Bolivia is a relatively undeveloped country in the heart of South America.k To explore this unpolished diamond, fly to its administrative capital La Paz, which sits high on the Bolivian plateau at a breathtaking altitude of about twelve thousand feet.
Bolivia may be poor, but it has a wealth of natural treasures. Riches that shine through in the country’s infinite salt deserts, extraordinary islands, mountains of silver, tropical lowlands, and high altiplanos where alpacas roam.
La Paz means “Peace” and this high-altitude city is the welcoming tourism capital of Bolivia. Like Bolivia, La Paz may be rough around the edges but sparkles inside. Look beyond the city’s back-to-basics architecture, cuisine and lifestyle to find some real jewels, from sixteenth-century Spanish colonial mansions to modern buildings modeled on pre-Columbian temples.
The National Congress and the Presidential Palace
Despite all the destruction caused by the Spanish, these Conquistadors shaped and polished Bolivia’s cities.
Upon founding La Paz, they erected brilliant buildings, such as the National Congress and the Presidential Palace, which are still eye catchers on Plaza Murillo today.
The city’s Metropolitan Cathedral
As devout Catholics, the Spanish also erected the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral, dedicated to the Lady of Peace.
Bolivian traditional culture
While twenty-first-century comforts slowly trickle in, Bolivia is still a land of unbreakable traditions. Many residents embrace their Quechua, Aymara, and Inca heritage and indigenous women still proudly wear the colorful clothing of the highlands.
The Plaza San Francisco
Join them on the Plaza San Francisco, a convenient meeting point in the heart of the city. Its late 18th-century basilica, dedicated to Francis of Assisi, is home to an art museum with a precious collection of historic paintings.
The Museo Nacional de Arte
See artworks by modern artists at the Museo Nacional de Arte, housed in a well-preserved Spanish colonial mansion.
For a cultural experience of a different kind, visit the nearby Witches’ Market to marvel at the mummified llamas, carved amulets and potent herbal remedies.
The Mirador at Laikacota
On the mirador at Laikacota, see how the city’s outer suburbs cling to the steep mountainsides and spill out in the valley below.
Here you can get your first glimpse of the rugged peaks of the surrounding valley, beckoning you to leave the city behind to explore Bolivia’s natural gems.
The Valle de la Luna
The Valle de la Luna was chiseled by the masons of time, creating the moon-like landscape that gave it its name. Make your way up or around the naturally cleaved stones, which come in all shapes and sizes.
The Department of La Paz
Another hidden treasure in the Department of La Paz is the Tiwanaku Cultural Heritage Site, dating back some two-and-a-half thousand years.
But it’s in nearby Lake Titicaca that Bolivia really sparkles. Titicaca is half a day by bus from La Paz and is one of the world’s highest navigable lakes.
This jewel in the crown of South America straddles the Peruvian border and is well worth exploring.
The Uru people culture
The icy cold lake has breathtaking islands and is home to one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures: the Uru people. Hundreds of Uros still live on spongy floating islands made of reed and somehow survive in the extreme climate at altitude.
Treat yourself to their handicrafts, which they sell to maintain a living on the lake, or just watch them enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
The region’s rugged landscapes make for harsh living conditions and it takes an adventurous traveler to appreciate the untapped potential that this emerging South American nation offers.
Salar de Uyuni
It becomes even more obvious that Bolivia is a diamond in the rough if you fly south to Salar de Uyuni, the endless salt plains in Bolivia’s south.
As you skim over its polished surface in a four-wheel drive, you’ll come across boiling hot springs and glistening salt lakes.
The few high points of this remote terrain, shimmer on the horizon like a mirage in a desert. For a unique experience, stay in a hotel made almost entirely out of salt before you return to civilization.
The gateway to the salt plains is Potosí, a place where you can mingle with the locals and admire a blend of architectural styles. A highlight attraction here is walking over the roof of the San Francisco Convent, to find a sea of terra cotta at your feet.
In the distance, Cerro Rico, which means “Rich Hill”, was once a bountiful silver and tin deposit.
These precious metals provided the fortunes needed to establish the constitutional capital Sucre, a three-hour drive away.
Ciudad Blanca buildings
As with diamonds, its the core that is the most brilliant and that certainly is the case with this central Bolivian city.
Nicknamed “Ciudad Blanca,” the “White City,” Sucre’s white-washed colonial buildings and fountains reflect the sunlight.
Killi Killi lookout
Exploring Bolivia holds the promise of discovery, the prospect of finding something precious where few have cared to look. Whether you visit its heritage cities to chase the romance of the days gone by or engage in thrilling outdoor adventures, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful memories for life.
End your tour of Bolivia back in La Paz. But, before you fly out, take one last look over the valley from the Killi Killi lookout. Local legend states that the snow-capped peaks of Illimani Mountain are there to protect this city in the clouds, Bolivia’s hidden gem.
At night, the valley twinkles… beckoning you to come and see what lies beneath.