Bolivia’s South American neighbours think of it as the poor lowly relative. Yet for us travellers, Bolivia is full of the wealth that matters: it is rich in natural beauty, wealthy in authentic culture and loaded with raw, powerful things to do.
With the highest percentage of indigenous population in South America, the best way to experience the real Bolivia is to live as the locals do. Immerse yourself in culture at a fiesta; head to a food market for dinner on the streets; and get off the beaten track in the jungle or in the wild west.
Five amazing ways to experience Bolivia:
1. Take the hard-core tour to the Salt Flats
The stunning Salar de Uyuni is Bolivia’s “must-see” attraction. With the right tour, you can experience dazzling natural beauty before you even lay eyes on the salt! But don’t just do the two-day tour, as you miss all the raw, natural scenery, as well as the opportunity to live on the barest of necessities. No hot water, minimal electricity and no heating for four nights at below-zero degrees temperatures: if you can handle that, you can handle anything. Freeze your fingers off, while focusing your camera on the pink flamingos of Laguna Colorada. Climb up onto crazily shaped rocks in the natural rock desert. Stew away in the natural hot springs (the closest thing to a bath you’ll get!) and stay in a hotel made completely out of salt! Unbeatable experiences…
2. Delve into the street-market delicacies
Especially worthwhile if on a tight budget, food markets can contain some delicious surprises. If you’re not too put off by the surroundings, there’s no harm in exploring busy, white-tiled food mercados. Try a cheese empanada hot or cold from a street seller, or splurge on a hamberguesa with chips inside and as much sauce as you can fit on. For a healthier treat, head to the central food mercado where you’ll find the fresh fruit stalls and the classic row of smoothie bars. The market in Sucre is great for fresh fruit salads and smoothies.
3. Live among the locals on Isla del Sol
Lake Titicaca’s most famous island is a main tourist stop, yet with no cars, most of the island without hot water and electricity, it’s about as basic as it gets! Skip the normal day-tour, and make your own way to Cha’llapampa, a small village on the north of the island near the famous ruins. Here you’ll find a secret hippy paradise, where you can pitch tents on the beach, watch the sunset and get back to the basics.
If camping is too much, then there are plenty of family-run hostels, both on the beach and up on the hill. The town is calm and rural, and the locals are quiet but friendly, especially if you speak Spanish. Tip: order fresh Lake Titicaca trout from one of the few restaurants; it’s the best you’ll get.
4. Stay around for a fiesta!
Nothing says South America like a fiesta. It’s the prime time get involved with culture, and feel the electric buzz of life vibrating through the streets. You’ll see families of all generations coming together and celebrating with neighbours, with Bolivian food, music, dancing and pride. Oruro holds one of South America’s most famous carnivals, from February 12-16 . Even 3,700m up in the Bolivian mountains in the cold thin air, the streets fill with dancing, parades and brass bands. However, if you miss this, you may still be lucky enough to catch other electric events in Sucre and La Paz.
5. Go wild in the wilderness
Bolivia is rife with rugged, unspoilt countryside: both desert and jungle. There’s no better place in South America to explore your wild side. Go horse-riding in Tupiza — Bolivia’s wild west — where the legend of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid ended. If jungle is more your thing, take a trip to the Amazon, and explore the wildlife in Las Pampas. Or if you’re an adrenaline junkie, there’s always the thrilling bike tour down the infamous ‘Death Road’, outside La Paz. Whatever your thing may be, Bolivia’s the best place to go wild.
For more on Bolivia, check out our Bolivia travel tips page.