With not much chance of outside influences over time, this land-locked country has the most preserved culture in South America. It is remarkable how you can still visit a place where people live on reed floating islands, even if well-kept for tourist visits, and the language and music has stood the tests of time without change. Lake Titicaca, shared with Peru, is the highest navigable lake in the world and the revered “Birthplace of the Incas” and it is worth spending at least two days in the area. The ancient Incas forged their path onwards along the great Royal Andes Mountains to Tiwanaku, where you can find ruins to explore, and onto La Paz, now the capital city. Bolivia is such a unique country that will reward you with life-long memories.
• Lake Titicaca
• La Paz
• Uyuni Salt Flats
Bolivia is a land of sharp contrast, and due to the levels of altitude the climatic conditions range from arctic to tropical. There is no wrong time to visit, however layers are necessary as the difference between day and night temperatures can be like summer and winter.
Technically I was laying my head down in Peru, but Lake Titicaca the sacred lake and birthplace of the Inca civilization is shared between Peru and Bolivia. On my last visit as we drove from Puno to the shores of Lake Titicaca, I was like a child wondering “how long to go?” Through very small towns and villages, rural communities and market places it was not long before we reached our destination Titilaka, an absolutely stunning lakeside eco-resort. The unusual look of the outside of the property took only moments to realize that it was a modern architectural masterpiece and walking inside there was no formal lobby, reception or otherwise. This place is a luxury communal resort where you are greeted with a drink and check of your altitude reading (humorous to say the least as a couple of our party had to be given a “shot” of oxygen at this point). You are then assigned your own professional guide for your stay and personally shown to your rooms with “Dawn” or “Dusk” views and ginormous bath in an open plan room. Once settled and had a meal overlooking the lake, we are given lots of options of taking kayaks out, a boat trip to Uros Island, hiking up in the valley or visiting the local school. Visits in the community are completely unrehearsed and definitely worthwhile to gain perspective of how people live in this high altitude, somewhat unforgiving region of the world.
Our visit to the floating islands of Uros was also well worth doing, although I was skeptical about how touristy it would be I was pleasantly surprised there were no neon signs, McDonald’s or toilet blocks for the tourists visiting! Yes they may have a TV or two in their reed huts, and the reed boats have been made slightly stronger than a thousand years ago (probably for the heavier tourists!) it was still a magical experience and I met some really lovely people who explained how they live.
Onto La Paz, the highest capital in the world, it feels very surreal when you arrive here – possibly because of the altitude . Being that it is one of the poorest countries in the world, and of extremely high altitude, the poor live at the top (with the best views!) and the very few well-off people live at the bottom where there is a smidgen of grass and air to breathe. There is so much culture here in Bolivia and nothing is put on. At any local restaurant you will have musicians playing the traditional pan flutes and you get a true feeling of essence of the ‘heart of South America’. The people are very poor but their culture is everything to them and they welcome guests in as they would a brother or mother. It’s a remarkable place and definitely one to include on your South America itinerary! Ange
Language More than 30 languages are spoken throughout Bolivia though the official languages are Spanish, Quechua, Aymara and Tupi Guarani.
Why we love it Bolivia’s spectacular landscapes combined with the highest concentration of indigenous peoples in Latin America is a big draw-card for us. In addition, we love the very popular Incan route from Lima to La Paz or vice versa although we would recommend ending this journey in La Paz as it is at the higher altitude. La Paz is in fact the highest capital city in the world at 3,600m. The topography of the city is quite other-worldly as you enter the city from “above” and descend down what appears to be a giant crater to the downtown area at the lowest level – thus the lower part of the city you live in, the better as it is not quite so “breathtaking”! The historical contrasts of the country are fascinating: silver mines generated great wealth in Spanish colonial times but today, Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America. And you can’t forget Lake Titicaca – the legendary ‘birthplace of the Incas’. Take a boat out to the floating reed islands of Uros – the locals live on these and it works! Being around the women in their traditional dress of derby hats (Charlie Chaplin style) and full skirts, making all kinds of unique handicrafts for the tourists coming through is just so incongruous that you cannot help but want to purchase something from all of them. Bolivia is truly unique!
Weather Bolivia is a land of sharp contrast, with climatic conditions ranging from arctic to tropical. It is divided into three distinct eco-zones: the bleak, windswept, high plain called the altiplano; the intermediary valley region; and the eastern tropical flat lowlands that make up about 70 percent of the country.
Social customs & quirks The essence of all life for Bolivians is Pachamama, or Mother Earth. This, combined with Christian beliefs that have been intertwined with the local Andean folklore are held in high esteem for all Bolivianos. One of the best places to see some of the local folklore is the La Paz witches market – quite an experience! It is customary to tip in Bolivia – 10% on top of the bill is standard and U$0.50c per piece of luggage for porterage. Useless trivia: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are still well remembered in the little mining town of Tupiza in Southern Bolivia where they died in a shoot-out in 1908.
Festivals & events Bolivia holds the annual Oruro Carnival which is highlighted by a ceremonial parade that lasts 20 hours, involves 20,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians and attracts more than 400,000 people.
Health* There are currently no health requirements entering Bolivia, although if you are travelling to the Amazon or rural areas you should contact your health practitioner for advice.
Notes *Please be aware that Health information is subject to change at any time and you should always double check these requirements at the time of booking and before travel.
My Grand Tour of South America was everything I had dreamed it would be and more. The stay in the Amazon was magical. The only place in the world where I have been able to see more stars at night than in New Zealand.
The trip went extremely well and we were looked after very well the whole trip. Absolutely nothing went wrong - which is amazing given the amount of travelling we did. We loved every minute - met some great people and really enjoyed our time.
Ecuador was a great country to travel in and not too expensive. Villa Colonna was excellent and Rudi and Rico very kind. Rudi said that they were looking at selling and moving to Sacramento Ca. next year at one point, but didn't mention it the next time we went back so may be he has changed his mind. Both the Galapagos and the Andes were wonderful.
Peru was fascinating - though a bit dearer. Macchu Pichu was astounding as were many of the other ruins we saw.
Bolivia was surprisingly good - some day would like to take more of a look there.
So all in all it was fantastic - and we are very grateful to you for your choices and organisational efforts - it was utterly stress free.... and given how exhausted I was when we left that was wonderful.
Many thanks from us to you and your team.