It might sound like a well worn cliche, but Bolivia truly is the land of extremes and contradictions, and this is not just a fanciful metaphor. Bolivia really has some of the highest and lowest points on the planet, the hottest and coldest climates, the driest and swampiest spots and the most abject poverty surrounded by the richest natural beauty. Bolivia is also ethnically and culturally diverse, and therefore one of those countries where you can’t just stop at looking at the sights – you actually want to get to know the people, to learn about the history and the culture. But looking at the sights is definitely a huge part of the Bolivian experience, because these tend to be the sort of sights you can’t help but look at. Here are our picks for the 5 Bolivian attractions to see before you die.
Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, and one of the most jaw-dropping sights in the world, at that. At over 3500 meters, the vast expanse of smooth white salt looks like something out of this world. The salt flat is what remains of a prehistoric lake, and despite being a pretty inhospitable place that tends to get cold in winter, there are plenty of people who visit it. When the flats are covered in a thin sheet of water, they turn into a natural mirror.
El Fuerte de Samaipata
This pre-Columbian religious site is one of the most famous archaeological digs in Bolivia, visited by thousands of Bolivians and foreigners alike. There are some fortifications, plazas and public buildings, but the centerpiece of the site is El Cascabel, which can be compared to a gigantic piece of rock art – a sandstone hill sculpted with figures of felines, birds, snakes and geometrical figures.
Another great site for those interested in pre-Columbian culture is Tiwanaku, an ancient city near the shore of Lake Titikaka. Tiwanaku (also called Tiahuanaco) is one of the most important precursors of the Inca Empire, a thoroughly fascinating destination even for those who are not Andean history buffs. Tiwanaku is built and decorated in a different style than Inca sites in South America – it is often called the Stonehenge of Latin America due to the massive rectangular blocks used in the city.
The Yungas region is a very popular destination for hikers, but if you’re craving something more dangerous than hiking in the wild, then you can take an insane trip on Yungas Road, the infamous Death Road of Bolivia. Although this winding, narrow road connecting La Paz and Coroico offers some incredible vistas, it is also horribly dangerous – 200 people die each year on Yungas Road. Mountain biking down the road is only slightly more safe.
If Salar de Uyuni is a sea of white, the shallow salt lake of Laguna Colorada is it’s crimson twin. The reddish water of the lake is dotted with grey islands of borax and the occasional flock of flamingos, with deserted mountain slopes as a backdrop. In addition to the famous flamingos, there are other fifty bird species that will interest birdwatchers.