Best Places to Visit in Bolivia 2019
Looking for the best places to visit in Bolivia? You won’t have to look far. Bolivia is a country of contrasts. It is the most impoverished country on the South American continent, but what Bolivia lacks in wealth, it more than prospers in untouched, natural beauty.
From towering, rugged mountains, to vast, windswept desert, to abundant, leafy rainforest, this astonishing mix of climates is reflected in a variety of landscapes and biodiversity.
Likewise, Bolivia has a very prominent indigenous culture, with a higher native population than any other South American country, leading to distinct traditions, languages, and folklore celebrations, which thrive amidst modern-day life.
A considerably unappreciated country, often overlooked for one of Bolivia’s more famous or glamorous neighbours, here are the reasons why this hidden gem should be on your travelling bucket list, with our list of best places to visit in Bolivia.
Note: Bolivia is a land of extreme heights – navigate this country at an unhurried pace to allow yourself to adjust to the altitude.
1. The Uyuni Salt Flats
Unlike anything you’ll have ever seen, this place is other-worldly: the largest salt flat on Earth is a strange, unknown landscape, which in rainy season transforms into an endless mirror.
November to March is the time to visit if you want to get the most incredible pictures of this dreamy illusion. Measuring at 10,582 square km, the Salar de Uyuni is situated in southwest Bolivia, sitting at 3,653m.a.s.l.
Due to its remote location, most travellers take an overnight bus from La Paz, arriving into Uyuni the following morning to start a tour (there is the option to take a flight, but the bus is more economical).
Tours depart in a 4×4 to cross the tough terrain, and there are various possibilities, with the three-day option allowing you to explore further afield (see 5. Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa).
For those short on time, a one-day excursion (approx. US $70) typically includes lunch in a salt hotel, a chance to visit the haunting train cemetery – a place of abandoned locomotives, and of course, the highlight of your trip: The mind-blowing salt flats.
2. Death Road
Take an exhilarating adventure down the world’s most dangerous road, so named in 1995 due to its death toll, which was estimated at 300 people per year.
This place has since become a popular tourist destination, with thrill-seekers coming in their hordes to bike down this 64km route, officially named Yungas Road. The gateway for this trip is La Paz, from which the tour’s starting point (La Cumbre) is an hour by car (tours cost approx. US $90). Whilst the ride down this terrifying road is not for the faint-hearted – with vertical drops and snaky twists and turns – the scenery is something to admire: you’ll pass Amazon rainforest, waterfalls, and even cycle through clouds (altitudes here are as high as 4,650m). An experience not to be missed!
3. Lake Titicaca
Not only is this South America’s largest lake, it is also the highest navigable body of water on the planet. Straddling Peru and Bolivia, these gleaming waters hold many adventures to be had.
Take a boat out from the shores of Copacabana, the picturesque town which sits beside the lake, and voyage to Isla Del Sol, the ancient Incan Island of the Sun.
Learn the local legends and get a feel for remote island life, which for the inhabitants mainly revolves around agriculture. A day round-trip costs 40 Bolivianos, or alternatively you can buy a one-way ticket if you wish to sleep on the island (30 Bolivianos). Bolivia Hop offers day trips (extendable with an overnight stay) that include transportation from La Paz from $30.
Bring spare change for personal expenses, as well as for the toll fees which you’ll need to pay upon arrival (there are no ATMs here). Explore the harsh, craggy landscape, take a hike in search of Inca ruins, and lose yourself on an overnight escapade on this far-flung land.
4. Cerro Rico
For a journey through Bolivia’s history, visit Potosi – a UNESCO site and fine colonial city – to learn how Spanish colonisation affected the people of Bolivia. Sitting at 4,090m.a.s.l., this is the highest city in the continent, and is positioned at the foot of Cerro Rico – the “rich mountain”. It’s so named due to the once booming silver mining industry, and was formerly one of the largest silver deposits in the world.
Learn the story of the Spanish conquistadors who came and depleted the silver supplies, at a time when Potosi was the wealthiest city on Earth. The treasure was exported to Europe, making the Spanish empire rich, and leaving Potosi penniless.
Today, tin is mined, and Postosi is now one of the poorest cities in South America. Take this opportunity to visit a working mine, and be guided by an ex-miner. Prepare yourself to witness unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, and learn how centuries of over-mining has depleted resources, damaging this now desolate mountain.
Note: Only do this tour if you’re comfortable in dark, dusty, and confined spaces.
5. Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa
A remote and barren desert, resembling a painting by Salvador Dali, is located in the very south-west of Bolivia. There are colourful lagoons with hues so vivid you’d think someone had squeezed out a giant tube of paint, earthy-red and turquoise green, with exotic pink flamingos dotted on the water.
A dreamy landscape, encompassing volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, lakes, mountains, and frozen high-altitude deserts, this protected area can be visited on a three-day Uyuni tour (from US $125). Be prepared for elevations of 4,200 to 5,400m, freezing weather conditions, and the adventure of a lifetime!
6. Madidi National Park
A trip to this landlocked country would not be complete without an excursion into the Amazon rainforest, definitely one of the best places to visit in Bolivia! Madidi National Park is located in northwest Bolivia, and is one of the largest protected areas in the world, a vast 18,960 square km.
Spanning the Andes Mountains, tropical rainforest, steamy swamps, warm grassland, and humid cloud woodland, this ecologically diverse reserve is home to a myriad of flora and fauna, with around 1,200 bird species, and an even higher number of plant varieties.
Look out for some exotic mammals, such as jaguars, sloths, pumas, and pink river dolphins – it’s not surprising that the Madidi National Park is also home to some endangered species. Likewise, Indigenous tribes live in the area: it’s estimated there are 3,500 inhabitants, and around 30 different communities.
The town of Rurrenabaque is the gateway to Madidi, with jungle and pampa (wetlands) tours departing from there. Try to visit in the dry season (from April to October), and stay in an ecolodge for a magical experience of the sights, sounds, and smells of the surrounding rainforest.