For all of the fresh seafood and sandy beaches Bolivia may be lacking as a landlocked nation, it makes up for in otherworldly nature scenes, centuries-old tangible history, and bucket list-worthy adventures at every turn.
Consider this: Bolivia is in the unique position of sharing a border with five very distinct South American countries, sharing some of the best features of all five of them. Think indigenous culture, the wildlife-filled Amazon Rainforest, snow-capped Andean peaks, and multi-hued Atacama Desert all in one place.
So, why is Bolivia an afterthought on so many travelers’ itineraries? Personally, I think its lack of information, so am here to fix that! And offer up some tantalizing photos…
Here are 10 reasons why Bolivia is underrated:
Bolivia is home to the Salar de Uyuni
This magnificent salt-filled expanse is reason enough to pack your bags for Bolivia.
You’ve probably seen one of those cool perspective pictures with larger-than-life toy dinosaurs and Pringles cans flash across your screen on more than one occasion. The reality is Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is unbelievably beautiful. Seriously. This site alone is worth putting Bolivia front and center on your South America itinerary.
(Check out Intrepid’s guide to it here!)
Bolivia is one of the few places in the world where you can view real-life dinosaur footprints (and there are thousands)
Who else is fascinated by even the thought of dinosaur life? In Bolivia, near the town of Sucre, you can see a series of tracks and trails from a wide variety of dinosaurs of the Crestaceous Period. Head to Cal Orcko Parque Cretácico for a US$4.00 dinosaur thrill, to include laying eyes on the 347-meter trail left behind by a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed “Johnny Walker”.
Bolivia has a slice of the Amazon Rainforest too
Many people don’t know this but Bolivia is where you can set off on some pretty epic jungle adventures into the same “lungs of the world” Brazil and Peru boast about on the daily, and at a much more affordable price too. Most jungle excursions set off from the town of Rurrenabaque, where you can venture into the pampas (the wildlife-rich wetlands) or embark on a classic jungle trek.
Bolivia has a ton of wow-worthy National Parks
From Kaa Iya National Park, famous for its large population of jaguars, to the beautiful trails and falls of Amboró National Park, the untouched wilderness of Noel Kempff National Park, and the jungle paradise of Madidi National Park, Bolivia protects some pretty stunning nature. It’s no wonder Bolivia’s indigenous populations hold Pachamama (Mother Earth) in such high regard.
Within Bolivia’s half of Lake Titicaca, the Inca civilization is believed to have found its start
Lake Titicaca alone is a sight to see, being the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world (sitting on the border between Bolivia and Peru).
To the indigenous cultures still inhabiting its islands and shores, it’s a highly sacred site. As legend has it, the first Inca (Manco Capac) and his wife (Mama Occlo) emerged from the depths of Lake Titicaca on what is today Bolivia’s Isla del Sol to look for a place to build their empire.
Bolivian culture is fierce. Literally.
So fierce that traditionally dressed women facing off in WWE-style smack downs are actually a weekly ritual, at least they are in Bolivia’s capital city of La Paz (pictured below).
The fighting cholitas, as they are known, are a group of indigenous women from the Aymara and Quechua cultures of Bolivia who are making a statement against the historic oppression of their communities in South America via some highly entertaining body slams and head locks.
Attend the spectacle and, as strange as it may seem, you’ll be supporting the local indigenous populations.
Bolivia is breathtakingly beautiful
While Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni easily steals the show, the country is loaded with breathtaking scene after breathtaking scene.
Do not forget your camera when traveling through Bolivia because there will be turquoise lakes, crimson lagoons, cascading waterfalls, bubbling mud pools, snow-capped Andean peaks, barren deserts, exotic jungle, and still active volcanoes to capture. You’ll be snapping away the entire journey, guaranteed.
Bolivia is the cheapest country in South America
Who doesn’t love an affordable destination? From meals to lodging to tours and entrance fees, Bolivia will not break the bank. For backpackers or just those on a budget, that’s a very good thing.
Pro tips Look for the almuerzo completo at lunchtime for a full meal with soup, main course, and dessert for roughly 12 Bolivianos (about USD$1.50).
Bolivia is the creator of the mouthwateringly salteña
Should you need a snack in Bolivia, the delicious salteña will always be close by. And thank god for that. A masterpiece of spices, meat, egg, sauce, and vegetables baked inside pastry dough, the Bolivian salteña will quickly earn a place in your heart and stomach. Costing just a few cents to a little more than a dollar, the salteña is the perfect go-to snack or meal for the budget-conscious traveler.
Don’t believe what you hear – Bolivia is safe
In contrary to popular opinion, Bolivia has one of the lowest crime rates in all of South America, with violent crime and theft far less probable than in any of Bolivia’s neighboring countries. Of course, you should always keep an eye on your things and use caution as you go, but you can rest easy knowing that Bolivia isn’t the scary, dangerous place you may have once thought.
What do you think? Should Bolivia be on every South America traveler’s itinerary? After reading this list, I hope I’ve convinced that it most definitely should be.
Want to give this stunning, underrated country a visit? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours in Bolivia.
Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel, Laura Varela, Rosie Horton, Intrepid Travel x4, Facebook image c/o Olivia Reeves