There are so many things to see and do in Bolivia, that sometimes I wonder whether the three months I spent there traveling were enough. With the blend of off-the-beaten-path, popular tourist stopovers, quirky happenings, cultural events, and a diverse landscape, Bolivia is truly a paradise for anyone bitten by the wanderlust bug.
Out of all the Latin American countries I visited and lived in, Bolivia has a special place in my heart. First of all, it is one of those countries where the indigenous culture takes a front seat in contrast to many others in Latin America. And then, although not as popular as its neighbors such as Peru or Chile, it is definitely much cheaper. So, if you are on a budget and don’t know where to go next, go to Bolivia.
And although citizens of most countries can go to Bolivia with a tourist stamp or a Bolivia visa on arrival, in case you want to study Spanish or volunteer or do business, Bolivia is a great place. Along with travelling, I also took Spanish classes and volunteered in Bolivia. Since the entry and immigration requirements to Bolivia can be a little confusing sometimes, here is a guide to different visas for Bolivia.
Usually, the dry season (April to October) is the best time to visit Bolivia as the transport is more reliable and the roads are in better condition. Here are 16 of the best and most beautiful places to visit in Bolivia…
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1. Salar de Uyuni – one of the most famous and best places to visit in Bolivia
There is no place in the world like Salar de Uyuni. I mean yeah, there are Salt flats in the USA and a few other countries, but none of them are as enormous as this Salt desert of Bolivia. At more than 11000 sq. miles, this place is actually bigger than some countries like Lebanon and Barbados. So take a moment to let that sink in.
Visiting this Salt Desert is nothing but surreal, especially when it has rained and you could see the reflections of everything. When you step into this vast whiteness of salt, it is almost like stepping into an alien landscape where no other signs of life exist.
And you can take some peculiar and wonderful photos – that’s for sure!
2. Lake Titicaca – one of the most stunning places to explore in Bolivia
While Peru and Bolivia both share this highest navigable lake in the world, in my experience a trip to Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side is a must. The Peruvian side is great for the floating islands, but the Bolivian side gives you a more intimate and serene travel experience.
When you are there, definitely visit the Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, the twin islands believed to be the birthplaces of the Sun and the Moon, as per the local legends.
On Isla del Sol, you can hike to numerous Inca ruins, all the while being next to the spectacular beauty of the lake.
3. Madidi National Park – a truly wonderful Bolivian beauty spot
Out of all the national parks in Bolivia, Madidi national park is certainly the most visited, and that’s for a reason. With countless mammals, reptiles, and more than 1200 species of birds, it boasts some of the richest biodiversity on Earth.
And if you are really lucky, you might even spot an elusive jaguar or one of those cute giant river otters.
Not to forget that the park is also home to some 50 odd indigenous communities who have found a way to amalgamate their ancient customs with today’s lifestyle. You might get a chance to learn a thing or two from them as well.
4. Toro Toro National Park – a gorgeous natural wonder to visit
If you love hiking, then the canyons of Toro Toro national park are the right place to be. And then there are endless underground caves where you can have a fun caving experience.
But beyond the canyons and caves, Toro Toro has something very special: enormous dinosaur footprints, which are very well-preserved. That’s why it is called the Jurassic park of Bolivia.
Located at over 4000m above sea level, Potosi is a mining town in Bolivia famous for its silver-rich Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain). Back in Colonial times, it was the former economic center of the Spanish empire.
You can join a half-day guided tour to the mines to understand everything that happens in these mines and get a glimpse of the lives and working conditions of the miners.
Sucre is the city that everyone loves. People go there to take Spanish classes ( I did as well), to relax, or make it a base as a digital nomad. A little chilled usually, it is calm as hell. And anywhere you look, you will see whitewashed buildings with orange roofs.
There are all these colonial churches, monasteries, government buildings, parks, museums in its historic center that also give it this refined feel, and have earned the tag of a world heritage site.
There are many cafes where you can work from in case you stay there. Many nomads use Sucre as a base to visit most of the cities in Bolivia from there.
