Ahhh, Bolivia. A country of great beauty, stunning landscapes, and unique attractions. A country with the highest capital city in the world, the largest salt flats in the world, mountains, jungles, lakes, and everything else in between.
Bolivia may not be the easiest place to travel in, may not have the warmest people, and may not have the best cuisine, but what it lacks in those departments it more than makes up for in others.
Bolivia stands out as a top notch travel destination for many reasons. The main one being the diversity of the landscape. No other country I’ve been on Earth has such a myriad of dazzling natural beauty that is so unique.
While the highlights of Bolivia are many, these five stuck out as must see, can’t miss places if visiting this beautiful, landlocked South American country. These sites provide a great contrast of all there is to see in a country about three times the size of the state of Montana.
1. LA PAZ
The highest capital city in the world, sitting at about 13,400 feet (4100 meters), is a great introduction to the diversity of Bolivia.
La Paz, a picturesque city set in a valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks, offers anything a traveler could want. This bustling metropolis provides top notch cuisine, from Indian to Middle Eastern to local, accommodations of all shapes, sizes, and prices, a rousing night life, and activities for everyone (fancy a bike ride down the World’s Most Dangerous Road?).
Giant markets (even a witch market), crazy traffic, impressive architecture, ornate churches, and the Presidential Palace await you in La Paz. If big, urban cities appeal to you, look no further. There aren’t many major cities in the world where a room can cost $5US and a top notch meal can be had for under $10US, so consider beginning your Bolivian trip here.
Traveling in Bolivia can be tough business, especially for backpackers with a low budget. The buses and roads are, shall we say, challenging, and overland travel can take a lot out of even the most seasoned travelers.
Luckily Coroico is here to whisk all your worries away. A few hours outside of La Paz (or at the end of the World’s Most Dangerous Road bike ride), Coroico is perched on a hill in the subtropical Yunga Valley, set amongst orange and banana groves with condors circling overhead.
This small town is appealing for its scenery and being a place to just kick back and relax. A stop here for a few days in highly advisable for anyone, and if you plan on riding the World’s Most Dangerous Road before heading towards the jungle (a typical Bolivian itinerary), you’ll be thankful for the R & R.
Accommodations are quite cheap (private doubles with bath can be found for about $15US), most have spectacular views, and many even have a pool. If time permits, don’t skip over this gem of a town. You’ll thank me later.
3. THE PAMPAS
Day One – Crazy Guides with alligators in Pampas
High atop anyone’s list of must-sees while traveling in South America is a trip into the Amazon jungle to see wildlife galore.
Most people automatically think Brazil when contemplating this world famous site, but parts of the jungle can be visited in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia. Two options are available in Bolivia, jungle tours and pampas tours, both based out of Rurrenabaque (about 20 hours by bus-one of the worst trips in South America-north of La Paz, or a 45 minute flight).
If seeing wildlife is your goal, then the Pampas tour is for you. Picture slowly puttering down the river in a dug-out canoe, with literally hundreds of alligators, crocodiles, turtles, monkeys, pink dolphins, capybaras, and an abundant species of birds all around. Envision piranha fishing, swimming with the dolphins, hiking around the jungle in search of the largest snake in the world, the anaconda.
Wake up to the sounds of howler monkeys and the cacophony of jungle sounds. A truly unique place in the world that permits travelers to get up close and personal with a myriad of wildlife, a Pampas tour is something that will be etched in your memory forever.
If you’re fortunate enough to travel around South America and are going to both Peru and Bolivia, Copacabana is a can’t miss destination. Sitting on one side of the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, which straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia, sits the charming and quaint town of Copacabana.
The radiant blue-turquoise lake is what people come to Copacabana for, and options abound for exploring it. Hiking trails along the shore is a great way to see the lake for different perspectives, with white capped mountains in the background. Kayaking or paddle-boating your way around the bay gets travelers up close and personal with the lake.
A boat trip to one of the islands in the middle of the lake is one of the most popular ways to experience Lake Titicaca. And while the town itself doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment, that’s all right because the lake is the highlight here, and it’s the only entertainment you’ll need.
5. SALAR DE UYUNI
If a Bolivian Salt Flats tour isn’t on your travel bucket list, add it now. The Salt Flats themselves are the definite highlight of the tour, but they only constitute one of the four days of the trip. This is actually a tour of southwestern Bolivia, and never in my life have I felt more like an astronaut.
Other-worldly landscapes await you on this indescribable jeep trip through scenes out of a fantasy land. Red and green colored lagoons, pink flamingos and other unique wildlife, geysers, volcanoes, and geothermal wonders, painted mountains, bizarre rock formations, and the feeling of being on the moon are just a sampling of the highlights of the other three days.
Then there’s the Salt Flats themselves. The highest and largest in the world, the Salt Flats are a wonder like no other. Bright white stretching as far as the eye can see, contrasting with the deep blue skies, offers a scene that simply doesn’t look, seem, or feel real. A magical place that has people of every age acting like children, a trip to the Salar de Uyuni is a memorable one.
There are so many sights to see in a country as beautiful as Bolivia, and these five are just the tip of the iceberg. While travel in this very poor and developing country is usually challenging and at times heartbreaking, your efforts will be rewarded with some of the most visually pleasing scenery in the entire world.
What can you add to the list of places to visit in Bolivia?