Last updated on December 31st, 2018 at 12:01 pm
This blog post is all about Bolivia facts. Discover interesting facts of Bolivia culture, Bolivia tourism and attractions, Bolivia official languages, Bolivia food and more!
Bolivia for me is an absolute gem of a country and should definitely be considered for those looking to venture off the beaten track and discover a completely unique destination in South America! It is one of the lesser known countries in the continent but is extremely rich in history and culture, and has some of the most diverse landscapes I have ever experienced. Also, the locals are honest, open and friendly! I consider myself extremely lucky to have traveled through Bolivia on 2 occasions and to have experienced some of what this amazing place has to offer. Bolivia is without a doubt a weird and wonderful place and some of the things you are about to learn may surprise you.
Let’s get started with 15 Crazy Bolivia Facts!
#1. La Paz Stands at 3,650m Above Sea Level
La Paz is unofficially the highest administrative capital in the world. Whilst Sucre is the official capital, La Paz is known as the working capital due to its sheer size, the location of the central bank, government ministries, and foreign embassies. La Paz is a colorful, vibrant and fascinating city and I am always amazed (and put to shame) by the locals who are able to literally run up and down the steps and hills in the city (often little old ladies with children loaded on their backs) whilst us tourists bumble about out of breath struggling to deal with the altitude.
Staying on the subject of altitude Bolivia has 2 more claims to fame to take note of. El Alto is the highest large city (large city consisting of a population of over 100,000) in the world standing at 4,150m above sea level. It is a great place to explore some fantastic scenery. It also has an awesome market a couple of times a week where mainly locals go hunting out some bargains. I LOVED it there and found some real treats – some retro 80s jackets which cost me 50p and became my staple Jungle Jacket on my backpacking adventure! Finally, Lake Titicaca which can be found on the border of Peru and Bolivia is the highest navigable lake in the world standing at 3,800m above sea level!
#2. Surprisingly Bolivia is the Main Exporter of Brazil Nuts
That’s right, the main exporter of Brazil Nuts is Bolivia, not its neighbor, Brazil. Bolivia reportedly contributes to over 70% of all Brazil Nuts produced worldwide!
#3. You Can Find the Worlds Largest Mirror in Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni is often described as the largest mirror on Earth and for good reason! This breathtaking destination is the largest salt flat in the world and can be visited all year round. It is enjoyed by travelers and photographers alike due to its jaw-dropping landscape and the opportunity to create some unique memories and pictures playing with perspective and reflection in photos. The rainy season is between January and March. This is the best time to visit Salar de Uyuni if you are looking to discover that famous ‘Mirror Effect’. There is also a well-known salt hotel you can stay at during your Salty Adventure which is made up of over one million blocks of salt to construct the floors, walls ceilings, and furniture!
#4. Bolivia Has Over 37 Official Languages
The 37 languages include many indigenous ones, such as Quechua, Aymara, Guarani and 34 others. These include Bauré, a nearly extinct Arawakan language spoken by only 13 of 200 ethnic tribal Baure people….so we better get practicing!
#5. The Notorious San Pedro Prison in La Paz is Famous
The prison was made famous by the book ‘Marching Powder’ written by Australian backpacker Rusty Young! The book is a true- life account of life inside of the walls of the prison as told by Thomas McFadden. If you don’t know Thomas McFadden, he is a British-Tanzanian traveler who was caught trying to smuggle over 5 kilos of cocaine out of La Paz airport back in 1996. The book is a cult classic on the gringo trail and is a great read! Many travelers (myself included) have been on unofficial tours of the prison to get a fascinating insight into ‘life on the inside’.
Overall, San Pedro is an eye-opening experience. It is an open prison with no guards on the inside. Inmates live and work there, essentially ‘running’ the prison’s cafes, restaurants, shops and gyms. Prisoners work and even pay rent and have their families living with them. The wives and children are allowed out of the prison during the day to go to work or to school and then return in the evening. Playing a game of pool and drinking a can of coke inside the prison with a group of inmates has got to be up there with one of those most surreal experiences of my life.
Unfortunately, due to recent violence, the ‘unofficial tours’ are no longer operating.
#6. Your Marital Status Dictates Your Right to Vote
In Bolivia, you are eligible to vote at the age of 18 if you are married! If you’re single, you’re not allowed to vote until you’re 21!
#7. Bolivia Hosts Part of the Amazon Rainforest
The Bolivian Amazon is another wonderful experience. While here, you have the opportunity to see the famous pink river dolphins. But these dolphins may be a little more interesting compared to your average bottlenose. Ancient Amazon legend has it that at nightfall these majestic creatures transform into handsome young men and emerge from the water dressed all in white to seduce the young women in the villages. Once the sun comes back up they return to the river and back to their original dolphin form!
#8. People (sometimes) Dress Up As Zebras
Whilst in Bolivia you may be surprised to see people dressed as zebras in the street, but don’t be alarmed – they are just out and about helping children to cross the road and educate people on road safety!
Keep reading for some more crazy facts about Bolivia!
#9. Bolivia Hosts 40% of all Animal & Plant Life On Earth
Bolivia hosts an extravagant amount of wildlife in its tropical rainforests, Pantanal wetlands, and national parks. The Madidi National Park is considered to be the crown jewel! Madidi is nearly 19,000 square kilometers and has an incredible array of species. Spot over 270 species of mammals including the mysterious jaguar and the spectacled bear, 1250 species of birds with the interestingly named Andean Cock-of-the-Rock being one of the locals, nearly 500 species of fish, over 200 different types of amphibians and reptiles and thousands of species of insects. Over 46 indigenous communities from six different tribes still call Madidi National Park it’s home and practice ancient Amazonian traditions. Another claim to fame for humble Bolivia is that it is home to the largest butterfly sanctuary in the world located in Santa Cruz!
