Bolivia is a wild place and nature lovers, aesthetes and poets alike will find landscapes, views, and nature born experiences not seen in many other places on the planet. The sheer amount of geographic, topographic, climatic and biological diversity will astound you. Then there are the playful bands of monkeys, the elegant and reclusive herds of vicuña and more than 1000 unique bird species to entertain, inspire and elevate you to a new proximity to the natural world.
1. Salar de Uyuni
Who knew feeling this cold could feel so good? While a three-to four –day jeep tour through the world’s largest salt flat will leave your bones chattering, it could quite possibly be the defining experience of your Bolivian adventure. The vastness, austerity and crystalline perfection of the salt flat will inspire you. An early morning exploration of rock gardens, geyser fields and piping hot springs along with the camaraderie of three days on the road with your fellow will create a lasting memory.
2. Trekking in the Cordillera Real
Walk in the path of the Inca along the many trekking routes that weave their way from the Andes into the Amazon Basin, through the remarkable skyward-bound wilderness of the Cordillera Real. These four –to 14-day treks are no small undertaking, but it will be worth every step, every drop of sweat and every blister. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to dine with indigenous families, cool off beside cascading waterfalls and connect with Pachamama (Mother Earth) deep within her potent green realm.
Bolivia’s hallmark archaeological site sets your imagination on fire. Despite lacking the power and prestige of other ruins in Latin America-those who have visited Machu Picchu or Tikal will be hard-pressed not to strike comparisons – this pre –Inca site has a lot to offer. A massive celebration is held on the winter solstice, with smaller ones taking place for the other solstice and equinoxes. The on-site museum provides a thought-provoking glimpse into life in this religious and astronomical center. An easy day trip from La Paz, Tiwanaku is a good place to start your Andean odyssey.
4. Parque Nacional Amboró
Sandwiched between the old and new roads to Cochabamba is one of Bolivia’s most biodiverse, and fortunately most accessible, protected areas-the breathtaking Parque Nacional Amboró. Here the lush, leafy Amazon kisses the thorny, dusty Chaco, and the sweaty lowlands greet the refreshing highlands. Stunning scenery, wonderful wildlife and the assistance of professional tour agencies make this a wilderness just begging to the explored.
5. Isla del Sol Titicaca
Plopped onto sprawling Lake Titicaca like the cherry on top of an ice-cream sundae, Isla del Sol is considered to be the birthplace of Andean civilization. You can easily spend four days here, tracking down forgotten Inca roads to small archeological sites, removed coves and intact indigenous communities. At the end of the day, take in the sunset with a cerveza (beer) from your ridge-top lodge. The lake itself has a magnetism, power and energy unique in this world no wonder many claim the ancient civilization of Atlantis was found here.
6. Jesuit Missions Circuit
Though traveling around the missions circuit is a challenge in itself, the fantastically ornate reconstructions of Jesuit churches that are the center pieces of the village along the route make it well worth the effort. Lovingly restored by professional artisans and historians to offer a glimpse of their former glory, the churches of the mission’s circuit are testimony to the efforts of the missionaries who, against all odds, managed to stablish communities in remote Chiquitania before being expelled from the Spanish colonies in 1767.
Glistening in the Andean sun, the white city of Sucre is the birthplace of the nation and a must –see for any visitor to Bolivia. It’s an eclectic mix of the old and the new, where you can while away your days perusing historic buildings and museums, and spend your nights enjoying the city’s famous nightlife. Visitors to Sucre invariably fall in love with the place.
8. La Paz Markets
The whirling engine that feeds and fuels a nation, the markets of La Paz are so crazy, so disjointed, so colorful and mad and remarkable that you’ll end up spending at least a few afternoons wandering from stall to stall. There are sections for food, sections for sorcery, sections where you can buy back your stolen camera, sections for pipes and Styrofoam – in every shape and form imaginable – and sections packed with fruits, flowers and smelly fish that will push you to olfactory overload.
Cosmopolitan Samaipata manages to retain the air of a relaxing mountain village, despite becoming an increasingly unmissable stop on the Bolivian tourist trail. But it’s not just the great-value accommodations and top-class restaurants that bring in the visitors. Samaipata’s proximity to the mystical El Fuerte ruins and a series of worthy day trips to nearby areas of outstanding natural beauty mean that many visitors find themselves staying for a lot longer than they planned.
Said to be the highest city in the world, lofty Potosí once sat upon a land laden with silver that funded the Spanish empire for centuries. Though the mines now lay all but barren and the city has long been in economic decline, the remnants of the wealthy past can still be seen through the cracked brickwork of the ornate colonial –era buildings and wonderfully preserved churches. Potosí’s most famous museum, the Casa de la Moneda, was once Bolivia’s national, mint and offers a fascinating insight into the rise and fall of a city that once described itself as the envy of kings.
11. Wine tasting near Tarija
Take a deep breath of the thin mountain air and prepare to get dizzy sampling wine from the world’s highest vineyards. Though rarely sold outside Bolivia, Tarija wines, produced in a Mediterranean like climate at altitudes of up to 2400m, are sold throughout Bolivia and have received international plaudits for their fresh, aromatic taste. Whether you prefer tinto (red), Rosado (rosé) or blanco (white), you are likely to be pleasantly surprised by the quality on offer and may find yourself taking a bottle or two home for your friends.
Cut from the pages of a Wild West novel, the canyon country around Tupiza is an awesome place for heading off into the sunset (in a saddle, atop a mountain bike, on foot or in a 4WD). From town you can ramble out into the polychromatic desert wonderlands and canyons, visiting hard –cut mining villages and the town where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their end. The pleasant weather and lyrical feel of the town make it a welcome retreat after a bit or hardship in the highlands.
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