Bolivia is one of my favourite South American countries. Whatever you can think of this country has it all… From enjoying the remote and highest lake in the world to rushing downhill on a mountain bike to getting “snow-blind” in its white deserts….
1. Enjoy the tranquillity of Bolivia on Isla del Sol
Although Bolivia is landlocked, it does have access to the largest lake on the continent: Lake Titicaca. Bordering Peru and close to bustling La Paz, this lake hosts one of the most tranquil islands I have ever been too: Isla del Sol.
The lack of paved roads and motorized vehicles indicate that time runs slowly here! Its inhabitants mainly pass time with farming, fishing and obviously the tourists who have discovered this haven of tranquillity. The key activity to do here is walking over the island and take in the beautiful views of the Islands shores and Lake Titicaca.
It is believed that this island gave birth to the first Inca. For this reason, you will find your fair share of ruins across the island, like the Inca stairs, the Inca fountain, and Templo del Sol.
Top Tip: Bring sunscreen! Remember you are wandering on the highest island in the world (as Lake Titicaca is the highest lake). Therefore the UV intensity is very high, which the lake’s reflections will further intensify!
2. Cycle down Death Road
The 56 kilometres long North Yungas Road leads from La Paz to Coroico. In 1995 it was named the “world’s most dangerous road” by the Inter-American Development Bank. In 2006 it was estimated that 200 to 300 travellers did not survive this road, as is seen by the many cross markings along the route.
Since 2006 some new road constructions are in place that bypasses some of the more dangerous parts of the original road. However, the road is still used by many thrill-seeking cyclists. An experience I would certainly recommend! The road starts high up in the cool-aired Andes and takes you through beautiful green valleys to the rainforest below.
There are a few tour operators who provide you with cycles and gear! In my opinion, it sounds more frightening and unsafe as it actually is! You are only cycling downhill which means you do not get physically tired! The tour guides will ensure the group stays together and provides regular breaks at great viewpoints. You can decide on your own pace and enjoy the view, or seek the thrill and rush down, the latter was more my style!…
We ended our tour cooling off in a swimming pool of a hotel in the lush green tropical surroundings of Coroico… beware of spiders (kidding! I guess we were just “lucky” to find a large spider in the pool)
3. Roam through Sucre’s architecture
Sucre is the capital (or actually one of the capitals) of Bolivia. It is in this Casa de la Libertad where the de declaration of independence was signed. It is also home to many colonial churches, museums, galleries, and squares. Many of these buildings are white, perhaps the reason to name this town Sucre, which literally translates to sugar. Sucre is a great place to enjoy the warmer, as opposed to the cooler Andes climate, when strolling through the city and enjoy its architecture, restaurants, and bars.
4. Blow dynamite in Potosi
Yes, you read it right, you can buy actual dynamite in Bolivia. The best place to do this is in Potosi, one of the highest cities in the world located at an altitude of 4.000 m in the Andes. Potosi is home to a large silver mine, hence the availability of dynamite.
When visiting the mines it is custom to buy gifts for the mineworkers. Among many things, this can be dynamite, gear, coca leaves, but also 99% pure alcohol, which the miners drink to get through their hard days of labour. The workers also use this to offer to El Tio (the Uncle), which is believed to be the lord of the underworld in the Cerro Rico mountain.
Going into this (active) mine is quite an experience. The deeper you go in the narrower the tunnels get and the more claustrophobic the experience becomes. Especially when you hear the noise of dynamite in the mountain combined with the thin air (due to the altitude) likely puts this on one of the worst places to work in the World. Nevertheless, I would advise visiting the mines to get a better understanding of the silver mining process, interact with the miners, give them gifts and give your respects and offers to El Tio.
After our tour, our guides took a few of our dynamite bars and let them explode with a giant bang!
5. Get salty in Salar de Uyuni
In my view, the Uyuni salt plains are one of the key highlights of the entire South American continent! This is the largest salt flat in the World and is a prehistoric lake that went dry long ago. What remained is a large bright white salt desert, with scattered rocky cactus islands. There is hardly any wildlife, yet it harbours a flamboyance of pink flamingos.
Guided tours take 5-6 persons per jeep. It is likely you will stay overnight in a salt hotel. In this extraordinary accommodation, everything is made of salt (the walls, beds, etc.).
A very fun (albeit a bit touristy) thing to do in the Uyuni Desert is using the wide horizon for some optical illusion photo tricks!
Top tip: Do go and peek at the stars during the night! The air is so dry and clear that you will be amazed by the nightly sky!
Top tip: linked to the tip above, bring warm clothes. (Which I am sure you will have figured out when travelling through the Andes by then)… The high altitude and dry sky make the temperatures drop significantly at night to double digits subzero. To give you an idea: In our case, it dropped to minus 30 Celcius and the guides used gas burners under the jeeps to get them started in the early morning.
In addition to the Salt flats, you will also pass various coloured lakes, geysers, cooking mud puddles and mushroom-shaped rock formations. It is like wandering on another planet!