A wild land cut through the centre by the backbone of the mighty Andes, Bolivia is now a firm favourite on the traveler’s route through South America.
With its fascinating histories of pre-Incan and Incan empires, colonial explorations, mining and more, the country rarely fails to impress. Be sure to add this selection of 15 top destinations to your Bolivian itinerary this year!
Let’s explore the best places to visit in Bolivia:
1. Lake Titicaca
With one leg in Peru and one leg in Bolivia, it’s easy to see how this vast water body hails in as the largest lake in South America.
Just think: Titicaca is the pool formed from 27 separate rivers, roaring down from the glaciers of the Andes and into the flatlands of the Altiplano.
Islands pepper its cobalt-blue surface on both sides of the border; Bolivia claiming the enthralling Isla del Sol (named for being the revered birthplace of the sun in pre-Columbian belief), where ancient remnants like the Pilco Kaima and Kasa Pata mix with carved terraces of hardy grain, leather-faced locals and squawking llamas.
Then there’s Suriki, the home of the iconic reed boat peoples.
Lake Titicaca’s simply not to be missed!
Wrap up warm for a trip to far-flung Uyuni; the last bastion of Bolivian civilisation before the vast rolling swathes of the southern salt flats.
Yes sir, with average lows peaking at just one degree here, there’s a reason chattering teeth and howling wind chills are the backing track.
However, undeterred by the climate of this remote 19th century trading post come tourist town, visitors still arrive in their droves, spurred on by the promise of touring the great white expanse that is the Salar de Uyuni (the largest slat pan on the planet!). Here, Andean flamingos pepper the crusty grounds and Incahuasi Island rises in a mass of crooked cacti and crags – it really is an otherworldly sight to behold!
3. La Paz
Nuestra Senora de La Paz is now the buzzing political and economic hub of Bolivia as a whole.
After the decline of silver-rich Potosi in the south, this city grew and grew, booming with an influx of Altiplano peoples and revolutionaries eager to push through the proclamations of one Pedro Domingo Murillo (the city’s own son and now remembered in La Paz with parades and street names alike). Today, that city has sprawled and crawled outwards into the Cordillera Real, cascading down the Andean ridges in barrios and ramshackle neighbourhoods.
The center still retains traces of colonial beauty on Plaza Murillo and Calle Jaen, while markets erupt on Sagarnaga Street and the Teleferico cable car showcases the altitudinous wonders of this 4,100-meter-high capital!
4. Santa Cruz
Spread-eagle on the tropical reaches of the Andean range (which can sometimes just be spotted silhouetted on the horizon out of Santa Cruz), the sprawling capital of the Bolivian east is forever encroaching and growing, poking its urban tendrils into the jungled backcountry that encompasses it.
Peppering the heart of the metropolis are elegant reminders of its Spanish roots: the Catedral de Santa Cruz and the beautifully carved frontispieces of the Iglesias de la Chiquitania to name just two.
Meanwhile, the Avenida Monsenor Rivero pulses with hearty Bolivian bean stews and Irish pubs alike.
And then there’s the backcountry delights too, ranging from the wilds of Amboro to the cataracts of Jardin De Las Delicas.
Strapped to the hillsides of the verdant Cordillera Real, on the sheer-cut and meandering roadways of the Yungas, Coroico rises like a bloom of terracotta and stone above the deep-green shades of the cloud forests and jungle that surround it.
Indelibly beautiful and with a reputation for laid-back Bolivian living, the town draws travelers with its magnificent panoramas of the Andes: valleys of rolling coffee farms and lemon woods, river-carved gorges and even snow-mantled mountaintops on the horizon.
A yearly festival is the only thing that breaks the slow pace, while siestas, casual woodland strolls, birdwatching and coffee drinking are the main attractions most other days!
Row upon row of red-tiled roofs line up in pretty little Samaipata, nestled between the dry eastern ridges of the Bolivian Andes, just a stone’s throw from the eastern hub of Santa Cruz.
A small and sleepy backwater town that’s slowly becoming a favourite traveler stop-off, this one’s cobbled streets and charming painted cottages ooze a pueblo charm from each of their stuccoed cracks and whitewashed chimneys.
But Samaipata’s endearing interior qualities aside, the real draws here are arguably on its peripheries.
There, travelers can explore the mysterious El Fuerte stones, steeped in Guarani, Arawak and Incan histories alike, or wax up the walking boots and delve into the cloud forests of Amboro, which lie just to the north of town.
Set on the dry and dusty plains that roll between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, the dig site at Tiwanaku is a real must for any culturally and historically interested travelers making their way through Bolivia.
Hailed as some of the most fascinating pre-Columbian ruins in all of South America, this collection of monolith gates and subterranean temple complexes tells the secrets of a virtually unknown civilisation.
They were first discovered back in the 1500s, by the wandering conquistador Pedro Cieza de Leon, and are now thought to represent the last remaining vestige of the epicentre of the mighty Tiwanaku Empire; once a power that extended from Bolivia through to Chile and Peru!
