Bolivia: where flamingos feed from red and green lakes rimmed by volcanoes, where Dali-esque rock structures dot the Altiplano, and where waterfalls crash down on one of the world's most dangerous roads.
In Bolivia's breathtakingly high capital, La Paz, indigenous women in traditional bowler hats and brightly-coloured skirts sell absolutely everything you could possibly need. Much of Bolivia is tropical lowland, a lush carpet stretching all the way to Brazil. Twisting roads thread their way down from the snowy peaks of the high Andes to steaming jungles, providing excellent – if dangerous – mountain biking.
In Bolivia's north, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. The old colonial town of Potosí; hosts a silver mine, while a train graveyard lies on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, the world's highest and largest salt flat. Amboró National Park encompasses three ecosystems – the Amazon basin, the foothills of the Andes and the Chaco plain, and is home to thousands of species of insects, birds and plants.
US citizens have to pay a hefty entrance fee and deal with plenty of paperwork at the borders going into Bolivia. Non-US travellers in a rush and choosing between a local or a 'gringo' bus might save time travelling with the locals. If you fancy helping to care for orphaned monkeys or big cats, consider volunteering at a wildlife refuge. Parque Machí is always grateful for volunteers.
Bolivian weather is unpredictable and varies across the country – it could be wet anywhere, at any time, but especially during the wet season (October to March). August is generally the driest month and coincides with most of Bolivia’s major festivals.
La Paz (LPB) 14km from centre. Santa Cruz (VV1), 16km from centre.
Getting around Bolivia isn’t easy. Most roads are unpaved and in very poor condition so hang onto your fillings when you’re bouncing around on local buses. Long-distance buses are popular and cheap but not particularly comfortable. Mini vans and collective taxis are another option. Trains only serve a tiny part of the country. Internal flights in Bolivia are one of the most reliable means of getting to remoter places, especially during the web season.
Bolivia has some of the cheapest accommodation in South America. Generally you get what you pay for but there are some real bargains to be had at the top end, especially in larger cities and holiday spots. Camping is easy in Bolivia but remember to wrap up warm: nights get extremely cold in the highlands.
Bolivian food is a little bland but colourful. Potatoes, of which there are over 200 varieties in Bolivia, come in almost every hue. Salteñas, tucumanas and empanadas are meat-and-vegetable pastries, sold everywhere. Around Lake Titicaca, try the local truchatrout), often served with nutritious quinoa. Look out for llama, alpaca and guinea pig (usually only dished up on special occasions) and the delicious creamy fruit chirimoya (custard apple). Try the locally brewed beer Paceña or chica cochabambina, a corn-based moonshine.
Altitude sickness can be a big problem, especially in La Paz. When travelling to high altitudes, go steady, eat light meals and avoid alcohol. Speak to a pharmacist before you ascend about over-the-counter remedies and their side-effects. Coca leaf tea and gingko are natural remedies but nothing works better than descent. Yellow fever, malaria and dengue fever are problems in some areas: ask your GP or local travel clinic for advice. Tap water is not safe to drink.
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