With its ice-capped Andean peaks, crystalline lagoons, rugged lowlands, Amazonian rainforest, terraced valleys and windswept altiplano, landlocked Bolivia is a virtual showcase of South America’s most dramatic landscapes.
Its iconic sights include Lake Titicaca, spiritual home of the Inca creation myth and highest navigable lake in the world; the Salar de Uyuni, highest and largest salt lake on earth; and La Paz, the world’s highest de facto capital. The panorama of the city’s ramshackle roofs sprawled across the basin beneath the mighty Mt Illampú is surely one of the most awesome views in the Americas.
The country’s greatest treasures are the Bolivians themselves. Nearly two thirds of the people are of indigenous origin, preserving the continent’s purest cultural roots, which, for visitors, means a dazzling array of colourful festivals, mysterious rituals, haunting folklore music, magical markets and dazzling costumed dances.
While bespoke tourism is emerging, there are also plenty of long bus journeys over precipitous mountain passes, rough-and-tumble jeep trips across empty landscapes and chilly nights at high altitude in budget hostels under llama wool blankets.
Bolivia’s cities encapsulate the country’s staggering contrasts. La Paz mixes both traditional and modern culture in a frenzy of collisions. Weave your way through the backstreets where cosmopolitan restaurants and lively bars compete with witch markets and speeding minibuses. By contrast, Santa Cruz has a younger vibe: famous for its spirited Carnival, it’s the booming hub of the tropical eastern lowlands. Colonial Sucre and Potosí are chronicles of Bolivia’s past – whitewashed mansions, gilt-lined churches, monumental plazas, and steep cobbled streets. While Tupiza and Uyuni offer something different altogether: the isolated culture of Altiplano towns.
From jungle greenery to vast white salt plains and wildlife-filled wetlands, the sweep of landscapes can be overwhelming: one day you can find yourself walking through a canyon of rock formations, the next volcanic geysers and endless stretches of white salt. It is this smorgasbord of remarkable features which keeps trips to Bolivia varied, alive and unforgettable.