19 Best Places to Visit in Bolivia

19 Best Places to Visit in Bolivia
© Ivy Tseh | Dreamstime.com

Although Bolivia is increasingly attracting travelers, the big holidaymaker rush is still missing. Thus, Bolivia continues to be a real insider tip. This fact makes Bolivia even more desirable. You can experience the indigenous culture of Latin America still very original and the nature is unique.

Nowhere else in the world you can see salt deserts like the Salar de Uyuni, which by the way is also the largest in the world. Or where can you whiz down 3000 meters of altitude and several climatic zones over serpentines on a mountain bike and get your adrenaline pumping. Here in Bolivia it is possible – on the former Death Road in the Yungas.

And wildlife viewing and safaris are also very possible. For example, jungle tours lasting several days and river safaris are offered in the Madidi National Park, which is one of the richest in species in the world.

Bolivia is a unique nature experience for people with a sense of adventure, because not everything is perfect. Enjoy our list of the 19 best places to visit in Bolivia.

19. Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca, located at an altitude of 3810 m, is the highest navigable lake in the world and a popular Bolivia destination. It is about 190 km long and measures about 60 km at its widest point. About 12,000 years ago it formed with Lago Poopó, south of Oruro, and the now dried up and salinated Salar de Uyuni the huge Lago Tauca with an estimated 52,000 km².

Today Lake Titicaca with its almost 8600 km² is still the second largest lake in South America – about 3400 km² of it belong to Bolivia, the rest to Peru. At several places the border can be crossed. Lake Titicaca can also be reached by public bus from La Paz, which is only about 100 km away.

The climatic water reservoir Lake Titicaca provides a pleasant microclimate to the surrounding, rugged Andean highlands. The water temperature is about 10-13 °C. As a result, corn, barley, quinoa and potatoes thrive in this region. Fish also feel at home in the mild temperatures.

Lake Titicaca is considered to have great mythical significance. Thus, the body of water is considered the heaven of the gods for different cultures. According to legend, the first Inca was sent to the sunny island of Isla del Sol by the sun god Inti. Remnants of the cultures can still be found almost everywhere on the small and large islands. Probably the most famous city on the lake is Copacabana and a good starting point for exploring the islands on Lake Titicaca. Boat tours to the islands can be taken from Copacabana.

18. Salar de Uyuni

The Salar de Uyuni is located at an altitude of about 3,600 meters in Bolivia’s highlands, near the border with Chile. With its more than 10,000 square kilometers, it is the largest of its kind in the world. Approximately 25,000 tons of salt are mined here annually, most of which is used to supply the Bolivian population. Far and wide, visitors to the salt lake see nature, now and then a shelter for the numerous tourists, and only at the edge of the salt desert are a few local families settled.

Over a period of millions of years, Lake Tauca dried up steadily here, giving rise to the extensive, snow-white salt pan. Contributing to this was the fact that the evaporation rate on site was higher than the amount of rain that falls in the area during the rainy season. The Salar de Uyuni impresses its visitors with an incomparable natural spectacle.

During the dry season, from June to October, the entire salt lake is dried up and its endless expanse reminds one of an ordinary desert – except that it consists of a multitude of pentagons formed from salt rather than sand. Thanks to the rainfall in the rainy season, from November to April, the salt pan is covered with water, which makes it probably the largest natural mirror in the world.

17. La Paz

La Paz is the highest seat of government in the world and is located in western Bolivia in the Andes. As a city of contrasts, it combines the past with the present and reveals an impressive insight into the historical Bolivia.

The city of La Paz unfolds at an altitude of over 3500 meters. The landscape is barren and dominated by the sight of Mount Illimani, whose summit is covered with snow throughout the year.

La Paz is the official seat of government of Bolivia and the de facto capital of the country – a role it shares with neighboring Sucre. Thus, while La Paz is the seat of government, Sucre functions more as the constitutional capital.

Although La Paz was already used as a settlement by the indigenous people, the surrounding area did not receive more attention until the 16th century, when the conquistadors began to build a new city. The conflict that ensued between the indigenous groups and the conquistadors left deep wounds in Bolivia, some of which are still felt today.

