Bolivia has a lot to offer, especially if you get away from the typical gringo trail (Uyuni, La Paz, Copacabana). Most backpackers stick to the western Andean region, but there are many worthwhile destinations in the eastern lowlands and the jungle. Bolivia can be thought of as two distinct countries, and comparing/contrasting the east with the west is fascinating. With Evo Morales in charge for 10 years now, it’s a country that is experiences a lot of change for the better. Bus and airline travel is very cheap – the former will cost about $1 USD per hour. Low cost airlines (Amaszonas, BOA) can help you bypass grueling bus journeys for as little as $30 USD. Accommodation prices can vary greatly; expect dorm beds to cost between $5-10 per night, and privates between $18-22. -December 2014
LA PAZ & LAKE TITICACA
With a brand new cable car system (destined to become the largest in the world), La Paz is suddenly easier to get to know. A sprawling city, with staggering elevation to match, La Paz will require several days to really see the sights. The Witches’ Market and streets full of handicraft vendors are big attractions.
Copacabana, a weekend and holiday getaway for Chileans, Bolivians and Peruvians alike, is situated on the southern shores of Lake Titicaca. During busy seasons, don’t forget to make a reservation. Take a boat from the harbor and visit Isla del Sol for a day or two. The beautiful north-south hike of the island is well worth the journey.
Potosí is the highest city (of it’s size) in the world. The Wongenbergs only passed through on a bus, but that was enough to convince us that it’s a harsh place to live. Most backpackers visit in order to take tours of the old silver mines; something that was described to us as both awesome and scary.
Sucre might be Bolivia’s most beautiful city. Located four hours from Potosí, it has a lovely climate, elevation and is very walkable. Sucre is a popular spot to settle down for a few weeks and take some cheap Spanish lessons. Cochabamba is the so-called food capital of Bolivia. It’s also a pleasant mid-sized city to spend a few days in.
Santa Cruz de la Sierra is the largest city in Bolivia. It’s a sprawling, modern, hot and humid place. The public transportation isn’t great and a backpacker is likely to find the place overwhelming. But this is also the best place to discover the charm and personality of eastern Bolivia.
Two hours to the west of Santa Cruz lies Samaipata. The temperature is much more comfortable here, about 1,000 meters above the lowland floor. The town is quite small, with poor internet and stunning mountain views. Beware the rainy season, as most tours to nearby attractions (like Amboro National Park) end up canceled.
East of Santa Cruz, on the way to Brazil, lie the Jesuit Missions. There are 9 which have been renovated and are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Concepción, Roboré and Chochis are worth visits.
UYUNI SALT FLAT & THE FAR SOUTH
One of the biggest attractions in Bolivia is the Uyuni Salt Flat. Many people do multi-day jeep tours through the salt flat and the Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaro National Park (located further south). Typical three-day tours start in either Uyuni or San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. There’s also an option to start from the southern Bolivian city of Tupiza, which adds an extra day of travel.
There are literally hundreds of tour agencies in Uyuni, so choosing might be hard. Word of mouth is probably the best way to make your decision. The itineraries are almost always the same, so focus on things like quality of food, number of people in the jeep, and dedicated cooks. Cheap tours will likely suffer in all of those areas.
OTHER PLACES IN BOLIVIA
With the exception of Samaipata, the Wongenbergs didn’t venture into the Bolivian jungle. Check out Rurrenabaque and Coroico (you’ll likely visit if you do the World’s Most Dangerous Road bike ride) for your jungle fix.
Outside of Cochabamba lies the beautiful National Park Torotoro. You can find good wine and fruit in the southern city of Tarija. And if you happen to be in Bolivia for Carnival, don’t miss a stop in Oruro for their famous festival.