Beautiful Bolivia – A Diverse South American Country Rich in History And Culture

Although Bolivia is often overshadowed by its South American neighbours Peru, Chile and Argentina, this landlocked country is a true gem. Bolivia is a country of contrasts.

From otherworldly desert landscapes to lush Amazonian rainforests, this country is as diverse as it is rich in history and culture. I began my journey in the laid-back city of Copacabana, before travelling to La Paz and Salar de Uyuni.

Copacabana is located on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. There is a certain Caribbean feel to Copacabana, making it the perfect resting spot for weary travellers.

Copacabana

The lake is the main attraction of the area, so water-based activities like peddle-boating and water sorbing are a must. One of my favourites was a day trip to Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), which is a 1.5-hour boat ride from the mainland.

Here, you can hike to a viewpoint on this steep island’s summit and take in stunning views of the lake. There is also the possibility to spend the night with a local family in an authentic homestay experience.

Copacabana boasts an array of eateries, from international to traditional Bolivian. The restaurants on Avenida 6 de Agosto (Puerto Viejo and Wiñaya for example) have a laid-back vibe, and most have outdoor areas that make perfect siesta spots for those lazy afternoons.

Ask about the Menú del Día (menu of the day), which consists of a three-course meal and drink. These are mostly traditional Bolivian dishes and can cost as little as 25 Bolivianos (approx. €3). The most common starter is a nourishing quinoa soup.

Main courses are often fish-based or have a local specialty such as alpaca or llama with rice and boiled vegetables. The most popular fish is trout, which is always fresh from Lake Titicaca.

For an after-dinner drink, nowhere is better than the rooftop bars by the lake, like Restaurant Taipei Uta where you can watch the sunset.

Hostel: If you are backpacking through Bolivia stay in Hostal La Cúpula. This relaxing hostel is very private; it has a garden with hammocks and resident alpacas. The restaurant attached serves tasty and inexpensive meals with breathtaking views.

Hotel: For hotel lovers, the 3-star Hotel Rosario Lago Titicaca is the most luxurious. Each room contains elements of Andean culture, which adds to the rustic charm. This hotel is right on the lake, meaning that incredible views are a given.

La Paz

From Copacabana I took a bus to La Paz, the highest capital city in the world. La Paz is about a four-hour drive from Copacabana. Bolivia Hop is the best operator for this journey as they drop you at your accommodation, a reassuring touch when arriving in a new city after dark.

La Paz is a sprawling, mountainous megacity. The sound of beeping car horns and the lights of thousands of buildings are exactly what you expect when visiting a large South American metropolis. The pace of life in La Paz was unlike anything else I experienced in Bolivia.

To escape the city madness for half a day get a taxi to Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), a geographical wonder located about 30 minutes outside the city. There is a walkway meandering through the valley with photo and rest stops built in.

Another popular day trip is to Death Road, also known as North Yungas Road. I recommend booking with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking as they provide top quality bikes and experienced guides who make the 64km ride feel safer.

If you like thrill-seeking activities but do not feel like an experienced cyclist, there is also an option to ride Death Road by bus. A real highlight of the trip was a zipline over the valley below ‘Superman style’ – face and body to the ground as if you are flying! After a thrilling and tiring day, you can chill out at animal sanctuary La Senda Verde, where a free local beer and buffet lunch is served in the town of Coroico.

To get a panoramic view, go on a commute. Cable car is the main method of public transport in La Paz, so it’s easy to buy a ticket and soar into the sky.

The food in La Paz is similar to Copacabana, but with a wider choice. Many restaurants can be found around the buzzing Plaza San Francisco. There is one delightfully colourful street called Calle Murillo where you can find high quality Italian, Mexican and Japanese food.

Bolivian fusion is a must, for example I had llama ravioli one evening in the rustic Cafe Luna. A local beer, such as Cusqueña or Paceña, or the local cocktail, the revered Pisco Sour makes the perfect accompaniment to your meal.

La Paz has a vibrant cafe culture which ranges from 19th century decadent cafes to modern, global cafes such as Cafe del Mundo.

This is a haven for backpackers and was created as a place for people to meet and exchange their stories. The coffee in Bolivia is strong, rich and locally produced, with most of the coffee coming from the Bolivian Amazon.

Hostel: To get the relaxed atmosphere that’s coveted in a bustling city, stay at The Adventure Brew Downtown. This centrally located hostel is very reasonable and has a lively yet casual bar area.
Hotel: For a central, modern hotel stay at the 5-star Hotel Europa. This sleek hotel will cost you just over €100 per night.

Uyuni

From La Paz I travelled to Uyuni in southwest Bolivia. The most common way to get to Uyuni is by night bus, which takes about 12 hours. There are several operators that do this route nightly such as Todo Turismo or Panasur. If the idea of a night bus makes your blood run cold, flights are also available from La Paz which only take an hour.

There are 1 to 3-day tours available from Uyuni. I opted for the 3-day/2-night tour as you experience all of the diverse landscapes the region has to offer.

I booked online with Perla de Bolivia; this is one of the many companies based in Uyuni. Most of Day 1 is spent on the moon-like surface of the flats and there is also a visit to a train graveyard.

Day 2 was spent venturing further into the Eduardo Avarua National Reserve where volcanoes, lagoons and geysers are around every corner. A trip to natural hot springs is included on the second night, and shooting stars are often visible in the vast sky.

On Day 3 you have the choice to transfer over the Chilean border to the town of San Pedro de Atacama or to drive 5 hours back to Uyuni.

Many tours provide basic food during the trip, as resources and electricity are limited. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and variety of food we were given.

Lunches and dinners generally consisted of rice, pasta or quinoa (Bolivia is the highest producer of quinoa in the world – there are over 200 varieties). Chicken or tuna was also offered. Breakfast consisted of pancakes, bread and coffee.

Like the food, there is not much choice in the accommodation on the salt flat tours. On the first night I stayed in a beautiful lodge made entirely of salt. The lodges all had hot running water and electricity.

The second night’s accommodation was more basic, as I stayed in shared family lodging. There was electricity for two hours, but no running water.

Bolivia is an incredible, relatively undiscovered country worth visiting, either as part of a longer trip of South America or on its own, and do give it the time it deserves.

If you’re looking for holiday weather, be mindful that the wet season runs from October until the end of March, and the dry season runs from April to the end of September.

How To Get There?

There are no direct flights to Bolivia from Ireland but you can fly to La Paz via Heathrow/JFK and Bogota with Avianca Airlines. Flight prices average at €900.

FEATURE BY KATE HEALY

A lover of all things food and travel, Kate hails from Cork and has aspirations to see and experience all that this world has to offer, including tasting as much delicious food as possible.

Kate has a background in music and languages, particularly the Irish language, and constantly attempts to learn new languages while travelling, which doesn’t always go smoothly.

Working with educational and cultural travel groups coming to Ireland, Kate has previously lived in Madrid while teaching English.

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