Several indigenous uprisings were unsuccessful and thus many indigenous customs were lost. Today, the Aymara are striving to revive their culture in La Paz so that the younger generations do not lose their roots and language.

La Paz is a special place of cultures and history, because here the traditions of the indigenous peoples mix with the culture of Spain. The skyline is made up of the barren rock formations of the Andes and the numerous cable cars used as public transportation. A city where the streets are filled with the life and laughter of the population, because it is not for nothing that La Paz is known for its friendly inhabitants.

16. Laguna Colorada

Also known as Red Lagoon, Laguna Colorada is located at an altitude of 4,278 meters in Bolivia’s barren Altiplano plateau. The very name of this wonder of nature hints at the unique coloration of the body of water, which is about 60 square meters in size and only half a meter deep on average. Responsible for the spectacular and changing play of colors are red algae in combination with copper-bearing minerals. Fueled by the warming sun, the algae unleash a particularly large amount of energy in the afternoon hours to color the Laguna Colorada.

The abundant food supply provided by the algae attracts huge populations of Chilean Flamingo, Andean Flamingo and James Flamingo to the otherwise hostile world. Thus, an impressive scenery awaits you, in which the James flamingos, recognizable by their yellow-black beaks, are the secret stars. Besides the magical scenery of the Red Lagoon and other lagoons, the Eduardo Avaroa National Park fascinates with the largest salt lake in the world and spectacular volcanism with hot springs, geysers and fumaroles.

15. Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Nowadays, Santa Cruz considers itself an Amazon city at an altitude of about 430 meters. Different cultures from the highlands in the west, the Amazon culture in the north and east and the Guaraní culture in the east meet. The region of the city separates the rain-fed jungle in the north from the dry area of the La Plata basin in the south.

Santa Cruz de la Sierra is the economic center of the vast pampas of southeastern Bolivia. It is both the most modern and largest city in Bolivia (about 1.5 million inhabitants) and one of the fastest growing cities in Latin America. The lively metropolis aims to become the hub of the continent.

The wealth acquired so far is clearly visible in the streets of Santa Cruz. Despite its size, the city resonates with a serene, joyful atmosphere. This is best experienced in the city’s central square, which is also a beautiful tropical garden. Among the most interesting sights are numerous museums, such as the Noel Kempff National Park Museum or the Museo Etno Folklórico, various churches and basilicas, the El Arenal amusement park, the zoological garden, but also the large market and handicraft stores.

Also in Santa Cruz people like to celebrate a lot, as it is usual in Bolivia. Especially nice are the colorful carnival and the music and theater festival. Apart from the big festivals, there is also partying and dancing every evening in the various bars.

14. Coroico

Yungas are the name given to two valleys on the eastern flanks of the Andes, which slope particularly steeply here. The road that connects La Paz with the Tropical Rainforest was long considered the most dangerous road in the world (Camino de la Muerte) until a bypass was built in 2006. But it is also one of the most spectacular roads in the world! Buses, trucks and cars used to push their way up and down here. Today you see almost only bicycles and the corresponding tour escort vehicles.

Coroico is one of the most beautiful and with its about 4.000 inhabitants one of the most important cities in the Yungas. The area between the dry highlands and mountains and the more humid lowlands is about three hours away from La Paz. Here you will find optimal conditions for hiking and horseback riding – rafting is also offered. At an altitude of 1,750m, it is pleasantly warm here and ideal for relaxing for a few days.

Not far from Coroico are the only black African settlements in the country. These are descendants of former African slaves. They were supposed to work as miners in the highlands, but due to massive problems with the altitude they had to work in the lowlands on the coca and banana plantations. Coroico is also the destination of the famous mountain bike tour over the “most dangerous road in the world”. In addition, the city is considered the starting point for tours to the Cotapata National Park, where one of the most popular trekking trails in Bolivia is located.

13. Samaipata

Bolivia is closely linked to the Inca culture and one of the famous Inca rock ruins is located just 9 km from the small tranquil town of Samaipata.

Samaipata is located about 120 km west of Santa Cruz at an altitude of 1640 m, surrounded by beautiful mountains, making it a popular weekend destination for the Cruceños, the people of Santa Cruz.

Samaipata is a picturesque town, but the Inca ruins of El Fuerte, the mesas in Amboró National Park and the fact that Samaipata is on the Ruta del Che (the Che Guevara route) make it a magnet for visitors.

