"IF THE EARTH DISAPPEARED, LEAVING ONLY BOLIVIA, ALL THE PRODUCTS AND CLIMATES OF THE WORLD WOULD STILL EXIST. BOLIVIA IS THE SYNTHESIS OF THE COSMOS."
This small land-locked South American nation has a surprise at every turn.
Although it has its fair share of stereotypes on the traveller circuit - cheapness, cholitas and chaotic transport systems - it is actually very difficult to capture Bolivia's essence. It is confounding that the mesmeric Salt Flats of Uyuni, the lush green national parks of Santa Cruz, the jungle heat of the Amazon, the soothing blues of Lake Titicaca and the snowcapped peaks encasing La Paz all belong under the same flag.
Although still one of the poorest nations in the continent, there has been notable development in the last decade; the indigenous majority have been given a voice and a place in society, education has improved, poverty decreased and President Morales has put the country on the political map for reasons both positive and negative. However, the deep scars of colonial rule and oppression are still all too evident in many facets of daily life.
For every traveller, Bolivia will open your eyes to so much beauty and diversity - in landscapes, in people, in culture. It will however also make you question much of what you previously knew of this part of the world.
And that is, after all, what travel should be about.
so you're thinking about going to bolivia?
Watch out - however long you think you might need, it is probably not enough! We had planned only three weeks in Bolivia, but ended up having a fantastic two months there.
The western part of the country hosts the most popular sites and forms a well-trodden part of the South American backpacker circuit. Those visiting for only a short-time, are likely to only stop off at the Salt Flats in Uyuni, spend a few nights in La Paz and have a brief stay in Copacabana before heading to Peru - but there really is so much more to be discovered.
The dry and dusty southern town of Tupiza offers a lovely introduction to the country - with a number of excellent D.I.Y. walks and day-trips. The pretty 'white city' of Sucre, with its pleasant climate and manageable altitude, offers a number of Spanish schools as well as photogenic markets. The administrative capital La Paz, if the sun is shining, is actually worth more than a couple of nights and also acts as a gateway to either Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol to the west, the 'Death Road' and the secluded beauty in the hills of Corioco to the east or to Rurrenbaque's Amazon adventures in the north.
Whatever your itinerary or budget, Uyuni and its iconic Salt Flats are likely to be top of your Bolivia bucket list. Most people opt for the 3/4 day tours, but we're happy to say that the one day options aren't half-bad at all. The small town is probably the most touristic place in the country, but is actually still a pretty pleasant experience with authenticity still to be found in amongst the tour companies and gringo menus.
Potosi - one of the highest cities in the world - bears the most scars from Spanish rule, with Cerro Rico to this day causing the death of many. For many reasons, we do not recommend anyone taking part in the infamous mine tours, and there is little else to do in the town of note. It is however a crucially important part in Bolivia's story and a few days here will offer insights and perspectives on the country unavailable elsewhere. Cochabamba - the 'heart of Bolivia' - is very pretty and a pleasant town with a level of development which would make it an excellent choice for anyone seeking a base for a couple of weeks.
The little-visited eastern section of the country is actually home to some amazing experiences and offers an alternative narrative to the west. Lower in altitude and with a much more tropical climate, it's a pleasure travel in. Samaipata is a peaceful slice of lush, green countryside with a healthy level of ex-pat influence and acts as a setting off point for the Che Guevara trail and some of the best condor spotting in South America. A couple of hours further east, the economic powerhouse of Santa Cruz is a much more developed, much more metropolitan city in comparison to Potosi and La Paz and nature lover's will revel in the three gigantic, well-preserved national parks which surround it.