#10. It is Legal to Grow Coca Leaves in Bolivia
In the country (and other parts of South America including high Andean regions of Peru and the North of Argentina) it is quite common to see people chewing coca leaves, drinking coca tea or eating coca sweets. Coca leaves have been known to have medicinal purposes, mild stimulants and help to alleviate altitude sickness.
#11. The National Building of Congress Clock Runs Backward
To mix things up a bit and keep things interesting back in 2014 the main clock on the National Building of Congress was reconfigured to run backward. Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca proudly declared the unorthodox new mechanism to be ‘The Clock of the South’ and was put in place not only as a way to encourage people to think differently but also as a nod to the pride of the country’s indigenous heritage and traditions and to enable them to connect with their ancestors and indigenous roots. The indigenous Aymara and Quechua peoples have a traditional belief system which dictates that the past lies ahead while the future lies behind. Choquehuanca famously said…‘Who says that the clock always has to turn one way? Why do we always have to obey? Why can’t we be creative?’
#12. The World’s Most Dangerous Road is in Bolivia
Camino De Las Yungas, about 50 kilometers northeast of La Paz is notoriously known as the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road’ or rather cheerily ‘Death Road’. The 56km stretch of road is responsible for 200-300 deaths every year. You will experience not so gentle reminders of this along the way with crosses and markers of those who have plummeted to their death, strategically placed along the cliff edge. Whilst the crosses may seem morbid, they are there to recognize and respect the fallen, but also to remind drivers and easily persuaded adrenaline junkies (much like myself) on an insane bike ride of the dangers, and to remain vigilant at all times!
#13. Cholita’s Wrestling is Very Popular
A popular attraction in La Paz and other parts in Bolivia for both locals and tourists is the famous Cholita’s Wrestling! Women dress In colorful, traditional garments and battle it out against men. Although it may seem quite amusing and a bit of bizarre fun, it was actually a way for repressed and abused women to overcome domestic violence and to empower them! It represents a symbol of strength and female unity to fight back against their abusers!
So not to be left out, there is also a tradition for the men…This comes in the form of the Tinku Festival traditionally held in the first few weeks primarily in Potosi. However, it can also be seen in other parts of the country. It is a Bolivian Aymara tradition and began as a form of ritualistic combat. Tinku means “meeting-encounter” in the Aymaran language. The purpose of the festival is for men and women from different communities to meet. Whilst the festivities begin quite civil, with celebrations and dancing, circles soon form and the chanting begins. It is at this stage that the men proceed to beat the living daylights out of each other!
#14. There is a Famous Witches Market in La Paz
No trip to La Paz is complete without visiting the famous La Paz Witches Market. The market is like nothing I have ever seen before and is really an amazing experience. You will be greeted by the old women and witch doctors sitting on the entrances of their shops and stalls selling all kinds of lotions and potions to relieve a variety of different ailments. They are also there to help you grant spells, whether it be for love, revenge, fertility or money – there is something for everyone! One of the most popular things you are likely to see here is Llama fetuses for sale. These are often bought and buried under the foundations of a new house, the sacrifice is called cha’lla and is seen to represent as a gift to Pachamama (mother earth) and the burial brings with it good luck, protection, and prosperity!
#15. You Can’t Find McDonald’s in Bolivia
Bolivia is one of the few places in the world where there is no McDonald’s. The chain operated for about 14 years but due to a political movement and pressure from the nation, Mcdonalds exiled itself from the South American country in 2002. It was apparent from their poor sales that locals did not want to buy fast food from a global corporation. Former president Evo Morales once said: “McDonald’s is not interested in the health of human beings, only in earnings and corporate profits.” Fear not, Bolivia has some great food for you to try, including the Cuy which is the South American guinea pig. Much like its neighboring country of Peru and also Ecuador, Cuy is commonly eaten as a traditional meat. It is very easy to farm because they reproduce quickly and take up much less room than more traditional livestock.
But there are some very tasty traditional Bolivian dishes…
If you are in need of a hangover cure then I think the traditional Bolivian dish of Pique a lo Macho may be the one for you! This dish is a typical plate heaped full of small pieces of beef, chips (or french fries), onions, egg, tomato and often topped with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup and spicy sauce. The namesake comes from the fact that supposedly if you are ‘man enough’ to finish the whole plate yourself (normally shared by a pair or small group) you are indeed Macho!
The most famous Pique Macho comes from Cochabamba where it is said to have been created. Urban legend says that late one night a group of drunk friends who had been working came into a restaurant close to closing time demanding food. Due to their late arrival, the restaurant owner did not have much food left but the men insisted they would eat anything. She proceeded to concoct a mix of her left-over ingredients and served up to them with a really spicy sauce which would help with their drunkenness. She then said “piquen si son machos”.. eat it if you think you are man enough, and that is how it got the name of Pique Macho.
Curious about Bolivia? We’re here to help answer any of your questions! Please contact an Expert Travel Consultant if you have any inquiries regarding the Uyuni Salt Flats or traveling to other destinations in Bolivia.
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