The Best Things To Do In Bolivia
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Guest post by Deborah Durrfeld
Bolivia is an amazing country and still undiscovered in comparison to neighboring countries like Peru, Chile, and Argentina. It has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. There are volcanoes, mountain peaks covered in snow, impressive lagoons and salt flats, and also desert-like regions and tropical rainforests covering a big part of the country. In some places, a short bus ride or hike can take you from one climate to another.
On a cultural level, Bolivia also offers a lot. There are colonial cities, archaeological sites, and many indigenous
people living according to their own traditions and beliefs.
Bolivia is a country that will leave a big impression in many ways. Here are the best 10 best things to do in Bolivia:
Explore The Colonial City of Sucre
Sucre is the most beautiful city in Bolivia. It is located at 2,800m above sea level, surrounded by the Andes Mountain range. It is also known as the white city, because of the beautiful white colonial buildings. Interesting to know is that Sucre is the official capital of Bolivia, instead of La Paz, what most people think. But Sucre absolutely feels more like a provincial town, instead of a large South American capital. You can spend days in Sucre, stroll around the colonial center, visit the many churches, viewpoints, and museums.
From the main plaza, it is easy to visit all the sights, as everything is within walking distance. You can dive into the history of Bolivia in the Freedom House, learn more about traditional weaving techniques in the textile museum, stroll around local markets and enjoy lovely views from the Recoleta plaza.
Tip 1: Make sure to visit the roof of Convento de San Felipe Neri, around sunset. This former 17th-century monastery is nowadays a primary school. The roof is open to the public and offers a nice view of the city, especially at the end of the day. Keep in mind that you might have to ring the bells of the school a couple of times or even come back another day, to be let in. Opening times are not always clear but that’s exactly what makes the place charming.
Tip 2: If you are interested in traditional dance and music, reserve a table at the Orígenes show. This is not the typical tourist show, you might have in mind. It’s very small and even local Bolivians go there. During a two hours show, professional dancers take you on a journey through Bolivia, and the costumes are just breathtaking!
For more information about beautiful Sucre in Bolivia check out this post: best things to do in Sucre Bolivia
Hike The Bolivian Inca Trail
Everyone knows the Inca trail in Peru but did you know Bolivia has an Inca trail as well?
This famous Inca road system runs through Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru and is almost 30,000 kilometers long. In Bolivia, it is possible to hike a part of this famous trail and see some Inca ruins. It’s a beautiful day hike and much easier than the many-days trek in Peru.
Most tours start in the village of Chataquila. From here you will hike about 5.5 kilometers to Chaunaca. The trail is mostly downhill and the views are just breathtaking. The immense Andes mountain peaks make you realize how overwhelming nature can be. The road consists of original Inca paths, known for its large boulders and stones. So make sure you put on your hiking shoes.
Tip: You will be hiking at altitudes of 3600 meters. It is important to get used to the altitude in Sucre, or else before you start your tour.
Visit Potosi And Enter One Of The Mines
Potosi is located at an altitude of 4067meters above sea level and it makes it the highest city in the world.
It is hard to believe that this city once used to be one of the richest cities in South America, because of its flourishing mining industry. In the 16th century, the Spaniards discovered large amounts of silver in the Cerro Rico mountains and started to exploit these mines. The city attracted people from all over the world, incredible churches were built, while local people were forced to work in the mines in horrible working conditions. When the mines were exhausted in the
early 19th century, the city was left empty behind.
Nowadays you can stroll through the colonial center, visit churches and learn about the history of this once-bustling mining town. One of the best things to do in Potosi is to visit a mine with a miner. Be prepared for an adventurous and shocking experience, as you will be climbing around the corridors and tunnels of a real mine, deep under the ground. The spaces are narrow, humid, dark, slippery, and make you feel claustrophobic. However, it is the reality of Potosí miners who enter the mine daily. It is their only opportunity to earn some money and take care of their families. It is definitely something not to miss if you want to understand the real Potosí.
