Bolivia Travel Guide
Bolivia is easily among the favorite countries of those who have visited South America as it is full of jaw-dropping experiences. The country boasts an astonishing range of climates and landscapes. From cities rich in cultural diversity to majestic icebound peaks, pristine rainforests, breathtaking lagoons and volcanoes, and high-altitude salt flats, there's just so many things to see in Bolivia.
Considered to be the cheapest country in South America, travelling, accommodation, and eating out are very affordable. Remember to have a camera handy if you are a photography enthusiast. You can also use your phone camera, of course. There are endless superb photo opportunities in Bolivia!
Capital city: La Paz (executive and legislative); Sucre (constitutional and judicial)
Currency: Bolivian Boliviano (BOB). 1 USD = 6.87 BOB.
Electricity: Power voltage is 220 Volts. Power sockets type A, B, and C.
Languages: Spanish, but also Quechua and Aymara, and many other Indigenous languages.
Fun fact: Bolivia is one of two landlocked countries in South America. It has no access to the sea! Some angry Bolivians may entertain you with stories of how their sea was “stolen.”
10 Handpicked Highlights of Bolivia
The fun never ends in Bolivia. Below is a list of the best places to visit in the country.
Salar de Uyuni
If you ask me, I’ll say Salar de Uyuni is the crown jewel of Bolivia and many backpackers and tourists will agree with me. The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat land in the world spanning over 11,000 square kilometers. It’s pure wonder and you should spend as long as you want admiring this incredible scenery.
Salar de Uyuni gives tourists the feeling that they’ve stepped into a different realm, a different plane. Land and sky seem to merge into one here and you’ll take lots of amazing pictures here.
Sur Lipez Province
I’ve traveled to different countries across and the Sur Lipez Province is easily among the most mind-blowing regions of my entire traveler’s life. Located in the Southern part of Bolivia, this region has an abundance of beautiful lagoons, thermal geysers, and magical colors.
The lagoons are the main attractions with the most popular ones being Laguna Colorada, Laguna Canapa with its beautiful pink flamingos, and Laguna Hedionda. The brave and the bold continue beyond the lagoons and go all the way to the geysers and the thousands of little volcanoes erupting from the earth. Simply put, it’s an otherworldly sight.
The picture at the very top of this page is the Laguna Verde with the Licancabur Volcano in the background – one of the great landscapes of this region.
Torotoro National Park
Nature lovers and natural history nerds will have a blast at the Torotoro National Park located in the Potosi region of Bolivia in the middle of Cochabamba and Sucre. The Park has well-preserved fossils and dinosaur footprints. Yes, you read that right. I’m talking about fossils and dinosaur footprints from millions of years ago. You’ll also get to see unique and surreal rock formations, towering canyons, and an astonishing network of underground caves.
I think the Torotoro National Park doesn’t get enough recognition. So, after hitting the pristine salt flats and the Sur Lipez Province, make your way to the hidden gem that is Torotoro National Park.
Madidi National Park
Snow-capped mountains, cloud forests, tropical jungles, winding rivers, rolling grasslands, and a number breaking the record of plant and animal species. These are what you can expect from the jungle paradise that is the Madidi National Park. The Park is located in the upper Amazon river basin of Bolivia.
From smelling the sweet aromas of rare flowers to spotting jaguars, sloths, spectacled bears, and a lot more wildlife, you won’t get bored in this park.
Lake Titicaca & Isla de la Luna
Lake Titicaca is one of Bolivia’s most enchanting destinations. Straddling the border between Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. While you can access the Lake from the Peruvian side, the lake is considered to be more beautiful on the Bolivian side due to the ever-present background of snow-capped mountain ranges that create stunning views of the lake. Still, you should visit the lake from both sides. The Peruvian side has floating reed islands you’ll want to see!
The Isla de la Luna (moon island) is a must-visit location when you are on the Bolivian side of Titicaca. Isla de la Luna is believed to be the birthplace of the Incan Empire and still has several ancient settlements.
Potosi and the Cerro Rico silver mine
A trip to Bolivia should include a trip to Potosi, the 5th highest city in South America with an elevation just below 4100 meters. But you are not visiting Potosi for just its elevation. You are there to see the notorious Cerro Rico mine. It’s an insightful and humbling experience as you get to experience firsthand the working conditions of the historical mine which is far from ideal.
If you are claustrophobic, then the Cerro Rico mines aren’t for you as they can get really dark and tight in there. You can tour Potosi and see the ancient Churches with incredible architecture, the Tarapaya hot springs, or just experience the local culture.
La Paz and its various viewpoints
La Paz will literally take your breath away as it stands at a staggering 3,600 meters above sea level. So, you may need some time to adjust to the elevation. I found the city to be full of life and chaotic. You can see the snowy peaks of the city’s mountain range during the day. Be sure to go on a guided tour of the city and visit the witch market for some bizarre or not-so-bizarre souvenirs.
One of the highlights of La Paz is the cable cars that allow you to see the colorful cities from all angles. There are a couple of viewpoints you also won’t want to miss, such as the Kili-Kili viewpoint. They offer great panoramic views of the city’s unique geography.
A visit to Sucre and you immediately understand why the city is called “The White City” when you see the stunning white buildings in its center. The stunning architecture of the city led to it being designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There’s a lot of history behind Sucre – unimaginable wealth, Spanish colonization, and even rebellions! Walk in the steps of history, enjoy the fantastic architecture, learn Spanish, enjoy the nightlife, and explore the city.
