Bolivia is the country of what feels like an endless amount of cultural, historical, and natural sites. For first-time travelers, it can be a bit overwhelming to come up with the perfect Bolivia itinerary.
Why You Should Visit Bolivia
From lunar landscapes to intriguing markets, it’s hard to narrow down the reasons to visit this fascinating country. Generally, Bolivia is known for the following:
- Spectacular landscapes: From steep mountains and multicolored lagoons to endless salt flats and dense jungles, Bolivia truly offers everything a traveler might want to cross off their list.
- Fascinating archaeology: Bolivia is known for multiple Incan sites preserving the traces of the once-strong empire. Visit a few of them to get a glimpse of their remarkable culture.
- Colonial sites: Bolivia's buildings showcase a unique mixture of traditional European and ancient South American styles.
- Biodiversity and wildlife: With the climates of mountains, jungles, rivers, and lakes colliding, Bolivia has got one of the world's most diverse flora and fauna.
An often sight in Bolivia - picture by Rodolho Clix, pexels.com
As we’ve already said, the country offers a wealth of activities. To make things easier for you, we listed the top attractions in one place. Go through them and choose which things to do in Bolivia!
Things to Do in La Paz, Bolivia
The capital city of Bolivia is beaming with jostling pedestrians and loud minivans, with a majestic mountain in the background and numerous sites in close proximity.
1. Buy owl feathers and dried frogs in Bolivia's Witch Market
Located in the heart of the city's tourist area is the Witch Market (Mercado de Las Brujas), a place where you can buy peculiar objects like dried frogs, owl feathers, dried llama fetuses, and aphrodisiac formulas from dozens of vendors, or, should we say, witches.
2. Take a hike at the impressive Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)
Locals say that the site received its name after Neil Armstrong's remark that the landscape resembles that of the Moon. Whether or not this is true, you need to visit this fantastic beige, red, and dark purple maze of canyons and giant spires.
3. Learn about history at Plaza Murillo
Plaza Murillo is a historical square located in the Old Town of La Paz, named in honor of the Bolivian political hero Pedro Murillo. Throughout history, this was a place of dramatic political battles. Today, it is a lively spot humming with activity.
4. Drive on the most dangerous road in the world
Cut into the steep cliffside, the North Yungas Road, also called the Death Road of Bolivia, connects the Bolivian capital of La Paz, located 3,660 meters (11,800 feet) above ground, with the Yungas region situated at an altitude of only 1,200 meters (3,900 feet).
5. Admire the intricate architecture of Iglesia de San Francisco
The beautifully decorated church is known for the blend of European and native styles. You can see signs of baroque and neoclassicism, as well as the work of the Aymara people and their typical carvings of snakes, dragons, tropical birds, and masked figures.
6. Try to climb the snow-capped Illimani Mountain
The intimidating Illimani Mountain is situated south of La Paz, with the highest peak at 6,400 meters (20,900 feet) above sea level. Unconquered until 1898, the snow-covered beast still imposes a true challenge to any fellow climber.
Beautiful sight of the el Illimani montain, taken by Achachila Mayor
7. See the temples and pyramids at Tiwanaku
Once the political and spiritual capital of the Tiwanaku Empire, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a significant cultural spot for the indigenous Aymara people. Spend your day exploring the remains of Akapana Pyramid, Puerta del Sol, Kantatallita Temple, Monolito Ponce, and more.
8. Buy something made out of alpaca at Calle Sagarnaga
Many call Calle Sagarnaga the best souvenir shop in the country. Most of the stands are covered in aguayo, a multicolored traditional woolen cloth, which means that this market located in the heart of La Paz may not only be the best one, but also the prettiest.
9. Visit a museum dedicated to the notorious coca leaf
Although the coca leaf is mainly known for its use in the infamous drug, the Coca Museum tries to explain the history of the controversial crop and its sacred use in Bolivian culture.
10. Take a walk through the best-preserved colonial street of La Paz
Calle Jean (or Jean Street) is a charming cobblestoned street and home to four museums: Museo Costumbrista, Museo de Metales Preciosos, Museo del Litoral, and Casa de Murillo. Visit them all and enjoy some of the best pieces of art in La Paz.
Things to Do in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
The largest city in Bolivia is a city of contrasts, with street vendors right up the corner of up-scale restaurants and traditional outfits mixing with urban fashion. This part of the country is also known for its gorgeous nature.