Go Shopping And Observe Local Life at Tarabuco Market
One of the most famous markets in Bolivia is the Tarabuco market. Tarabuco is a small mountain village with houses of bricks and red roof tiles. Every Sunday local people come from far to this little mountain town to sell their goods. You can find beautiful souvenirs here but it is especially nice to just walk around and observe local life, as there is so much going on.
You will find many people walking around in traditional costumes. Some men wear striped ponchos and black helmet-like heads with ornaments while women wear wide colorful skirts. Tarabuco is also known for its exceptional weaving techniques, called the Tarabuco style. Don’t forget to visit the vet market all the way to the end of the town.
Tarabuco can be best visited on a day trip from Sucre on a Sunday morning. You can book an organized tour in one of the shops around the main plaza, or travel by local bus. Many buses leave from the main bus station.
Cycle The Death Road
If you are an adventurous traveler, make sure you cycle the “death road” (or North Yungas Road). It is the most dangerous road in the world and that is because of the crazy steep cliffs. It’s an exciting adventure but it is the beautiful environment that makes this tour even more rewarding.
You will start your trip early morning in the mountains, and cycle all the way to a tropical jungle environment. It is unique to experience so many different climates and landscapes in one day. You will cross snow, rainforest, and
many waterfalls. It is possible to extend your tour with a zipline experience, which is a lot of fun.
Tip 1: All tours leave from La Paz. Many agencies are offering these tours, but you don’t want to save money on your safety. Make sure you head out with a reliable company, professional guide, and the right equipment, as accidents happen often.
Tip 2: Most tours will bring you back to La Paz at the end of the day. If you have more time, try to spend the night in the nice village of Coroico and travel back to La Paz the next day or continue your journey to Rurrenabaque, the access point to Madidi National Park in the Amazon Basin.
Discover La Paz
La Paz is often seen as the capital of Bolivia, because of its political and commercial significance. The city is located at an altitude of 3600m above sea level, in a valley surrounded by volcanoes.
It is a city with different sides and big contrasts. You will find a busy commercial center, slums on the mountainside but also very rich suburbs in the South. People in traditional customs alternate the street scene with people in tight suits and fancy outfits.
La Paz is a great place to go sightseeing for a day or two. You can explore the narrow streets and markets around San Francisco Church, stroll around the fancy Sopocachi district, take a ride in one of the longest cable cars in the world, visit the Coca leaf museum or go for a high-end dinner in the Zona Sur.
One of the most remarkable things to do in La Paz is to visit the witch market. The witch market is a street full of market stalls selling special souvenirs, but in the meantime attracting many locals because of its “sacrifices”. There are llama fetuses in different shapes and sizes, frogs, candles, coca leaves, toys, and incense. Bolivians believe and value the Andean faith, in which mother nature “Pacha mama” plays an important role. This is accompanied by ceremonies, with items that ensure love, prosperity, career, and a successful future. Every item represents a different story and it is quite an experience to observe.
Tip: Photos are not always appreciated. Be careful with this, as people can get aggressive.
Dive Into The History Of Tiwanaku
A lot of people know about the Incas but what about the Tiwanaku culture – the longest-lasting culture, after the Egyptians?
If you are interested in history, it is recommended to visit the archaeological site of Tiwanaku, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Don’t expect to see a Machu Picchu-like setting, but it is the history that makes this place so interesting.
Tiwanaku was the capital of the former Tiwanaku Empire, covering Peru, Bolivia, Northern Argentina, and part of Chile. Today there is little left of the city but the structures that remain, indicate a highly developed civilization. Their knowledge of architecture, astrology, agriculture, society was the base for important future civilizations such as the Inca. Make sure you pay special attention to the Sungate, the impressive monoliths, and the temple with 175 carved heads.
Navigate The Titicaca Lake And Visit Isla Del Sol
Isla del Sol, the island of the sun, is located at lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake is part of both Bolivia and Peru and covers an area of almost 9000 km².
