Very few people come to Bolivia without spending at least a day or two in the world’s highest (administrative) capital. Besides having a myriad of things to see and do, it serves as the perfect jumping off point for other attractions in the country.
The gastronomic center of Bolivia, Cochabamba is famous for serving huge portions of the country’s finest cuisine. It also happens to have a perfect year-round climate, a thriving cultural scene and plenty of stunning nature reserves right on its doorstep.
Bolivia’s economic powerhouse tends to be largely overlooked by travelers. While this rapidly expanding city doesn’t have many tourist attractions itself, venture a few hours beyond its borders and you’ll find captivating sand dunes, rainforests, rivers and waterfalls. You might even see a sloth casually hanging out in one of its central plazas.
Upon visiting Tarija, not far from the border with Argentina, many might wonder if they are still in Bolivia. This laid back, Mediterranean-style town features whitewashed colonial architecture, a thriving wine industry and a noticeable Argentine cultural influence.
Apart from being an alternative starting point for the Salar de Uyuni tour, Tupiza is also a terrific spot to spend a couple of days. Its surrounding badlands feature impressive canyons, rivers and valleys, which are perfect for exploring on a guided horseback tour. Reminiscent of the wild west, these are the lands where Butch Cassidy met his fateful end.
The former economic center of the Spanish empire, Potosi used to be one of the biggest cities in the world due to its silver-rich Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain). These days, a visit to Potosi provides a fascinating insight into Spanish Colonialism and mining history. Many travelers join a guided tour to gain firsthand experience of the horrendous working conditions in the country’s most notorious mine.
Bolivia’s official capital and colonial centerpiece manages to charm even the most weary traveler. Its delightful array of whitewashed churches, government buildings, parks and monasteries entices many a visitor to stay longer than originally intended. It’s also the best place to learn Spanish in South America, with numerous high-quality yet inexpensive language schools to choose from.
Oruro hosts one of the continent’s best carnival parades. Tens of thousands of intricately-dressed dancers strut their stuff down Oruro’s main streets to the infectious rhythm of exuberant marching bands. It’s a loud, outrageous and refreshingly unpretentious alternative to Rio de Janeiro’s carnival.
La Cordillera Real
Meaning the ‘Royal Range’ in English, this spectacular Andean mountain range earned its name for one simple reason – it’s truly majestic. Every year, hordes of climbers come from all over the world to conquer the snowy peaks of this wondrous region.
Just two hour’s drive from La Paz, Coroico’s relaxed way of life feels worlds away from the big city. Spend a day or two just kicking back and enjoying the stupendous views or exploring nearby rivers and waterfalls. There’s also some fantastic trekking in the region, including the famous three-day El Choro hike.
Most travelers come to Sorata for its trekking, climbing and downhill mountain biking. But if you’re just looking to chill out for a bit, then Sorata’s the perfect place. This gorgeous little town enjoys a slow pace of life and impressive views of snowy mountains and lush forest valleys.
As one of the most historically significant places in the Andes, a trip to Lake Titicaca is a must. Grab a delicious plate of fresh trout on Copacabana’s lake shore before jumping on a ferry to the sacred Isla del Sol (Sun Island). A three-hour hike across the island passes numerous Inca ruins and takes in some spectacular lakeside views. Locals believe the Sun and the Moon were born here and, for many visitors, it’s not hard to see why.
Madidi National Park
This wondrous National Park is internationally renowned for its incredible diversity. Over 1,200 species of bird call Madidi home (14 per cent of the world’s known bird species) as well as countless other mammals, reptiles and insects. Jungle treks, eco-lodges and animal safaris create the perfect opportunity to observe nature at its rawest.
Salar de Uyuni
Bolivia’s number one tourist attraction never fails to amaze. Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest and highest salt flat, is conveniently surrounded by a throng of other natural wonders, including colorful lagoons, towering volcanoes, bubbling hot springs and steamy geysers. An absolute must while traveling through Bolivia.
Toro Toro National Park
Toro Toro National Park has an impressive collection of well-preserved dinosaur footprints, some of which are mindbogglingly huge. If that doesn’t excite you, there’s also hikes through impressive canyons, bizarre animal-shaped rock formations and a fun caving experience.
Sajama National Park
If you really want to get away from it all, then Sajama is the place to go. This isolated National Park features a climbable dormant volcano, reflective lagoons, more llamas than you can poke a stick at, the world’s highest forest and some temperate hot springs to relax in after a long day exploring.
This nature lover’s paradise is just a short drive away from the metropolis of Santa Cruz. The park offers plenty of superb hiking trails which take in cascading waterfalls, scenic viewpoints and an incredible variety of flora and fauna.
This pleasant little town nestled in a lush valley is a favorite of retired expats and international tourists alike. It boasts a temperate climate, close proximity to Amboro National Park, an ancient pre-Colombian fortress and a fantastic waterfall and swimming hole.
As one of the most important pre-Colombian sites in the Americas, a visit to Tiwanaku is a must for any history buff. Set under the majestic Cordillera Real mountain range, Tiwinaku features an impressive number of beautifully crafted sculptures, gigantic stone building blocks and the mysterious, megalithic stone arch known as El Puerta del Sol (The Gate of the Sun). Take the time to peruse the onsite museum to learn more about this fascinating ancient culture.
Rurrenabaque is a humid little jungle town on the edge of Madidi National Park. Scores of adventurers brave the arduous 18-hour bus ride (or opt for a 45-minute flight) from La Paz to visit this renowned Amazonian eco-tourism hub. A three-day pampas tour utilizes dugout canoes to provide a floating wildlife safari that is arguably the best in South America.