One of South America’s poorest, the landlocked country of Bolivia is back in the hands of the indigenous and busy nationalising its oil. Large parts of Amazonian rainforest in the eastern lowlands and the altitude plains of the western Andean Highlands make for adventurous if not sometimes exhausting sightseeing.

The Bolivian Altiplano offers the capital of La Paz, Lake Titicaca and the highest peak, Nevada Sajama (21,463 feet. It is unquestionably not a tourist trap, also partly due to its location and recent violent street protests; but its cultural treasures, mystifying ancient civilization and spectacular landscapes are worth the difficulties you may encounter here.

When to Go

Varying with altitude, Bolivia’s climate is somewhat unpredictable. From tropical and humid to semiarid and cold, visitors will experience the rainy season in summer (November to March), and sunny and dry weather for the rest of the year. Lowland cities are humid and hot in summer, while highland cities are cool in winter (June to August).

Getting There & Away

The national airline, Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB) offers both international and domestic services. There are international airports in Santa Cruz and La Paz, and some towns in Bolivia have domestic airports.

The train system is restricted to trips between the valleys and the plateau.

Most of the roads are not paved therefore access to various places during the rainy season is restricted. Water transportation is used in Bolivia’s Amazon region.

Health & Safety

Bolivia is still one of the most peaceful and safe countries in South America. However, travelers should be warned of fake policemen, street protests and road blockades which might affect your timetable in an undesirable way. In certain areas, there have been outbreaks of dengue fever and yellow fever, and some regions are malarial. Also be aware of altitude sickness.

The bigger cities have hospitals and clinics, the latter tending to be better as they are run privately.

Food & Hospitality

The Bolivians are warm-hearted and friendly people who won’t hesitate to offer you a helping hand. Their food mainly consists of meat, poultry and fish, served with potatoes, rice or noodles.

In general, the local cuisine is not spicy, but keep your powder dry when using la llajwa, a sauce made with locoto (hot chilies).

Alcoholic drinks are beer, wine and singanis, a type of fermented maize and pisco. As long as you eat in reputable restaurants and stick with bottled beverages, you should stay untroubled by ‘Montezuma’s revenge’.

Itineraries

  • Two days in La Paz.
  • Two days at Lake Titicaca and on the ‘Island of the Sun’.
  • One day at the fortress of Samaipata.
  • One day in Cochabamba.
  • One day in the salt desert of Uyuni.

Additional time

  • One week in the national parks.

Highlights

La Paz: the world’s highest capital city (two miles above sea level) is the seat of the government and well-worth visiting with its impressive buildings and nearby Tiahuanaco ruins.

Lake Titicaca: is the highest lake on earth and a must for visitors. Sun Island, the Copacabana village, Ekako underground museum and the Pachamama terraces are unique places, and in the evening you can watch the sunset from the adjacent hill on about 365 days per year.

Cochabamba: a breathtaking historic city with a gigantic statue of Jesus Christ and numerous other ancient landmarks; it is also reputed to have the country’s most hardcore boozers, so keep away from drinking challenges.

Noel Kempff Mercado National Park: this stunning natural park has rivers, waterfalls and rainforests, and a rich diversity of flora and fauna including spider monkeys and pink dolphins. Beware of ravenous crocodiles and caimans!

El Fuerte de Samaipata: the complete ruins of this Inca fortress have been registered as a World Heritage site and are just 75 miles from Santa Cruz.

El Salar de Uyuni: the largest salt desert in the world forms a landscape which will be etched in your mind.

Activities

White-water rafting: on the wild river Tuichi, with powerful rapids and thick jungle surrounding the audacious traveler.

Trekking: in the Apolobama range, the Royal Mountain range or at Lake Titicaca.

Mountain climbing: the Bolivian Andes offer uncountable climbing tours in an unbelievably beautiful alpine setting, but it is unconditionally necessary to acclimatize appropriately beforehand.

Nature tours: Bolivia’s various national parks are ideal for exploring the fauna and flora, the friendly locals being your naturalist guides who might prepare an Anaconda for dinner to make a favorable impression on you.

Shopping: original handicrafts manufactured from gold, silver, pewter, alpaca vicuña, cotton and wool are comparatively cheap, if you are experienced in bargaining.

Partying: a favorite pastime among locals and visitors alike, party at various festivals throughout the year, above all at the world-famous carnavales.