Bolivia... why visit?
Bolivia is one of Latin America’s lesser known holiday destinations, but there is a wealth of reasons to visit. We spoke to Vessela Baleva to find out more about them.
Compared to other Latin American countries, Bolivia is not an especially well-known destination. This is somewhat remarkable when you consider just how much it has to offer travellers – spectacular landscapes, indigenous cultures and heritage sites all vie for your attention here.
We spoke to Cox & Kings' very own Vessela Baleva to find out exactly why travellers should visit Bolivia – and to get some advice on the best things to see, do and experience along the way.
To experience indigenous cultures
Describing Bolivia as seeming "nearly untouched by modernity", Vessela enthused about the opportunities it creates for experiencing indigenous cultures. Simply strolling down the street here, you will see women walking along in traditional bowler hats, stumble across witches markets selling ingredients for age old rituals, and observe people collecting their crops on the shores of Lake Titicaca – much as they have done centuries.
What's particularly compelling is the fact that this indigenous culture can be seen all over the country; modernity's grip has yet to take hold here. Even in the capital, La Paz, you can see how it permeates the streets; it is here that you will find the eerie and atmospheric Witches Market.
Less unusual but no less interesting is Tarabuco Market near the pretty, colonial city of Sucre. This traditional market is a wonderful place to browse local crafts, such as weaving, and thereby expand your understanding of indigenous cultures.
To see its wealth of heritage sites
Bolivia is also blessed with a wide array of heritage sites, from its pre-Columbian ruins to its beautiful colonial towns. This makes it a tremendous destination for history lovers, especially as the quality of the sites matches their wonderful variety.
Among the most famous pre-Columbian ruins is Tiwanaku, which was the spiritual and political centre of the Tiwanaku culture. It is now a Unesco World Heritage Site and is famous for its vast monoliths. A visit here will give you an insight into a culture that experienced its heyday between 500 and 900 AD – and that once dominated a sizeable portion of the southern Andes.
Bolivia is also home to some fascinating Inca ruins, which you can discover at Lake Titicaca. Indeed, the Sun and Moon Islands each house some wonderful vestiges of the Inca civilisation; taking the boat across the lake to discover these is an absolute must.
Lake Titicaca is actually believed to be birthplace of the Incas, which makes the sites it is home to all the more exciting to visit. On Sun Island, you will find the sacred Fountain of Eternal Youth, as well as the Inca stairs. On Moon Island you will be greeted by the ruins of the Sun Virgins' Temple; it is certainly worth visiting both islands so that you can enjoy the full spectrum of Inca ruins here.
In addition to these ancient sites, Bolivia is home to some beautiful colonial cities, such as Potosi. Explaining that it was built from the riches of the silver mines, Vessela highlighted that this was once one of the wealthiest cities in the Americas. Today, it possesses an architectural heritage that makes it a joy to explore.
Vessela particularly enthused about Sucre – a spectacular colonial city that possesses Unesco World Heritage Site status. Indeed, she noted that this is widely considered to be the most beautiful colonial city in the country. With its whitewashed buildings, 16th century churches and relaxed atmosphere, it is "a delight to stay there for a couple of days".
To experience the Salar de Uyuni
The Salar de Uyuni is so incredible that the chance to visit is in itself a reason to travel to Bolivia. This is the world's largest salt flat, which Vessela described as an "absolutely amazing, surreal place", adding that it is really somewhere that "makes you feel so insignificant".
Spanning more than 12,000 sq km, this salt flat is renowned for having one of the most singular landscapes on the planet. When it is dry, its stark white surface contrasts the bright blue sky; during the rainy season of December to February, when the water collects on its surface, it reflects the clouds and the stars, resulting in a truly surreal effect.
To make the most of your visit here, select your accommodation with care. Vessela recommended two main options: a stay in a salt hotel, which is actually built of blocks of salt, is an amazing experience; alternatively, spending the night in a luxury camper is similarly memorable – particularly as it will give you the opportunity to escape other tourists.
To discover diverse and stunning landscapes
The Salar de Uyuni may be Bolivia's best known natural wonder, but the country has many other natural treasures to discover. From the high Altiplano of the Andes to Lake Titicaca and tropical jungles, it hosts astonishing diversity.
Lake Titicaca sits on the border of Bolivia and Peru, and is the highest navigable body of water on the planet. What makes this natural attraction particularly interesting is the fact that it also possesses a wonderfully rich culture. As we mentioned above, it is home to an array on Inca ruins, while on the shores of the lake you can watch the lives of indigenous people unfold.
Madidi National Park
Something of a lesser-known gem, Madidi National Park is also worth seeking out. This incredibly biodiverse area is home to more than 1,000 species of bird, and feels very much like an untouched wilderness. This is the ideal place to come to if you want to really explore off the beaten path.
The Valley of the Moon
The perfect natural wonder to visit during your time in bustling La Paz is the otherworldly landscape of the Valley of the Moon, made up of sandstone formations that have been sculpted by the wind into a series of weird and wonderful shapes. Remarkably, these shapes started their lives as mountains, but slowly surrendered their previous form to the will of the wind.
The Southern Altiplano
Another otherworldly and solitary place is the Southern Altiplano, tucked into the bottom left corner of the country. One of the best ways to explore this incredibly remote and stunning scenery is by travelling between the Salar de Uyuni and Chile, which will give you approximately 12 hours to take in its mix of red lakes, Andean flamingos, emerald green lagoons, volcanic craters, steaming geysers and red desert.