We were lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in Bolivia on our travels and were surprised by just how much we enjoyed it. Like many of the destinations we visit we hadn’t done a huge amount of research in advance, and had heard mixed reviews from other travellers on our journey through South America. There are loads of awesome reasons to visit Bolivia and it’s a beautiful, amazing and fascinating country to explore.
Certainly, Bolivia has its problems – the country is extremely poor and some areas have a reputation for being unsafe for tourists even by South American standards. Despite these issues, our experience of the country was entirely positive – and it’s one of the most beautiful places we visited in 2016 without a doubt. If you’re planning your travels for 2017 we wholeheartedly recommend putting Bolivia on your wish list! Here are some of our best reasons to visit Bolivia and some tips on what to do when you get there:
1. It Has The World’s Highest Capital City
La Paz is a chaotic city to say the least. It’s huge and sprawling, with houses and other buildings scattered across what is basically a canyon, surrounded by mountains. The metropolitan area is the most populous urban area in Bolivia and the city is located at an incredible 4000 metres above sea level.
I have to confess that our least favourite thing about travelling in Bolivia was the altitude… in La Paz, like many other spots around the country, you’ll often find yourself out of breath just walking up the street. Visiting La Paz is definitely an experience though and highlights like travelling over the city by cable car and wandering through the witches market make it a great place to spend a couple of days in Bolivia.
2. You Can Mountain Bike The Death Road
My top piece of advice if you’re going to do this would be to make sure you get a good night’s sleep the night before and to make sure you’re not hungover. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. Mountain biking from over 4000 metres down to close to sea level in the rainforest is an incredible, terrifying and exhilarating experience.
It’s less dangerous now than it used to be, with decent companies that run tours taking safety very seriously, but is still not for the faint hearted. The views and mountain scenery are incredible and show just how diverse and beautiful Bolivia is. If you’re an adrenalin seeker this is a great reason to visit Bolivia.
3. There Are Dinosaur Footprints You Can Hike To
A huge highlight of our travels in Bolivia was hiking down an ancient inca trail to discover dinosaur footprints. There’s a theme park type place in Sucre where you can learn more about the discovery of dinosaurs in this area, as well as a brilliant day hike that shows off some more of Bolivia’s beautiful landscapes. It’s awesome to be in a country that’s so full of natural beauty as well as fascinating history. I had no idea that so many dinosaurs were discovered to have lived in South America and Bolivia and Argentina in particular.
4. You Get To Visit a ‘Mega-Diverse’ Country
Yep, if you visit Bolivia you’ll be spending time in one of the most diverse countries in the world. In terms of the country’s landscapes and geographical features you can see everything from the Amazon Rainforest to tropical savannah and Andean mountain peaks. This is an awesome reason to visit Bolivia if you love nature and wildlife.
The Andean region is home to the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, whilst the centre of the country has a temperate climate and is the heart of Bolivia’s agricultural activity. Now I’m relying on Wikipedia but the country has over 17,000 species of seed plants, 3000 medicinal plants, over 4000 types of potato (!), and over 2,900 animal species.
5. Bolivia Has The Largest Salt Flats in the World
Another highlight and a fixture on pretty much every tour of Bolivia is a trip to the largest salt flats in the world – the Salar de Uyuni. Over 4000 square miles in size it’s an unbelievable sight. Miles and miles of brilliant white salt stretching as far as the eye can see. When you look up close the ground is made up of hundreds of small hexagons, a salt crust that covers a pool of brine.
There are also ‘land islands’ that feature high peaks that can be climbed for even better views, many of which are covered in huge cacti. It’s an entirely otherworldly landscape and has to be seen to be believed. Also in the area and popular stop offs on tours are beautiful lakes populated with flamingos, active volcanoes and amazing rock formations. You can also visit a ‘train cemetery’ filled with old, abandoned trains and even stay in a salt hotel that’s made of, you guessed it, salt!
6. You Can Eat Loads Of Quinoa – For Cheap!
I already mentioned the stunning variety of potatoes that are native to Bolivia but another cool fact is that it’s one of the biggest producers and exporters of quinoa. The growth in the popularity of quinoa in the west in recent years is caused all sorts of complex economic problems that I don’t feel qualified to comment on. More here if you want to find out more, but you can expect to enjoy delicious quinoa soups and stews throughout Bolivia. It might not strictly be a reason to visit Bolivia in itself, but we loved the food we ate here and it was so cheap!
7. Beautiful Colonial Cities To Explore
Probably the most attractive city in Bolivia and definitely our favourite is the pretty white painted colonial city of Sucre. It was built at a lower altitude than the neighbouring city of Potosi to provide an easier and more comfortable place to live that was still in an economically advantageous area.
The white houses and other buildings are repainted annually, and it’s a laid back and relaxed city surrounded by beautiful mountain landscapes. There are some really interesting museums and historic buildings to explore, including the House of Freedom, National Library and Supreme Court of Justice, amongst others. It’s the constitutional capital of Bolivia and houses the country’s Declaration of Independence, so if you want to learn more about Bolivia’s history you must visit Sucre.
8. The Silver Mining City Of Potosi
Another famous city and the third we visited in Bolivia in Potosi. Another high one it’s located at over 4,000 metres and whilst we found ourselves pretty exhausted trying to breathe and explore at the same time, it’s definitely somewhere worth visiting. Its most famous feature is the ‘Cerro Rico’ a large peak that’s said to be made of silver and the centre of what used to be a rich mining economy.
This was the major source of wealth for Spanish colonialists who were in the region and used to mine incredible amounts of silver to send back to Spain. It’s also home to the National Mint and museum which are an interesting insight into how Bolivia’s wealth of natural resources was redistributed by the Spanish.
I hope this list has shown there are so many reasons to visit Bolivia. All of these are essential places to visit and part of the reason we fell in love with this beautiful country. It’s full of history, stunning natural landscapes and there’s so much to see that whatever your interests you’ll find plenty to do.