Bolivia Travel Guides for Backpackers

The Gem of the Andes: Eduardo Abaroa National Reserve, Bolivia

While the Andean mountains are renowned for their spectacular beauty and multiple touristic attractions throughout the entire range, there is one place that really stands out for me and is, undoubtedly, nature’s real masterpiece. It is Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in Bolivia. With its diverse and out-of-this-world landscapes composed of rugged mountain peaks, high altitude deserts, weird stone formations, and multi-colored lagoons, this stunningly beautiful park will surely be one of the most remarkable highlights of your South American adventure. The location Situated at an altitude between 4200 and 5400m in the Southwestern part of Bolivia next to the border with Chile and Argentina the Reserve covers a huge area of 7,147 sq km and protects a variety of natural sights such as volcanos, geysers, hot springs, salt lakes populated by three different types of flamingos and, of course, the surrounding mountains. What to see Laguna Colorada (or Red Lagoon) Laguna Colorada will probably leave the most indelible impression on you for the variety of colors reflecting on its surface and the vast flocks of flamingos that nest in its shallow waters. Depending on the part of the day and the lighting the water changes from soft pink tones in the morning to bright warm orange shades in the afternoon to deep vinous hues in the evening. The presence of red algae explains the coloration of the water. The borax islands in the middle of the lagoon create a striking white contrast to its blood-colored surface beset by the green and yellowish swampy grass on the banks. Add the ice-topped volcano in the background, dozens of chirping flamingos resting in the lake and a few sauntering alpacas in the foreground and you have a view to die for. Laguna Colorada, Bolivia Laguna Verde (or Green Lagoon) Laguna Verde is a salt lake sitting at the foot of the spectacular Licancabur volcano. It contains arsenic, magnesium and other minerals that tint its water into the beautiful shades of green: from light turquoise to dark emerald. Compared to a more animated Laguna Colorada this lake looks incredibly serene and peaceful. Flamingos are less numerous here but you can still spot a few of them now and then. Laguna Verde, Bolivia Laguna Blanca (or White Lagoon) Laguna Blanca is separated from Laguna Verde by a very narrow stretch of land. Just like its neighbor, it is a salt lake containing lots of minerals that give the water its characteristic white color. In the bright sun, the milky surface of the lake shimmers with some bluish and pinkish tints resembling a painter’s palette. Laguna Blanca, Bolivia Polques Hot Springs Polques Hot Springs are touted, first of all,  as a place to swim in thermal waters. They are an excellent way to relax after a long trip and even help to relieve the symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism. However, if taking a hot bath when the air temperature is around 0 […]

Top 5 Must-See Places in La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz is a unique city, located at the heart of Bolivia in the middle of the Andean mountains, lies a multi-layered hive of culture, history and innovation. It’s easy to get lost in the chaotic traffic or the never-ending streets, but if you plan carefully, you can see these five not-to-be-missed places in the labyrinthine city. 1) The El Alto Market (known as La feria 16 de julio) Visiting the market in El Alto (the sister-city to La Paz that lies on the top-most layer of the city, over 3400 metres above altitude) is like entering a bazaar from a Star Wars film. The huge market stretches out over innumerable streets, often changing its configuration to confuse tourists and locals alike. By getting the red cable-car (teleférico) line up to the top station you’ll find yourself straight in the midst of the market madness. It takes place on Thursdays and Sundays and you’ll need to get there early to find the best steals. Think baby llamas, snake oil medicines, every single part of a car, signs, fresh fruit juice and piles and piles of vintage (probably stolen) clothes. Keep your wits about you and get shopping! 2) La Plaza Montículo From jammed-pack streets of wares and hustlers to a quiet haven with a fantastic view of La Paz. The Montículo square (la plaza montículo) is one of my favourite spots in an otherwise loud and lively city. A small, unassuming church sits on this elevated square and it is framed by stone walls, arches and teenage lovers sneaking off to kiss without their parents seeing. Come here on a clear day to watch the cable-cars and the buses drift and screech around the city like ants below, dwarfed by the majesty of the city’s ancient mountain, Illimani. Alternatively, you can come up here at night and watch the lights of the city flash on and off, the fireflies of nightlife in La Paz. This is also a top picture spot because of its panoramic view of La Paz and picturesque archways. 3) The Devil’s Tooth (known as La Muela del Diablo) The Devil’s Tooth, a menacing protrusion on a mountainous landscape. The red curves of a skyline interrupted by a jagged edge, a tooth-shape, a molar. It’s a sacred space for the Aymara people, Auqui Kollo or the Father Summit, but it’s also rumoured to be the site of satanic rituals, sacrifices and ‘other dark stuff’ according to my suspicious Catholic pals. By taking a micro to the south of the city and getting a minibus to Pedregal from outside the San Miguel church you can hike up the entire mountain. Following the path you’ll enter through an archway and see a small town just under the jagged Devil’s Tooth. If it’s just after rainy season then you’ll be greeted by flowers, green and many locals having picnics before they scramble up the steep rock that’ll take you to over 3800 metres above altitude. With your head above the […]

