Bolivia Holidays & Vacations
Bolivia is one of the ethnic heartlands of Latin America, the place where you feel the presence of ancient indigenous cultures in a high-altitude environment, atop the Andes Mountains and close to the skies. You feel it in Lake Titicaca, one of the highest lakes in the world, where you are surrounded by Incan and pre-Incan ruins. Here on the southeastern shores are the remains of the Tiwanaku civilisation that reached its peak in AD950. Here too are the Uros people who live on floating islands on the lake. You feel it on the streets of La Paz amid Quechuas, Aymaras, Europeans and many more – the country’s official title is, in fact the ‘Plurinational State of Bolivia’, recognising over thirty native groups and languages. And you feel it in sub-tropical Santa Cruz as well as in the surreal Uyuni salt flats, amid slow growing cacti and the pink flamingos.
The sights and smells of Bolivia are rough and ready, raw and natural. This is frontier territory in the true sense of the word. There are steep mountains, impenetrable jungle expanses, and snaking rivers to trek along. The country has a vast range of different environments and habitats, and its fauna include monkeys, vicuñas and over 1,000 bird species. There are many Bolivia tours to think about, but you can start by looking at the Essential Bolivia Tour, a unique form of ecotourism combining Lake Titicaca, the Uyuni Salt flat and the Amazon rainforest. The itinerary can be tailor-made to include the historic silver mining city of Potosi, Cochabamba, and beautiful Sucre, the administrative capital.
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La Paz is one of the highest capital cities in the world, perched in the Andean mountains of western Bolivia at 3,650 metres above sea level. Built in a ‘bowl’ surrounded by mountains, the city is overlooked by the triple-peaked and permanently snow-covered Illimani Mountain. Wealth and altitude are linked: the better off tend to live in lower neighbourhoods, while the poorer live higher up the hillsides. Bolivia has had an eventful history and it is maybe appropriate that the capital’s name – ‘the peace’ – was first given in the sixteenth century to commemorate the end of the fighting after conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro ceased his rebellion against the first viceroy of Peru. La Paz has seen its share of uprisings by indigenous peoples, rebellions against the Spanish, liberation by Simon Bolivar (hence the name Bolivia), and coups and revolutions. Government house is known as the Palacio Quemado (Burnt Palace), because it was set on fire and razed to the ground during a revolution in 1875, before being rebuilt on various occasions. In front of the Palacio Quemado is a bust of one of its former occupants, president Gualberto Villaroel, who was dragged out of the building and lynched by a mob in 1946. He is remembered as a martyr and known as el presidente colgado (the hanged president). The city mixes skyscrapers and Spanish colonial architecture, with impressive churches, cathedrals, museums and art galleries. If you are in the mood you could also go to the Mercado de Brujas (Witches’ Market) to buy herbs and remedies used by the Aymara Indians.
Lake Titicaca Tours
Stretching across Bolivia and Peru, Titicaca is the largest lake in South America, and, at 3,812 metres above sea level, is considered the be the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake consists of two separate basins, Lago Grande and Lago Pequeno (also known as Winamarka), joined by a narrow 800-metre wide strait. Since the early 1930s it has been home to the SS Ollanta, a steamship built in kit form in Hull in the United Kindgom, shipped out part-by-part to Bolivia, and then painstakingly re-assembled on the lake. The exact origin of the name Titicaca is thought to be a combination of words from the Quechua and Aymara indian languages. The lake plays a central role in the history and culture of Andean indigenous civilisations. According to Inca myth Manco Capac and Mama Huaca emerged from the depths of the lake to a sacred rock on Isla del Sol, where they founded the Inca empire. (You will visit that rock on the tour!). The lake was also home to many pre-Inca civilisations: on the south-eastern shore, for example, you can find the ruins of the ancient city-state of Tiwanaku, which is believed to have flourished for about 500 years before the emergence of the Incas.
Uyuni Salt Falt Tours
The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat – at 10,500 square kilometres in south-western Bolivia. The flats were formed from geological movements affecting prehistoric lakes: they now consist of a salt crust several metres thick covering pools of brine which contain 50-70% of the world’s known lithium reserves (demand for lithium has been boosted by the spread of mobile phones around the world: the metal is used in batteries). It is estimated that Uyuni contains about 10 billion tonnes of salt. This is an extraordinary and extreme habitat, exceptionally flat and marked by clear blue skies. There is virtually no vegetation, apart from slow-growing giant cacti, shrubs, and hardy quinoa plants, heralded by some as a ‘super-food’ because of their high nutritional content. Uyuni is a breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos. Some hotels have been built out of blocks of salt; the salt flats are also home to well-preserved but abandoned railway locomotives and carriages, stranded after plans to develop a rail junction were discarded in the 1890s.
Madidi National Park
Covering 18,958 square kilometres, the Madidi National Park near Rurrenabaque is one of the world’s largest protected areas. Situated near the northern tip of Bolivia, it covers snow-capped Andean mountain peaks and tropical rainforests around the Tuichi River. The park came into existence in 1995, largely due to the campaigning efforts of Rosa Maria Ruiz, the founder of Eco-Bolivia, over the preceding two decades. She and others campaigned to stop plans for a large hydroelectric project in the area, which they believed would cause serious environmental damage. Local indigenous communities now run eco-lodges in the park, as a way of building sustainable revenues.