Foreign tourists in particular flock to the Inca site of El Fuerte, which is located southeast of Samaipata on a rocky outcrop. The huge single rock, which rises as an enormous platform between the green hills, was once a large ceremonial center. Since 1998, the site has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is not possible to walk on the sandstone rock, but from an observation tower there are beautiful panoramic views of the site with its various sectors and their surroundings. There is a well-marked hiking trail around the site, which should take about 1 hour.

12. Tiwanaku

As early as 300 BC, Tiahuanaco was an important center in the barren highlands and built impressive buildings and sculptures – even though today only about 1 percent of the entire ruined site has been uncovered, you will see some extraordinary buildings. Admire the Sun Gate of Tiahuanaco, which is carved out of a single block of rock, and just like the statue of the monk, reveals a special art of construction.

The barren landscape, the icy climate and the variety of monuments present make Tiahuanaco an exceptional destination in Bolivia. Since the UNESCO World Heritage Site is not yet as well known as, for example, the Salar de Uyuni, you can often contemplate the mysterious buildings in peace. During your visit to Tiahuanaco, learn more about the past cultures in Bolivia that already showed great artistry and were eventually driven out by the Inca.

11. Sucre

In the colonial splendor of the city of Sucre you feel like in Andalusia. The whitewashed house facades and the relaxed atmosphere in the alleys invite you to linger. Those who have traveled through the highlands before will enjoy the warm friendly climate here at 2790 meters above sea level.

Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia, but nothing more than the Supreme Court can be found here. Everything else is run from La Paz. The city’s inhabitants, the Sucrenses, place a lot of emphasis on the city being the heart of the country. This pride stems from Bolivia’s history.

Founded in 1538 by the Spanish as the “City of Silver of New Toledo,” Sucre also gained importance as Potosí experienced its heyday. In the temperate climate, food was grown for the highlanders. In the 17th century, one of the first universities in South America was founded here. Even today, the atmosphere of the university town is determined by the life of the students.

The year 1809 was particularly important for the city, when General Don Antonio José de Sucre began the fight for Bolivian independence here. In his honor, the city also received its new name.

Sucre is considered the most beautiful city in Bolivia and also the best preserved colonial city in South America. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. As in many other cities, life takes place in the central plaza and the magnificent buildings line up one after the other. The cathedral, beautiful colonial houses, such as the Casa de la Libertad with its museum, and the former government palace are well worth seeing. In addition, the 20 white churches, all well preserved, are a feast for the eyes.

10. Chulumani

The pretty little country town of Chulumani sits amid seas of rolling cacao plantations and banana trees, coffee and tropical palm gardens, tumbling down the hills of the Sud Yungas.

Much like its mountain brother of Coroico, just down the road to the northwest, this high-altitude town is one of the most popular destinations for travelers on the legendary Camino de las Yungas – the death-defying route that carves its way out of the ridges of the Bolivian Andes, dropping steeply and winding up the steep sides of the Cordillera Real.

The town itself is known for its rippling mineral streams and dark histories, while many others come to explore the trails in the nearby wilderness, spy rare tropical butterflies, or attend the raucous festival in late summer.

9. Madidi National Park

Madidi National Park stretches over 7000 square kilometers from the Andes to deep in the Amazon and is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. If you take a boat across the Beni River from Rurrenbaque, you will be amazed by the diversity of flora and fauna as you step onto the muddy floors of the jungle.

Madidi National Park is best experienced on one of the many ecological and cultural tours that offer an authentic jungle experience. Whether it’s spotting a jaguar, smelling the fragrance of a rare flower, learning about the various medicinal plants or listening to the songs of more than 1,000 species of birds, this national park has something for all nature lovers.

8. Rurrenabaque

In Rurrenabaque, where the waxy branches and cacophonous tropical sounds of the South American rainforest echo amid the low-rise pueblo cottages and coffee-scented plazas, a tenuous balance has been struck between backpacker, hiker hub and Bolivian backwater town.

The town is famous for its alluring location right where the pampas meet the wilderness of Madidi National Park in the upper Amazon. It has proven to be a magnet for nature lovers and ecotourists in recent years.