The Best Clubs and Bars in La Paz: Nightlife at Altitude

Welcome to La Paz, Bolivia: a cultural fusion of indigenous, colonialist and commercial influences. The city is set in the mountains at the heart of South America and offers stunning views, cheap cable car rides and so much more… After a busy day travelling the city by cable car or maybe cycling down the thrilling Death Road, you might find you fancy a couple of drinks, but where should you go? Where are the good places to party in La Paz? It’s too tiring to trek around the city searching for the top spots, especially at this altitude, but if you know where to look then you’ll discover a nightlife of curiosities, time warps and sweaty, hip-swinging beats. If you’re in La Paz, it’d be a shame to miss out on the cultural experience of the fiesta, so I’ve compiled a definitive list of the weirdest, wackiest and must-see clubs and bars. To truly experience the magic of La Paz at night you need to know where the party is, and lucky for you, I’ve lived through enough altitude hangovers to let you in on a few nighttime secrets. So, step out of the hostel, make your excuses for beer pong competition and take a rain check on the Irish pub, because Bolivia has so much more to offer. The Best Bars Cocktails and wine Head uptown to Sopocachi for a myriad of bars ranging from dingy to delectable and prepare to meet some interesting characters. First stop is Hallwright’s, a wine bar fit for an Ernest Hemingway novel. It’s the perfect place for some relaxed drinks and introspective conversation. The music transports you from the chaotic atmosphere outside to a tranquil evening of wine and cheese. It boasts a selection of the finest wine and Bolivian tapas, indulging your taste buds without emptying your wallet. If Hallwright’s leaves you wanting more, there’s no need to worry, just a short stroll down a block and you’ll be in front of Diesel. Don’t be put off by the faux barbed wire and warehouse aesthetic, Diesel is one of Sopocachi’s longest running and most innovative bars. The interior (and much of the exterior) were fashioned from recycled junk lending a dingy but up-and-coming air to the place. It’s a popular haunt of mine for a quiet cocktail or several less quiet drinks to kick start the night. The secret bar The self-styled best kept secret of La Paz is La Costilla de Adán (Adam’s rib in English). At number 2974 on calle Armaza, if the lights are on then so is the party. Roberto, the owner of the bar, has spent years collecting curiosities, antiques, retro decorations and good times. The culmination of his efforts are this bar of wonders. For some the location marks the start of the night, for others, the start of the next day. There’s no telling how long the enchantment will hold you in this corner of cocktails, big characters and secrets. If you’re in La Paz, […]

The Top 6 Things To Do in Sucre

Plaza 25 de Mayo Why not make Sucre your next Travel Destination Not being much of a planner, I often arrive at my next travel destination not knowing what to expect and Sucre, in Bolivia was no exception, however, I instantly fell in love with this quaint little city. Sucre is located in south central Bolivia and is fast becoming a popular destination for travelers and justifiably so. Whether you plan a quick trip or extended stay, this city has much to offer. The colonial architecture, plazas and parks, bustling central markets, and the amazing people and culture all contribute to Sucre's charm. With it's relaxing atmosphere and go slow feel, this is the perfect place to spend a few days, weeks or even months. This is one destination that should be on your list if it isn't already. Founded in the 16th Century, Sucre was the first capital of Bolivia. Nowadays Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia, while La Paz is the administrative capital. In 1991 Sucre was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. With the amount of noticeable white colored buildings, it is apparent why this historic city Is often referred to as the ‘White City'. Sucre boasts impeccable green spaces and parks and is well maintained and clean and safe. At an altitude of just over 2800 meters the weather is agreeable and pleasant most of the time and it also a good place to acclimatize before heading on to destinations at higher altitudes. Sucre is easily accessible through the mountainous, winding roads from either the north or south of Bolivia. Being along a common bus route to Uyuni, the salt flats, and La Paz, it is an ideal place to rest up and recharge. If long bus journeys aren't for you, it is also possible to fly into the newly constructed airport, which is about 45 mins from the city center. Sucre is traveler friendly, with is no shortage of affordable hostels, restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs. Although there are plenty of things to do in Sucre, depending on your interests, below were my favorite things to do, during my 6 weeks stay there. 1. Take Spanish lessons The ability to communicate in the local language not only makes navigating a foreign country less daunting and more enjoyable but also enriches your experience. Being able to converse with locals often gives you an insight into their culture and way of life. Whatever your reason for learning Spanish, Sucre is one of the best places to take Spanish lessons. With an abundance of qualified private teachers, Spanish schools, and an incredibly affordable price, it is easy to improve your level of Spanish. Classes cost as little as $7 per hour for private lessons and even less for groups. The Bolivians have a neutral accent and a slow talking speed, making it the perfect place to learn.  2. Plaza 25 de Mayo Plaza 25 de Mayo is the main square of Sucre […]

