Is Bolivia on your plans? If you can’t wait to know the places to visit in Bolivia you shouldn’t miss, keep reading this guide on the country and the cities worth stopping by.
- Where’s Bolivia?
- Is Bolivia safe for travelers?
- Cities in Bolivia worth visiting
- 1. Copacabana – watch the sunset over Lake Titicaca
- 2. La Paz – discover the city from the air by the famous Teleferic cableway
- 3. Cochabamba – all the flavors of Bolivia
- 4. Sucre – learn Spanish and enjoy outdoor activities
- 5. Potosi – the faded glory of the silver city
- 6. Uyuni – the white beauty of the salt flats
- 7. Tarija – the best place for wine and steak lovers
- Altitude sickness and how to deal with it
- How to travel in Bolivia
Bolivia is one of the countries located in the heart of South America. It belongs to one of the most diverse and perplex nations, spreading from the Atacama Desert through the high Andes down to the Amazon basin. Its natural diversity gave a space also for various cultures to develop, thus Bolivia is rich not only on thousand species of animals and plants but also on people and culture, who are by nature more withdrawn and shy, but can be also warm and hearty once you get to know them and become great friends for life.
Is Bolivia safe for travelers?
Though many guides highlight potential danger when traveling in Bolivia, we felt very safe most of the time. We walked a lot also through more distant parts of cities in early evenings and nothing ever happened to us, but maybe we just got lucky, therefore, certain precaution should be always made. Basic rules you can stick to are following:
- Unless necessary, avoid walking at dark
- Always let somebody know where you are going – your hotel or other travelers
- Avoid hiking alone, it’s better to hike in a group of at least 4 people
- If you book a tour, do it with a verified tour agency
- Use only registered taxis – they have a special sticker on the front window, ask in your hotel how to recognize them
Cities in Bolivia worth visiting
During our 2 months in Bolivia, we had a chance to visit cities on the man gringo trail, as well as less visited places. Sticking to the main gringo trail will assure a good tourist service, plenty of accommodation and restaurants as well as frequent transport. I have though included also some less visited cities where lack of tourist is what makes them special and worth visit.
The cities are listed from north to south:
1. Copacabana – watch the sunset over Lake Titicaca
At the shores of Lake Titicaca lies a small city, where most tourists head to visit the mystical Isla del Sol, a place where according to the legend the first Inca was born. There are daily boats taking tourists to Isla del Sol, where you can either sleep in numerous hotels or get back to Copacabana by the afternoon boat.
Please note, that the northern part of the island, where are located most of the sacred Incas ruins was blocked the first quarter of 2018, so check this information before heading there, to you avoid an unpleasant surprise. This city is also well known for its wonderful white cathedral and amazing sunset scenes.
Our tip: avoid visit during the Semana Santa – the Easter holiday week, as this city is crowded by local pilgrims.
2. La Paz – discover the city from the air by the famous Teleferic cableway
Considering to be the administrative capital of Bolivia, La Paz is one of the beautiful cities worth visiting. Though it lacks the colonial beauty of other Bolivian cities, it surely has some other highlights. Beside possibility to make numerous hiking and trekking trips to the Surrounding Mountains, including what is considered the easiest 6000m peak to climb Huayna Potosi, one of its world known specialty is its public transport system.
The whole city is covered by a network of cableway called Teleferic, which can cut getting from one side of the city to another from 1 hour to 10 minutes. One ride costs around 0,3 € so the whole air tour over the city will cost you no more than 3€ total. Read about how to make a Teleferic city tour here.
Our tip: don’t miss the opportunity to go biking to the famous Death road, a popular tourist activity.
3. Cochabamba – all the flavors of Bolivia
Cochabamba belongs to less visited cities in Bolivia, but it sure is one you don’t want to miss. Its year-round spring-like climate makes it an ideal place to visit anytime during the year. Famous by its rich cuisine, it is a place to rest and discover all the flavors of Bolivia. Besides eating delicious food, you can take a cableway up to the small hill above the city to see a Christ statue, which is 4m higher than the one in Rio de Janeiro, then head down to discover beautiful flowers in the Botanical garden.
