Bolivia is a country of superlatives. It boasts the highest capital city, the highest town, the highest ski resort and the largest salt lake in the world to name but a few and this small landlocked country is defined in part by its altitude, which with its stunning scenery can take your breath away in every sense!
Standing at over 3500 metres, La Paz is the world’s highest capital city and is a staggering sight either if you fly in or as you drop down into the huge canyon from the altiplano with the triple-peaked Mount Illimani providing a dramatic backdrop. It is a colourful and vibrant city with pretty colonial plazas, Baroque churches and steep streets lined with Aymara women selling an extraordinary variety of handicrafts and fruit & vegetables, whilst The Witches Market is devoted to the sale of lotions, potions and bizarre objects.
The Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) is a nearby valley where erosion has created extraordinary and weird rock formations that resemble a lunar landscape.
The nearby Tiahuanaco ruins make a fascinating diversion and can easily be visited in a day trip from La Paz. They are thought to have once been part of a magnificent imperial capital that thrived 1500 years ago and believed to have exerted more influence than its famous successor the Inca Empire. The Tiahuanaco Empire is believed to have comprised half of present-day Bolivia, southern parts of Peru, the northwest section of Argentina and nearly half of Chile, with the ancient city of Tiahuanaco being at its centre.
Our preferred hotels in La Paz include:
Casa Grande Hotel
Camino Real Suites
Known as the ‘Sacred Lake of the Incas’, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3856 metres above sea level. The gigantic inland sea stretches over 8000 square kilometres and straddles Bolivia and Peru. The vast deep blue expanse of Lake Titicaca is in fact two lakes joint by the Straits of Tiquina, with the towering peaks of the Cordillera Real as a backdrop.
The larger, northern lake, Lago Mayor or Chucuito, contains the Islas del Sol and de la Luna (Sun and Moon Islands). Isla del Sol has a quiet serene beauty and is the perfect place to relax for a couple of days. There are many beautiful walks through villages and Inca terraces and a sacred rock in the north of the island is worshipped as the birthplace of the first Incas. Isla de la Luna lies southeast of Isla del Sol and you can visit the ruins of an Inca temple and nunnery although these are sadly neglected.
The Urus Floating Islands are also worth a visit to learn about the community’s sustainable tourism project, as is the pilgrimage town of Copacabana, an attractive little town and a popular stopping-off point on the way to or from Peru. Here, every Sunday, a long line of cars, buses and trucks decorated with flower garlands wait outside the cathedral to be blessed for their journeys.
Our preferred hotels in the Lake Titicaca area include:
Inca Utama Hotel & Spa (Huatajata)
La Posada del Inca (Isla del Sol)
Three hours by road from Sucre, nestled beneath Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), Potosi was once one of the richest cities in the world on account of the huge deposits of silver that lay within the mountain, however, at the cost of countless miners’ lives. It is said that the mines produced enough silver to pave a road all the way to Madrid. Such wealth is now a distant memory, but the fabulous colonial architecture, which led Potosi to be declared Patrimony of Mankind by UNESCO in 1987, can still be seen.
You can visit the Casa Nacional de Moneda, where all the silver that was mined had to be brought to be turned into ingots so the Spanish Crown could tax it. The Casa (or Mint), founded in 1572 and rebuilt in 1759-73, is one of the chief monuments of civil building in Hispanic America, a building with 160 rooms and fortress thick walls.
The Church, Convent and Museo de Santa Teresa is also worth a visit. The building was started in 1685 and has an impressive amount of gildwork inside. There is an eye-opening collection of flagellation tools, colonial paintings, religious architecture and furniture. There are nuns still living in the convent today.
It is possible to visit the remaining mines which are now worked as co-operatives. Before descending into the labyrinth of tunnels to see miners at work, you visit the market where you are expected to buy presents for the miners such as dynamite, coca leaves, meths and cigarettes.