Bolivia: Salteñas and Salt Flats

There is something magical about traveling; going to an unknown place with an oftentimes different way of viewing the world and with its own cultural and natural wonders. One of my favorite parts of traveling is wandering; exploring sites of interest that are on and off the beaten path is one of the things that excites me the most. A view from above. Part I: La Paz Exploring a City in the Clouds Two weeks ago, I traveled to Bolivia for the first time. Picture this: as the plane descended into La Paz, one could see a city nestled in a valley in the windows of the plane. As one of the highest cities I had visited (approximately 3600 meters or almost 12,000 feet above sea level!), I took it slow.  The hills did not make it easy. La Paz is a city of urban beauty and diversity – one can see a church from the 16th or 17th century mixed with 20th and 21st century buildings, with people from the Bolivian highlands and jungle occupying the same space. After landing, my taxi whisked me away to the Valley of the Moon, a series of geological formations, 10 kilometers outside of La Paz to avoid a demonstration happening in the center of the city. I honestly felt like I was in another world; rocky spires rose above me as I immersed myself in this new planet. Only the sounds of cars honking at the end of the 45-minute trail took me back to reality. The Church of San Francisco. The rest of my first day in Bolivia included a tour of the San Francisco Church in the center of the city and a visit to the famous Witches Market in La Paz. Market stalls were filled with traditional talisman and materials for the payment to Mother Earth, or the Pachamama, instead of potions and spells that one would expect from witches associated with Halloween and in movies. Definitely need to rethink my notions about the role of witches in Bolivian lore and society!   After walking to the cable car station for a (very long) five blocks uphill, I rode the cable car from the central station to Jach’a Qhathu, a station on one of the hilltops (3 bolivianos/50 cents each way!).  It was such a stark reminder of how extensive and beautiful the city was! One could see houses clinging to the hillsides and skyscrapers nestled in the with Mt. Illimani rising in the background. Part II: The Salt Flats of Uyuni A White Desert and Flamingoes This whirlwind trip included a one-day tour of Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world. Even though it seemed like these flats were in the middle of nowhere (10 hours by bus or an hour-long flight from La Paz), the Solares de Uyuni attracts probably thousands of tourists visit every year, and after this trip, I can see why. There is something magical […]

Exploring Lake Titicaca

Bolivia and Peru are two neighbouring South American countries that share as many similarities as they do stark differences. Both boast incredibly varied landscapes. From lush jungles teeming with plant and animal life, to baron deserts that stretch for miles, to gorgeous expansive beaches, to perilous, rocky snow capped peaks, valleys and mountains, some with cities and towns built right into them. If you travel by bus through either of the countries for a mere few hours, you'll be bombarded with a shocking amount of different kinds of natural beauty. On the border that the countries share lies the enormous, stunning Lake Titicaca. It is said that the very first Incans emerged from this lake, and this is more than just a myth, as ancient Incan ruins have actually been found on its floor, though it is likely that they were there before the natural wonder formed. Bodies of water so large at such a high altitude are a rarity, and the beauty of such a thing is not lost on the casual observer. Something about the way the still blue water sits between gigantic mountains is truly moving. When you see the lake while travelling by bus, its enormity becomes apparent as it stretches as far as the eye can see, and this is as staggering as it is humbling. Uros Floating Islands When you're travelling south from Peru by bus as I was, your first experience of Lake Titicaca will generally be in Puno, and you'll see it as soon as you arrive at the terminal. Perhaps this isn't the best way to first experience the wonder of this great body of water, as the shore is covered in litter, there isn't really anywhere to just sit and relax, and the smell of the aforementioned rubbish certainly leaves something to be desired. However, this isn't a very good representation of the rest of the lake. As soon as we got off the bus in the freezing cold at 4 in the morning, we were met by a tour operator who offered us exactly what we came for; a tour by boat to the Uros Floating Islands. These islands, which really must be seen to be believed, are constructed out of thousands of dry reeds bound together, and inhabited by the Uros people. They live their whole lives on these islands eating fish from the lake and fruit from the mainland, living on the expenditure of visiting tourists like ourselves. There are dozens of islands all in a close proximity to one another, and each island has anywhere from five to more than fifty inhabitants on the capital. Each floating island has its own president, and entire families are born and raised on an individual island – though new islands are often built after one has been standing for twenty five years or so. The islands were initially constructed defensively, the thinking being that if the Uros people were attacked, the islands could be easily moved. The largest of […]
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