Bolivia stretches nature superlatives to the limit. With patches of mosquito-strewn jungle lingering in the corners, but large parts of the country elevated to head-rush altitude, it’s largely blustering and frigid but endowed with stunning natural imagery and a charming mix of indigenous culture and spacious old colonial styles. Known for its poverty, but with a busy trade-in culture (plenty here don’t bother with the formality of cash, and simply barter), the sites and sounds of Bolivia are fast bringing its mind-boggling array of attractions to the forefront backpacker’s collective minds.
The best-known image of Bolivia is that of the salt flats, or Salar de Uyuni, an otherworldly stretch of surprisingly cold (pictures invariably look bakingly hot, but trust us, it isn’t), crackling salt that stretches across the horizon like an eerie white desert. The natural sites don’t stop there though, with dinosaur tracks to be followed through the sizeable landscapes of the Parque Nacional Torotoro, pink river dolphins to chase down the Río Mamoré or spectacular islands and temples to explore at Lake Titicaca.
Bolivia’s cities are a fascinating amalgamation of the old and the new. Slow-paced Sucre is flamboyantly beautiful and carefully preserved, with an eye on the future accompanying proud colonial buildings and genteel modern markets. La Paz clings to a mountainside and tumbles down into the valleys at a breathtaking height of 3,600 meters, leaving visitors gasping at its lively beats and hectic markets as much as the famed altitude.
If it’s life-threatening adventure you’re after (and a thrill level to match), head down the world’s most dangerous road to Coroico by mountain bike then laze in a hammock next to the pool and stare at the distant peaks while your heart recovers (note: pay extra for a good bike, as the risk is very real). The Jesuit Mission Circuit welcomes trekkers to a trail of traditional villages, each featuring ancient and ornate architecture, and spectacular surrounding views, while the massive Parque Nacional Madidi stretches from the humid forestry of the Amazon right up to 5,500 meter Andean Peaks, home to an array of wildlife unmatched anywhere else on earth.
It’s easy to dismiss Bolivia as a poor, backward country next to its South American neighbors, but the astounding natural beauty and happy atmosphere of the cities are features that many of the ever-increasing array of visitors never forget.