Why You Should Make Time To Visit Bolivia

Published:

Last updated:

Why You Should Make Time To Visit Bolivia

Bolivia still isn’t seen as a country to visit in its own right by many people. People flock to Peru, Chile and Argentina, missing out on all Bolivia has to offer. While we think Bolivia is a great country to spend time traveling around, some of its best features can be seen a relatively short while. You can call in en route from Chile to Peru or Brazil, or even just zip over the border and back in a day on a tour of the Salar de Uyuni or Lake Titicaca. Here’s our explainer why you should make time to visit Bolivia while you are in South America.

The basics about Bolivia

Bolivia is a land of superlatives. Sitting high in the Andes gives it the highest city in the world, the highest Cathedral in the world, the highest navigable lake in the world and lots of other things high up. It also has the largest indigenous population in the Americas, the flattest place on Earth and the largest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world.

Read about all the different things that Bolivia has to offer, or jump straight to your desired location below.



 Cobija

Visit this part of Bolivia for: A short trip from Brazil, jungle exploration

Manuripi Nature Reserve, one thing you should make time to visit in Bolivia
Manuripi Nature Reserve
Photo credit: AlejandroBurr

One of the few places that you are more likely to see if you aren’t visiting Bolivia than if you are, Cobija is a border town in the jungle. It is connected to the rest of Bolivia by one road, when the weather permits, but to Brazil by two. Only 600km North of La Paz, it can easily take two days to drive here on dusty unpaved roads. However just over the border in Brazil the roads are asphalt and the jungle cleared. And that’s why you might want to come here. In the dryer months, you can really get into untouched jungle in the Manuripi National Reserve, including trips to Lago Bay, a lake accessible only by boat.


 Cochabamba

Visit this part of Bolivia for: A taste of small city life, music, night life, shopping

San Sebastián Cathedral, Cochabamba
Photo credit: Jan Beck

With the nickname “The City Of Eternal Spring”, Cochabamba is a relief to visit after sweltering awayin humid jungles. It is a big city by Bolivian standards, the centre being home to around 700,000 people, but the best bits are centrally located and it’s a very pleasant city to walk around. It sits in a bowl surrounded by the peaks of the cordillera, which means unlike lots of Bolivia, it’s reasonably flat which also helps exploration. HasAnyoneBeenTo… feels that Cochabamba represents the whole of Bolivia best of any towns.

The country is divided East and West, Spanish and Campesinos, those who wish to move forward like other Western Nations and those who want to do so with their own traditions, and it feels like all these voices have had their say in Cochabamba. It’s a city any industrialized Westerner would recognise, but there are Campesinos everywhere, making it work. There are festivals and parties everyday it seems, with the old traditions genuinely alive in the modern city, and not just for museum displays. It’s a young city, with the university keeping it so, and Avenida Espana is the full of late night cafés and bars with live music most nights, but especially Friday and Saturday nights.

La Cancha (Wednesdays and Saturdays) is also a big draw for many, being the largest market in Bolivia and selling everything you could imagine, from household essentials to tacky souvenirs to traditional musical instruments and clothing. Cochabamba is also a great centre for day trips, with Inca ruins, dinosaur footprints and nature reserves all easily accessible. Oh, and it’s got the world’s second largest Jesus (after Poland if you must know).


Copacabana

Visit this part of Bolivia for: Lake Titicaca, a short trip from Peru 

Copacabana and Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
A shrine on the shore of Lake Titicaca
Photo credit: Ville Miettinen

This is a very tourist centred town on the shore of Lake Titicaca. Accessible by bus from both La Paz and Puno in Chile, it’s the perfect place to spend a night and explore the Lake and its Incan ruins.


(Nuestra Senora De) La Paz

Visit this part of Bolivia for: Ease of access, Tiwanacu, museums, cathedrals, cholitas

View of La Paz from the El Alto cable car
View from the cable car to El Alto
Photo credit: Roderick Peel

La Paz is Bolivia’s second capital, but feels very like the first. It has a busy and hectic feel to it, and while many of the museums are worth a visit, there isn’t much in the city itself that need detain people looking to really experience Bolivia. That said, a quick bus ride up the hill to El Alto, a sprawling suburb of La Paz that is now a city in its own right, gives you the chance to see the very Bolivian Cholitas– the female wrestlers who know how to put on a show. 

The witches market is also worth seeing, and is still as frequented by locals as tourists, buying dried llama foetuses and other potions for remedies and spells. You can do day trips to both Tiwanacu and Lake Titicaca from here, but for Lake Titicaca it is better to spend at least one night in Copacabana to see the best of it.


Oruro

Visit this part of Bolivia for: Carnaval

Devils dancing in Oruro carnival - another great reason to make time to visit Bolivia
Devils dancing at Oruro carnaval
Photo credit: Pame82s

While Oruro does have a few year round attractions like museums and a rather run down zoo, the only real reason to drop by if you’re on a tight schedule is for Carnaval. While this is celebrated in most places in Bolivia, in Oruro it is something rather special, and has been designated a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site. The carnaval takes place every February, in time to finish on Ash Wednesday.


Potosi

Visit this part of Bolivia for: Mine tours, culture, altitude sickness

A panorama of Potosi with the Cerro Rico in the background
Panorama of Potosi
Photo credit: EEJCC

The highest city in the world, Potosi is worth a visit just to experience the dizziness and breathlessness everyone feels on arrival. The cathedral is also, according to some catholics, the holiest in the world, as the bell is the closest to heaven. Regardless of your religious beliefs, a trip up the belltower to see the terracotta rooves spreading away until they reach the bulk of the Cerro Rico which just keeps on climbing up to the sky.

