a travel guide to bolivia
Nestled on the western side of South America, Bolivia is a country that has experienced a difficult past. Arriving in the country's largest city La Paz, you will find yourself immersed in the country's culture and history, which was forged by a turbulent past. Just outside of town, you will see Bolivia's natural beauty first-hand. Mountains and lakes dot the surrounding area as La Paz's skyline juts out from the background.
Bolivia is considered one of the best countries for budget travellers, and adventure in the unique country is never too far away. Finding great accommodation, food and entertainment is simple and it won't break your budget when staying in Bolivia. You won't find a more affordable place in South America than the rooftop of the world.
Bolivia's culture has been influenced by a range of peoples from over the years. As well as the local indigenous populations, the Spanish had a large influence on today's Bolivian people.
The original territory that makes up Bolivia was part of the Incan Empire and a few of the indigenous groups in the country today descend from the Incas.
Today, those indigenous languages that once thrived in the country are making a renaissance. Some are being recognised as official languages and no longer is Spanish the only widely spoken language.
The arts and traditions brought by Spanish colonisers have been incorporated into a culture unique to Bolivia. It is one that is truly its own and different than any other in South America.
Places to visit
Salar de Uyuni
The Andes Mountains run through Bolivia and located amongst them is the Salar de Uyuni. The large salt flats were once a prehistoric lake that has now dried up, leaving the amazing remnants of what once was. The Salar de Uyuni is like something from another planet. The area is home to wildlife, including flamingoes
that use the area for breeding. Due to the salt flats' location there have been a number of hotels and restaurants pop up to accommodate travellers; so you shouldn't have any problem finding a bed for the night.
While you will most likely fly into Bolivia via La Paz, the capital city of Sucre offers visitors a quiet escape with traditional colonial architecture. The city provides a look into the country's past as well as what the aristocracy of Spain would have enjoyed centuries ago. One of the main attractions of the city is La Casa de la Libertad. The building was where Simon Bolivar wrote the country's constitution.
While it may be a humorous name to English speakers, Lake Titicaca is believed to be the birthplace of the Incan Empire; and ruins of the ancient civilisation dot the surrounding area. The lake borders Bolivia and Peru, which gives you the chance to travel between the two countries. Lake Titicaca is situated at an extremely high altitude and is the highest navigable lake in the world. While visiting the lake, take a jaunt out to the Isla del Sol where you will find more than 180 Incan ruins to explore.
Bolivia's cuisine is a mix of Spanish foods brought by colonisers and traditional staples eaten by the area's indigenous people. You will often find corn, rice, potatoes, beans and meat in Bolivian recipes, although other items will be substituted into breakfast, lunch and dinner.
One popular dish is papas rellenas or stuffed potatoes. The mashed potatoes are stuffed with ingredients and spices before being deep-fried. If you want to find a snack just follow your nose to the nearest saltenas stand. Similar to a pasty in the United Kingdom, saltenas are pastries filled with meat, vegetables, eggs, olives and a spicy sauce. Despite the size, these are eaten as snacks!
Once you finish hiking in the Andes or visiting sites in La Paz, sit down to pique a lo macho. The massive dish is made of beef chunks, sausages, onions, peppers, boiled egg and chips. It's like a kebab, but Bolivian style. Topped with mustard or
ketchup, you will feel macho after downing the entire thing. Or too full to sightsee anymore.
What to see?
If you are brave – or stupid – enough, a trip to Bolivia isn't complete without seeing the Yungas Road. Known as the "world's most dangerous road", the Yungas Road is a death-defying dirt road cut into the side of mountains. The road runs from La Paz to Bolivia's Amazon rainforest and it regularly sees cars and trucks go over the edge. While it is very dangerous, it is a popular site to see and even mountain bike.
Potosi sits at the foot of Cerro Rico. The mountain once held silver and was the eye of Spanish affection. Cerro Rico now towers over the town of Potosi and is a reminder of colonialisations impact on the South American country. Take a trip to the town and hike the mountain before you take a tour of the old mines. Finish off your trip in Potosi with a tour of the Casa Nacional de Moneda, which was the royal mint.
While visiting Lake Titicaca, be sure to see Tiwanaku, which is one of the original Incan villages. Now a top tourist attraction, the city has only been partially excavated, and is a great treasure of what pre-Incan Empire society was like.
La Paz isn't well-known for its amazing nightclub scene, although you will find plenty with Latin music playing DJs. Today, there are more and more bars and cafes popping up around the city offering different experiences to those in the past.
The great thing about La Paz and other Bolivian cities, is the cheap nightlife. Beers and cocktails won't cost you an arm and a leg, and it is easy to find bars with bottles of beer for around £1.
Bolivia is one of the cheapest countries to visit in South America – if not the cheapest – and this is reflected in the price when going out at night.
If you want to get in touch with Bolivia's traditional side, try a pena or folk-dance show. There are special restaurants that not only cater to the music and dance, but to the food that goes along with the show.
Volunteers are often needed in Bolivia, and many times organisations are desperate to find able bodies to fill positions. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and the lack of money means many people are living in very deprived conditions.
Of course, there are plenty of online groups that can place you in a volunteer role. But due to the lack of volunteers on the ground in Bolivia, there is plenty of opportunity for you to seek out groups and speak to them directly once you arrive.