1. See sand dunes in Lomas de Arena Regional Park
The park is a protected area of 14,000 hectares (34,594 acres), located 17 km (11 miles) southwest of the city center of Santa Cruz. Besides the spectacular dunes, the park encompasses tropical plains, jungles, and a lagoon.
Lomas de Arena, Bolivia picture by Gabriel Millos
2. Hang out with parrots, toucans, and butterflies in Guembe
Take a walk through the blooming garden of Guembe and learn about butterflies and caterpillars, as well as rare birds such as parrots and toucans. After the tour, spend the rest of the afternoon at the pool or the playground.
3. Feed your artistic soul at the Manzana 1 Espacio de Arte
Located in the city center in the building acknowledged as a historical legacy, the non-profit art gallery is filled with paintings, sculptures, photographs, and installations by national and international artists.
4. Go wildlife watching in Amboro National Park
Amboro is a place where the Andes, Chaco, and Amazon collide, which means it’s bursting with diverse flora and fauna. Get ready to see tapirs, armadillos, spider monkeys, jaguars, giant anteaters, pumas, ocelots, and spectacled bears.
5. Climb the bell tower of the Cathedral of Santa Cruz
When visiting Santa Cruz, you can't miss one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. The cathedral features wooden vaults, pictorial decoration, the main altar with the original silver covering, and the bell tower with a nice view of the city.
6. Get a glimpse of the Amazon wildlife without visiting the jungle
If you want to see what kinds of animals live inside the Amazon rainforest, but don't feel like going on a wild trip, take a simple picnic to the botanical gardens of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
7. Relax around the lagoon at Parque El Arenal
The vibrant public park and its lagoon at the heart of the city is one of the must-sees when you're in Santa Cruz. Enjoy the laid-back atmosphere during the day, but try to avoid it during night-time due to potential crime.
8. Visit Zoologico Municipal Noel Kempff Mercado
This is an interesting zoo started by Noel Kempff Mercado, a professor and naturalist who wanted to build a zoo dedicated exclusively to the South American fauna. It was started in the 70s and to this day features lots of native animal species.
9. Relax in the hammock at La Rinconada
La Rinconada is a breathtaking eco-park built like a piece of art, with blooming nature that showcases Bolivia's biodiversity. After filling up with energy in the hammock, release a bit of adrenaline at the park's zip line and super swings.
10. Explore the mix of New and Old-World styles at the Jesuit Missions
During the 16th century, the Jesuits built several missions in the surrounding area of Santa Cruz, and six of them were named UNESCO World Heritage sites. Their historical importance and intriguing architectural blend make them definitely worth your visit.
Things to Do in Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana is a Bolivian town on the shore of Lake Titicaca (don’t confuse it with the Copacabana beach in Brazil). Although not as famous as the beach in Rio, this town is offering some really amazing sites.
Beautiful shore of Copacabana, picture by Poswiecie, pixabay.com
1. Watch the sunset from the peak of Cerro el Calvario
The Cerro el Calvario mountain towers the city of Copacabana and offers amazing views of the surrounding area. The half-hour climb to the summit is worth your time, especially if you make it in time to see the sun setting.
2. Make a wish at the statue of the Virgin Mary
The Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana was built in the 17th century to honor the patron saint of Bolivia, the Virgin Mary. Tourists come from all over the world to see the famed statue said to grant wishes and give blessings.
3. Visit Chinkana, the place where the sun was born
Chinkana is a labyrinth-like Inca ruin situated on the Isla del Sol, an island of Lake Titicaca. The place held special meaning to the Incan Empire, as they believed the sun was born right there from behind a large rock called Titi Khar´ka (hence the lake's name).
4. Explore the Horca del Inca astronomical observatory
Despite its name, Horca del Inca is, in fact, a pre-Incan construction built in the 14th century by the Chiripa people. It was a part of seven structures positioned to study the Sun, Moon, and stars. Today, it's a famous touristic spot offering stunning views of Copacabana and Lake Titicaca.
5. Organize a day trip to Isla del Sol
This fairly small island is the most visited one in Lake Titicaca, thanks to its natural beauty and more than 80 interesting Inca ruins. Besides the ruins, you'll see the panoramic views, friendly llamas, agriculture terraces, and the village of Yumani.
6. See more ruins and enjoy the views on Isla de la Luna
A tranquil atmosphere, premium views of the Andes and the mainland, and several archaeological sites are just some of the reasons to visit Isla de la Luna, another stunning island of Lake Titicaca. Don't miss the island's main attraction, the Incan amphitheater nunnery.
