Bolivia isn’t all mountains, cholitas and llamas. This expansive nation is made up of large swathes of inhospitable deserts, leafy grasslands and thick Amazonian jungle. A plurinational state, Bolivia recognizes 36 different ethnic groups, each with their own language and customs. Upon descending from the highlands down into the Amazon, it’s sometimes hard to believe this is still the same country.
Hordes of keen trekkers and mountaineers flock to Bolivia in high season to enjoy the country’s pristine mountains. Many head straight for the Cordillera Real, an impossibly beautiful mountain range that stretches over the shores of Lake Titicaca. Huayna Potosi is a crowd favorite for being the world’s easiest peak over 19,700 feet (6,000 meters), while more serious climbers can try their luck at Illimani or Sajama.
Aside from having a lot of different ethnic groups and languages, Bolivia also has a heck of a lot of indigenous inhabitants. A whopping 62 percent of the population are of indigenous descent, while a further 30 percent come from mixed indigenous and European origins. This makes Bolivia the most indigenous country on the continent, a fact that can be observed through the rich and colorful traditions that are kept very much alive today.
Those looking to get face to face with exotic amazonian animals such as snakes, spiders, crocodiles, monkeys and dolphins need look no further than Bolivia’s pampas region near the jungle town of Rurrenabaque. Offering up what is arguably the best amazon wildlife spotting in South America for a ridiculously cheap price, the pampas tour is a real highlight of the country’s eco-tourism agenda.
Bolivia is a budget traveler’s paradise that offers the best value for money in the entire continent. This makes it the perfect place to splash out a little, as a meal in a fancy restaurant or an upmarket hotel will cost just a fraction of what it would in those expensive neighboring countries.
Lake Titicaca is a sight to behold, famous for its crystal clear waters that reflect the snowy peaks of the nearby Cordillera Real. The best way to enjoy her beauty is by taking an easy three-hour hike across Isla del Sol, only stopping to check out ancient Inca ruins along the way. The island is known for its serenity, with no motorized transport or other noisy machinery to remind you of modern day society.
You’ve undoubtedly heard of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s premier tourist attraction that captivates visitors from all over the world. While it may sound touristy or cliché, this is a place that really lives up to the hype. Be sure to sign up for the longer three-day tour that visits some surreal nearby attractions as well. You certainly won’t regret it.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Bolivia played a crucial role in Latin America’s colonial history. The mountains near Potosi were ram-packed with enough silver to almost single-handedly support the entire Spanish empire, while Sucre was the location of the continent’s first cry for independence back in 1809. Fascinating indigenous and colonial history can be found at every turn in Bolivia.
One of the great pluses of having such a large indigenous population is the drive to preserve the nation’s culture heritage, particularly its music and dance. Hundreds of entradas (parades) take place throughout the country each year, displaying a fantastic array of colorful costumes, upbeat music and plenty of merrymaking.
Bolivia is a country that is completely bonkers. Whether it be cholitas wrestling each other for sport, a bar that sells cocaine over the counter, a prison run by inmates, dynamite wielding protesters or a drunken punch up in the name of religion, there is never a dull moment in South America’s craziest country.