Best things to do in Bolivia

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 12.06.2024

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 information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Bolivia, your essential guide for visiting Bolivia.

1. Exploring Parque Nacional Madidi - one of the best things to do in Bolivia for nature lovers

On Rurrenabaque’s doorstep, and spanning nearly nineteen thousand square kilometres, Parque Nacional Madidi is home to some of the most diverse plant and animal life in the world. It ranges in altitude from less than 300m to over 5500m above sea level, encompassing a variety of Andean and Amazonian ecosystems.

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.

Tip from Rough Guides: Learn about the best ways to get to Bolivia.

Close up of a Caiman at Madidi National Park, Bolivia

Visiting Parque Nacional Madidi is one of the best things to do in Bolivia for nature lovers © Shutterstock

2. Uyuni Salt Flats

The Salar de Uyuni is not a lake in the conventional sense: though below the surface it is largely saturated by water, its uppermost layer consists of a thick, hard crust of salt, easily capable of supporting the weight of a car. Driving across this perfectly flat white expanse, with unbroken chains of snowcapped mountains lining the far horizon, is one of the best things to do in Bolivia. It’s easy to believe you’re on another planet.

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.


Salt lake, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia © Helen Filatova/Shutterstock

3. Tiwanaku

On the Altiplano, 72km west of La Paz and 3872m above sea level, visiting the ruined city of Tiwanaku is one of the most intriguing things to do in Bolivia for archaeology enthusiasts. Founded around 1500 BC, Tiwanaku became the capital of a massive empire that lasted almost a thousand years, developing into a sophisticated urban centre that at its peak was home to some fifty thousand people.

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.

Things not to miss: Tiwanaku, Bolivia.

Tiwanaku, Bolivia © marktucan/Shutterstock

4. Potosí

On a desolate, windswept plain amid barren mountains at almost 4100m above sea level, Potosí is the highest city in the world, and at once the most fascinating and tragic place in Bolivia. It owes its existence to Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), which rises imperiously above the city to the south.

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.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Potosí

Center of the city of Potosi at sunny day, Bolivia © Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

Centre of the city of Potosi on a sunny day, Bolivia © Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

5. Folk music and dance

Bolivia’s music is vibrant and varied. Much of it has a similar flavour to that of neighbouring Andean countries, evidence of the continuity of musical traditions among the indigenous peoples of the Andes. There’s a wealth of popular music connected with the various festivals that dot the year, or to key events in the agricultural calendar.

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.


Dancing women, Bolivia © NRuArg/Shutterstock

6. Oruro Carnaval

A moveable feast celebrated in late February or early March, the Oruro Carnaval is Bolivia’s most spectacular fiesta. During the week-long party, thousands of costumed dancers parade through Oruro in a vibrant and bizarre celebration of the sacred and profane that combines Christian beliefs with Andean folklore. As well as heavy drinking and chaotic water-fighting.

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.

Find accommodation options to stay in Oruro

Oruro / Carnival custom, Bolivia.

Oruro carnival, Bolivia © Dario Diament/Shutterstock

7. La Paz

Few cities in the world have as spectacular a setting as La Paz. Glimpsed for the first time as your bus or taxi crawls over the lip of the narrow canyon in which the city sits hunched, it’s a sight that will leave your lungs gasping for breath – quite literally, since La Paz sits at over 3500m above sea level.

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.


Illimani mountain, La Paz, Bolivia © Jess Kraft/Shutterstock

8. Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa

Ranging between 4000m and 6000m in altitude, the starkly beautiful Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa is a 7147-square-kilometre wildlife reserve covering the most southwestern corner of Bolivia. It is usually visited on an organized tour, and unless you have transport, that’s the only way to do it.

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.

Flamingos in a Laguna, Hedionda, Bolivia

Flamingos Laguna, Hedionda, Bolivia © Shutterstock

9. Mercado de Hechiceria in La Paz

The Mercado de Hechicería, or Witches’ Market, is the generic name given to a handful of stalls clustered on Linares and Jiménez, leading off Santa Cruz, that cater to herbal medicine and Aymara mysticism. Most stalls sell the same stuff, and, though intriguing, you’ll need to speak (in Spanish) to the stallholders to make sense of it all.

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).


La Paz - Witches' market © Shutterstock

10. Andean textiles

The traditional weavings of indigenous highland communities are among the finest expressions of Andean culture. Given that La Paz can at times feel like one massive marketplace, it should come as no surprise that the city is a good place to go shopping. Some of the best offerings are traditional textiles from all over the highlands, including beautiful handmade ponchos, woven belts, blankets and women’s shawls.


