Travelers who do take the time to travel to Bolivia are more than rewarded with unbridled hospitality, pristine nature, and hair-raising adventure. It might require veering off the beaten path a bit, but do not let that deter you. Let’s delve into why Bolivia is worth visiting!
An unassuming country surrounded by blockbuster-worthy neighbors in the very heart of South America. Oftentimes travelers will use its popular neighbors Chile, Peru and Argentina as a jumping board to spend a few days exploring the highlights of Bolivia, if there is time that is.
There are however plenty of reasons to visit Bolivia and skip out on the abutting countries altogether. Brimming with culture, soaring peaks and a solid – if slightly eclectic – network of public transportation that will get you anywhere, for a few pennies, are but a few reasons why Bolivia is worth visiting.
10 Reasons why Bolivia is worth visiting
I spent four months in South America, traipsing through Patagonia, eating my way through Peru and (hitch-) hiking in Chile (sorry mum!). I even made it to Easter Island, yet not for a minute did I think “mhh, perhaps I should spend some time in Bolivia”. That is until this year!
Let me tell you, if I had known this country had so much to offer, I would have started exploring the continent from Bolivia. With
Good to know: The tourism infrastructure is less developed and English is not widely spoken. Therefore I do recommend you know a handful of Spanish words before your trip to Bolivia.
1. Bolivia is untouched by overtourism
The number one reason why Bolivia is worth visiting can be found in its authenticity. Aside from a rare sprinkling of tourist traps, what you see is very much a raw, unfiltered window into daily Bolivian life.
Forget the larger-than-life smiles and void of small talk. At first glance, you might mistake the staunch Bolivian attitude for, dare I say it, rudeness. Yet once you pull out your best Spanish – be it three words or three sentences – you will discover that underneath a solemn veneer lies a very kind heart.
This presents itself in the form of a shy smile, a random stranger sharing their homemade juice with you in the street (true story), a home-cooked meal or – my favorite – a tiny tot giving you a little wave before disappearing behind his mother’s skirts.
We were lucky to connect with some truly unique people along this trip. From city folk in La Paz to our indigenous guides in the Amazon rainforest, each and every person helped us redefine the meaning of the word hospitality.
2. Travelling to Bolivia will not break the bank
Not being a massive tourist destination has the added benefit of keeping costs low. Expenses for accommodation, food and activities are but a fraction of what you would spend in other countries around South America.
The ubiquitous crispy salteña (Bolivian baked empanada) are delicious and cost but a few Bolivianos. A night in a decent hostel will set you back US$10, while midrange hotels hover around US$45 and high-end hotels start at US$85.
You might be surprised to learn that a one-day tour of the Salar (THE thing to do in Bolivia) can be undertaken for as little as US$50.
3. Getting around is a piece of cake
Bolivia has a very well-developed network of public transportation that will get you just about anywhere in the country. As an advocate for sustainable travel, this makes my heart do a little happy jump.
Inside the cities, a seemingly endless supply of public transportation is on offer: micros (multi-colored busses); trufis (large shared taxis with fixed routes); radio taxis (white cars with an official taxi sign); Puma Katari (only in La Paz).
Traveling between cities is done with large overnight buses. While settling in for a 15-hour bus ride might not seem like your cup of tea, don’t diss it until you tried it! Book yourself a comfortable “cama” (a seat that reclines 180° a bed) which usually even includes one meal (vegetarian options available upon request). Check schedules and buy tickets online via Busbud or head to the station directly.
4. Bolivia is a great year-round destination
Deciding on the best time to visit Bolivia largely depends on what activities you plan to do combined with the regions you are aching to explore. Bolivia has a varied topography, ranging from the high Andean plateau to the lowlands of the Amazon basin, resulting in a diverse range of climates and microclimates across the country.
The dry season, which runs from May to October, is the most popular time to visit Bolivia. During this period, the weather is generally dry and sunny, making it the perfect time for trekking, mountain climbing, and exploring the vast salt flats.
The rainy season, which runs from November to April, is ideal for those who want to explore the Bolivian Amazon, take a tour of the Amazon Basin (the so-called pampas) and enjoy lush greenery, beautiful flowers, and an abundance of wildlife. However, it can be difficult to access some areas due to landslides and road closures caused by heavy rains.
TIP: If you want to see the famous reflections of the Salar de Uyuni try going during rainy season! Combine your trip with the famous UNESCO Oruro carnival.
5. The Salt Flats of Uyuni
Exploring the Salt Flats of Uyuni is a major reason to visit Bolivia for many travelers, yours truly included. The white expanse of the Uyuni Salt Flats is unlike anything else in the world. At a staggering altitude of 3,656 meters (11,995 feet), it will take your breath away, in just about every sense of the word.
Nestled within the Andean Altiplano, the Salar de Uyuni measures a whopping 8000 square kilometers (3,100 square miles). Be prepared for a camera roll full of wonky pictures including dinosaurs, pringle cans and any other object your guide deems worthy for the famous trompe l’oeil snaps.
I visited in February and was lucky enough to see the stunning reflections on the Salar. The ground merged with the sky, creating the odd sensation of floating on a bed of clouds, while in fact my feet were firmly planted on the floor. It was quite simply mind-boggling!
6. The considerable diversity of landscapes
Bolivia is known for its incredible geographical diversity: High Andean mountains, vast salt flats, lush rainforests, and sprawling lowlands.
Mountain lovers should make a beeline for the Andean mountain range, home to the famous Illumani and Huayani Potoso, both peaks soaring over 6000 meters high. A plethora of hikes to and around the mountains is available for hikers. Nestled between this mountain range lies the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca.
