One of the highest and most remote countries on earth, much of Bolivia remains untouched by the passage of time. Bolivia has more indigenous peoples than any other country in the Americas. For travelers, Bolivia offers a diverse mix of multi-ethnic cultural experiences, magnificent natural landscapes and extreme adventures. From luxury Copacabana resorts on the shore of Lake Titicaca to the unworldly expanse of the salt flats of Uyuni, the best tourist attractions in Bolivia offer a wealth of once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences.
Madidi National Park stretches from the Andes to the Amazon. Encompassing over 7,000 square miles, Madidi is known as one the most biologically diverse parks in the world. Visitors to Madidi may spot an elusive jaguar, a giant otter or the titi monkey, a species of monkey found nowhere else in the world. More than 11 percent of the planet’s 9,000 species of birds can be found in Madidi National Park.
This region consists of six mission towns founded by a handful of Jesuit priests in the 17th and 18th centuries. While Jesuit Missions in Paraguay and Argentina have since fallen into disrepair, their Bolivian counterparts remain a vibrant cultural force, set against a frontier-town backdrop straight out of the 1986 Robert de Niro film, “The Mission”. These towns can be visited in one long tour, or there is lodging available in all of them. The largest and best-known of these mission towns is San Jose de Chiquitos, though all of them provide a beautiful example of old Spanish frontier architecture.
Dubbed the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” Yungas Road runs from La Paz to Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest region in the north of the country. From La Paz, the road climbs to 15,000 feet before descending around 4,000 feet to the town of Coroico. The road has proved dangerous for those traveling in vehicles, but Yungas has become a favorite travel attraction for mountain bikers who rave about the 40-mile-long stretch of downhill riding.
The Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in the harsh Southwest Circuit region of Bolivia was created to protect the endangered vicuna and the llareta plant. The reserve is also home to some of the planet’s most unusual landscapes. Bright white salt flats and the rainbow-colored mineral lakes of Los Lipez are both much too harsh to support human life but are a refuge for many rare and endangered South American species including several large colonies of flamingo. A trip here feels much like a trip to a strange and beautiful new planet.
The “rich mountain” or “Cerro Rico” that towers over the city of Potosí once held the silver that lured Spanish Conquistadors to the world’s highest city. Cerro Rico is the ideal travel destination for those who want to explore the affect that colonization had upon the indigenous people of Bolivia. Although the silver is long gone, tin is still mined from Cerro Rico. Visitors may tour the mines as well as the Casa Nacional de Moneda, a museum that once housed the royal mint.
Known as the “City of Four Names”, Sucre is also called Charcas, La Plata and Chuquisaca. Founded in the 1500s by Spanish colonials, Sucre offers visitors a clear glimpse of life in aristocratic Spain in the 16th century. Sucre has many important historical buildings worth visiting, including La Casa de la Libertad, where Simón Bolívar wrote the Bolivian Constitution, and Bolivia’s National Library, which features documents dating to the 15th century.
Each year in Oruro, just before Ash Wednesday, the city of Oruro hosts the Carnaval de Oruro, one of the most important folkloric and cultural events in all of South America. The festival features over 28,000 dancers, performing a broad variety of ethnic dances. Around 10,000 musicians accompany the dancers. Unlike carnival in Rio where a new theme is chosen each year, carnival in Oruro always begins with the diablada or devil dance. It is considered to retain most of the artistic expression coming from pre-Columbian America.
Bordering Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America. Incans, as well as a number of other native peoples, are thought to have originated in the region. Near the south-eastern shore of the lake lies Tiwanaku, ruins of an ancient city state that scholars believe was a precursor of the Inca Empire. Lake Titicaca is a popular vacation destination. The original Copacabana is a favorite resort for both tourists and locals.
Located near the south-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, Tiwanaku is one of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire. The community grew to urban proportions between the 7th and 9th centuries, becoming an important regional power in the southern Andes. At its peak the city had between 15,000–30,000 inhabitants. While only a small part has been excavated, Tiahuanaco represents the greatest megalithic architectural achievement of pre-Inca South America. Today it is one of the top tourist attractions in Bolivia.
For a truly out-of-this-world travel destination, it’s hard to match the Salar de Uyuni. One of the flattest places in the world, the 4,000-square-mile salt flats were formed by a prehistoric lake. Visitors travel in 4×4 vehicles across the expanse of the salt flats to visit locally fashioned structures made entirely from bricks of salt. The salt flats are at their most spectacular after a rain, when water sitting atop the cemented salt acts like a mirror, perfectly reflecting the sky above.