At the heart of South America, Bolivia is one of the continent’s literal and metaphorical highlights. The highest and most isolated country, it is a land of extremes and superlatives: coldest, warmest, windiest, driest, saltiest, swampiest and poorest are all applicable. Snow-capped peaks, high-altitude desert, salt pans, dense jungle and rolling savannah are some of the natural riches on offer. No longer waiting to be discovered, Bolivia is not just a backpacker secret but a celebrated destination waiting for people of all interests to visit.
Try lechon al horno , young roast pig, or empanadas , pastry stuffed with diced meat.
Bolivian beer is meant to be the best in South America – try paceña to see if the claim holds up.
What to see
Filling a deep crater high in the Andes, the capital city is quite literally a breathtaking place to spend time. Bustling and colourful, it is home to some interesting architecture and sights such as the Iglesia de San Francisco and Witches’ Market where you can pick up all sorts!
Founded in 1574, the Garden City, a large market town, is steeped in tradition and folklore but also has a number of archaeological attractions.
Pretty lowland village on the Rio Beni that provides great access to the rainforest for people looking to walk or take wildlife watching trips.
Laidback gateway to the pre-Inca ruins at El Fuerte.
Elegant, white-washed town that has an air of tranquillity about it during the day and a jumping nightlife scene but is also the birthplace of independent Bolivia and the country’s judicial centre.
Top experiences / sites of particular interest
A stunning clear, sapphire blue lake, Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake and the justification for land-locked Bolivia to have a navy. Indigenous people consider the lake sacred and the Islas del Sol and Islas de la Luna are central to the Inca creation myth. Cruise the waters, stay on the islands with local families or explore the surrounding area on foot.
Parque Nacional Madidi
A large jungle reserve that is rated one of the world’s great nature reserves.
A chance to spot wildlife including sloths, otters and pink river dolphins as well as masses of birds and butterflies.
Picture perfect range of mountains that demand to be explored and experienced on foot as you trace original Inca trails. There are more than 600 peaks here over 5000m high.
Rugged terrain that’s ideal for trekkers and is also home to a large amount of wildlife.
Area that’s home to some hellish silver mines that have enriched Europe and modern day multinationals, which also boasts a number of colonial churches decorated with delightful paintings.
Salar de Uyuni
A vast, surreal high-altitude salt pan studded with pillars of salt and lone cacti that can be accessed from the village of Uyuni.
Colourful Andean lake hidden amidst the peaks that is home to large flocks of flamingos.
When to go
Weather & Seasons: Bolivia has a temperate climate although day and night time temperatures can be wildly different. The dry season runs from May to October. The rainy season, from November to March sees the landscape transformed, but does mean that travel around the country is difficult. In general, try to travel between May and October when days are clear and rain unlikely.
Important Dates and Festivals: There are a number of religious and significant celebrations. Independence Day on 6 th August is a nationwide fiesta, as is Carnival during the last week before Lent.
Getting there / around
Flights: There are international airports in La Paz (LPB) and Santa Cruz (VVI). There is a reasonable internal flight network although it is prone to delays.
Rail: The rail network is in decline, with much of it shut down and what remains in a state of advanced chaos.
Road: The roads are reasonable and bus or lorry travel is cheap.Car hire is possible in the capital.
Short Trips: Allow up to two weeks to explore the region, taking in Lake Titicaca, the islands in its midst, La Paz and the mountainous countryside nearby where you should get out on foot to tackle the Takesi or Choro Treks.
2/3 Weeks: Two to three weeks will enable you to fly into La Paz then set off overland to Sucre , via Cochabamba . Continue south to Potosí then explore Uyuni and the vast salt pans here in the course of a three- or four-day circuit that also takes in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. Finish in Tarija from where you can fly back to the capital. A tour of the Amazon requires up to two weeks in order to travel from Trinidad in the heart of the country to Rurrenabaque, taking in several small, traditional villages and wildlife parks and finishing at the Parque Nacional Madidi.
Overall Country Guides: There are good country guidebooks to Bolivia from Lonely Planet , Rough Guides , Footprint & and Bradt . Footprint also produces a guidebook to Peru, Bolivia & Ecuador Handbook for people travellng throughout the region.
Overall Country Map: There is a comprehensive country maps of Bolivia available from Reise Know-How .
Trekking Map: For more detail of the Altiplano pick up the map covering the region from JLM.
Topographic Maps: Detailled topographic maps are available from Alpenvereinskarte for the Cordillera Real North: Illampu and Cordillera Real South: Illimani .
For an introduction to the country pick up the Concise History of Bolivia .
Ghost Train Through The Andes sees Michael Jacobs retrace his grandfather’s footsteps as he explores the life of his ancestor in the railways of South America. Part travelogue, part love story, it is touching and entertaining family history.
Inca-Kola by Matthew Parris is an insightful, entertaining account of the a trip though Peru and parts of Bolivia that’s a little dated now but still captures much of the country well and paints it vividly.
Marching Powder by Rusty Young is the story of a small-time English drug smuggler thrown into the notorious San Pedro prison and how he survived, which also encapsulates a lot of what is wrong with Bolivian society.
Lost in the Jungle by Yossi Ghinsberg tells the tale of an Israeli traveller who gets lost in the Parque Nacional Madidi in the early 1980s but manages to survive and escape.
Sight & Sound
The haunting strains of Andean music are everywhere in the mountains, whilst the livelier lowland beats suit the steamier conditions. Bolivia is perhaps best known for the charango , a sort of mandolin that’s played much like a banjo.
Spanish.Language Books: Pick up the Berlitz Latin American Spanish: Phrase Book & Dictionary in order to get by or make yourself understood.
Boliviano (Bs) made up of 100 centavos .
UK and US citizens do not require a visa before entering the country.
Inoculations for Hep A, Hep B, Rabies, Typhoid and Yellow Fever are recommended.
Malaria is also present in parts of the country.
Safety, FO travel advice
Safe and generally stable, although tourists should be cautious in potential cocaine growing parts of the country.
Useful Telephone Numbers
There are Bolivian country representatives
in the UK at106 Eaton Square, London, SW1 9AD. Tel:- 020 7235 4248
and in the US at3014 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008. Tel:- 202 483 4410.
There are no tourist boards in either country.
For more information visit http://www.boliviaweb.com or http://www.bolivia.com .
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