be visited today, and which is a World Heritage Site, is already about 15 kilometers from the water.
The remains of the city are preserved, which show the importance and power of an essential civilization to know the universe and the beliefs of many Andean peoples. Their knowledge of astronomy is palpable in many of the creations that can be visited today in an extraordinary archaeological site that should not be missed under any circumstances. Each and every one of its temples or palaces are oriented according to the stars with an exact reflection of the equinoxes and solstices in walls and large doors (it is a symbol of the city The Puerta del Sol and the Puerta de la Luna)
The semi-buried temple, the temple of Kalasaya or of the standing stones, as well as the pyramid of Akapana, are some of the places that are made in every trip to Tiahuanaco. Perhaps the most attractive part of the visit is in the anthropomorphic stone monoliths (Ponce Monolith, Friar Monolith and, especially the Bennett Monolith with more than 7 meters high) that for a moment recall an "Andean" version of the Moai from Easter Island (especially in the Bennett monolith)
Located a few kilometers from the town of Samaipata, you will find an archaeological site with ruins of a religious settlement of the Chané culture, a unique site that has the particularity of housing a sculpted rock 250 meters long by 60 wide, considered an unparalleled testimony in all of America.
The ruins of Samaipata were once an Inca fortress, and its temples, hallways, amphitheaters, and courtyards can still be traced. Later it was home to the Chane and other native tribes. The pre-Inca ceremonial rock, El Fuerte, allows those willing to hike the hill spectacular views of the valley below and the Andes beyond. Carved into the rock are animals, including many serpents.
In addition to the archaeological interest that has led it to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the site captivates with its panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
Santa Cruz is the wealthiest and most populous city in Bolivia and a fascinating place to spend a few days getting to grips with the fascinating diversity of Bolivia. Compared with the thin air and chilly nights of La Paz and other high altitude Andean cities, the climate of Santa Cruz (at just 400 meters above sea level) is warm and tropical. The city is also home to the largest population of sloths anywhere in the world. If you take a walk to the outskirts of the busy city and you’ll see these carefree creatures climbing the trees.
Eduardo Avaroa Andean Wildlife National Reserve
Another of the tourist places in Bolivia that surprise for its natural settings, corresponding to a reserve of approximately 714,745 hectares located between the Andean mountains, where erupting volcanoes, hot springs, steaming geysers and surreal colored lagoons are hidden.
Some of the sites of interests include both Laguna Colorada, known for its unique red coloration acquired by the pigmentation of algae, and Laguna Verde, at the foot of the Licancabur Volcano, with vibrant emerald green tones.