Scenic And Surreal: Scenes From a Holiday in Bolivia

A holiday in Bolivia, high up in the Andes, will surely rank as one of the most enriching travel experiences you have ever had. This is a diverse nation, both geographically and culturally, and travelers will notice its distinctiveness at every turn.

Illimani, the triple-peaked, snow-covered mountain stands guard over Bolivia’s capital city La Paz, which itself sits at 12,000 feet above sea level. Plaza Murillo, the city’s main public square, is surrounded by imposing buildings: a neoclassical cathedral, colonial-era palace, and modern towers.

From quiet Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, take a day trip across its cobalt blue waters to Isla del Sol, scattered with Inca ruins. Cochabamba, the city of eternal spring has great weather all-year-round. Sucre, white as sugar, in the south is architecturally Bolivia’s most beautiful city, also designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. And the pièce de résistance of any trip to this South American country is surely is gigantic salt flats, remnants of a prehistoric lake. Who hasn’t been completely overawed by the incredible Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia? Drive through this infinite expanse on a private tour arranged by an Enchanting Travels expert. We’ll tailor-make your Bolivia itinerary to ensure you make the best of your time in this country of ancient history, lush valleys, great colonial architecture, and natural beauty.

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Best Time to Visit Bolivia

Uyuni Desert – A breathtakingly beautiful natural wonder

What is the best time to travel to Bolivia? Our destination experts share on overview on when to visit the various regions of the country and what to pack for your tour.

Best time to visit Bolivia

Top 10 Things to do in Bolivia

What are the top things to do in Bolivia? From traversing endless salt flats, to climbing mountains and discovering unique cultural delights, our destination experts share their personal favorites.

Top Ten Things to do in Bolivia

Visa and Vaccinations for Bolivia

No visa is required for visitors from the UK, Canada or Australia. A tourist visa is required for US citizens to enter Bolivia. Visas need to be obtained from your nearest consulate before the time of travel, they can no longer be obtained at the border. The cost of the Visa is US Dollar 135 and is valid for 10 years from date of issue.

Bolivia requires a Yellow Fever vaccination with a certification required to enter the country if you are traveling from a destination where Yellow Fever is present. Malaria medication is recommended for travel to remote jungle regions at low altitudes. Only drink bottled water in Bolivia, tap water may be contaminated. We also recommend avoiding street food in Bolivia for sanitary reasons.

Your country’s government may have its own vaccination regulations and recommendations. Be sure your routine vaccinations are up-to-date, which include: influenza, chickenpox (or varicella), polio, measles / mumps / rubella (MMR) and diphtheria / pertussis / tetanus (DPT).

Currency, Cash and Credit Cards in Bolivia

Bolivia’s national currency is called the Boliviano (BOB).

You can change your money for a favorable rate at currency exchange facilities called Casa de Cambio. At the exchange, make sure that all your bills are in good condition. Torn or worn notes are generally not accepted anywhere.

ATMs, known as cajero automatic, are quite easily available in larger cities. However, not all of these are always in the best working condition and not all machines accept foreign cards. Therefore, it is always a good idea to carry some cash with you. To withdraw cash, you will need a credit card. If you are traveling to remote areas, it will be difficult to find ATMs that accept foreign cards. In remote areas ATMs use the Plus (Visa), Cirrus (Maestro / MasterCard) or Link Systems that will accept your debit card.

Although most hotels and restaurants in Bolivia accept VISA and MasterCard, this is not true for local restaurants and shops. Carrying some small denomination notes is recommended.

Altitude in Bolivia and Tips to Prevent Altitude Sickness

Upon reaching heights of 3000 meters or greater, some people can experience altitude sickness (otherwise know as Soroche), in response to the lack of oxygen in the air. To prevent altitude sickness, we recommend that you take it slow so your body can adapt. In the first hours after your arrival, we recommend that you lie down and drink plenty of water. Acclimatization will generally take you one to two days.

Soroche symptoms include headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, stomach illness, dizziness, and sleep disturbance, and usually develop within the first day or two at altitude. It’s difficult to determine who may be affected since there are no specific factors (age, sex or physical condition) correlated with susceptibility. The main cause of Soroche is ascending too rapidly.

High-altitude destinations in Bolivia:

  • Sajama, Bolivia: 4,250 m (13,944 ft)
  • Potosí, Bolivia: 4,090 m (13,420 ft)
  • Puno, Titicaca Lake, Copacabana, Bolivia & Peru: 3,827 m (12,628 ft)
  • Uyuni, Bolivia: 3,656 m (11,995 ft)
  • La Paz, Bolivia: 3,650 m (11,975 ft)
  • Sucre, Bolivia: 2,750 m (9,022 ft)

Bolivia's History

The history of Bolivia dates back many millennia to when the Aymaras first settled in the western highlands.

The Tiwanaku culture flourished until the kingdom was conquered by the Incas in the 15th century. Soon afterward, the Spanish conquistadors toppled the empire and founded the city of La Paz in 1548. Under Spanish colonization present-day Bolivia was known as Alto Peru (Upper Peru) and was under the authority of the Viceroyalty of Peru.

Silver mines in Alto Peru provided the majority of the wealth gathered by the Spanish Empire, and thousands of natives died while mining in dangerous conditions. In 1776, Alto Peru became part of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata. Spanish colonial rule was a traumatic experience for indigenous groups. In addition to mining, the native population decreased rapidly due to their susceptibility to European diseases and several revolts were quelled by the Spanish.