Sucre enjoys the rather prestigious position as Bolivia’s official capital, not to mention year-round highland breezes that keep the temperatures cool and the streets perennially fresh.
Granted it’s nowhere near the most populous town in the country (Sucre has a meagre 300,000 people), and the government and state houses have all but relocated to altitudinous La Paz on the edge of the Cordillera Real, but Sucre is still the regal charm and witty conquistador of yesteryear.
During the colonial years, the center here was flooded with moneyed mansion builders from nearby Potosi, raising the gorgeous whitewashed homes and Baroque majesty found around Plaza 25 de Mayo.
Then came independence, and Sucre stood up – this UNESCO spot was where Bolivia’s revolution pretty much began!
Beset by seas of undulating cocoa plantations and banana trees, coffee and tropical palm gardens, the pretty little country town of Chulumani can be found cascading its way down the hillsides of the Sud Yungas.
Much like its mountaintop brother of Coroico just a little down the road to the north-west, this high-perched city is one of the most popular destinations for travelers on the iconic Camino de las Yungas – the death-defying route that carves its way out of the ridges of the Bolivian Andes, falling away precipitously and meandering up the steep faces of the Cordillera Real.
The town itself is known for its babbling mineral streams and dark histories, while many other people come to hit the hiking trails in the nearby wilds, spy out rare tropical butterflies, or join the raucous festival in late summer.
A tenuous balance between backpacker, hiker hub and backwater Bolivian town has been struck at Rurrenabaque, where the waxy boughs and cacophonous tropical noises of the South American rainforest echo amidst the low-rise pueblo cottages and coffee-scented plazas.
Famed for its enticing position right where the pampas meets the wilds of Madidi National Park of the upper Amazon, the town has proved a magnet for outdoorsy types and ecotourists in recent years.
Some will head west, to the ziplines and monkey-dotted canopies of the primeval rainforests across the Beni River, while others will head east, to the outback town of Santa Rosa and the pampas, where alligators patrol the banks and anacondas lurk in the swamps.
A town of hardened miners and mineral workers, straight-faced blue-collar folk and salt-of-the-earth types, Oruro makes its home on the windswept edge of the Altiplano.
The undulating hills that delineate its seat in the eastern heartlands of Bolivia have long been the city’s main source of income too, offering oodles of tungsten and tin for generation after generation of prospectors to pull from the ground.
Today, there’s something of a humble (very humble) tourist boom going on in Oruro, with one fine ethnography museum offering mummified remains and South American treasures, and that annual festival drawing whopping big crowds to see Uru rites, traditional costume and the enthralling so-called Dancers of the Devil.
Rising from the wetland plains of the Llanos de Moxos, Trinidad boasts a pretty little colonial heart and a fine location within easy reach of the wildernesses of the great pampas.
In its center, travelers can laze and gaze amidst the palm trees and pretty Spanish-style edifices on the Plaza Mariscal Jose Ballivian.
A quad of four fantastic city museums is a great way to get acquainted with the history and cultures of Beni (especially the Fish Fauna Museum, with its piranhas and river dolphins), while trips out to find the critically endangered Wagler’s macaw in the forests around town are also hugely popular.
Delineated by the folds and contours of the Altiplano and the Andes, Cochabamba sprawls out at the base of its own plain, almost midway between Santa Cruz and La Paz.
An enticing metropolis of more than 500,000 people, this one’s gritty barrios and dramatic geographical location make for a fine balance of urban living and outdoorsy pursuits.
By morning, travelers can work off their hangovers by shopping through the buzzing stalls of La Cancha and sipping chicha corn beers on the sun-splashed plazas.
Later, hit the peaks of the snow-tipped Tunari in the distance, where hang-gliding and hiking are both possible amidst the hills.
Peppered with palms and kissed by the warm tropical breezes of the Bolivian south, Tarija remains largely off-the-beaten-track.
Tourists rarely plan to make a beeline to the regional capital, while those who do are often surprised by its elegant Governor’s Mansion (done out in bold white and blues), laid-back Spanish feel and sun-baked cottages with their trademark Andalusian roofs and patios.
However, Tarija’s real draw has to be its location on the edge of one of Bolivia’s most prolific wine growing regions: the Central Valley of Tarija.
Here, some of the vineyards hail in as the world’s highest, and countless cellar doors offer tasting sessions throughout the year.
The boomtown that once brought great wealth to South America’s former Spanish masters, Potosi is now hailed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Standing tall against the city’s multi-coloured barrios of low-rise miner homes and the whitewashed tower of the iconic Potosi Mint (the Casa Nacional de Moneda – now a fine museum) is the famous Cerro Rico; the cone-shaped hill whose riches just kept on giving and giving.
Silver was pulled from the shaft mines here for decades, funding wars and explorations and ambitious colonial builds right across the continent, while today travelers come to see the miners still at work, weave through the old town and seek out the pretty likes of Potosi Cathedral, crowning the center of one of the highest urban centers on the planet. #thecrazytourist