Photos of Bolivia
full country name Republic of Bolivia
capital La Paz (administrative), Sucre (judicial)
population 8.5 million (as of 2001)
surface area 1098600 sq km
currency boliviano (B$)
exchange rate US$ 1 = B$ 7.93 (as of October 2004)
language Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
main religion 95% Roman Catholic
Internet users 0.92% (as of 2000)
Our route through Bolivia
Our route...
Delayed by one day due to a strike in Peru, we finally entered Bolivia and reached the small pilgrimage village of Copacabana off Lake Titicaca on August 20th, 2004. We spent eight weeks in Bolivia before leaving on October 14th, 2004, to Argentina via the southwestern border crossing of Villazon/La Quiaca.

In Copacabana, we visited the interesting Horca del Inca, an astronomical observatory used by the Incas. Then, we witnessed a benedicion de movilidades (vehicle blessing) which attracts drivers and their vehicles from all over Bolivia and even Peru. We also had a chance to peek into the garderobe of the Virgen de Candelaria, the statue highly venerated by said drivers. Heaps of donated cloth ensure that the virgen will not run out of something to wear until November 2030 (and she has her clothing changed three times a year!).

12000 sq km of blindingly white salt flats
Montanitas de sal (salt mountains)Trichoreus cactus
Ojos del Salar (eyes of the salt flat)These two keep following us around the world
Salar de Uyuni / © gM
Volcan TunupaLaguna Amarilla
Volcan Licancabur and Laguna VerdeLaguna ColoradaVolcan Licancabur and Laguna BlancaLaguna Hedionda
Laguna CanapaMulti-colored quebradas (ravines and washes) near Tupiza
Volcanoes, lakes, and quebradas in Bolivia's southwest / © gM
TurtlesThe rabbit-like vizcacha
LlamaThe semi-aquatic capybarasFlamingoes
Animals / © gM
Isla del SolColpani San Juan de Jaquegua
Small communities / © gM
Convento de San Felipe Neri in SucreCasa Real de la Moneda in Potosi
Selling pasankalla in CopacabanaMercado de Hechiceria (Witches' Market) in La PazMercado de Hechiceria (Witches' Market) in La Paz
Market in La PazMarket in La Paz
Cities / © gM
We stayed two days on Isla del Sol, an incredibly gorgeous island on Lake Titicaca and the legendary birthplace of the sun and the first Incas Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo. Even though there was still much left to explore, we returned to Copacabana on the mainland because of bad weather, experiencing a complete whiteout in the middle of the lake halfway through our boat ride back to the mainland. It continued to snow until late in the day. As if this were not enough, the transportation union called for our fourth strike (three previously in Peru and this one in Bolivia) and we got stuck in Copacabana for one more day with little else to do than trying to stay warm, eating, and playing cards. What this day lacked in terms of excitement, the next day - the day we did make it to La Paz - made up for it. Our bus driver had to sneak us into La Paz, avoiding the main routes as the strike had not yet ended.

On September 3rd, after an organizational and logistical week in La Paz, we flew from an elevation of above 3600m in La Paz to an elevation below 200m in Rurrenabaque in the Amazon Basin. Enjoying the hot and humid climate, we went on a 3-day/2-night "Pampas Tour" along Río Yacuma. We easily observed an enormous amount of wildlife. Turtles sunned themselves perched on logs or popped their heads out of the murky river water for a breath of air. We also discovered a turtle nest with eggs. Hundreds of alligators lined the riverbanks. We saw capybaras, the biggest, semi-aquatic rodents in the world, wallowing in mud, swimming in the river, and grazing along the shore. Pink dolphins paid us several brief visits while we cruised the river in our canoe. Howler monkeys howled early in the morning, and school monkeys eagerly fed on bananas. Our 3-hour quest in the relentlessly hot sun to find anacondas resulted unfortunately only in a small 20cm baby anaconda. We also watched a great number of birds from an ostrich to paradise birds, from owls to storks, and from falcons and eagles to cormorants and herons.

Back in La Paz, we visited a number of mostly good but small museums: the Museo de la Coca (excellent), the Museo de Instrumentos Musicales de Bolivia (very good), the Museo de Textiles Andinos Bolivianos (worthwhile), a group of four museums at Calle Jaén, the Museo Nacional de Arte, and the Museo Tambo Quirquincho. More thrilling, however, was a visit to the world's highest ski field at Chacaltaya (literally "cold bridge"). We hiked to the top at 5395m despite the thin air, and were rewarded with wonderful views of 6088m Huayna Potosí and La Paz.

