Landlocked and far less visited than many of its neighbours, Bolivia is the dark horse of Latin America – warm, welcoming and spectacularly beautiful
Bolivia is a country bound together by stupendous scenery and interesting facts. Did you know, for example, that its de facto capital, La Paz, is the highest in the world? Or that it still has a navy, despite losing all access to the sea over 130 years ago? Or that the mines below Potosi are said to have produced enough precious silver to build a solid silver bridge from Potosi to Madrid?
But if trivia alone doesn’t make you want to visit, here are a few more reasons to put Bolivia on your bucket list.
"From lofty La Paz to the steamy Amazon basin, Bolivia offers a huge range of experiences for the intrepid traveller."
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Playing with Perspectives
SALAR DE UYUNI
No trip to Bolivia would be complete without a visit to the world’s largest salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni, where giant pentagons of crystalline salt stretch endlessly to the horizon. Spectacular at any time of year, they’re especially surreal when seasonal rains coat the flats like a mirror, causing you to question what’s up and what’s down.
To really appreciate the flats, set out for a few days in a deluxe airstream camper. Pulled by your guide and driver in a comfortable 4×4, these ‘silver jellybeans’ grant you access to remote stretches of the flats and come with a private chef to cook your meals and mix you cocktails.
Be sure to visit Inkawasi, an oasis covered by thousands of giant cacti, some more than a hundred years old, growing over 12 metres high.
“Plunge into a surreal landscape where the sky is reflected by the land, playing with your sense of perspective and imagination.”
A Place of Superlatives
LA PAZ & LAKE TITICACA
The world’s highest capital city is truly breathtaking, its buildings sprawled across the surrounding canyon, which reaches altitudes of up to 4,100m. Dip into the museums along the colonial street Calle Jaen, explore the city’s cathedrals, or brave some of La Paz’s more unusual markets, such as the nefarious Witch Doctor’s Market, where dried animals are sold as offerings to Pachamama, the goddess revered by the inhabitants of the Andes.
Not far from La Paz is Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, from which, says local legend, the Inca civilisation emerged around 1,000 years ago. A deluxe hydrofoil cruise on the lake is a must, visiting floating islands made from the tortora reeds that grow in the area. You can even drink from a sacred fountain said to give eternal youth and happiness.
La Paz’s food scene may not be up to the zesty heights of Lima or Buenos Aires, but it’s not without merit if you know where to look. Take Gustu for example, launched by the co-founder of Noma no less. Credited with sparking La Paz’s culinary renaissance, this ground-breaking restaurant works to showcase the best of Bolivian ingredients, from Andean grains to caiman from the Amazon. Even the wines are produced in Bolivia.
“Soak up the sights, sounds and market stalls of Bolivia’s colourful capital.”
SUCRE & POTOSI
Sucre is Bolivia’s most beautiful city, where narrow streets are lined with ornate churches, poems are hand-painted onto wall tiles and colourful flowers hang from wooden balconies. To the south lies the silver-mining town of Potosi, whose mines, as mentioned earlier, are said to have produced enough of the precious metal to build a solid silver bridge from Potosi to Madrid.
The city was the site of the Spanish colonial mint and the largest and wealthiest in the region. You can still visit the working mines, before exploring the remaining churches, mansions and monasteries.
If there on a Sunday, let us arrange a private transfer to visit the fair in Tarabuco, where artisans and artists show off their most delicate and detailed work, including paintings, textiles and ceramics. Many of them still wear the antiquated leather helmets introduced to the area by the early conquistadors.
"Sucre, known as the 'white city' is wonderful for walking - explore its historic plazas and colonial architecture."
The Amazon at its Purest
MADIDI NATIONAL PARK
Often overlooked in itineraries that feature only the headline acts – and therefore blissfully low on tourists – Madidi National Park has the highest biodiversity of endemic plants on the planet; home to some 45,000 different plants and over 1,000 different bird species.
Accommodation here may be simpler than elsewhere but the payoff is a chance to be immersed in an undisturbed corner of the Amazon Basin – a true jungle paradise.
We recommend Chalalan Ecolodge as your base in Madidi. No one knows this patch jungle better than the guides here, and proceeds benefit local conservation efforts and indigenous communities.
"Madidi has the largest number of bird species of any protected area in the world.”
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