7. Learn about Aymara and Quechua clothing in Museo del Poncho
Poncho is a superstar of Bolivian Andean fashion, so, naturally, there's a museum dedicated to it! Visitors praise it for the high-quality collection, as well as the small shop where you can buy textile souvenirs.
8. Stroll through Avenida 6 de Agosto, Copacabana's main tourist street
The vibrant street is filled with cafes, souvenir shops, restaurants serving local dishes, and travel companies offering popular tours. Although touristy, everybody agrees this is a must-see street when visiting Copacabana.
9. Witness the blessing of the car, Cobacabana's quirky custom
Every place has something that feels weird to the newcomers, but perfectly normal to the locals. In Copacabana, this thing is — the blessings of cars. People bring their cars from all over the country to get them blessed by the priest right outside the cathedral.
10. Spend the afternoon at the Copacabana beach
Although it's not as majestic as its more famous counterpart in Rio de Janeiro, Copacabana beach offers multiple activities perfect for families. You can play foosball, go on a horseback ride, ride a motorbike, or go canoeing.
10 More Interesting Things to Do in Bolivia
1. Take a tour of the Uma Jalanta cavern
There's plenty of things to do in Cochabamba, Bolivia, but among the most exciting is visiting the Uma Jalanta cavern, situated in Torotoro National Park. Once you're provided with a helmet and headlamp, you'll be ready for exploring stalactites and stalagmites!
2. Be mesmerized by the largest salt flat in the world
Salar de Uyuni spreads over a vast surface of more than 12,000 km (7,450 miles). Despite being devoid of almost any wildlife and vegetation, this majestic landscape has smoking geysers, colorful lagoons, hot thermal springs, and gorgeous habitants — pink flamingos!
Isla Incahuasi or the Cactus Island in the Salar de Uyuni, Elture original
3. Walk the historic Inka trails
This is one of the most popular things to do in Bolivia. You can take the Takesi trek, the 40 km (25 miles) trek beginning near the village of Palca, going over a mountain and through a jungle, and ending at the village of Yanacachi. Hikers usually take two to three days to complete it — check out our backpacking guide for safe travel.
4. Visit a blood-red lagoon filled with hundreds of pink flamingos
Many agree Laguna Colorada is Bolivia's most incredible natural wonder. The vast high-altitude lake near the border of Chile spans over 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres) and is less than a meter deep.
Blood red lagoon - Elture original photograph
5. See monkeys and macaws in Madidi National Park
Madidi prides itself on containing 11% of the world's bird species and being one of the most diverse places on Earth. There's also a nearby town Rurrenabaque, which got famous in the 90s thanks to the “Lost in the Jungle” story by Yossi Ghinsberg.
6. Stop by the Great Train Graveyard
Yes, it's exactly like it sounds — dozens of rusted trains scattered all over the deserted outskirts of Uyuni, a small region in the Andean plain. There are no restrictions in approaching the trains, so you can climb atop them or go inside for taking pictures.
The Best Time to Travel to Bolivia
Many agree that the best time to visit Bolivia is from May to October when the weather is dry and conditions are perfect for exploring the outdoor sites. Keep in mind that this is Bolivian winter and that the temperatures can range from -5 to 15 °C (20 to 60 °F).
Is it Safe to Travel to Bolivia?
Bolivia is popular with tourists, so pickpocketing and theft are common. You don’t have to worry about your safety, just be aware of your surroundings and watch out for your things, especially when you’re near famous landmarks, in big crowds, or near ATMs. Safety tips also include the following:
- Avoid traveling after dark
- Always use reputable cab companies
- Don’t go near Coronilla Hill in Cochabamba
- Beware of the laws prohibiting serving alcohol after 4 am
- Look out for the scammers — don’t let anyone on the street “help you out” or befriend you (even if the person says they’re a tourist). Also, look out for the fake police officers — if somebody approaches you, ask to see a warrant and contact your Embassy.
Before you plan any international travel, read your state’s and your destination’s recommendations due to possible COVID-19 risks.
We hope that, after reading our Bolivia travel guide, you have a better idea of what you’re going to visit. If you’re still unsure what’s going to be your next destination, you might want to read our other guides:
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- Jamaica: for those who like reggae, dancehall, and sunny weather
- Havana: prepare yourself for colorful architecture and the relaxed way of life