Where to visit in Bolivia
Despite its undeniable natural beauty and rich Andean culture, Bolivia is sometimes overlooked by visitors to South America in favour of its more illustrious neighbours. Granted, there are better countries in which to access the Pantanal and the Amazon basin, both of which spread into its territory. And yes, one of its prized assets, the beautiful Lake Titicaca, can be explored at length in Peru. But in skipping over Bolivia you’ll miss out on some of the continent’s most spectacular (and often crowd-free) scenery and some pretty interesting, diverse and historically significant cities. So let’s take a look in more detail at some of the best places to visit in Bolivia.
Lake Titicaca & Copacabana
Many visitors to Bolivia first enter the country at one of the border crossings near Lake Titicaca and drive the short distance to the attractive lakeside town of Copacabana. Before heading out onto the lake, it is wise to first take some time to explore the curious customs and legends of the town, many centred around its famous basilica and dark wood statue of the Virgin Mary.
Bolivia owns around 35-40% of Lake Titicaca, including what is believed to be the birthplace of the Inca civilization at Isla del Sol (Sun Island). Along with the Isla de la Luna (Moon Island), these two remote farming islands offer the quintessential Lake Titicaca experience, with fine views, Inca heritage and a deeply traditional way of life. The landscape here is arguably even more impressive than on the Peruvian side, as the snow-capped Cordillera Real range of the Andes Mountains looms much larger here, only adding to the beauty.
Around 12 miles by road from Lake Titicaca are the pre-Inca ruins of Tiahuanaco. The origins and exact purpose of the site is still a source of mystery to experts, as is the question of how these giant stones even got here in the first place. Excavation efforts have exposed a number of original walls, temples and gateways.
Lake Titicaca & Copacabana
La Paz & surrounds
The country’s administrative capital La Paz is situated in a huge canyon and overlooked by the towering snow-capped peak of Mt. Illimani, creating a dramatic natural setting. La Paz is easily reached by road from Lake Titicaca and also connects with a number of major South American cities by air, making it the starting point for some visitors to Bolivia.
The city is well-known for its bustling street life, not least the curious Witches Markets, which sells all manner of weird and wonderful objects to be used in ritual ceremonies with the local shaman. Other highlights include the colourful colonial architecture and small museums of Jean Street, the impressive San Francisco church and the sleek cable cars which whisk visitors and locals around different neighbourhoods, affording a bird’s-eye view as the city spreads out on the canyon floor and up the walls below. A short drive outside of La Paz lies the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), where a large collection of sandstone spires and cacti of various kinds create an interesting setting, explored on two walkways.
Scenes from La Paz
Sucre, Potosi & Santa Cruz
Heading south, we now come to the elegant ‘White City’ of Sucre. Bolivia’s constitutional capital gets its moniker from the whitewashed façades of its attractive colonial era architecture and is surely the country’s most attractive city. Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Sucre’s centre has a very different feel to that of its fellow capital La Paz, offering a slower pace of life in its shady green squares, cobbled streets and quiet parks.
Sucre is also a great base from which to explore the local area. This includes the large indigenous Sunday market at Tarabuco, a colourful spectacle and a great place to shop and observe the locals in traditional dress. Another must-visit in the region is the city of Potosí and its infamous Cerro Rico silver mine. Visitors here can learn all about both the glorious wealth and the human tragedy of the silver rush in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the city suddenly became one of the most prosperous and important on the continent.
East of Sucre is Santa Cruz, one of the fastest-growing cities in South America and the economic heart of Bolivia. Its location between the Andes and the rainforest gives laid-back Santa Cruz a rather tropical climate, in stark contrast to the country’s high altitude cities.
Uyuni & the lagoons of the altiplano
Most of those spectacular landscapes discussed at the start can be enjoyed on an unforgettable three day journey leading to, or starting from, the Atacama Desert in Chile.
The salt flat of Uyuni is the world’s biggest and highest, but more importantly it can also be explored in great depth in 4x4s. On the way you’ll reach panoramic vantage points, tiny ancient settlements and a cacti-covered central ‘island’ to which the Incas once fled to escape the clutches of Spanish conquistadors. Many visitors here also chose to stay in the remarkable salt hotels and also pay a visit to the melancholy train cemetery, where British-built locomotives have been left to face the elements.
Between Uyuni and the Chilean border lie vast swathes of uninhabited desert. Travel here is very much off the beaten track and the high altitude, cold nights and bumpy off-roading requires an adventurous spirit. Those who do make the journey however are rewarded with wondrous mountains of all shades and hues, an extraordinary geothermal field and delightful remote lagoons in which flocks of majestic Andean flamingos feed. Among the most breathtaking is Laguna Colorada, named for its photogenic shallow crimson water.
Salar de Uyuni & lagoons of the altiplano
Where to Combine with Bolivia
As previously mentioned, the best countries to combine with Bolivia are Chile and Peru. The journey between Salar de Uyuni and the Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the continent's best, allowing you to see magnificent and very diverse landscapes on both sides of the border. Crossing between Peru and Bolivia at Lake Titicaca allows you to explore the area in more depth and enjoy the quieter Bolivian side. Other popular countries to combine with Bolivia on cross-continent trips are Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador. See the tours at the end of this article for some ideas and itineraries.
When to Visit Bolivia
Generally speaking, Bolivia is a good year-round destination. Temperatures in La Paz and Sucre are fairly consistent throughout the year, taking a slight dip between June and August. The highest rainfall is experienced around December and January. The biggest variation in conditions at different times of the year comes at Uyuni. Visit in March or April, just after the rainy season, and you'll perhaps see the salt flat covered in a layer of highly reflective water. Although this makes for some great photos, it also means you might not be able to venture as deep into the Salar. The best to visit is therefore between June and December, before the rain arrives again.
How to Get to Bolivia
Aside from the ways of accessing Bolivia from within South America, it can also be reached on flights to Santa Cruz via Madrid or Miami from various UK airports.
Better with experts
Travelling in any Latin American country can sometimes be a challenging and unpredictable undertaking for even the most well-versed globetrotters. With our vast experience and expertise, Veloso Tours will carefully create the perfect itinerary for you, handling all the tricky logistics, negotiating the best prices, liaising with local suppliers and ensuring everything flows perfectly during your time here. All you have to do is decide where to go! Our collection of local guides will help bring these wonderful places to life, giving you their inside knowledge and offering an authentic and personal perspective, that will leave you both informed and inspired.
The Veloso Tours website has all the ideas and inspiration you'll need to get you started on your Bolivian adventure. Now that you know where to visit in Bolivia, our expert consultants would be delighted to work with you to sort out all the little details and craft an unforgettable journey, full of memories that last a lifetime. Get in touch today and start planning your dream trip to Bolivia with Veloso Tours.
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