Our recommended hotels in Potosi include:
Salar de Uyuni & the Coloured Lakes
Not only is the Salar de Uyuni the highest salt lake in the world standing at 3650m, but it is also the largest and twice as big as the Great Salt Lake in the USA, covering approx. 10,000 sq kms. For those seeking some of South America’s most extraordinary scenery and isolated pristine wilderness, then to journey across this surreal landscape of strange hexagonal shapes encrusted in the salt and ten metre high giant cacti is a truly other-worldly experience. Drive to the Isla Pescado where you can find unique fauna and flora, completely isolated for thousands of years by the vast plains of salt or climb Volcan Tunupa for an amazing view across the great Salt Lake.
Further south from Salar de Uyuni is a world of bizarre rock formations, snow-tipped volcanoes and sparkling soda lakes of dizzying shades of jade and red, filled with flocks of pink flamingoes. The Laguna Colorada (Coloured Lake) at 4278 metres high and 60 square kilometres, gets its name from the effect of wind and sun on the micro-organism that live in it. The pink algae found in the less than 1 metre deep lake provide food for the flamingos and also gives them their pink colour.
South of the red waters of the Laguna Colorada lies the Laguna Verde (Green Lake) which gets is impressive colour from magnesium, calcium carbonate, lead and arsenic. The lake lies on the foot of Volcan Licancabur which is on the border between Bolivia and Chile.
This journey south is for the more hardy traveller and uses the best available accommodation, which is basic, but this extraordinary travel experience is reward enough.
Our preferred hotels include:
Il Palacio de Sal
or otherwise accommodation is in small, rustic but comfortable guesthouses
Santa Cruz & The Jesuit Missions
The vast eastern lowlands of Bolivia are an area most rich in natural resources and with national parks with a greater variety of plants and wildlife than almost anywhere else on earth.
The capital of this region, Santa Cruz, is the gateway to one of the least explored and most fascinating parts of Bolivia, an area most different in population and climate to the highlands. To the northeast of Santa Cruz lie the Jesuit Missions, sleepy little towns each with beautiful Jesuit churches, built and decorated by the most skilful craftsmen. These are the finest example of religious art.
Our preferrred hotels in Santa Cruz include:
Dating back to 1538, Sucre (a UNESCO city) is a colonial masterpiece with a wealth of religious architecture, much of which is traditionally whitewashed every year, hence its nickname ‘The White City’. The 17th Century cathedral and a number of beautiful churches house a wide variety of important artworks and other treasures, and the Museo Textil-Etnografico is highly recommended for explanations of local indigenous groups and their distinctive textiles. With two important universities and a charming feel of isolation and self-importance Sucre is a gem.
One of the most interesting trips around Sucre is a visit to the village of Tarabuco, 64km southeast. This village is famous for its very colourful market on a Sunday, to which local people from miles around come to sell and trade their wares. You can see the local people still wearing their traditional colourful dress with conquistador-style helmets and multi-coloured ponchos.
Our preferred hotels in Sucre include:
Hostal de Su Merced
Hotel Parador Santa Maria La Real
Wildlife & Ecological Areas
Not far from La Paz lie the lush valleys and forested slopes of the Yungas, squeezed in between the high peaks of the Cordillera Real and the green jungles of the Amazon. The comfortable warm climate makes this area a popular tourist attraction, and the attractive small towns of Coroico in the north and Chulumani in the south are a favourite with travellers.
The tiny town of Rurrenabaque in the northwest of the country is the starting point for most wildlife excursions into the Amzon. The vast Parque Nacional Madidi is possibly the most biodiverse of all protected areas on earth with more plant and animal species than anywhere else. It is home to nearly half of all the mammals known in the Western Hemisphere and a third of the known amphibian and bird species in the world. It is estimated that there are more than 6000 different plant species in the park.
Parque Nacional Amboro, only three hours from Santa Cruz, is one of the last untouched wilderness areas on earth and it encompasses three distinct eco-systems, the Amazon River basin, the foothills of the Andes and the Chaco plain. Nowhere else in the world can one find so many diverse ecological systems that are home to thousands of animal, bird, plant and insect species.
