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BOLIVIA  |  Bolivia Travel Guide
Sunday, June 16, 2024



Bolivia, described by Hubert Herring in his History of Latin America as "the Tibet of the Americas," is a land-locked country with a smorgasbord of landscapes. There are tropical jungles in the Amazon River Basin and bleak but beautiful deserts on the Altiplano. These are a photographer’s dream. The Andes Mountains, with four of the world’s highest peaks, offer some of the best hiking, climbing and caving in the world. Lake Titikaka and its surrounding area allows the amateur anthropologist/historian to explore the ruins of the ancient Inca and pre-Inca civilizations. The only thing missing in Bolivia are ocean beaches.

Bolivia is bordered on the north by Peru and Brazil, on the east by more of Brazil, on the south by Paraguay and Argentina and on the west by Chile. Although landlocked, Bolivia is one of the most geographically interesting countries in the world. It is home to the six highest mountain peaks in the Andes, all of which stand over 20,000 ft/6,000 m. It has part of the highest navigable lake in the world. It has the richest silver mine ever discovered and the largest salt lake on the planet. It also has the highest volcano on earth and the highest archeological site known to man. It has the Altiplano, the rich platform of land where most Bolivians live. And then it has part of the Amazon Basin, with mighty rivers like the Beni, the Madre de Dios and the Mamore flowing into the Madeira, the second greatest tributary of the Amazon. Finally, Bolivia has the sparse dry deserts of the Chaco, rich in oil and good for canola production on large corporate or Mennonite farms.

The Aymara and Quechua indigenous groups make up more than 55% of the population. These people were here long before the Inca and many still practice the traditions of their ancestors. The mestizo or cholo, as he is called in Bolivia, is part European and part Indian. These people make up 35% of the Bolivian population. The rest is made up of Europeans, mostly Spanish from the early settlers, but also those who arrived in the last 150 years from places like Germany, Yugoslavia, Asia and North America. Many minority groups are also represented, including Chinese East Indians, Japanese and Africans, whose ancestors were brought as slaves to work in the mines of Potosi. Of the many tribes and groups who are in the minority, there are the Tacana, the Pano, the Arauco, the Chapacura, the Guarani and the Botocudo, who are all, in turn, made up of smaller tribes. Most of these groups live in the Amazon Basin.

Climatically, the higher one goes in Bolivia, the colder and drier it gets. Generally speaking, the rainy season is from January to March throughout the country, except in the Amazon and Yungas, where it runs from September to April. The cloud forests of the Yungas and Colinas sit between 3,290 and 11,500 ft (1,000 and 3,500 m) and are always hot and humid; they get about 200 inches/5,000 mm of rain annually, while the southwestern highlands receive four inches/100 mm. During rainy season it rains every day, all day. In the tropical lowlands of the Amazon and La Plata Basin areas, it is hot and humid in dry season, with average temperatures of 80°F/27°C. However, in rainy season there are torrential downpours that cool the temperatures drastically. The Gran Chaco area is always hot and dry.

Constitutionally, Bolivia is a republic. The president, who is the Chief of State, is elected for five years and he is the head of the democratically elected party. Congress is then appointed by the president. If a party does not get 50% of the vote, congress chooses and appoints the president. This is done by secret ballot and the candidates are the leaders of the three leading parties.

Sucre is Bolivia’s capital, but La Paz, perched at 12,000 ft/3,632 m above sea level, is the largest city in the country and the seat of government. It sits in a natural bowl three miles/five km in diameter that was carved out of the mountains by a river thousands of years ago. In La Paz, as in Santa Cruz (soon to be the country’s largest city), accommodations and restaurants can be luxurious or simple. Museums are plentiful and the treasures are well displayed. Movies are usually Hollywood fare with Spanish subtitles; cultural shows, especially Andean bands, are abundant, but jazz bars can also be found. All towns and cities have Internet cafés.

In sharp contrast to its cities, large parts of Bolivia are empty or nearly empty. The country has the second-lowest population density in the Western Hemisphere, with just under three people per square mile. (Guyana has the lowest.)

Economically, Bolivia is in a state of permanent debt. More is spent on servicing that debt than is spent on health care. Foreign investment is minimal. During the 1980s, 70% of the population was living far below the poverty line. But thanks to a half-stable government, elimination of some of the corruption and a genuine effort to improve life for the people, that is changing. Today, with 2.6 million people in the labor force, there is an unemployment rate of about 7.6%.

Bolivia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is about $45 billion, or $4,450 per person. Statistics make it appear that the GDP has stayed the same over the years but in fact, due to the devaluation of the boliviano and increased inflation, the GDP is lower. Of the entire GDP, 16.5% comes from agriculture, 35.5% from industry and the rest comes from services.


Destinations in Bolivia (1)

  • La Paz, Bolivia

    La Paz is not a big city on the world scale, but it is certainly one of the more interesting ones. Built in a bowl created by the Choqueyapu River, the upper parts of the city stand 1,645 ft/500 m above the lower sections. Unlike...

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