Bolivia may be one of the poorest countries in South America, but has cultural wealth, the vastly differing Amazonian and Andean landscapes, and the remnants of mysterious ancient civilizations make it a rich and exciting destination if youre looking for more than postcards.
The historic heartland of Bolivia lies on the 3700 meters high plains around Lake Titicaca. This is the cradle of Altiplano civilisation: the sacred Lake gave birth to the founders of the Inca Empire, and at its shore lays Tiwanaku, where the roots of Andean culture were invented.
Bolivian modern day culture is a unique mix of thousand year old traditions, Spanish influences and globalisation. Capital of folklore is the Altiplano mining town of Oruro, where there is a citywide party going on weekly. This little town completely explodes with music, dancing and drinking at Carnival time in February. Don’t miss it if you’ve got the opportunity. At 5 km from the city is the Uru Uru lake: you can drive through it with the train to the South or go flamingo spotting at the Puente Español.
Probably the biggest tourist attraction of the country lies in the Southern Altiplano: the South-West Circuit is a surreal four day experience along a colourful desert, flamingo filled lakes and the largest salt flats in the world. No one has got any excuse to miss this. The small southern city of Tupiza is a good place to wave goodbye to Bolivia. The landscape comes right out of a Western, and lends itself to the best horseback riding in South America with excellently bred and kept Argentine horses.
By far the best and cheapest jungle tours of South America can be found in Rurrenabaque. Starting at 15 to 20 US$ a day you can visit the Amazon forest, where you’ll see several types of monkeys, 10% of the worlds birds species and even pumas if you’re lucky,… In the nearby wetlands you can spot the capybara (the biggest rodent in the world) or take a chance and swim with the river dolphins (which scare the harmless caiman away).
Summer (November to April) is the rainy season, when overland transportation becomes difficult if not impossible in some areas. In the lowlands it can be utterly miserable, with mud, high humidity, biting insects and relentless tropical downpours. The most popular, and arguably most comfortable, time for exploring the whole country is during winter (May to October) with its dry, clear days. This is also the best season for climbing.
The high tourist season falls between middle June and beginning of September, not only because of climatic factors, but the timing of European and North American summer vacations and the fact that its also Bolivias major fiesta season. Prices are generally higher than during the rest of the year because both international visitors and lots of South Americans are traveling during this period.