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Bolivia

Bolivia

Bolivia is a fascinating country in Latin America that features much more than the iconic Andes. I lived in friendly Tarija, the Bolivian wine capital, between 2019 and 2021.

From the immaculate white city of Sucre to the legendary La Paz located at almost 4000 meters above sea level, Bolivia is a country that will forever stay in your memory thanks to its unique culture and landscapes.

WELCOME TO Bolivia!

Basic facts

  • Population: 11.8 million
  • Currency: Boliviano (Bs), although many people still refer to it as ‘peso’. Check the current exchange rate here.
  • Language: in addition to Spanish, the Bolivian Constitution officially recognizes 36 indigenous languages, including Aymara, Quechua or Guaraní.
  • Territories: there are 9 regions, known as ‘Departamentos’.
  • Main cities: Sucre (the administrative capital), La Paz (the political capital), Santa Cruz (the economic capital), Cochabamba.
  • Best time to visit: I would advise to visit the country during the dry season going from May to October. However, if you’re looking for reflections at the Uyuni salt flats, you might want to schedule your trip in late March or early April. This being said, driving in the wet season can be dangerous so take care!
  • History: after being a Spanish colony, the country declared its independence on August 6, 1825.
  • Fun fact: Bolivia is a landlocked country but it still has a Navy!

Things to do

Visit the Uyuni salt flats, the most popular attraction in Bolivia!

Admire the snowed Illimani peak from La Paz

Explore the white streets and colonial past of Sucre

Taste wine in Tarija. Cheers!

Admire the restored missions in the tropical Chiquitania region near Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Food in Bolivia

If you’re curious about what Bolivian food looks like, you came to the right place. Are you getting hungry already? 🙂

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Street food Bolivians LOVE street food and you'll find plenty of food stalls when visiting the country. There are countless options going from fresh juices to empanadas or sweet pastries. Another great (and cheap) option to eat out are local markets. But be careful if your stomach doesn't handle street food well, as the hygiene conditions might not be ideal.
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Most typical dishes There is no complete trip to Bolivia without trying these traditional recipes: sopa de maní (peanut soup), pique a lo macho (stewed beef with potatoes), empanadas or salteñas (the latter have sauce), mondongo, charque de llama (llama jerky), fricasé de pollo or saice. Staple food items include corn ('choclo'), quinoa, potatoes ('papas'), chicken and avocado ('palta').
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Meat vs fish Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, so you won't find fancy meats here. Overall, the quality is good because of the vast cattle industry in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. However, the most common meat types you'll come across are chicken ('pollo'), pork ('chancho') or beef ('res'). The spicy sausage ('chorizo chuquisaqueño') from Chuquisaca is popular too. The country is landlocked so the amount of seafood and fish coming from the sea is limited to luxury restaurants and frozen products. This being said, Bolivians love freshwater fish and you can find yummy varieties such as trout (the most famous one comes from lake Titicaca), surubí or pacú.
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To be spicy or not to be Generally speaking, Bolivians like their food spicy although it doesn't reach the same level as in Mexico. Be ready to find 'llajua' or 'llajwa' all over the country though. This sauce is made of tomatoes, onions and chili peppers called 'locotos'. Bolivians use llajua to season many dishes.
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Drinks The most popular drink in Bolivia is beer and there are various brands to choose from (Paceña, Potosina or Huari). Wine is a big one too and most of the production comes from the valley in Tarija (Aranjuez, Kohlberg, Campos de Solana). Singani is a unique moonshine made out of grapes and is used for cocktails such as 'chuflay'. Casa Real is the most recognized brand for singani.
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Foodie capital Cochabamba is known as the culinary capital of Bolivia for serving big portions although I have to admit I wasn't blown away by the quality of the food at all.

TRANSPORTATION

Are you wondering how to get around Bolivia? Here are some tips to help you out.

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Car Generally speaking, Bolivian roads are in pretty bad condition. Many of them don't even have pavement and if they do, it tends to be in a terrible shape. In addition to that, distances in the country are tricky, so never underestimate the time you'll spend on the road. The map might read 300km but you should plan double the time it would usually take you (let's say 6 hours in this case). Pay special attention if you're driving during the rainy season (from November to April) because landslides and collapsed bridges are very common. I'm warning you, driving around Bolivia can be very stressful but the scenery will take your breath away! On another note, rental cars are not a thing in Bolivia and most agencies won't allow you to leave the country in order to explore Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay or Chile. So I wouldn't consider this as an alternative if you're planning to drive through various countries in South America.
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Bus (or 'flota') Traveling by bus from one city to another is still the most popular option in Bolivia. Even though the long rides are unheard of for us foreigners, it is very common for locals to hop on a bus in Tarija and hop off in La Paz 14 hours later (instead of just booking a one-hour flight). Besides, it is a cheap means of transportation. So if you have plenty of time for your trip, Bolivian buses might become your best friend. However, note that Bolivian roads are in pretty bad condition and accidents are unfortunately a common trend. In the city, you'll see many 'trufis' or 'micros'. While the micros refer to city buses and can be stopped at any point along their route, trufis resemble to shared taxis.
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Train The days aboard a train are long gone in Bolivia. Given the country's wealth of minerals, decades ago there were several railways transporting them through commercial routes all the way to Chile. That is not the case anymore, although you will still be able to see some abandoned wagons in the Uyuni train cemetery. Lastly, some passenger routes remain such as the Tren Turístico leaving from El Alto, stopping in Tiwanaku and heading to Guaqui by lake Titicaca or the Expreso del Sur covering the Oruro-Villazón route.
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Plane I would say this is the least popular option in Bolivia since plane tickets tend to be expensive for most of the population. Still, there are two major airlines that fly throughout the country: Boliviana de Aviación or BOA and Amaszonas. They serve the main cities and you can also find some international flights to Buenos Aires or Miami.

Good to know when travelling around Bolivia

  • Weather: there are three distinct areas in Bolivia. In the Altiplano region (La Paz, Oruro, Potosí), where altitude is high, the climate is harsh with cold winters and warm summers. However, in the Valles of Chuquisaca, Cochabamba or Tarija, the weather is milder, featuring a sunny climate and enjoyable temperatures all year round with some rare exceptions in the winter time (these windy and cold episodes are known as ‘surazos’). Lastly, in the Llanos of Beni, Pando and Santa Cruz, the weather is tropical, with high temperatures and humidity throughout the year.
  • Summer vs winter: since Bolivia is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are ‘the other way around’. Summer is the rainy or wet season and spans from November to April, while the dry season goes from May to October.
  • Altitude sickness (or ‘soroche‘): this is a real thing if you travel to certain Bolivian locations, so be extra cautious and plan in advance if you’re visiting cities such as La Paz or Potosí, which are located at around 4000 meters above sea level. Ideally, buy Sorojchi pills or something similar in a pharmacy and take one 1h before heading to your altitude destination. Drink plenty of coca tea or water, avoid exercising and keep it slow for the first few days. If you experience heavy headaches, nauseas and so on, consult a doctor. There is actually a small clinic right at the El Alto airport in La Paz, so if you don’t feel well upon landing, you can go there directly and ask for medical assistance.
  • Festivities (or ‘fiestas‘): Bolivians love a good party and they take advantage of any occasion they have to do so. The main fiestas in the country include Carnival (the ones in Oruro or Tarija are the most popular ones),  Independence Day every August 6 or All Saints Day the first day of November.

More about Bolivia…

Get inspired by my trips around Bolivia and read all my blog posts!

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