Bolivia offers scores of breathtaking attractions, including vast inland lakes, beautifully preserved colonial towns, towering volcanoes, blisteringly hot deserts, mysterious ruins and wildlife-rich national parks. Yet, it remains remarkably little explored. Those who do venture here often find it to be one of South America’s most captivating destinations. Here is our pick of the best things to do in Bolivia.
The park’s wildlife is astonishing: more than seven hundred species of animal have been recorded, along with over a thousand species of bird. There are also around a thousand butterfly species and also more than five thousand species of flowering plants.
When dry, the dazzling salt surface shines with such intense whiteness that it appears to be ice or snow, while by night the entire landscape is illuminated by the eerie white glow of moonlight reflected in the salt. When it’s covered in water after rain, the Salar is turned into an enormous mirror that reflects the surrounding mountain peaks and the sky so perfectly that at times the horizon disappears.
Though the city originally covered several square kilometres, only a fraction of the site has been excavated. The main ruins can easily be visited in half a day, and occupy a fairly small area which was once the ceremonial centre of the city, a jumble of tumbled pyramids and ruined palaces and temples made from megalithic stone blocks.
Bolivia for those on a tight timeline. On this tailor-made trip to the Highlights of Bolivia, you will visit the de facto capital La Paz, on a day tour to Lake Titicaca with the beautiful Copacabana town. A short flight to Uyuni will allow you to explore the wonders of salt processing before heading back to La Paz.
Today, Potosí, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a treasure trove of colonial art and architecture; it has more than two thousand colonial buildings, many of which have been restored. The colonial royal mint is the city’s most outstanding monument, but there are also hundreds of townhouses and mansions, complete with red-tiled roofs and decorative balconies, and a clutch of striking churches.
Inevitably, much of this music is inextricably involved with dance. If you’re lucky you might see the unforgettable sight of a squad of young women comparsas swirling their pollera skirts, with manta shawls around their shoulders and bowler hats on their heads.
On the first Sunday of November, the Santuario del Socavón church hosts a special Mass, and rehearsals are then held every subsequent Sunday until Carnaval itself. The Carnaval’s main event is the Entrada on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, a massive procession of costumed dancers accompanied by brass bands.
Set amid a hollow gouged into the Altiplano, the city is a scene of stunning contrasts. The central cluster of church spires and office blocks lies dwarfed by the magnificent icebound peak of Mount Illimani rising imperiously to the southeast. On either side, the steep valley slopes are smothered by the ramshackle red-brick homes of the city’s poorer inhabitants, clinging precariously to even the harshest gradients.
South America is full of wonders and this tailor-made multi-country adventure packs Argentina, Chile and Bolivia into 2 weeks. Bustling Buenos Aires, beautiful valleys around Salta, the surreal-looking surroundings of San Pedro de Atacama, the salt flat of Uyuni as well as Lake Titicaca are all part of this itinerary.
All tour groups heading south have to buy tickets at the park office by Laguna Colorada, the reserve’s biggest lake. It owes its bizarre red colour, which changes in intensity during the day, to the natural pigments of the algae that live in its shallow, mineral-laden water. These algae are a rich source of food for flamingos – the lake is to be the world’s single biggest nesting site of the rare James flamingo.
The stalls are all heavily laden with a colourful cornucopia of ritual and medicinal items. They are ranging from herbal cures for minor ailments like rheumatism, coloured sweets, protective talismans and, the most ghoulish for foreign visitors, dried llama foetuses (these are miscarried or stillborn baby llamas – no animals are killed simply to provide a foetus).
What the statistics don’t tell you is that the old route – and to a certain extent the bypass as well – is among the most awe-inspiring and scenic roads in the world. Starting amid the ice-bound peaks of the Cordillera Real, it plunges through the clouds into the humid valleys of the Yungas, winding along deep, narrow gorges clad with dense cloud forest.
The best salteñas are found in Sucre, where they’re also sold in specialist cafés called salteñerias, which open only in the mid-morning and serve nothing else. Salteñas potosinas, made in Potosí, are less juicy (making them easier to eat in the mines) and are more likely to be meat-free.
With hundreds of peaks over 5000m and a dozen over 6000m, Bolivia has plenty of types of mountain climbing, and many new routes still to explore. Climbing the dramatic Cordillera Real is one of the best things to do in Bolivia. It is blessed with numerous high peaks, easy access from La Paz and fairly stable weather conditions during the dry season.
Jesuit priests established flourishing mission towns where the region’s previously hostile indigenous inhabitants converted to Catholicism and built some of South America’s most magnificent colonial churches. Six of the ten Jesuit mission churches still survive and have been restored and declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites – their incongruous splendour amid the wilderness is one of Bolivia’s most remarkable sights.
An immense, sapphire-blue lake sitting astride the border with Peru at the northern end of the Altiplano, Lake Titicaca is one of the classic images of South America. Set at an altitude of 3810m, and measuring 190km by 80km, it’s by far the biggest high-altitude body of water in the world.
One of only two landlocked countries in South America, Bolivia is full of wonders. With this tailor-made trip to the natural and cultural wonders of Bolivia, you will visit Lake Titicaca, the de facto capital La Paz, the actual capital Sucre as well as the fascinating Salar de Uyuni.
The centre of Spanish power in Alto Peru, Sucre was made the capital of Bolivia after independence, a status it retains today, although all real power has long since passed to La Paz. The city exudes the sense of being frozen in time somewhere back in the late nineteenth century. Sucre is nicely tempered by the youthful vitality the town enjoys as the home of one of the Americas’ oldest universities.
The city continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, spreading inexorably in a mixture of ragged shantytowns, commercial developments and exclusive residential districts. The old colonial city centre is still dominated by whitewashed houses with tiled roofs that extend over the pavements. When everything closes up in the middle of the day for an extended lunch break the city is suffused with languid tropical indolence.
There’s now an entry charge (as well as an artesanía shop and a subterranean information centre illuminating the valley’s geology), payable at the kiosk on the left, on the road that switches back to the right from the roundabout. Look out for the flags of the adjacent golf course, predictably dubbed the world’s highest.
Although Sajama stands alone, separated from the rest of the range it is also the centre of Bolivia’s oldest national park, the Sajama National Park, established in 1939 to protect the local population of vicuñas. Vicuñas is a wild relative of the llama that had been hunted to the verge of extinction for its wool. The animals have since made a dramatic recovery, and large herds can be found grazing north of the village.
It's also worth noting that Bolivia is one of the most affordable options for travelling, not only in South America but worldwide. Looking for more destinations like this? Read our guide to budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Bolivia without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.