Those who want an authentic and spectacular South American vacation should definitely consider Bolivia. This mountainous country is the only landlocked nation on the continent, and boasts sheer mountains with the world’s highest navigable lake, cultural cities, and spectacular cloud and rain forests. It is slightly off the beaten tourist path, which makes it possible to travel economically and get a real view of Bolivian life. Here is a look at some of the best places to visit in Bolivia:
The charming town of Rurrenabaque, or Rurre, is a backpacker’s paradise. It is situated on the shores of the Rio Beni, and is the jumping off point for many jungle, pampas and riverboat tours that last between one and thirty days. The lowland tribe people here, the Tacana, are one of the few who were resistant to Christianity, so the town does not have the typical setup of a central cathedral square. These days, however, it gets a large enough tourist trade that the culture mostly caters to Western tourist tastes.
The name of this town is derived from the quechua word meaning “golden hill.” Its location on the side of the Andean foothills gives the resort village of Coroico a spectacular view of lush jungle forest, tropical foothills and jagged, icy peaks. It is low enough in elevation to be warm, and a great stopping point on the way to or from La Paz. Extreme mountain biking is a draw here, though there are several lovely hikes in this region as well to lovely waterfalls and hilltop views.
Located between La Paz and Lake Titicaca, the sleepy town of Sorata serves as a base camp for visitors who want to hike in the mountains of the Cordillera Real. The granite slopes of the Cordillera Real lie in the Altiplano, or “high plains,” of the widest part of the Andes Mountains. Six of the towering peaks of the range are over 20,000 feet high. Hikers come to Sorata to plan and prepare for mountain-climbing treks.
This resort town on the shores of Lake Titicaca appears very touristy, but it has a long history of being a mecca for religious pilgrims. This is the place to board a ferry to the islands of the Sun and the Moon, and to enjoy the beach of the Incas. Those who like to wander outside the touristy part of town will find pleasant hikes and great views, as well as a combination of beautiful Incan and colonial ruins.
Potosi is one of the world’s highest, and before its discovery by the conquistadors, it was also one of the world’s richest cities. The famed city of silver was by many accounts everything that the Spanish were looking for with El Dorado, except that the metal they found was silver instead of gold. Today, Potosi is a popular place to visit in Bolivia, known for its friendly inhabitants, lovely colonial architecture and tours of the famed mines that once housed over sixty thousand tons of silver.
Sucre was once the nation’s capital, and is famed throughout South America as the White city. The town’s central area has beautifully whitewashed and well-kept buildings that are worth seeing. This is an old and wealthy city whose rise in status was tied very closely to Potosi. Guests to Sucre can enjoy the beautiful architecture and local museums, or partake in some fantastic day-trips to see volcanic craters, dinosaur footprints, or the seven waterfalls.
This miners town is one of the largest in Bolivia, and is best known for its lavish costumes and festivities during carnivale season. The festival features thousands of dancers and musicians, performing a broad variety of ethnic dances. Off season, it is a great place to experience the high plains, and is home to several good museums and the artisanal street of Calle La Paz, which makes many of the costumes and masks for the festival, as well as tourist reproductions to bring home and display.
Tiwanaku, found on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca, was the capital city of one of the most important civilizations to exist prior to the Incas. Archaeologists have excavated only a small part of the city, but they estimate that at its peak at least 20,000 people lived in the city. Excavations have shown that the citizens lived in separate neighborhoods, which were enclosed by large adobe walls. Other remains found in Tiwanaku include temples, a pyramid, large gates and carvings of alien-like faces.
La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia, while Sucre is the constitutional capital. Situated on steep hills at an elevation of roughly 3,650 meters (11,975 ft) above sea level, La Paz is the highest “de facto” capital city in the world. The sight from the air as one flies into La Paz is incredible. First, the sprawling slums of El Alto appear, slowly giving way to the sight of La Paz itself, clinging to the sides of what looks like a large gash in the earth.
Located in the Andes Mountains, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. It has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within one meter (3 feet) over the entire area of the Salar. The expanse of salt creates an unending white landscape during the dry season, but the area is most breathtaking in the rainy season when it is covered in water. The reflection of the blue sky creates a spectacular and surreal landscape, though some tourists insist on seeing the salt.