Aguayo cloth, Bolivia © Vivia-Futuraico/Shutterstock

11. Biking down the world’s most dangerous road - one of the best things to do in Bolivia for the stunning scenery

Few highways have as intimidating a reputation as the original road linking La Paz with Coroico in the North Yungas. A rough, narrow track chiselled out of near-vertical mountainsides that descends more than 3500m over a distance of just 64km. It’s still widely referred to as the world’s most dangerous road (aka “the Death Road”), a title bestowed on it by the Inter-American Development Bank.

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.

Cycling the Death Road, Bolivia © mezzotint/Shutterstock

Death Road, Bolivia © Shutterstock

12. Salteñas

The most popular snack throughout Bolivia is the salteña, a pasty filled with a spicy, juicy stew of meat or chicken with chopped vegetables, olives and hard-boiled egg. Named after the city of Salta in Argentina, salteñas are sold from street stalls and eaten in the mid-morning accompanied by a cold drink and a spoonful or two of chilli sauce if desired.

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.

Bolivian salteña baked snack on plate © NaturalLense/Shutterstock

Bolivian salteña baked snack on plate © NaturalLense/Shutterstock

13. Inca trails and mountain climbing

Whether you want to stroll for half a day or take a hardcore hike for two weeks over high passes and down into remote Amazonian valleys, Bolivia is a paradise for trekking and mountain climbing. The Choro, Takesi and Yunga Cruz trails – the three so-called “Inca trails” – descend from the icebound peaks of the Cordillera Real to the subtropical Yungas.

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.


Cordillera Real view with La Paz, Bolivia © Shutterstock

14. The Jesuit missions of Chiquitos

East and northeast of Santa Cruz stretch a vast, sparsely populated plain covered in scrub and fast-disappearing dry tropical forest, which gradually gives way to swamp as it approaches the border with Brazil. Named Chiquitos by the Spanish, in the eighteenth century this region was the scene of one of the most extraordinary episodes in Spanish colonial history.

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.


Jesuit mission church, San Jose de Chiquitos, Bolivia © Noradoa/Shutterstock

15. Lake Titicaca & Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol is the spiritual centre of the Andean world, revered as the place where the sun and moon were created. Just off the northern tip of the Copacabana peninsula, about 12km northwest of Copacabana town, the Island of the Sun is a world apart from the mainland, a beautifully preserved slice of old Bolivia.

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.

Isla del sol Titicaca lake, Bolivia

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca lake, Bolivia © Shutterstock

16. Sucre

In a broad highland valley on the Altiplano’s eastern edge, about 162km north of Potosí, Sucre is Bolivia’s most refined and beautiful city. Known at various times as Chuquisaca, Charcas and La Ciudad de la Plata – and thus also as “The City of Four Names” – it has some of the finest colonial architecture in South America.

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.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Sucre


Sucre, Bolivia © gary yim/Shutterstock

17. Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Set among the steamy, tropical lowlands just beyond the last Andean foothills, Santa Cruz is Bolivia’s economic powerhouse. An isolated frontier town until the middle of the twentieth century, the city has since become the biggest in the country, a sprawling metropolis with a booming oil, gas, timber, cattle and agro-industry economy.

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.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Aerial panorama of the center of the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Bolivia © Shutterstock

Aerial panorama of the centre of the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia © Shutterstock

18. Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)

The stretch of eerie, cactus-strewn badlands around Mallasa is known as the Valle de la Luna. Scarred by deep canyons and strange formations of clay and rock carved by seasonal rains into pinnacles resembling church organ pipes, visiting the valley is one of the best things to do in Bolivia for a pleasant half-day walk.

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.

Unique geological formations cliffs shapes, Moon Valley park, La Paz mountains, Bolivia © Shutterstock

Unique geological formations cliffs shapes, Moon Valley park, La Paz mountains, Bolivia © Shutterstock

19. Sajama National Park

Southwest of La Paz, the road to Chile passes through some of the Altiplano’s starkest scenery, a desert plain virtually devoid of vegetation presided over by the perfect snowcapped cone of Volcán Sajama. At 6542m, Sajama is Bolivia’s highest mountain and the first in a chain of icebound volcanic peaks known as the Cordillera Occidental that straddle the Chilean border and mark the edge of the Altiplano.

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.


Volcano Sajama, Bolivia © Shutterstock

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.

Ready for a trip to Bolivia? Check out The Rough Guide to Bolivia.

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.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 12.06.2024

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