I think I fell in love with Bolivia as I watched the bus I'd been travelling on from Peru being ferried across Lake Titicaca on what amounted to a glorified raft. Bolivia's landscape may initially appear harsh and its people stand-offish, but a scratch beneath the surface soon reveals these impressions untrue and this landlocked Andean country inevitably weaves its spell.
La Paz provides a good jumping off point for any Bolivian adventure. Although its traffic-choked streets may not be to everyone's tastes, the city has a real energy about it, with its bright buses, ever-insistent street vendors and lively nightlife (check out the Sopocachi district). Make sure you take the time to look skywards after nightfall, as La Paz's altitude and relatively low light pollution from its ramshackle street lamps combine to give a spectacular view of the stars. A trip to see one of La Paz's football teams is well worth the entry fee, if only to contrast your altitude sickness while climbing to take a seat with the frenetic fare on the pitch… easy to see why the beach-boy Brazilians fear their visits to Bolivia!
Moving away from the capital, my personal highlight was the now legendary bike ride on, "the world's most dangerous road." A short bus ride from La Paz plus a bit of strenuous high altitude cycling takes you up into the clouds at just under 5,000m; from here it's only a few hours (and 70km) in the saddle to the subtropical climes of Coroico, dropping around 3,500m on the way and giving one of the biggest legal adrenaline rushes imaginable!
If you feel you can face a tortuous overnight bone-shaking bus ride from La Paz to Uyuni, accompanied predominantly by bags of poultry, you'll be rewarded with arguably Latin America's most captivating landscapes. The Bolivian Altiplano is a vast high altitude plateau dotted with technicolour lakes, surreal rock shapes, giant cacti and seemingly endless salt plains. Throw a few geysers, flamingoes, llamas and volcanoes into the mix and it can feel like you've arrived in another world.
Whether Bolivia is your sole destination, or part of a bigger South American journey, you can't go far wrong with a Footprint South American Handbook and a Reise Know-How map to Bolivia. For reading material, try to pick up an old copy of the now out of print Bolivian Diary by Ernesto Che Guevara, which tells the story of his ill-fated guerilla campaign of the late '60s.
Browse all our guide books and maps of Bolivia here >
Author: Dan Weston