Most people who visit Potosi do a mine tour. These are often dangerous, and while some are run by mine co-operatives who take the profits, there is much to suggest these tours are not worth the risk, even for the bragging rights. If you want to help the miners and their families, either just donate, or visit the miners market, where the stalls are often run by miners wives and widows and spend there. However, if you really to go deep underground, in the dark and play with dynamite, this is the place to do it.

In sharp contrast to the rest of Potosi, which is old and dusty, there is a swanky and modern restaurant-cum-viewing tower that revolves to give a full 360° view of the town and mines.


Rurrenabaque

Visit this part of Bolivia for: Backpacker lifestyle, jungle, eco-lodges, adventure tours

Rurrenabaque centre, Bolivia
Rurrenabaque centre
Photo credit: Arthur Chapman

Rurrenabaque is the place to go to for jungle tours or jungle adventures in Bolivia, which is why it has become such a haven for backpackers, with cafés and hostels everywhere in the small centre. Just outside the town is an adventure resort, with jungle horse riding and golf. The town itself has a zipline through the jungle, and plenty of tour operators willing to take you into the wild. In the right season, trips on the river are also an option. Rurrenabaque is a long bus drive from La Paz, or a short, but often cancelled, flight.

If you read the diaries of explorer Colonel Fawcett before coming here, you’ll know he had less that nice things to say about the place as it was over hundred years ago!


Santa Cruz (de la Sierra)

Visit this part of Bolivia for: The “Death Train” to Brazil, modern Bolivia, jungle

Santa Cruz city at night, Bolivia
Santa Cruz at night
Photo credit: André Ribeiro

Low-lying (for Bolivia) and humid, Santa Cruz is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. With direct flights from the USA and Madrid, it is often people’s first sight of Bolivia, and a very useful jumping off point for jungle excursions. It’s also the starting point of the train up to the Brazilian border. This journey takes 21 hours on the slow train, and once at the border, you can get a taxi for five minutes and hop on the Brazilian train straight to Sao Paolo or Rio de Janeiro.


Sucre

Visit this part of Bolivia for: Relaxing, learning Spanish, gentle countryside, Tarabuco market

Tarabuco Market
Photo credit: Jenni Frog

Sucre is politically similar to Santa Cruz. It’s a European feeling city, with a very relaxed and Sunday-afternoon vibe to it. A popular town with tourists, there are plenty of tours running, from quad biking to hikes to local village tours. There are also lots of volunteer opportunities in the area, usually with schools and street children. The local Tarabuco Market on Sundays is just a bus ride away and full of handicrafts. People visiting Sucre often end up spending more time here than the guidebooks suggest they need to.


Trinidad

Visit this part of Bolivia for: Watersports, river dolphins, river cruises, Moxos culture

By Viaje al corazón de Bolivia (http://www.flickr.com/photos/viajebolivia/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Moxos Ceremony
Photo credit: Viaje al corazón de Bolivia

Another jungle town in the North of Bolivia, Trinidad is a small town with hundreds of motorbikes, making the place seem dusty and chaotic. However, it is a good base for river trips, lasting from a few hours to several days, and from the town you can visit a unique species of river dolphin. The nearby Laguna Suarez is used by locals and tourist alike for watersports. The whole area was and is a centre for Moxos (or Mojos) culture, who created the large Laguna Suarez, and you can see their customs still alive in local villages and also preserved in the museums here.


Tupiza

Visit this part of Bolivia for: Cowboy experience, horse riding, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Canyon del Duende, Tupiza
Photo credit: Jan Beck

In the south of Bolivia, near Argentina, Tupiza has a very different landscape to the other places above. You can’t help but feel as if you’ve walked straight into an old spaghetti western, with the red, dusty landscape and strange jutting rock formations. There are plenty of ways of getting out and about in the countryside.

You can hike, go by 4WD or horse, which to us feels the most authentic way of exploring around here. These are supposedly the hills in which Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out in, before being shot in nearby San Vincente. Guides offer tours of these areas, but the authenticity of many sites is dubious. Tours of the Salar de Uyuni do run from here, but the distance adds a good day travelling to the tours, and altitude change can make people quite sick. It is better to go from Uyuni.


Uyuni

Visit this part of Bolivia for: Tours of the Salar de Uyuni, a short trip from Chile

Flamingos flying over the Salar de Uyuni
Photo credit: Silvio Rossi

Uyuni is a town that was originally little more than a railway junction, and it still has that vibe about it- a town that people are just passing through. Its main, and really only attraction, is the nearby Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, and the flattest place on Earth. It is remarkable, and although well-touristed, it’s big enough that, lunch stops aside, you can feel like the only jeep out there.

Even the shortest tours also take in the train graveyard, which while it sounds unexciting, is actually quite atmospheric, and very photogenic. One of the trains held up by Butch and Sundance is there as well. The longer tours also take in the various coloured lagoons, hot springs and stone formations further out in the Bolivian portion of the Atacama Desert. You can also get one way tours over the border, either to or from Chile, which are a popular way of getting from one place to another.


Isn’t there a lot to do in Bolivia?! Now you are fully prepared to be able to work out which bits you can make to visit in Bolivia. Don’t forget to check out other articles to help you plan your holiday.