La Paz is well-known for its sprawling markets. Probably the most unusual one is Mercado de Hechicería (Witches' Market) where we could have bought llama fetuses, stuffed armadillos or frogs, and other paraphernalia for offerings and good luck wishes. Maybe not as known but just as intriguing, many canyons and valleys with interesting geological formations surround La Paz. One of them, the Valle de la Luna, features clay pinnacles which change each year during the rainy season because the clay gets washed away. A day trip away from La Paz is the archaeological site of Tiwanaku, which after having been to Peru, is only mildly interesting, but nevertheless stems from the most important pre-Inca culture in South America. Our three weeks went by quickly even though nothing more happened.

On September 30th, we flew from La Paz to Sucre where we looked at the excellent Museo de Arte Indígena. It displays fascinating, aesthetically pleasing weavings from Jalqa and Tarabuco, shows the progression of weaving techniques and motifs in the 20th century, and features a 1000-year old, Tiwanaku period unku (tunica) whose colors have not faded a single bit. Much much older, the dinosaur tracks at Cal Orcko, the site of a present-day cement factory, are astonishing - among others, Parasaurolophi, Brontosauri, Ankylosauri, and possibly Tyrannosauri rex seem to have roamed the hills around Sucre. In more recent history, Bolivia's independence was declared in the center of town at the Casa de la Libertad in August of 1825. Nowadays, the statue of the Virgen de Guadelupe, adorned with jewels worth millions, sticks out from the usual churches/convents/monasteries, and at the Museo de los Niños Tanga-Tanga, kids are treated to an interactive tour of science. On top of that, Sucre is rightly so the chocolate capital of Bolivia, as attested to by the many sweet shops. The Sunday market at Tarabuco, however, did not live up to its praise - it was just another market to us.

From Sucre we traveled to Potosí, the site of an enormous silver mine which provided wealth for the Spanish crown for centuries. Coins were minted at the Casa Real de la Moneda which now houses a good museum. Today, Bolivia's coins are ironically minted in Spain, except for the 5 boliviano coin which is made in Canada. Potosí's usual collection of churches and convents did not really add anything new to our Bolivia experience. The next week, however, did. So much so, that this week alone warrants a trip to Bolivia and has to be counted as one of the top three attractions of our South America tour, in league with Machu Picchu in Peru and the Iguazú/Iguaçu Falls at the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

First, an extremely scenic bus ride brought us from Potosí to Uyuni. From Uyuni, we embarked on a 5-day/4-night tour of the Salar de Uyuni and Bolivia's southwestern volcanic region. In two words: magical and surreal. 12000 sq km of blindingly white salt flats comprise the Salar de Uyuni, interrupted only by small, cacti-covered islands. In some parts, salt production has created montañitas de sal, one meter high salt pyramids ready to be transported away for further processing. In other places, water has made its way through the salt to the surface, creating Ojos del Salar (literally "Eyes of the Salt Flat"). Nearby, entrepreneurs have built (tacky) hotels entirely from salt. We watched the sun rise over the salar from half-way up menacingly beautiful Volcán Tunupa. We marveled at more volcanoes such as Volcán Licancabur and Volcán Uturuncu surrounded by unbelievably blue, green, turquoise, yellow, red, orange, and white lakes with flamingoes, llamas, vicuñas (wild relatives of the llama), and vizcachas (small rabbit-like animals with bushy tails). We slept at 4300m, faced a bitterly cold sunrise at the Sol de Mañana Geyser Basin at an altitude of 5000m, and warmed up at the hot springs of Laguna Blanca. The landscape was amazing whenever we looked out the window of our cramped 4WD Toyota Landcruiser jeep whether it was the salar, the volcanoes, the lakes (Laguna Cañapa, Laguna Hedionda, Laguna Honda, Laguna Colorada, Laguna Blanca, Laguna Verde, Laguna Celeste, Laguna Amarilla, and Laguna Larga), the Desierto de Siloli with the Árbol de Piedra, or the Montañas de Siete Colores. An alternate route for the afternoon of day four and the morning of day five took us to the less often explored Laguna Celeste and Laguna Amarilla. It also meant that we had to rebuild a collapsed stretch of road on the way to Laguna Celeste. After a day of rest in Tupiza, we ventured into nearby, multi-colored quebradas (ravines and washes) on mountain bikes, in a jeep, and on horseback. This week was truely a worthy end of our time in Bolivia, as the next day, early in the morning of October 14th, we caught a bus to the border with Argentina.