Finally in 1825, Alto Peru joined the rest of the South American nations to win independence from Spain. The new country was named Bolivia after Simón Bolívar, the famous liberator and hero. However, independence did not alleviate the country’s problems.

In 1879, after the country had increased taxes on nitrate mines, the War of the Pacific against Chile devastated Bolivia. Chile emerged victorious and Bolivia lost its only strip of Pacific coast and rich nitrate mining areas to Chile, thus becoming a landlocked nation.

The 20th century was marked by more tumult, social unrest, various coup d’etats and brutal military dictatorships as well as hyperinflation, poverty and a rise in drug trafficking. In 2005, left-wing Evo Morales was elected president and began to implement several controversial policies, including nationalization of industries. In 2009, Morales created a new Constitution formally declaring Bolivia a “plurinational state”, in recognition of the various indigenous cultures within the country. Although it is still one of the poorest nations in South America, Bolivia is currently entering a period of stability and economic growth and in recent years, a Bolivia tour is completely safe.

Bolivia tours reward visitors with unparalleled cultural authenticity and stunning natural beauty at this relatively undiscovered destination.

Top Bolivia Tour Tip – History:

The Tiwanaku civilization from 13th century BCE was the most advanced of ancient Bolivian cultures, and the ruins of their capital city Tiwanaku can be visited today on one of our private Bolivia tours.

Culture of Bolivia

One of the principal highlights of a Bolivia tour is the authenticity of the country’s culture and local people, who retain their indigenous heritage even in modern times. The majority of the population is of Quechua and Aymara descent, followed by mestizos – people with mixed indigenous and Spanish ancestry.

As you travel in Bolivia, you will find women in traditional dress, affectionately called cholas, everywhere. The chola’s clothing consists of a pleated skirt called pollera, a shawl called manta and topped off with a bowler hat from 19th century Europe. This form of dress was originally forced on the indigenous women by colonists, but now it has become a national symbol. Markets are colorful and full of textiles, handicrafts and even strange shamanic trinkets that are symbols of native religious traditions and popular superstition and a major part of Bolivian culture.

Our private Bolivia tours take you to Lake Titicaca, where unique cultures such as the Uros of the floating reed islands, maintain their traditions even in modern times.

Bolivians are close-knit and extremely family oriented, with several generations living together under the same roof. Many traditions and festivals in Bolivia stem from a mix of pre-Colombian pagan rites and Roman Catholicism. The Oruro Carnival is a major part of a well-planned Bolivia tour.  It is an important cultural event, famous for its folkloric devil dance and several days of costumed parades.

Top Bolivia Travel Tip – Culture:

Locals do not like to have their photos taken by visitors. Do not photograph people without first asking for permission during your tour of Bolivia

Bolivian Cuisine

Given the several distinct climatic regions and the abundance of natural resources, it is no wonder that Bolivian cuisine is divided by regionality and infused with local ingredients.

During your Bolivia tour you will find that in the Andes, cuisine is characterised by the staple grains quinoa and rice, a plethora of potato varieties – native to the Andes, and llama or alpaca meat. Meals commonly consist of delicious, warm and filling stews and soups. In the lowlands and tropical regions, food is based around yucca, plantains and beef.

Your Bolivia tour is incomplete without a food tour of the country’s administrative capital. La Paz, Bolivia’s most modern city, is heavily influenced by international food and has many pizzerias, fast food joints, Chinese restaurants (called chifas), rotisseries, and some high-end continental eateries.

Here is some typical Bolivia food to whet your appetite:

  • Anticuchos: kebabs made with heart of beef
  • Salteñas: a baked empanada filled with meat and a sweet and spicy sauce
  • Choripan: a sausage sandwich

Top Bolivia Travel Tips – Cuisine:

  • On a Bolivia tour, you should not eat with your hands, unless it is fast food such as burgers and hot dogs.
  • Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day, and this is followed by an afternoon nap.

Experience the Culinary Revolution on Your Bolivia Tour

In spite of such strong cultural authenticity, you’ll find that what is considered gourmet food is unfortunately so often an imitation of Italian or continental cuisine in Bolivia. However, this is currently poised to change with the beginning of a culinary revolution led by non-profit organizations such as Melting Pot Bolivia.

Such NGOs are fostering a return to native cuisine and local agriculture and keeping youths off the streets by training them to become the next generation of Bolivian chef. This adds a delicious and fabulous flavor to our Bolivia tours.

Recently, famous Danish chef and entrepreneur Claus Meyer (of Michelin star NOMA in Copenhagen) opened up Gustu restaurant in La Paz. According to many, Gustu may just be the world’s next best new restaurant and should certainly be your must-visit list during your Bolivia tour. Gustu features only native cuisine and local ingredients prepared in creative ways by young chefs. The restaurant aims to put Bolivia on the map as a top gastronomic destination.

You can also eat in an extraordinary spot: dine on the salt flats or in a hotel made of salt during one of our Uyuni tours.

Language of Bolivia

Spanish is the official language of Bolivia, however, there are over 30 native languages spoken in various regions of the country, with Quechua and Aymara being the most common. Over 50% of the population has a native language other than Spanish as their mother tongue. Whilst you will find plenty of people speaking English in the cities during your Bolivia tour, it would be unwise to expect the same in rural areas.

The Enchanting Travels team is happy to plan your personalized and tailor-made Bolivia tour.

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