A land of contrasts that sometimes divides opinion, Bolivia is often the highlight or lowlight of a trip to South America. Contradictions abound in a country where soaring peaks sit cheek by jowl with shanty towns. Bolivia combines bone-jarring bus rides and avant-garde public transport solutions such as the La Paz cable car system. Even guidebooks sometimes seem to focus on the negatives and instil fear into prospective travellers. However, don’t be put off, there is far more to this destination than just the Salar de Uyuni.
Travel Highlights of Bolivia
1. The Markets of La Paz
The area around Calle Sagárnaga and Calle Linares is a riot of colour as shops and markets compete for the tourist dollar. An ability to speak Spanish will enhance the experience, but don’t worry if you don’t because the vendors here will find a way to communicate with you. Close to Santa Cruz, you will find the unique witches’ market where llama fetuses are more common than baby alpaca caps and tops. Even if you have no intention of buying anything, the sights and sounds of the markets are seductive.
Top Tip: Relax at Café del Mundo near the top of Sagárnaga before or after a day visiting the markets. This Swedish-owned café is designed as a travellers’ meeting place where you can enjoy tasty food with Scandinavian comforts.
Café del Mundo: Sagárnaga 324
2. The Amazon
This is hardly your typical image of Bolivia. However, much of the country is tropical and the Amazon region here is rich in biodiversity. Most people use the town of Rurrenabaque as their base and then choose between a pampas tour or a jungle tour. The former will enable you to see more wildlife, but a jungle tour can give you a real insight into traditional life in the area. Falling asleep in pitch black darkness to the accompanying soundtrack of the jungle at night is a unique sensation. It has to be one of the travel highlights of Bolivia, if not South America. Find out more by clicking here.
Top Tip: San Miguel del Bala is a traditional community offering overnight stays and tours in English or Spanish. Track animals and learn the medicinal properties of plants and, if possible, go deep into the forest on a trip into Madidi National Park.
3. Lake Titicaca
Isla del Sol is reputed to have been the birthplace of the Inca Civilization. Even if you only make it to the somewhat hippie village of Copacabana, this is worth a side trip from La Paz or a stopover on the way to Peru. Climb to the top of Cerro Calvario to get views across the lake and the island. Take a boat trip to Isla del Sol or arrange a trip with a travel agency in La Paz.
Top Tip: Hostal Las Olas has commanding hillside views of the town and the lake. The restaurant is considered one of the best in town and many non-guests trek up the hill for the good food served in delightful surrounds. Try the fondue on a cold night and watch the twinkling of the lights from the town below.
Top Tip: Travel to Isla del Sol is probably best arranged from La Paz. The reliable and highly recommended Hanaq Pacha agency in Calle Jaen offers tours single and multiple day tours. They also sell tickets to Bolivia Hop bus tickets to Peru with stopovers possible in Copacabana and Puno.
4. San Felipe Neri in Sucre:
This could probably be described as the best kept open secret in Bolivia. Appearing in so many tourist photos of Bolivia, it is a surprisingly low-key attraction. Why? The answer is that the convent here houses a school, which limits access in the morning, and from the outside, it really doesn’t look like much. However, once you enter it truly is another world. The building is an excellent example of Spanish colonial architecture and the views across the white city are sublime. Forget the Recoleta Mirador, this is the place to come to get your camera shots over the rooftops of Sucre. Enchanting.
Address: Nicolas Ortiz 165, Sucre
5. Calle Jaen, La Paz
It’s surely the best preserved colonial street in La Paz. From the moment you turn the corner at Casa de la Cruz Verde it quickly becomes apparent that this street is an oasis of culture. Home to the four Calle Jaen Museums, not to mention the Museum of Musical Instruments, it may be small but it has got an undoubted charm. The cobblestones here practically sing of days long gone.
Top Tip: Stay in the charmingly restored Hostal Ananay. Attentive staff and a beautiful building, what more could you ask for?
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