In the far northeast of the Santa Cruz Department lies the stunningly beautiful Parque Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado, said to have even more diversity of wildlife than Amboro, along with some rare aquatic species found nowhere else. There are seven distinct ecosystems within the park, the highest number in a single protected area anywhere on earth.
Our preferred hotels & lodges include:
Hotel El Viejo Molino (Coroico)
San Bartolome Plaza Resort (Chulumani)
Albergue Ecologico Chalalan (Madidi National Park)
Amboro Eco Resort or tented camps (Amboro National Park)
Tented camps (Noel Kempff Mercado National Park)
Full hotel listings with details coming soon. You can find our recommended hotels under country highlights or call us on 01905 731373 for more detailed information.
Bolivia’s culture is also as varied as its scenery and dates back thousands of years. The majority of the population today consists of indigineous peoples who have not only preserved their native languages but much of their traditional way of life, which offers a fascinating dimension to any visit.
From the sacred waters of Lake Titicaca to its rich colonial heritage in the UNESCO designated cities of Sucre and Potosi and from the surreal beauty of its salt and soda lakes in the west to the phenomenal wildlife in its eastern lowlying jungles, Bolivia combines extremely well with a visit to Peru and has a huge amount to offer those who wish to venture a little further off the beaten track.
Best of Bolivia
The Best of Bolivia itinerary offers a two week in-depth look at the highlights of Bolivia’s extraordinary culture and natural beauty. Starting with a brief look at La Paz and its surroundings before continuing to Lake Titicaca for a visit to the Sun and Moon Islands the next day. You then return to La Paz visiting the ruins of Tiahuanaco on the way. After another night in the highest capital of the world you take a short flight to Sucre to explore this delightful colonial city and the near-by colourful indigenous market town of Tarabuco. You visit Potosi and take a tour of the mine and the Royal Mint before continuing your journey to Uyuni, the Coloured Lakes, the Sol de Manana Fumaroles and the Valle de las Rocas. Your last night is spent back in La Paz before flying back home to the UK.
Day 1 – Fly from London Heathrow to La Paz
Day 2 – Arrive La Paz – Transfer to Hotel Europa – 2 nights
Day 3 – Full day city tour of La Paz & Moon Valley
Day 4 – Transfer to Lake Titicaca – Hydrofoil cruise to Copacabana, Moon Island & Sun Island – Posada del Inca – 1 night
Day 5 – Hydrofoil cruise to visit the mud igloos of the Urus Chipayas and the Andean Roots Eco Village – Inca Utama Hotel & Spa – 1 night
Day 6 – Transfer to La Paz via the Tiahuanaco Ruins – Hotel Europa – 1 night
Day 7 – Fly to Sucre – Half day city tour – Parador Santa Maria La Real –2 nights
Day 8 – Visit Tarabuco native market on a Sunday – Return to Sucre
Day 9 – Transfer to Potosi – Half day city tour – Afternoon visit of Santa Teresa Convent – Hotel Coloso – 1 night
Day 10 – Transfer to Uyuni – Visit Colchani and the Montones de Sal (salt hills) – Girasoles Hotel – 1 night
Day 11 – Visit Lagunas Colorado, Blanca & Verde as well as the Sol de Manana geysers – Ojo de Perdiz, Soniquera – 1 night
Day 12 – Return to Uyuni via Desert of de Siloli and Laguna Hedionda – Hotel Luna Salada – 1 night
Day 13 – Transfer to Sucre – Parador Santa Maria La Real – 1 night
Day 14 – Fly to La Paz – Hotel Europa – 1 night
Day 15 – Fly to London Heathrow
Day 16 – Arrive London Heathrow
2015 price from £2,232 per person
(Price based on two people sharing a twin/double room excluding the cost of international flights London/La Paz/London).