The aforementioned Salar de Uyuni is one of Bolivia’s most famous natural wonders. This arid landscape is dotted with highly colorful lakes upon which flocks of Uyuni flamingoes nest.
In the east of Bolivia lies the Amazon basin, a vast area of lowland rainforest that is home to an incredible array of plant and animal species including jaguars, giant otters, and pink dolphins. Straddling the basin lies the incredible Madidi National Park, one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet.
7. The wonderful melting pot of cultures
The cultural diversity of Bolivia is simply unparalleled. Few travelers realize Bolivia is one of the only countries in South America where people with indigenous origins make up more than 50% of the population. The 36 officially recognized peoples have their own distinct languages, traditions and customs.
The largest indigenous group in Bolivia is Quechua- speaking, heralding from the Andean region. They are closely followed by the Aymara-speaking, who can be found in the inhabit the Andean regions of western Bolivia and southern Peru.
There is no denying that Bolivia’s colonial history has also left lasting influences on present-day culture. Many Bolivians are of European and African descent. One of my main reasons to visit Bolivia was to partake in the vibrant Oruro Carnival celebration, a quintessential expression of the merger between indigenous and colonial (Spanish) culture.
8. You will quite literally be high on life
The average altitude in Bolivia is around 3,700 meters (12,139 feet) above sea level. This makes Bolivia one of the highest countries in the world, with a significant portion of its territory located in the Andes mountain range. Simply walking around will take your breath away, no really!
I flew into La Paz airport, located at a staggering 4,062 meters (13,330 feet). The first few days were spent huffing and puffing my way through the country as my body fought to adapt to the thin air. The abundant availability of coca leaves – icky taste-wise, awesome against altitude sickness – a welcome relief for my ever-pounding head.
The real kicker came when flying to the Amazon Basin, which lies at a mere 600 meters above sea level. With the sudden drop in altitude and the rush of oxygen to my lungs, my body quite literally felt like it was high.
TIPS AGAINST ALTITUDE SICKNESS: Drink plenty of fluids, give your body the chance to adapt to the altitude e.g. don’t start hiking on day one and chow down on coca leaves. Most airport pharmacies do carry altitude sickness medicine, which you can purchase without a prescription.
9. The variety of wildlife
Bolivia is a country of remarkable diversity, with a variety of ecosystems and habitats that support a dazzling array of wildlife.
One of the most elusive of all species found in Bolivia, the jaguar, can be spotted in the remote Kaa Iya National Park. The park is also home to other large cats such as pumas and ocelots, as well as a variety of primates, including spider monkeys and howler monkeys.
In the high Andes, the vicuña, a small and graceful relative of the llama, can be found grazing on the slopes of the mountains. The endangered Andean condor, one of the largest flying birds in the world, can also be spotted soaring above the peaks.
Within the Amazon rainforest, you can easily spot brightly colored macaws and parrots and over 20 types of monkeys. Cruising along the Amazon basin we spotted pink dolphins, capybara, caimans and even a giant anaconda as well as beautiful endemic bird species.
TIP: Tours to the Amazon Rainforest and Amazon Basin leave from Rurrenabaque. We booked a 3-day tour through the Amazon Basin (“The Pampas”).
10. It is a paradise for outdoor adventure
Bolivia is a paradise for outdoor adventure enthusiasts, with a wide range of activities that take advantage of the country’s wildly diverse and awe-inspiring landscapes.
The animal enthusiasts will enjoy traipsing around the Madidi National Park spotting wildlife (with a local guide!) or embarking on a 3-day boat trip through the Amazon Basin on the lookout for the elusive pink dolphins. Make sure to bring a lot of mosquito spray, especially if you go in rainy season.
Avid hikers have no shortage of adventures: Scaling the staggering mountains of the Andes including Huayna Potosi, Illumani and Condoriri; trekking the Cordillera Real Trek or embarking on the Choro Trail, both near La Paz in the Yungas region.
Other adventures in Bolivia include touring the silver mines in the old mining town of Potosi, hiking up and down Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca and of course the famous 69 km (43 mi) mountain bike route with the ominous name “Death Road“.
BIKING THE DEATH ROAD: I did not have time to face my fears and cruise down the infamous death road. Some friends told me it was the best adventure they ever undertook, while others were less flowery in their praise stating it was simply harrowing. Check for tours.
So, is Bolivia worth visiting?
YES! I truly hope that upon skimming through the various reasons to visit Bolivia listed above, a little lightbulb went up, triggering a flurry of searches for affordable flights. With its authenticity, chaotic energy and otherworldly nature, Bolivia has firmly ensconced itself my heart.
Heed no advice to the internet, and book your ticket for February. Take in the true meaning of Carnival in the streets of La Paz and – even better – Oruro before heading to the Salar de Uyuni where the rain will have transformed the vast open plains into the world’s largest mirror.
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING SOUTH AMERICA
South America: 10 Vibrant Carnivals in Latin America
Argentina: Everything you need to know before planning a trip to Argentina
Argentina: Things to know before planning a trip to Patagonia
Chile: Three day Easter Island Itinerary
Bolivia: Complete guide to Oruro Carnival
Bolivia: Complete guide to Salar de Uyuni in rainy season
Bolivia: 15 Unmissable places to see in Bolivia
Bolivia: Practical guide to Chualluma La Paz
Bolivia: 13 Things to do in La Paz – A local’s guide to the capital of Bolivia