One week

Your best bet is probably to stay within reach of La Paz. The centre of the city is fairly small and easy to explore on foot in a couple of days. There are several worthwhile museums to visit and the warren of streets running west uphill off El Prado lead you into a strange and fascinating world. Trailheads of several good day-walks can be reached by local public transport and short but interesting excursions can also be made from La Paz. You could go for the day to the archaeological site of Tiahuanaco or to see Lake Titicaca, but it is better to stay overnight in the lakeside resort of Copacabana and visit Isla del Sol the following day. A day or two could easily be spent in the little subtropical town of Coroico, 2½ hours from La Paz on a spectacular and hair-raising road. Three hours from La Paz is Sorata, another small town surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery, and a major climbing and trekking centre.

Two to three weeks

Salar-Cochabamba circuit

You can spend a couple of days in La Paz, making the most of the city while you acclimatize to the altitude, then take a bus to Oruro. Continue by train to Uyuni or Tupiza, where you should select carefully from among the many salar tours on offer. It takes at least four days to properly enjoy this world-class attraction but you could easily spend more time in the vast and magnificent area. You can then fly from Uyuni to Cochabamba, to enjoy the city, the surrounding colonial towns and nearby Parque Nacional Tunari. Or, if you prefer to carry on overland, take a bus from either Uyuni or Tupiza to Potosí to visit the mines and mint. From Potosí it is a three-hour bus ride on a good paved road to Sucre, the nation's capital, dinosaur haven and most distinguished city. You can either fly or take the bus from Sucre back to La Paz, or carry on to Cochabamba to complete the loop.

The Jesuit missions and Samaipata

From Santa Cruz de la Sierra begin your travels by bus to San Javier, the closest of the Jesuit mission towns. The missions circuit needs at least five days and takes you from San Javier through Concepción, San Ignacio de Velasco and San Rafael to San José de Chiquitos. All have colonial churches, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, perhaps the finest examples of religious art and craftsmanship in the country. At San José de Chiquitos it's best to switch from bus to train in order to return to Santa Cruz. By now, you may have had your fill of the heat and dust, so head up to the refreshingly cool resort of Samaipata, only 2½ hours away on a good paved road. It's a great place to relax, and nearby is the El Fuerte archaeological site, once the eastermost stronghold of the Inca Empire.

Yungas to Amazon

After a few days in La Paz, ride the infamous road down to Coroico by bike or motorized transport, or trek if you prefer. Once you have recovered in the delightful surroundings of the Yungas, take a shared taxi to Caranavi where you can break your journey again before starting the rough 12-hour bus ride to Rurrenabaque. Alternatively, La Paz agencies and one in Sorata offer a three-day river tour from Guanay (two hours from Caranavi) to Rurre. In Rurre, select your pampas or selva tour judiciously and allow at least three days for each. You may not fancy another marathon bus ride back to La Paz, so consider flying and taking in the breathtaking views as you soar over the top of the Cordillera Real. A month or more The above can all be combined or extended by those who have additional time. From Potosí you can head southeast to Tarija and the Gran Chaco, then loop back north to Santa Cruz. San Ignacio de Velasco offers the only road access to the wild and magnificent Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, or you can take the train from San José de Chiquitos east to the Bolivian Pantanal on the border with Brazil. From Rurrenabaque you can press on to Trinidad and then ever deeper into the heart of the Amazon jungle. Having plenty of time will allow you to experience the finest activity Bolivia has to offer - genuine exploration.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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