Get your Bolivian Boost
Whether it’s through a walk in the steamy forests of the Yungas or a bicycle ride down the ‘world’s most dangerous road’, Bolivia will invigorate your traveller’s soul in a way no other country can.
And now is a great time to visit Bolivia: the weather is mainly warm and dry during the day, while the nights are refreshingly cool. The high altitude of La Paz – Bolivia’s biggest city - means that the average temperature is a mild 22°C, making it ideal for sightseeing. Those who prefer hotter weather can head to Cochabama - home to Bolivia’s finest markets and best traditional food – or the subtropical valleys known as The Yungas.
Arriving in La Paz is like drinking a shot of singani. Bolivia’s national spirit is well known for its strong fruity bouquet, and its knockout effect. The first thing you’ll notice as you walk through the city will be the aroma of the ubiquitous street markets. Strange herbs used in traditional medicine and exquisite tropical fruits you’ve never heard of – but which taste delicious in salads or refrescos (fruit juices) - are sold throughout the city.
If the high altitude of La Paz doesn’t leave you breathless when you first arrive, then the stunning views from the city will. Surrounded by mountains, the triple peaks of Illimani dominate the skyline and provide some of the most impressive vistas in South America. The best way to spend your first night is to head down to Sopocachi – a trendy eating and drinking area. Here you’ll find a plethora of different cuisines on offer, from Argentinean to Japanese. Sopocachi boasts the city’s liveliest nightlife, with several bars featuring live music at no charge.
Although La Paz has lost most of its colonial architecture, it is still a fascinating city in terms of everyday sights. The distinctive dress of the chola paceña for example – native women who wear full skirts and a bowler, or derby, hat – is unique to this part of South America. Urban Aymarans have worn bowler hats since the 1920s. According to one story, a La Paz merchant first imported the hats from Europe by mistake. Rather than return them, he sold them as ladies’ hats to the local indigenous population. The hats have long since become a symbol of urban Aymarans – a visible fusion of native and European culture.
15% of Bolivia’s territory is legally protected through a series of vast national parks. With so many parks spread across the country, choosing one to see can be difficult. If you only visit one national park on your trip however, make it Reserva Eduardo Avaroa. The park is home to a series of magnificent coloured lakes, separated in the centre by Altiplano – a dramatic desert-like plain – and set against a breathtaking backdrop of mountain ranges. The park is also the nesting ground of three species of flamingo. The image of Laguna Colorada’s reddish waters, filled with hundreds of elegant flamingos, will stay in your mind long after you return to your hotel in La Paz.
Travellers who are keen on stretching their legs can try hiking along one of Bolivia’s many established trails. These trails are popular with independent trekkers as well as tour agencies, so if you don’t feel confident enough to hike alone there are plenty of groups you can join. The ‘world’s most dangerous road’ provides one of the most thrilling – and downright dangerous – bike rides in the world. Beginning at the snow-covered mountain pass of La Cumbre, the legendary route drops more than 3600 m in four hours, ending in the subtropical jungle near Coroico. By the time you reach the end you’ll marvel that such a cycle route is permitted. Only in Bolivia, you will sagely conclude, before spending a few ‘recovery days’ relaxing by the pool at the hotel in Coroico.
The remnants of ancient civilisations are spread all over Latin America, and Bolivia is no exception. Even if you only go for a week, you must see Tiahuanaco. The ancient imperial capital of the Tiahuanaco – a civilisation that predated the Incas by 1000 years - is just south of Lake Titicaca, and easily accessible from La Paz. During Tiahuanaco’s heyday, 50,000 people inhabited the city, which was dominated by two great buildings: the Kalasasaya Temple and the Akapana Pyramid. Today, the ruins of Kalasasaya Temple continue to dominate the ancient site, along with the Puerta del Sol (Gateway of the Sun), which is thought to represent the principle Tiahuanaco deity.
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