The 3 Things You Can’t Miss in Bolivia
If you are going to be spending time in South America then you are sure to be tempted by popular destinations such as Peru, Argentina and Brazil. These are great places to visit but there are also some very good reasons for visiting Bolivia too.
La Paz – The Chaotic City
Many travellers get their first experience of Bolivia in La Paz, and what an experience it is. The city sits in a giant bowl at over 3,600 metres and the streets are colourful, chaotic places. The number of street vendors, food stalls, packed minibuses, backpackers and traffic controls assistants dressed as zebras make it feel like nowhere else. The steep streets and the high altitude make it tough to get around at first but your perseverance will be rewarded with some great markets, interesting music, unique food and unforgettable sights. It is one of those cities which doesn’t leave anyone feeling indifferent about it. You might hate the traffic, the weather and the fact that the streets are often blocked by civil protests. However, you will love the experience of being in such a vibrant and exotic city. How can you not be won over by a city where you can buy a dried llama foetus, a pizza and a colourful poncho on the same street?
Potosi – The Legendary Mines
If the altitude of La Paz wasn’t a problem for you then Potosi awaits and this place is even higher. At over 4,000 metres it is highly placed on the list of the planet’s highest cities and it will take your breath away when you arrive. There is a good chance that you have never heard of this city but after you visit it and find out its story you’ll never forget about it. Incredibly, this remote, impoverished city was once one of the biggest and richest in the Americas. Why was this? Well, it just happens to be at the foot of one of the richest sources of silver in the world. The Spanish forced millions of slaves to dig out the silver in terrible conditions over generations. Some estimates suggest that 8 million miners died working here and this legacy seems to have given the city a sad, poignant air to it. One of the highlights of any tour here is a tour of the mines. They are located on the hill known as Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) and it is staggering to realise that people are still scratching metal out of here. No wonder the hill has been described as being like a Swiss cheese inside, due to the amount of tunnels bored into it. Well over 4 centuries since the Spanish started mining it, Cerro Rico is still yielding tin to miners who work in conditions which don’t appear to have changed much over the centuries. It is an uncomfortable kind of tour to take but something which will stay with you forever.
Uyuni – The Sea of Salt
This is a probably a good moment to mention the big distances and terrible roads you will come across in Bolivia. If you can afford to fly from one city to another then you will miss an unforgettable bus journey or two but save yourself a lot of hassle. Uyuni is a tiny, isolated community and there is really only one thing taking you there; the salt. This is home to the world’s biggest and highest salt lake. Known as the Salar de Uyuni, it is a blindingly white landscape which offers none of the perspectives and clearly marked horizons we are used to seeing. In fact, if you go during the rainy season the land and sky will merge together in a way which leaves you speechless. You can’t enter the Salar on your own, so you will need to join a multi day 4×4 tour. As part of the tour you will sleep in tiny villages, see coloured lakes, get to take a dip in thermal waters and see some of the clearest, starriest skies you will ever witness.