Bolivia is a country of contrasts. Sometimes it feels like are several countries in one. Among its nature, culture, history, gastronomy and people, Bolivia is much more than you can imagine. And in the following lines, I will show you why. Let’s explore it together!
Probably the most magnificent thing in Bolivia is nature. Imagine snowed mountains in the middle of summer or tropical weather in winter. In Bolivia you can find it all, just choose!
The highlands might be the most surreal area of the country, starting with the Uyuni Salt Flat, the biggest salt desert of the world, a white plain approximately the size of Lebanon. But it is even more than a desert. If you happen to be there after a rain, a thin layer of water remains on its surface, transforming it in the biggest natural mirror in the world! You will have the sky at your feet! That is not all. Colored lagoons, geysers, thermal waters and Andean fauna are some of the treasures found near Uyuni Salt Flat, in Eduardo Avaroa Reserve.
Also in the highlands is Titicaca, the highest lake in the world, which saves the mystery of ancient cultures in its underwater city and sacred islands. Indigenous Aymara and Quechua people still inhabit the area, and one can observe how they use a plant called totora to build their boats, houses and even floating islands.
But the mystical environment of the highlands would not be complete without the imponent mountains with permanent snow surrounding it, as tireless guardians. If your adventurous spirit commands it, make a climbing route, and go after that unique feeling of immensity and peace that the Andean mountains gift us with.
When you are done with the highlands, will you believe me that you can switch to tropical weather in a matter of hours? And not even by plane, you just need a bike. The famous Death Road will take you along that transition until you reach Los Yungas, an area between the highlands and the Amazon. It is still a bit high, but tropical; very green, and at the same level of clouds… heavenly beautiful!
If you go north, you will find the Bolivian Amazon, which nowadays constitutes nearly 40% of the countries area. In the west of this green ocean is Madidi, internationally designated as “the Natural Park with the greatest biodiversity in the world”. In Beni (the east), you can take a cruise along the jungle rivers, reaching places that could not be achieved by other means - wildlife, native tribes, archeological sites and the peace transmitted by the green immensity of the Amazon.
The subtropical regions are equally impressive. Carrasco National Park, with diverse eco-systems, is another of the most diverse places of the country. Right next to it is Amboró National Park, famous for its peculiar volcanic formations and hidden cascades. And if flying is your thing, overfly Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, and observe Catarata Arco Iris and Catarata Federico Ahlfed, two of the most impressive waterfalls of Latin America!
Now, one of my favorites - the dry forest, which actually is not that dry, but totally warm and green. In the area within, called Chiquitania (the top location in the country for bird watching), places like The Anteroom of Heaven and Aguas Calientes can make you feel in paradise. There are no cities in the area, instead, there are several charming tiny towns. Among them are Missiones, historic towns, of which six have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Talking about contrasts, in each side of the dry forest, two opposite extremes are found. On the one hand, is Chaco, a hot and dry region, of southern Latin America. If you want to experience it, my advice is to go during the summer, when it is filled with butterflies. On the other hand, is the Pantanal, flooded lands known for its lotus flowers and its Victoria Regia, floating leaves that can reach several meters of diameter and, sometimes, even hold a person on top.
Finally, if you are not the best friend of extreme weathers, Bolivia's valleys, with permanent spring weather, are for you! You do not need to go too far from the big cities to find wonders. Take, for example, Incachaca near Cochabamba, El Palmar near Sucre or Marquiri near Tarija, among many options.
Chocolate, coffee, and wine lovers pay attention! Bolivia produces cacao, coffee beans and grapes organically, in perfect land and weather conditions, applying a careful manual selection and a lot of passion in their transformation. You will get impressed by their quality. No mass production, just the best taste is allowed!
And if you are looking for things you have never tried before, experiment with some of the highlands' ancient agricultural goods, for example, red, black and purple corn, or hundreds of varieties of colorful potatoes. And in the tropical side of the country, you might find hard to pronounce names as achachairú, cupuazú, guapurú or sinini, but you do not need to memorize the names to enjoy an endless number of tropical fruits. Not talking about the fresh Amazonian nuts grown wild in the jungle of Pando.
Now, let’s talk about local meals! They say the best city to eat is Cochabamba, and I agree, but actually, the options in the whole country are endless. Even as a Bolivian, I keep constantly discovering dishes while exploring new spots of the country: spicy and non-spicy food, excellent meats and vegetarian food… each region has a new surprise! I could write a whole book about it but, when it comes to tastes, better come and try yourself!
There is even more about gastronomy. The agricultural diversity of Bolivia has become a paradise for chefs. In the last decade, very talented local chefs emerged, and even well-known international ones have made of Bolivia their headquarter to experiment with its diverse ingredients, applying the latest cooking techniques, creating gourmet and molecular food, from author’s cuisines. Make sure not to miss the flavorful gourmet experience in Bolivia!
Carnival, a truly big deal in Bolivia, is unique in each region! Internationally known as one of the best in the world, Oruro Carnival was denominated a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. But a carnival where you will feel part of it, thanks to the friendly locals, is the Chapaco Carnival in Tarija, filled with funny traditions. While, in the Santa Cruz Carnival, astonishingly beautiful carnival queens spread joy at the rhythm of regional dances.
More celebrations as Compadres and Comadres or the Aymara New Year, festivals as the Baroque Music one, and traditions as Alasitas or Todos Santos, among many others, will allow you to discover the rich culture of Bolivia.
Further than that, Bolivia is a place where roots are still strong. Do not get surprised if you find people, even in the cities, dressed up with traditional clothes in their day-to-day life.
Ancient cultures from the highlands, valleys, low lands and the jungle, have been mixed with foreign traditions brought by European, African, and even Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants, creating something unique. Among music, dances, architecture, textiles, carving, and other cultural expressions, there is a lot to discover!
Let’s draw a timeline, starting with the ones who were here before us. The land of dinosaurs, Toro Toro, will surprise you with a great adventure on and underground. And do not miss Cal Orck'o, near Sucre, the largest dinosaur track deposit in the world, with thousands of footprints visible!
The roots of civilization are reflected in several archeological sites: jungle tribe remains from 800 B.C. in Beni, cave paintings in the Chiquitania, the mysterious city of Tiwanaku civilization, Inca ruins in Incallajta, the pre-Inca Samaipata Fort and much more.
Later, the colonial period left its footprint in places as Misiones of Chiquitania, Potosí - that once had the world's largest silver deposit - and Sucre, the white city. Designated Heritage Sites by UNESCO, all those places spread history and can take anyone a few centuries back in time.
But definitely, a city that will catch your attention is La Paz, a chaotic crush of the traditional and modern, denominated as one of the “New7Wonder Cities” of the world. And if you happen to be in La Paz, do not hesitate to go to the Moon Valley and the Spirits Valley, two natural sites that seem like taken from another planet.
Have I convinced you that Bolivia has much more than you can imagine? The truth is that we just scratched the surface. The diversity of landscapes, climates, culture, flavors, and people make Bolivia a unique and surreal country! Do not take long to come, Bolivia waits to be discovered!
Did you like the travel story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.