Bolivia is a country that will literally take your breath away. This is partially due to the altitude (Potosi is the highest city in the world at 13,420 feet), but also because of the magnificent landscapes.
I spent the summer of 2011 backpacking through this vast country the size of California and Texas combined. It was not easy, but the trouble was worth every second. For a well prepared traveler with patience and flexibility, Bolivia will provide unforgettable moments of absolute beauty and mental clarity.
Must Go in Bolivia
Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni)
The largest salt flats in the world at 4,086 square miles. Water covers the salt during the rainy season, creating a dream world where the sky is indistinguishable from the ground.
In the middle of it all lies an ancient island, covered with cacti and fossilized coral reef. Yes, it is out of the way, freezing cold and swarming with tourists. Despite all of this, it is an incredible place. Please do not miss it!
Like most everything worthwhile in Bolivia, this market takes a bit of effort to get to. A couple hours outside of Sucre, high in the mountains, Tarabuco has authentic weavings, carvings, and a very strange assortment of hats (alpaca fur ushankas?).
A few streets behind the main market, people from the surrounding villages trade and sell everyday items that aren’t geared towards tourists. If you value your life, don’t wait until the market is almost over to hop in a collectivo. Everyone else will be leaving too, and the collectivo drivers will not say no to a fare. They will also not use the brakes.
A beautiful, mild weathered and clean town with many excellent schools to learn Spanish. The public pay phones are in the shapes of dinosaurs!
This city is like New York on acid. Teenagers dressed as zebras help you cross the street, indigenous women wearing full skirts work on construction gangs and have wrestling matches, and masked men offer to shine your shoes at every corner.
Madidi National Park
Go to Madidi for a completely wild, untamed jungle experience. There are many tour companies of varying degrees of quality competing for business all over Rurrenabaque. Chalalan Ecolodge is one of the oldest and most well known, operated by the indigenous community who directly benefit from tourism dollars.
Must do in Bolivia
Cholita wrestlers in La Paz. It only happens on certain days (Sundays when I was there), so plan ahead for tickets!
A wildlife refuge outside of Santa Cruz. It as a huge aviary, a butterfly dome, and ten natural swimming pools.
Must eat in Bolivia
Little meat filled pies you can get anywhere off the street in La Paz and other cities. A delicious portable lunch or dinner!
Fresh squeezed juice
Stop by one of the street vendors pushing their fruit around and get a cup of the most delicious juice you have ever tasted. In Sucre’s main market, the juice ladies will blend up anything you can think of and keep refilling your glass. They also make some pretty delicious fruit salads!
Cultural Tips for Traveling in Bolivia
Learning even a little bit of Spanish will go a long way in Bolivia. Cities and other points of interest are located all over the country and you will be traveling through remote regions where English is rare and basic at best. Having some knowledge of the language will endear you to the locals and make life a lot easier.
Cheap travel in Bolivia
Don’t be afraid to take the collectivos instead of taxis in the big cities, even if you don’t see other tourists doing it. They are a ridiculously cheap way to quickly get from one side of town to the other, especially in La Paz where you will run out of breath after three blocks.
The front passenger will yell out the streets on their route, the same streets that are posted in the front window. Just listen for your street, wave them down and hop in fast (it’s not unusual for the van to only slow down instead of stop).
Thanks so much for sharing, Cassandra! Do you guys have any Bolivian travel tips to share?