With its fascinating history, rich culture, colourful markets, and breathtaking and diverse landscapes (including the Amazon rainforest, the Andes Mountains and the high altitude deserts of the Altiplano), Bolivia is a country like no other.
We run our Bolivia Motorbike & Jeep Adventures in April and September of each year and with each visit we become even more enthralled by this incredible South American country. Here are 6 reasons why The Big Adventure Company loves Bolivia.
1. The diverse landscapes
Bolivia is a land of extremes with parts of the Amazon basin, the Andes Mountains, the dusty deserts of the Altiplano, and the dense Yungas jungle region which lies between the Amazon and the Andes. On the altiplano there are two more extreme landscapes, the Salar de Uyuni which is the world’s largest salt flats and Lake Titicaca, which is the world’s largest high-altitude lake.
On our Bolivia Motorbike & Jeep Adventures we travel from the edge of the Amazon basin to the Andes Mountains and the Altiplano via the incredible salt plains of Salar De Uyuni, the world’s most dangerous road and the shores of Lake Titicaca. If we had to pick a highlight of our itinerary it would probably be the day we spend at the salt plains of Salar de Uyuni, amid the Andes in southwest Bolivia. Salar de Uyuni is the legacy of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind a desert like, 11,000-sq.-km landscape of bright-white salt, rock formations and cacti-studded islands. The savage beauty of this vast salt desert makes it one of South America's most awe-inspiring sights.
2. The dizzying city of La Paz
Our Bolivian adventures start in Cochabamba and end in La Paz which sits at a staggering elevation of 3650m above sea level, surrounded by the Cordillera Real of the Andes and the snow-capped 6000m peaks of Illimani. La Paz is officially known as Nuestra Señora de La Paz (‘Our Lady of Peace’), however it is often referred to as the ‘city that touches the clouds’.
We love spending time in the vibrant city of La Paz at the end of our trips. We love wandering around the narrow cobblestone alleys in the heart of the city and visiting the colourful, chaotic markets (especially La Paz's famous Witches Market), and taking a ride up to El Alto on the world’s largest urban cable car!
3. The World’s Most Dangerous Road (Death Road)
The road which connects the Amazon rainforest region of northern Bolivia (the Yungas) to La Paz goes by many names — Grove's Road, Coroico Road, Camino de las Yungas, and also El Camino de la Muerte, which translates to "The Road of Death." 1000ft sheer drop offs and only the width of a single car for most of its length makes for interesting and adrenaline filled driving. Clouds, rain, fog and extreme dust can reduce visibility, but thankfully each time we’ve been on the road we’ve been blessed with clear skies and spectacular views of the valley and the mountains.
4. The mining town of Potosi
Once the richest city in South America, the mining town of Potosi is a must for tourists who want to understand more about Bolivian history. Potosi lies at the foot of the Cerro de Potosi (sometimes referred to as Cerro Rico) and the mountain is the reason for Potosi’s historical importance, since it was the major supply of silver for Spain during the period of the New World Spanish Empire. For those who would like to get an insight into the horrific working conditions of the miners you can enter the mines in Cerro Rico with a local guide and former miner. The guide will bring to life the story of the mine and the legacy for the Bolivian and indigenous people making up the mining community. Potosi has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we think that it is one of the most interesting places in Bolivia.
5. The rich and colourful culture
Bolivia has a rich and colourful culture which comes from a wide range of origins, including the ancient indigenous groups, the Catholic Spaniards and traditional Andean culture. There are 36 indigenous groups in Bolivia today, many of whom still practice ancient Andean customs, wear traditional dress and use natural remedies to cure illnesses. The thriving culture is visible in Bolivia’s colourful markets, in the way people dress, and in many aspects of everyday life. We’re absolutely fascinated by the Aymara Indian women of La Paz – known as cholitas paceñas. These women wear their traditional dress, which includes brightly coloured layered skirts, patterned shawls, massive gold earrings and bowler hats.
We love the fact that Bolivia maintains its traditional culture. La Paz is a busy, bustling city of commerce, however the rest of the country has a very rural and traditional lifestyle.
6. The Bolivian people
Bolivian’s are not necessarily known for being particularly friendly, however in our experience tourists who show respect, consideration and a genuine interest toward the Bolivian way of life are welcomed with warm smiles, friendly banter and gracious hospitality. Spanish is the main and official language of Bolivia, however there are 39 other languages used in the country spoken by people in different regions. We love the opportunity to practice our Spanish skills when interacting with the local people and we find that Bolivians are very polite and it’s normal to greet everyone with a formal “good morning/afternoon/evening” (“buenos dias, buenas tardes/noches”) and of course “please” (“por favor”) and “thank you” (“gracias”) are also very important.
We love Bolivia and we think that tourists who are willing to get off the beaten track are rewarded with unique experiences, amazing photo opportunities and plenty of stories to tell friends back home.