From the Bolivian city Copacabana you can navigate to Isla del Sol. It is a great experience as the island is so peaceful. There is no traffic and most people live from agriculture and fishing. You can go for nice walks on the island with a 360-degree view of the lake and the snowy Andes mountain peaks while observing small remains of Inca structures
along the way. The views of the surroundings, with different colors of blue and bright sunlight, are just breathtaking.
Tip: Even though it is possible to go on a day tour, it is recommended to spend the night in one of the guesthouses on the island, to be able to really experience the island’s vibe.
Discover The Impressive Salt Flats And Lagoons
El Salar de Uyuni is one of the largest salt flats in the world. It has a size of 10,000 km2 and is located at an elevation of 3,656 meters above sea level, in the southwest of Bolivia. In some places, the salt flat is even up to 20 meters thick.
It is best to explore the area by jeep, where you drive on the salt flats for hours, take amazing pictures, and come across rock formations, with ancient cacti, such as Isla Incahuasi and Isla Pescado. The views of the white salt and blue sky are just incredible.
It is also possible to go on a multi-day tour and visit the geysers and lagoons with flamingos such as Laguna Colorada, Laguna Verde, and Laguna Blanca. Tours leave from Uyuni town and run between April and October. In the rainy
season, between November and March, the Salar turns into a lake and mirror, something that will make for stunning views. However, it is not possible to access the Salar during this time.
Tip 1: If you go on a multi-day tour, it is possible to end your trip at San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Recommended if you are planning to continue your journey there.
Tip 2: Uyuni is one of the few places in place in the world, where you can spend the night in a salt hotel. These are hotels, made of crushed salt blocks. A unique experience!
Attend The Bolivian Carnival Of Oruro
Oruro is a large industrial city in Bolivia and there is not much to do there during the year. Only once a year, in February, everybody wants to visit this city, because of the yearly carnival which is the biggest carnival celebration after Brazil.
For 10-days in a row, there are parades with musicians, dancers, and amazing costumes. UNESCO has declared this carnival as a Cultural Heritage, because of the indigenous traditions that are involved. In each performance gods, such as Mother Earth, the god of the mines, and the sun god are honored. The closing of the carnival is the most spectacular with a 20-hour procession, where different stories about Bolivia’s history are performed. Make sure, you book your hotel in advance as the city gets packed around these dates.
In Bolivia, you will spend a lot of time at altitudes between 2500 and 4500 meters above sea level. It is important to take it easy and listen to your body. Also, try to schedule your trip in a way that your body gets used to the altitude. Start at 2800 meters and make your way up slowly. To avoid altitude sickness, it is recommended to avoid heavy meals and alcohol, and instead, drink lots of water, and chew the traditional coca leaves. It is said that coca leaves help to prevent altitude sickness. If you don’t feel like chewing the coca leaves, try the coca tea (most hotels serve it for free) or buy some of the coca candies. And no, this has nothing to do with drugs. It is seen as a sacred leaf by indigenous people and it tastes a bit like green tea.
Is Bolivia safe? With the necessary precautions, I think you can travel around Bolivia without any problems. But it is important to watch your belongings, especially in big cities and crowded areas. Also, do not bring valuables with
you, do not take a taxi by night, avoid suburbs you don’t know and always travel with reliable companies.
I have visited Bolivia more than 20 times and I absolutely love it. The natural landscapes are overwhelming and ancient traditions are still valued and preserved by local people. Something that you will experience during your entire trip. The beautiful thing is that Bolivia is less discovered than neighboring countries, which means you will have many amazing places to yourself and a few others. The downside is that it can be a bit challenging to travel around if you like to travel in luxury, but every step of the journey will be worth it.
About The Author
Deborah from Passport The World is a TV reporter, producer, tour guide, host, and content creator from The Netherlands. She has been traveling around Latin America and Asia for the last 15 years, looking for the most scenic places and stories that are worth sharing. Passport The World is her online magazine, focusing on scenic and cultural travels around the world. You can also find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.