Oruro is a sleepy little town in Bolivia that remains sleepy year around. Then why mention it in this article? The Carnival of Oruro- that’s why. Even if you have been to the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, you should come here for Bolivia’s refreshing take on carnivals.
Don’t get me wrong. Here things do get loud and crazy as well. But when you see the thousands of intricately dressed dancers marching and dancing to the infectious rhythm of marching bands, you will remember it for a long time to come.
Thanks to its pleasant climate, Cochabamba is known to be the city of eternal spring in Bolivia. It is not as popular as Sucre or La Paz, and that’s what makes it even more enticing.
It has a thriving cultural scene, great gastronomical offerings, and plenty of stunning nature reserves. I would definitely recommend taking a tour of Museo Convento Santa Teresa, a formerly completely cloistered convent which had been recently renovated.
You can also visit the Palacio Portales and get a chance to admire its breathtaking artwork and architectural designs.
9. La Paz
Known to be the world’s highest (administrative) capital, La Paz is a definite stop for anyone visiting Bolivia. There is a bevy of things to do and see in La Paz.
That being said, I would surely include El Mercado de las Brujas or Market of the Witches in my La Paz itinerary. Close to Melchor Jimenez street, this market has an impressive collection of natural remedies for almost any disease, as well as elixirs, llama fetuses, potions, voodoo charms, and whatnot.
At two hours’ drive from La Paz, you can go on the death valley tour, which would have you hurtling down the most dangerous road in the world, on a mountain bike. Apart from the adrenaline rush, this tour comes with views of the lush semi-tropical jungle of the Yungas region.
And you should not miss the Cholita wrestling, the quirkiest event of all, that happens every Sunday at 2 pm in El Alto. Here indigenous Aymara women, known as Cholitas locally, engage in freestyle wrestling with each other and often with men.
10. Valle de la Luna
With its surreal landscape of incredible sandstone spires and rock formations, Valle de la Luna or Valley of the moon makes a great day trip from La Paz. It has 2 well-marked trails that would lead you to great lookout points when you are hiking.
11. El Alto
A teleferico ride away from La Paz, El Alto is a bit higher than La Paz, the capital. Taking a journey on the highest cable car system in the world that offers spectacular views of both La Paz and El Alto, is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Bolivia.
And El Alto has one of the biggest markets in the whole of South America, where you can buy almost anything.
12. Sajama National Park
If off-the-beaten-path is your thing, visiting Sajama national park is a great idea. Featuring the highest navigable forest in the world, this park also comes with a climbable dormant volcano and reflective lagoons.
And after a day’s hike, you can relax in some temperate hot springs.
Although not as well-known as Sucre, Samaipata is home to many international expats and a new tourist favorite. Its year-round temperate climate makes it a great place to live. Many expats also started sustainable farming and other ventures out there.
If you are visiting, you must see the ancient pre-Colombian fortress, the gorgeous waterfall, and the swimming holes.
Located 75 km from La Paz, Tiwakanu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that used to be the center of a major agricultural empire in ancient times.
This is one of the oldest pre-Colombian archeological sites in South America that was abandoned around 1000 AD, only to be rediscovered in 1549. The ruins include a great array of stone monoliths as well as palaces, temples, and you can go on a guided tour to understand more about this place.
You can do a day trip from La Paz to Tiwanaku easily.
Tarija is one of those places which might make you wonder whether you are still in Bolivia. It is super close to the Argentinian border. So there is a big cultural influence from Argentina.
And then there is a thriving wine industry and colonial buildings here and there.
If you are a Butch Cassidy fan, you might recognize this place from the movie, coz’ this is where Butch Cassidy met his fateful end, although some people would tell you that he went on living with a different identity.
The best way to explore the badlands of Tupiza that consists of canyons, rivers, and valleys, is probably to do a guided horseback riding tour. This is that place that will remind you of the Wild West.
Written by Deb. Originally from India, Deb always ends up finding his zen through writing and cooking, and would be up for a good hike any day, and wears many hats like teaching EFL, working in technology, and blogging. He started The Visa Project, an initiative to have updated info on visas along with travel tips and nomading. You can find him on Medium as well.