I was lucky in my recent travels to explore Bolivia. Although not the most popular country to visit in South America, it is definitely one to add to your list. Bolivia is very diverse, from salt flats, deserts & lakes to lush jungles and cities with high elevations. This multi-ethnic country contains a wide variety of indigenous peoples, with many traditional customs still practiced today. Bolivia’s main attraction is Uyuni, but there are several other hidden gems in this landlocked country of more than 10 million people.
My journey began just across the border in Peru, from which I crossed over into Copacabana, Bolivia. This quaint town on the shores of Lake Titicaca is laid out around the magnificent church, located in the town’s main square. The Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana was built by the Spanish on a spot sacred to the Inca in the 16th century. The steep hill located near the church, called the Calvario, has steps leading to the top with the stations of the cross, which is very popular during Easter or Holy week. Around the Main Square of the town there are people selling good luck charms, food, drinks, and lots of other goods. It was here I got to sample one of the many types of puffed corn, which made a great snack.
Sun Island, located on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, was a sacred place for the Inca. They believed the sun god was born here and the island still has many ruins. The families who live on the island are experts in agriculture and still use terraces to grow a wide variety of foods, herbs, and medicinal plants at high elevations. This terrace style of agriculture can be seen all over the lands once controlled by the Inca Empire. We were treated to a traditional ceremony and learned about some of the plants and animals they have on the island.
La Paz is quite a site to see. Located in a valley, the houses fill about every space available. It can be a bit difficult to walk around La Paz, as it is over 13,000 feet high and very hilly. Including the urban areas around La Paz, there are over two million people living here. The main plaza within in the city, Plaza Murillo, houses the government buildings and cathedral. The oldest and best-preserved street is Jaen, with cobble stone walkways and colonial buildings. A trip to La Paz would not be complete without a visit to the Witches Market, which sells all kinds of charms and dehydrated llama fetuses — also thought to bring you good luck.
Valley of the Moon
Located just a short drive out of La Paz city proper is the Valley of the Moon. This site, made mostly of clay, has been eroded over many thousands of years and has left these colorful spires to walk through.
The World’s Most Dangerous Road
Located in the Yungas Region of Bolivia, the North Yungas Road became known as the World’s Most Dangerous Road due to the many deaths associated with this windy, practically single line road. A new road has since been put in for the heavy vehicle traffic, leaving the old road mostly to bicyclists. After the one and a half hour bus ride from La Paz to the 15,000 foot La Cumbre Pass, you get out and suit up because you are about to descend to 4,000 feet, traveling from the high mountains and arriving into the lush, tropical jungle.
The first part of the ride is on the paved highway as trucks and cars pass you. This is where you want to stay to the right as much as possible. After about an hour or so on the paved highway, you get to the start of the old dirt road. We are advised every so often of what to expect on the next section of the road and what to watch out for. The views were unbelievable and temperature rose as the bike ride continued. After 4 hours and an 11,000 foot decent, cold beers and a meal were served upon arrival. It was quite a ride and something not to be missed when you visit Bolivia.