Land-locked Bolivia may not boast the indulgent hotels, gourmet restaurants and luxury shopping that many of its neighbours can claim, but it more than makes up for it with its mesmerizing landscapes, fascinating ethnic cultures and colourful, friendly people.
To the west, the country’s corner of Lake Titicaca is a must for anyone hopping over the border from Peru. Moon and Sun Islands are steeped in ancient culture and traditions, where indigenous temples, sacred fountains and hallowed shrines are sure to enthral anyone who visits.
A short drive alongside the snow-capped peaks of the Andes brings you to La Paz, which, at over 3,600m, is the highest capital city in the world. The city tumbles downwards into a canyon, so you’ll find many a cobblestone street and narrow alley on impossibly steep hills (or perhaps they just seem so steep given the effects of the altitude) filled with colourful markets selling everything and anything. As Latin America’s most indigenous nation, many people (especially women) still wear traditional dress – the bowler hat is particularly popular among Quechua and Aymara women, after it was introduced by British railway workers in the 1920s!
The Central Highlands are at the heart of the country. Sucre, the country’s official capital, is a charming place, filled with elegant, whitewashed buildings, pretty churches, excellent museums brimming with history and the second oldest university on the continent. The mining village of Potosi, just to the south of Sucre, is also well worth a visit. Once the richest city in South America thanks to its silver production which bankrolled the Spanish Empire, silver mining has all but stopped here, leaving just a few remnants of the glory days in the form of grand churches and elaborate colonial buildings.
Of course few people think of Bolivia without imagining the vast expanse of the salt flats in the south west corner. This phenomenal landscape is quite rightly Bolivia’s piece de resistance. A trip from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile takes 3 or 4 nights overland in a 4x4. Accommodation is in simple refuges and a hotel made out of salt (yes, really) but the incredible scenery as you drive for hours over a lake of solid salt, which is 15 times the size of Singapore, past coloured lagoons, snow-capped volcanoes, hot springs and geysers, makes this one of the most spectacular trips in the world.
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