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Bolivia Travel Guide: The Ultimate List of What to See and Do in This Magical Country

Bolivia Travel Guide

Bolivia is a country of contrasts where you can find sweltering jungle landscapes and freezing cold mountain peaks just a short drive from each other. This landlocked nation has a rich history and unique traditions you won’t find elsewhere, such as female wrestlers called Cholitas Luchadoras, or historic time capsules, like their train cemetery. We spent several weeks in Bolivia visiting some of the most popular sites like the bustling capital La Paz or Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s famous salt flats.

Here are five one-of-a-kind things to experience when you’re there.

Ultimate Bolivia Travel Guide

Bolivia Salt Flats

Photo by Fritz Chávez

1. Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia Salt Flats

The Uyuni salt flats are one of the most visited places in Bolivia and are truly a sight to behold, that’s why they take up the number one spot in this Bolivia travel guide. This vast area spans 10,582 square kilometers or 4,086 square miles and is the world’s largest salt filled with, you guessed it, salt. Depending on the time of year you go, the salt flats can look very different. During the wet season which lasts from November to March, the salt flats can look like a giant mirror as the precipitation that forms on the flats reflects the surrounding area. During the dry season from May to October, the salt flats are covered in glimmering salt crystals which can almost look like snow from a distance. Nighttime and mornings can be frigid in Salar de Uyuni with extremely cold temperatures; however, it can get quite warm during the day so don’t forget to layer (see our Bolivia packing guide below).

Where to Stay in Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia Salt Flats)

An undeniably interesting and also luxurious hotel in the salt flats is, Palacio del Sal, a hotel made entirely out of salt. It was the first salt hotel of its kind in the region built in the ‘90s. The property has beautiful views of the salt flats and all of the comforts you would expect in a luxury hotel – well-appointed bathrooms, nice common spaces, and even a stunning spa. You can almost forget that literally everything from the ceilings to the walls to the furniture is made of salt.

We interviewed manager Lucia Quesada about this fantastic hotel, check out the video we shot with her on the property and witness the amazing construction of Palacio del Sal.

Train Cemetery (Cementerio de Trenes)

Aside from the majestic salt flats, there are several other cool places to see in Salar de Uyuni. The most famous location is the train graveyard which stands out from the vast, barren landscape with an array of old decaying trains abandoned there. The train cemetery (Cementerio de Trenes) is filled with over 100 worn-down trains which had mostly been imported from England to support a budding mining industry in Uyuni. However, that industry never came to fruition in the Bolivian Salt Flats and now the trains sit there corroding in the harsh conditions of the region. They make a fantastic photo op as you pose in front, inside, and even on top of the train cars.

Cholitas Luchadoras

2. Cholitas Luchadoras – El Alto

There’s a sport and cultural tradition in Bolivia you won’t see elsewhere, Cholitas Luchadoras. They’re female indigenous wrestlers who wear traditional Bolivian clothing and fight in a ring full-contact style — think leaping off the ropes and drops that resemble WWE wrestling in the U.S. or Lucha Libre in Mexico. The women fight wearing ankle-length voluminous skirts and small bowler hats which they initially received from the British.

Intrigued? We met with one of the country’s most famous Cholitas, Angela La Simpatica, to learn more about this unique sport. Watch the video below to find out how this tradition empowers the indigenous women of Bolivia and why she first started training in secret before becoming a renowned fighter. If you’re in Bolivia and want to see Cholitas Luchadoras fight in person, head to El Alto on Sunday to see their matches.

The Cholita style of dress is very unique, here’s exactly what it entails.

Julia Flores Colque

3. Sacaba and Cochabamba – Home of the Oldest Woman in the World

At the time of our interview, Julia Flores Colque was the oldest woman in the world at 119 years old. She has sadly since passed, but managed to give us invaluable advice when we visited her in her hometown of Sacaba where she lived with family and lots of cats and chickens. Find out what she ate and how she lived her life to become one of the oldest people to ever live. You’re going to laugh when she tells you what NOT to do to live a long life.

Sacaba is just 12 miles outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia’s fourth largest city and this metropolis is definitely worth a visit. Why? It’s said to have the best food in Bolivia and has many interesting sites to see. When you visit try dishes such as Silpancho which is a breaded veal cutlet dressed in tomato, finely chopped onions, egg, and the Bolivian hot pepper locoto. Another dish that originates in Cochabamba is Pique Macho. This is a hearty meal consisting of French fries covered with chopped hot dogs, ground beef, eggs, onions, cheese, and a mix of chili and bell peppers. To add more to the mix it’s dressed in ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard — an array of flavors.

Gran Hotel Toloma is an affordable and nice hotel option with a large breakfast buffet and has a central location in Cochabamba. Oh, and we have to point out that the weather in Cochambamba is famously warm and pleasant, it’s called the city of eternal spring because of its lovely climate which helped it make our Bolivia travel guide.

Mercado de Las Brujas

4. Brujas and Curanderas (Witches and Healers) – La Paz

On Calle Jiminez and Linares between Sagarnaga and Santa Cruz in La Paz, you’ll find one of the most unique streets in Bolivia, the Mercado de Las Brujas (witch market). Vendors sell an array of potions and objects, some of which will make you do a double take — dead llama fetuses, dread frogs, and turtles are commonly seen here. People also come here for spiritual services such as fortune telling and blessings.

We wanted to know more about Aymara rituals and how Bolivians connect with curanderas to attain health, prosperity, and love in their lives. Check out our amazing ritual atop one of La Paz’s peaks, as we connect with Pachamama (Mother Earth) as part of our Bolivia travel guide.

5. Coca Farmer – Coroico

The coca plant has been used for thousands of years in Bolivia for its medicinal properties. It’s a popular remedy for altitude sickness and was essential for farmers to use as an energy source when they walked long distances. However, outside of South America, coca is often negatively associated with cocaine and due to this more and more restrictions have been placed on coca farming threatening many coca farmers’ traditional way of life.

For our last stop of this Bolivia travel guide we traveled to Coroico which is about 3 hours away from La Paz and is where much of the country’s coca is grown. Here we met with Raymunda Perez who showed us her challenging work and talked to us about her concerns for the industry’s future.

Bolivia Language

Bolivia has dozens of indigenous languages such as Aymara and Quechua. As a tourist you can get by well if you speak Spanish, however, English is not widely spoken.

Bolivia Packing Guide

Bolivia has many different climates; the capital, La Paz, sits at a high altitude and can be very cold, especially at night. Places like Salar de Uyuni are positively freezing especially in the mornings before the sun comes up. That’s why it’s a good idea to pack a warm sweater, windbreaker, and hiking boots to brace the elements. There are also some warm cities in Bolivia so you’re best off with lots of layers. And don’t forget to wear sunscreen, the sun can be super bright here.

Featured photo by Alain Bonnardeaux on Unsplash

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