Some will head west, to the ziplines and monkey-strewn canopies of the virgin rainforests across the Beni River, while others will head east, to the outback town of Santa Rosa and the Pampas, where alligators patrol the banks and anacondas lurk in the swamps.

7. Oruro

At the dizzying heights of Bolivia’s Altiplano lies a mining town that hosts one of the most famous festivals in all of South America. Every year on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, the usually sleepy town of Oruro comes alive to host the world-famous Carnival. The unique festival features spectacular folk dances, extravagant costumes, lively music and up to 20 hours of non-stop partying.

The Oruro Carnival attracts up to 400,000 people each year and one of the largest folk festivals in Bolivia. If you’re lucky enough to be in Bolivia at this time of year, don’t miss the spectacle.

6. Trinidad

Rising from the wetlands of the Llanos de Moxos, Trinidad has a pretty little colonial heart and a beautiful location close to the wilderness of the great pampas.

In the center, travelers can lounge and gawk amid the palm trees and pretty Spanish-style buildings of Plaza Mariscal Jose Ballivian.

A quad of four fantastic city museums is a great way to learn about the history and culture of Beni (especially the Fish Fauna Museum with its piranhas and river dolphins), while taking trips to find the endangered Wagler’s Macaw in the surrounding forests city are also very popular.

5. Cochabamba

Outlined by the folds and contours of the altiplano and Andes, Cochabamba stretches at the foot of its own plain, almost halfway between Santa Cruz and La Paz.

A gritty metropolis of more than 500,000 people, its gritty barrios and dramatic geographic location balance urban life with outdoor activities. Worth a visit in Cochabamba is definitely the largest statue of Jesus in the world.

In the morning, travelers can soothe their hangovers by shopping through La Cancha’s bustling stalls and sipping chicha corn beers in its sun-drenched plazas. Later, reach the peaks of snow-capped Tunari in the distance for hang gliding and hiking amid the hills.

4. Tarija

Tarija is filled with palm trees and kissed by the warm tropical breezes of Bolivia’s south.

Tourists rarely plan to make their way to the regional capital, while those who do are often surprised by the elegant governor’s mansion (done in bold white and blue), the relaxed Spanish flair, and the sun-baked cottages with their typical Andalusian roofs and terraces.

Tarija’s real attraction, however, has to be its location on the edge of one of Bolivia’s most productive wine-growing areas: the central valley of Tarija.

Here, some of the vineyards are considered the highest in the world, and countless cellar doors offer tastings throughout the year.

3. Potosi

Can you imagine that once a city in Bolivia was one of the richest cities in the world? Even richer than London or Paris! Cerro Rico, a mountain near Potosi once produced so much silver that it put the city on the world stage and made it the wealthiest city in the Americas.

But the wealth came at a price: due to a lack of infrastructure and inadequate safety equipment, a great many workers lost their lives digging silver from the mountain’s veins. The city lost its luster after the mountain was exploited. Even today, miners try to blast silver residue from the mountain, making it one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world. You can visit the mines as part of a tour.

2. Sajama National Park

High on the altiplano near the border with Chile lies one of Bolivia’s most amazing national parks, Sajama National Park. Famous for its abundance of alpacas, towering volcanoes, and bizarre high mountain flora, Sajama is a must-see for adventurers who want to escape the tourist crowds and appreciate the solitude of the mountains.

Virtually the entire park is above 4,000 meters, so before visiting, spend some time in a high-altitude place like La Paz and be sure to drink plenty of coca tea. Incidentally, the park is home to Bolivia’s highest peak, the Sajama volcano, which towers over the gorgeous landscape at 6542 meters.

1. Sorata

The picturesque colonial mountain village of Sorata, at the foot of Illampu (6,380m), is just under 150 km from La Paz. Its lower elevation of 2,721m is responsible for a pleasantly warm and rather spring-like climate. Sorata is a popular starting point for day hikes into the surrounding area, as well as for treks into the Cordilleras over several days. The village is a popular weekend destination for the inhabitants of La Paz and at the same time an optimal base camp for mountaineers, located at the foot of Illampu (6,380 m) and Ancohuma (6,427 m). The circumnavigation of the Illampu is a popular and well-known hiking route!