Climbing Cerro Tunari
A look at Cerro Tunari and it seems that the mountain, which stands at 5,035 meters, is calling you to the summit. It’s a strenuous but rewarding hike to the top of the mountain. You’ll pass beautiful lakes, lagoons, great green places, and get to see herds of llamas or alpacas. The trail is unmarked and could be slippery, so it’s advisable to not hike alone. You can also sign up for guided tours to conquer the mountain.
It was one of the hardest but also one of the most rewarding hikes I did in Bolivia.
If you are an adrenaline junkie, adventure junkie, or just like to live life at the edge, then you’ll experience a lot of thrills on a bike down the Yungas road which is just about an hour drive from La Paz. The road is only 61 km long but incredibly dangerous as you’ll descend from an altitude of 4,650m to 1,525 m.
The government has built a new road for trucks and drivers so the Death Road is no longer as dangerous as it used to be. Still, make sure you are confident on a bike and sign up with a reputable Death Road Company.
Bolivia's Geography & Landscapes
Regarded as a highland country, Bolivia has three well defined geographic zones:
- The Altiplano (high plateau)
- Semitropical valleys of the eastern mountain slopes (the Yungas)
- Tropical lowlands (llanos) of the Amazon River Basin.
The altiplano lies between the main eastern and western ridges of the Andean Mountains and is one of the world’s highest inhabited regions. The valleys of Bolivia have some spectacular scenery and are dominated by lush vegetation, steep slopes and peaks. The climate of Bolivia is mainly tropical although there can be extreme differences in temperature depending on the elevation
Best Time To Go To Bolivia
There are two seasons in Bolivia , namely the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season runs through November and March while the dry season is between April and November.
While you can visit Bolivia at any time, it’s advisable to visit the country during the dry season. Rainfall during the dry season often disrupts transport and hiking due to flooding and landslides. The dry season, however, is ideal for exploring and enjoying the landscapes of Bolivia.
Traveling in Bolivia
Bolivia is generally safe although the high rate of poverty in the country means petty crime can be frequent. Below are safety tips to follow to stay safe in Bolivia:
- Do not withdraw money from ATMs at night.
- Don’t go anywhere alone at night.
- Keep your valuables hidden at all times.
- Don’t flaunt them.
- Don’t arrive at bus stations at night.
- Hold on to your luggage whenever you are taking public transport.
- Always try to travel with a reputable bus company.
- Make sure to acclimatize before doing any physical challenges.
- Patronize restaurants and stalls that have a high turnover. This ensures the food you buy is fresh.
- Don’t drink tap water or accept ice cubes in your cocktails. The local water quality isn’t very good.
- Consider buying a filter water bottle if you want to save cash on single-use water bottles.
- Don’t get involved with drugs.
- Consider buying travel insurance.
Getting to & Around Bolivia
There are not many direct flights to Bolivia so you may have to do multi-leg journeys. Travelers from the US can enjoy direct flights from Miami to Santa Cruz and La Paz. If you stay in Canada or Australia, you’ll have to fly into the US or a neighboring South American country. Tourists from the UK, Ireland, and other parts of Europe can get a direct flight to Bolivia from Madrid, Spain.
When you get to Bolivia, you basically have two choices. You can take the cheap backpacker option and travel by long-distance bus. The roads are sometimes dangerous and the trips often very, very long.
If you want to travel more comfortably, most of your traveling within the country will be by air. I know I was glad to skip the 12-hour bus journey from the Brazilian border to Cochabamba, and took a one-hour flight instead.
There are a couple of local airlines such as BOA, Amaszonas, Aerocon, and TAM, that you can use if you are pressed for time. It’s also recommended you travel by air if you traveling to via Rurrenabaque as the land route is notoriously unsafe.
Taxis are readily available in most Bolivian cities and are a cheap and safe way to get around. There are also radio-taxis that you call by phone. They are slightly more expensive and safer, at least in theory.
Moto-taxis (a motorcycle used as a taxi) are the most common form of transportation in some remote areas. It’s fast, super affordable, and slightly frightening.
Lorries (Camiones) are another way to travel by land. Sometimes, they are the only form of transportation in remote areas.
Rail travel is very limited in Bolivia and are usually not used by tourists. The trains are very slow with one train referred to as the train of death not because it is dangerous but because the trip is very boring. The prices of trains are also comparable to buses.
One train you might end up taking as a tourist, if you want to avoid the bus, is the line going from La Paz to Uyuni, Tupiza in the south, then continuing onto Argentina (Villazon).
Accommodation is very cheap in Bolivia but prices may increase in cities with less competition.
- Hostels are mainly limited to major tourist areas. While you’ll find no shortage of hostels in cities like La Paz, Sucre, or Santa Cruz, they become more difficult to come by when you visit other areas.
- Hotels are easy to come by and are reasonably priced. The popular Palacio de Sal (Spanish for “Palace of salt”) in Uyuni doesn’t come cheap, of course.
- Bolivia has a good number of campsites but people rarely camp outside when accommodation is so cheap. Avoid camping in lowland jungle parks if you don’t want to become a jaguar’s breakfast or dinner. If you intend to hike some of the peaks in the country, carry professional camping gear as the mountain environment and climate are very harsh.