If you haven’t been before, you might imagine Bolivia is one giant reflective salt flat where the people are tiny and the Godzillas are huge.
Of course, you ought to get a snap of your own, but you should still know that there’s a lot more to the country than the iconic Salar de Uyuni.
Bolivia simply doesn’t get the attention that the South American darlings do. It has been pushed around throughout history, but proven to be particularly adaptable; culturally rich cities and rugged mountains are anything but a consolation prize. Should you make the time to go, Bolivia will give you the rare opportunity to fill up on choripan and dip off of the Gringo Trail to make your own way.
If you’re now inspired to have some unique experiences in Bolivia, here are five:
Get lost in La Paz
While everyone else hangs out in Peru’s Cusco, set yourself up for a more authentic South American experience by blocking out time for La Paz. The cholitas who wander the cobblestone streets here are the real deal and the tiny restaurants serving salteñas and silpancho were designed with locals in mind.
La Paz’ most famous symbol is Plaza Murillo, but if you’ve already seen your share of Presidential Palaces, you can instead spectate a Cholita wrestling match or head to Saya Brewery to sample Bolivian craft beer.
Most impressive of all is La Paz’ sheer grandeur. The city sits at a breathtaking 3,640 m surrounded by higher still mountains of the Altiplano. Hop on Mi Teleférico, the cable car line connecting the downtown with El Alto, and see the city from a whole new perspective.
Wander the white walled city of Sucre
Lovely little Sucre is one of the most underrated cities in South America. The whitewashed buildings date back to the 16th century, illustrating the blending of Latin and European architectural styles. In fact, these results were so remarkable, that the city itself was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
Today, Sucre has become the modern cultural center of Bolivia. The city is full of unexpected beauty! Watch Sucre’s young artists create masterpieces with sidewalk chalk or venture into the General Cemetery for a fascinating look at Catholic tradition. The Mercado Central is one of the country’s best with the local breakfast specialty, api morada, served hot, and fresh juice always cheap.
Whether you choose to use Sucre as a base for day trips or stick around the city, your time spent in the Bolivian town will be every bit as sweet as it sounds.
Head off the grid and into the wild
Peru and Patagonia are well-established adventure destinations, but Bolivia has outdoor opportunity with far fewer crowds. The Death Road is a classic South American experience for particularly brave bikers, but anyone who really loves adventure might also consider one of Bolivia’s high altitude treks.
El Choro and Huayna Potosí are easy enough to reach, starting just outside of La Paz. With the former, you can dip into Bolivian jungle and climb up to 5,000m over the course of three days. If you have some climbing experience, you might instead consider a menacing climb up Huayna Potosí; the peak towers high at 6,088 m, and should be a priority for anyone dedicated to reaching spectacular summits.
Venture into the Amazon
Most people don’t know that much of Bolivia is in the Amazon Basin. The infrastructure and services for Amazon tours are more basic than those you’d get Peru or Brazil, but what would you expect at such a steep discount? If you’re looking to visit the Amazon in Bolivia, you’ll be faced with two distinctly different options: a cheap and easy excursion to Las Pampas or a pricier but remote adventure into the deep jungle. (You can also visit with Intrepid!)
Las Pampas offers what is probably the cheapest Amazon encounter anywhere in South America. With just three days to spare, you can spot alligators and other wildlife, paying little more than you would to sleep at a city hostel.
Reaching the more remote jungles of Bolivia, on the other hand, is as rewarding as it is difficult. If you’re dedicated enough to make the trip, you’ll have a chance to see elusive jaguars and dolphins with nearly no other tourists blocking your view. The experience will be far from luxury, but all you really need for the Amazon is a mosquito net and a sense of adventure, anyway.
Escape to Isla del Sol (and never come back)
Isla del Sol isn’t The Island in the Sun Weezer was talking about, but it is similarly relaxing. Scattered with eucalyptus trees and Incan trails, the rocky island on Lake Titicaca is visually impressive and can be explored entirely by foot.
According to Incan legend, Isla del Sol sprung from the waters of Lake Titicaca and the sun was created in the same place. While the island has made significant advancements since Incan times, cars are still prohibited; Isla del Sol today is both an ideal hippie hangout and a refuge for Bolivia’s communities who still subscribe to a more traditional way of life.
The small indigenous communities who inhabit the island have set up tiny accommodations to host visitors, but come at the right time and you might happen upon a town meeting or vegetable harvest.
Want to pay this awe-inspiring country a visit? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours in Bolivia.
(All images c/o Taylor Record. Social hero image c/o iStock/DC_Colombia.)