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Many travelers miss Bolivia on their South American journey, instead opting for more developed and “safer” countries throughout the region. Even though it may lack in some creature comforts, this charmingly authentic country offers a true travelling adventure to those yearning to get well off the beaten tourist trail. Here’s how.
From the high Andes of the west to the sweltering lowlands of the east, the trekker’s paradise of Bolivia encapsulates a variety of climatic zones. Best of all, many of the most spectacular routes remain largely undiscovered, meaning intrepid travelers can enjoy these pristine surroundings in solitude.
Unbeknownst to many, Bolivia offers among the best climbing in South America. Professional peak baggers descend on the country every winter to take on any number of the dozen 6,000 m (19,685 foot) summits the country has to offer. Smaller mountains abound for the less experienced, creating the perfect opportunity to acclimatize before tackling Huayna Potosi which is said to be the easiest 6,000 m peak in the world.
Many traveler’s come back from Bolivia raving about it authenticity, mostly due to the continued predominance of indigenous culture and customs. In the cities, it’s normal to see cholitas (indigenous women) wearing their traditional skirts and bowler hats, while in the countryside, poncho wearing llama herders are regularly seen roaming the land.
Bolivian bus rides are notoriously uncomfortable and famously unreliable. But this just means that although the traveler likely won’t enjoy it at the time, a bus journey in Bolivia is bound to be an adventure.
It may not have Machu Picchu, but there are a number of fascinating archaeological sites scattered throughout Bolivia from back when the Inca ruled these vasts lands. Tiwanaku is a must, as are the numerous relics around Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol.
It doesn’t get much more adventurous than hurtling down the world’s deadliest road on a mountain bike. This white-knuckle ride begins among snow-capped mountain peaks before descending into the humid jungle below on a terrifyingly narrow road just inches from death-inducing drop offs.
Travelers looking to cross an Amazon wildlife safari off their bucket list without spending a fortune need look no further than the northern town of Rurrenabaque. The nearby three-day pampas tours see adventurous tourists cruising the marshlands on dug out canoes on the hunt for caiman, snakes, monkeys, spiders and playful pink river dolphins.
Although not exactly undiscovered, a three-day jeep tour through the expansive Bolivian salt flats and its otherworldly nearby attractions is the ultimate high altitude adventure. Expect to come across flamingo filled lagoons, icy volcanoes, surreal deserts, bubbling hot springs, and steamy geysers in these barren yet hauntingly beautiful lands.
Given the strong adherence to traditions, it’s no surprise Bolivia has some of the most colorful and exuberant folkloric music and dance in the continent. The best place to enjoy such festivities is during an entrada (parade), where thousands of energetic musicians and dancers bring the city streets to a standstill.
The non-claustrophobic among us might jump at the chance to descend deep into the depths of the Cerro Rico mine. Once the primary source of income for the Spanish new world empire, an estimated 6 million men have perished beneath the surface. Enter at your own risk.
Not many tourists visit the eastern lowlands, preferring to stick to the well established routes of the west. But that’s all the more reason to explore these undiscovered lands which are chock full of exotic national parks, breathtaking Jesuit churches, and even a bizarre desert in the middle of the tropics.