Travel

A Beginner’s Guide to Bolivia

Of all the countries in South America, Bolivia is among those that get the least press. This isn’t because Bolivia is not worth travelling to – on the contrary, Bolivia is jam-packed with adventure and excitement. The reason for it being so under-publicised is because its neighbours steal all of the limelight. Peru, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil have long been hotspots for intrepid travellers. Even Ecuador gets more attention than Bolivia because of its Galapagos Islands. So, now it is time to give Bolivia the exposé it deserves.

No trip to South America is complete without dipping into the relatively unchartered waters of Bolivia. Here is everything you need to know about the country before you go.

Money

Bolivia uses the Boliviano, which at the time of writing sits at around 9 to the pound. Bolivia is incredibly cheap and it is usually possibly to get a decent meal out for around 20-25 Bolivianos and a hotel room for around 100. Coffee will set you back between 5-10 Bolivianos and a ten minute taxi ride will cost about 30.

Language

Like most of South America, Bolivia speaks Spanish. But, it doesn’t just speak Spanish, it teaches it too. Sucre, the capital of Bolivia, is one of the best and cheapest places on the continent, and possibly even the world, to learn Spanish. You’ll meet hundreds of travellers from all over the world translating the lyrics to despacito as homework before heading out for cheap beers in the city’s gorgeous centre.

Landscape

Bolivia is a mixture of different topologies. La Paz and Uyuni, where the famous salt flats are located sit at an altitude of 3,600m. Meanwhile the old silver mining town of Potosí can be found at 4,100m above sea level. This means barren, moonlike landscapes with little vegetation, cold temperatures and very thin air. Sucre,is at a more reasonable 2,800m, while Santa Cruz is all the way down at 1,300m. Thus, you will find everything in Bolivia from stark highlands to warm, lush jungle regions.

Food

Bolivian food hasn’t made much of a splash on the international food scene, but there are plenty of delicious treats to be found here. The country’s most famous snack is the salteña, a pasty filled with beef stew. These can be bought for just a few Bolivianos on every street corner. Peanut soup (sopa de mani) and llama or alpaca steaks also feature regularly on the menu. Head to the local food market for the best dishes.

Culture

Bolivia is still steeped in culture and history. It is not uncommon to see men and women in traditional indigenous garments going about their daily business. It is a Catholic, and therefore traditional, society so things may seem a little regressive compared with where you are from. However, young Bolivians are breaking away from this conservative regime and are usually dynamic and modern.

Hotspots

La Paz is one of the most popular spots along the tourist trail. It is a big city full of markets, cultural sites, and energy. It is also the jumping off point for Death Road, one of the country’s most thrilling attractions. Uyuni and its salt flats also get their fair share of foot traffic, as do Sucre and Copacabana with its stunning Isla del Sol. Those looking to get off the beaten path and into the jungle should head to Samaipata, where the climate is tropical and the nature is utterly outstanding.

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