Our tip: make sure to visit the National Park Torotoro nearby, which bursts with peculiar rock formation, dinosaur footprints, and fossils, some of which date back 300 million years.
4. Sucre – learn Spanish and enjoy outdoor activities
Sucre is the official capital of Bolivia and with its beautiful colonial architecture, it can easily make it to the top of the world capital cities. Sometimes it is also called the white city and the reason why is clear the minute you step on its streets. If Spanish is your weak point, then making Sucre your first stop on your travel through Bolivia is more then wise – numerous language school with friendly prices will make sure you are ready for your Bolivian adventure. Sucre offers year-long comfortable climate and sunny weather, so make sure you don’t spend all your time by the school desk as this city is the best place for some outdoor activities.
Our tip: Sucre lies at the altitude of 2800m, which makes it a great place to start your journey and acclimatize for the higher cities.
5. Potosi – the faded glory of the silver city
The whole story of Potosi is tied to its silver. During the boom years, it became the largest and wealthiest city in the Americas. Once the silver dried up, the city went into decline and its citizens slipped into poverty. Now the mines of Cerro Rico are still up and working, though mining moved from silver to other metals, still making it a good motivation for many to make their living. The biggest reason for tourists to come to Potosi is to visit the mines, there are many agencies offering the tour, though my recommendation would be the Big Deal Tours, which are run by miners and give back to the community a lot – part of their income is to buy food for families of deceased miners. Also, if you are a Unesco sites collector, walk through the historical city center is a must for you.
Our tip: the mine tours are physically quite demanding due to the lack of air and narrow shafts, therefore make sure you are well acclimatized to the high altitude and always keep some coca leaves in your pocket.
6. Uyuni – the white beauty of the salt flats
The Salar de Uyuni is the number one reason for many to come to Bolivia, and the first place is well deserved. The city itself has not much to offer besides the salt flats tour, but that is really all you need. Numerous tour agencies offer various tours from 1 day trip only to the salt flats to 4 days including two volcanoes and several lagoons in the Atacama Desert. It doesn’t really matter which agency you choose, as the offer and prices are similar, though if Spanish is not your strong point, make sure in advance that your tour guide speaks English.
Our tip: before you go, browse the internet for photos of other travelers to get inspiration – the water reflexion and white vastness of the salt flats offer some great picture opportunities.
7. Tarija – the best place for wine and steak lovers
Tarija belongs to one of the less visited cities in Bolivia, though it is one of the most popular vacation spots for Bolivians. No wonder it is, as here you can easily sit down and relax while enjoying good wine, good food, and very pleasant climate. Beside wine tours, you can also visit the Cordillera of Sama Biological reserve with beautiful nature, Inca trail and some great spots to watch flamingos and flying condors.
Our tip: make sure you visit the number one Tripadvisor restaurant El Fogon del Gringo – for two delicious steaks, side-dish and salad buffet bar, and a bottle of wine you can pay as little as 25€.
Altitude sickness and how to deal with it
A big part of Bolivian landscape is made by high Andean peaks and many cities lie as high as 4000m, therefore altitude sickness is not something to underestimate here.
Make sure you start your trip in lower-lying cities (Sucre, Samaipata, Tarija) and spend enough time there to acclimatize. Then you can continue to higher cities (Potosi, Uyuni, La Paz, Copacabana). Once you get higher, you can experience a headache, shortage of breath and general problems with breathing, as well as weakness and fatigue.
If symptoms are mild, make sure you drink plenty of water, coca tea and chew some coca leaves. If though you have more serious problems, immediately seek a medical help – although altitude sickness is not a serious issue if unattended it can cause big problems.
How to travel in Bolivia
Bolivian transport system is quite well developed as they are used to a big number of tourists. Cities are connected by a network of buses, which are cheap, though bad shapes of roads as well as mountain terrain make it difficult and most of the bus rides are several hours long. Often you can use night buses, which allows you to save some extra money on hostels, though these rides can be very exhausting.
If you are short on time and your budget allows you, take advantage of national airlines. Almost every city has an airport and traveling by plane can shorten the time from 8-10 hours to 1-2 hours.
Read more travel tips about Bolivia on Tereza’s blog.