Most people who spend their gap year in South America will include Bolivia somewhere in their schedule. This Spanish-speaking gem is fast becoming a backpacker’s paradise – and it’s easy to see why.
Bolivia is right in the middle of South America, making it easy to access from the likes of Brazil and Peru, and with the continent’s lowest cost of living it’s perfect for your backpacker budget. Add to that year round sunshine, non-stop adventure and an off-the-beaten-track feel and you’d be stupid not to go.
Right, well that’s settled. Now where to go in the country to get the most out of your Bolivian adventure?
Start off in the sweet city of Sucre, one of the country’s capitals (it has two) and the heart of the country. It’s nicknamed the ‘White City’ and you’ll soon see why with all those whitewashed buildings. Little cobbles complete the colonial Spanish look but further afield you’ll see the city is surrounded by lush green valleys.
Stuck in time, Sucre has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, confirmed by its UNESCO World Heritage Status.
One of the few places in Sucre that isn’t white is The Castle of La Glorieta. This historical landmark is instead pink and a place to visit for tales of real life princes and princesses. Accommodation here is easy to come by and, with so many language schools, it’s ideal for practicing your espanol.
2. La Paz
La Paz can leave you in a bit of a daze. That could be down to the stunning views, but it’s more likely to be the altitude. This storybook capital city sits in the valleys at 3500 metres above sea level. It’s possible to forget how high you are until you see the snow-capped peak of Mount Illimani in the distance and start to feel the dizziness.
Once you’ve adjusted, the best thing to do in La Paz is to get lost. The only way you’ll find the true Bolivian culture and discover the many nooks, crannies and coves buried into the side of the canyon is by wandering.
When you’re ready for some adventure, bike the world’s most dangerous road (joyfully named the Death Road), visit the witches market and hike Muela del Diablo too.
Rurrenabaque sits on the Beni River all quiet and unassuming with little going on. It’s dusty, rustic, and most importantly, it’s your entrance to the Amazon.
Once the mozzie spray has been applied you can book a trek through The Pampas. These are the wetlands on the edge of the Amazon and where you’ll see alligators, rheas and blue planet biomes. Sounds cool, hey?
If you’re more a fan of the vines and want to head further in, opt for a jungle tour.
4. Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni is that place where everyone gets the cool perspective shots on the white landscape. And that white landscape is actually salt. Add in the odd flamingo and bright sunlight, and that’s Salar de Uyuni.
It’s in the southwest of Bolivia, in the Andes, and was a prehistoric lake. Once it all dried up it left behind the world’s largest salt flat and one of the most surreal locations.
The town of Uyuni itself has several cheap hostels, but you could also opt to stay in one of the salt hotels instead, just for the experience.
Quaint and colonial, Potosi is to the south of Bolivia and could leave you breathless, literally. It’s one of the highest cities in the world.
Combining heights with history, Potosi has a few stories to tell and was once the richest city in the Americas. That was down to the Cerro Rico or the ‘rich hill,’ which was full of silver. When this ran out the citizens went from privileged to poor with no going back.
You can climb that hill for some of the best views of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and learn the story of the silver mines below.
It may not have the same stretch of beach as its namesake in Brazil, but Bolivia’s Copacabana is well worth a visit. Small and charming, the town is the main hub on Lake Titicaca.
One of its most famous monuments is the 16th century shrine to the patron saint of Bolivia which is decorated in blue and gold. It’s this religious monument that has the city pegged as a spiritual mecca and sees hundreds trek here each year.
You can also easily access Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna for day trips and climb theVia Crucis of Cerro Calvario. Lots of adventure to be had in this pretty place!
A trip to Bolivia means a lot of climbing but Coroico, close to La Paz, is a place where you can give your feet a rest. It’s full of older architecture, has a slower pace of life and even calls itself paradise.
But, before you can unwind, you have to brave the aforementioned Death Road to get there. Once you do, it’s the kind of place you grab a bit of beach, a hammock and watch the world go by.
You’ll find plenty of hostels here and some fancier hotels that actually don’t come in too heavy on the budget. Look for these buried away in Coroico’s hills, and make sure to book the mountain view.