The "top" tourist attractions in Bolivia aren't necessarily my personal favorites. I get asked so many times a day to suggest great options for tourism in Bolivia, I thought I'd share some of my own favorite destinations all over the country because I like people to get to know the real Bolivia, how people live, and points of interest that are cool, but not always promoted officially. Still, you can see a listing of more of the most popular tourist attractions in Bolivia on our Bolivia Tourism Home Page or by clicking the "Tours" link at the top of any of our destination pages.
First I should introduce myself. I'm the webmaster of BoliviaBella.com. I've traveled to every department in Bolivia and I can honestly say there isn't a corner of Bolivia I don't treasure. I should also mention that I've grown up here since I was nine, so my opinions are definitely biased!
So let me tell you a little about some of my favorite tourist attractions in Bolivia by simply listing a few special little things I like about each of Bolivia's 9 departments (states). Again, these are my personal favorite things to do and see. Please feel free to share your travel stories and photos through our forums. Once you've read through this page, be sure to visit our Travel Planner to find out more about hotels, airlines, visas, restaurants, and the hundreds of other details that go into planning a trip.
La Paz - 2nd Highest City in the World
La Paz is where I spent most of my childhood. The city has grown immensely since then. El Alto was an empty plain with nothing but the airport and the tiny town of Viacha and a few grouchy alpacas when I went to grade school and graduated from high school there. Good times!
La Paz has a lot of great museums and art galleries. Visit my friend
one of Bolivia's most renowned artists. For a cultural experience, visit during February and go to the Alasitas Fair and Carnaval, which is also sometimes in March. Buy an Ekkeko (the god of abundance) and load him up with miniatures of all the things you want him to bring you during the coming year (you can even buy a miniature visa! He he).
I love eating a salteña on the Prado at about 10 in the morning when the air is still cool and brisk, and a cuñapé with tea at 5 near Plaza Murillo, site of the Congress and presidential palace. By the way at Plaza Murillo in the morning around 10 am you can see the changing of the guards too. This is also the favorite place for paceños to protest, so if there ever is one there, stay away!
The Montículo is an overlook in Sopocachi where you can take a walk through a small plaza high above the city and look out over it. It's a prime location for photos of Illimani, when it's not clouded over, which is like, almost always. But if you're lucky and it's a clear day, definitely walk up there, or take a cab if you still can't breathe at this altitude.
The Witches Market behind the San Francisco Cathedral is a definite must if you want to learn about weird traditions, like why dead llama fetuses are buried under new constructions. It's also a prime location for buying tons of gaudy sweaters and scarves, and cool jewelry, and it's where most of the tour operators who can take you to places like Coroico, Tiahuanaco, Lake Titicaca, and Death Road biking tours are located. All behind the cathedral and about 10 blocks up is a huge market called the Mercado Negro. And yes, it literally is a black market. Nearly everything sold there is contraband.
A visit to Peña Naira at night for folkloric singing and dancing and drinks in a dark stuffy little room makes for one good evening. It's located along the street that runs up the left side of the Cathedral.
One of the absolutely most bizarre tours in Bolivia is the San Pedro Prison Tour. I used to visit the prisons in La Paz with my mom as a child and it's heartbreaking. I can understand why this would attract tourists, but I personally believe taking this tour is hazardous. These tours supposedly don't exist any more after the combined stupidity of prisoners, guards and some very badly behaved tourists led to a prisoner mutiny (but actually they still take place). Read my story, and if you still choose to go, you can come back here and ream me about it later.
A trip to the Valley of the Moon is a great day trip. Careful climbing around, the soil is soft and breaks away easily. Take a picnic and spend a day absorbing the feeling of being somewhere really ancient. Some people say this place used to be sacred and has healing vibes or properties. It's a good hike.
Mallasa is where the Zoo is located. You can also ride horses, but they're usually kind of old and saggy. There's a little town and a couple of restaurants and it makes for a nice day out of the city, cheap, with some cool animals to boot. You have to take a cab there. It's far.
Laikakota is a playground in Miraflores just a few blocks from the Stadium that you might never know existed if someone didn't tell you about it. It's built way up high on a hill in the middle of the city. It's actually several playgrounds and you can't take better photos anywhere! There's a giant human-sized chess set I used to play with when I was a kid. From this vantage point, you have a 360º view of the city. It's one of my favorite photo spots! A couple of years ago, the city government realized that tourists were starting to show up at the park. So it built a series of boardwalks around it. I wonder how come everybody started finding out about it? What are your favorite tourist attractions in La Paz?
I scaled the Muela del Diablo (Devil's Tooth) several times as a teen. It used to be a 6-hour climb. We'd take cheese sandwiches and carrot sticks and set out early in the morning with our backpacks. Behind the DT there used to be a little tiny village next to a little tiny lake. I've been told there are entire neighborhoods up there now. If you go, come back and let me know or send some pictures. Now you can take a bus almost all the way to the top. At night the city lights look like a great big handprint from El Alto down to Calacoto.
Calacoto, in the southern half of the city, is an area filled with upscale neighborhoods. When I went to school there, the entire city ended at the church in San Miguel. Now it's full of upscale discotheques, boutiques and stores, malls, gyms, movie theaters, and lots of other stuff, and the city continues on beyond that for another 30 blocks or so! I get nostalgic every time I go there.
Sundays are soccer day. Catch a game at the stadium in Miraflores. Buy your tickets a few hours in advance. Whichever team you choose to cheer for, sit on THEIR side of the stadium. Do not, I repeat, do not sit with the opposing team and cheer on their rivals. In Bolivia, soccer is not so much a sport as it is a religion of vicious fanatics who will not hesitate to make your visit to the wrong side of the stadium verrrry uncomfortable.
If you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in La Paz, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, click here to enter our La Paz Travel Forum.
Copacabana and Lake Titikaka
Copacabana and Lake Titikaka are two of Bolivia's most valued landmarks. My fondest memory is skimming across the lake on a hydrofoil to Peru - about 6 hours. On the Island of the Sun you can get out and do some hiking and see some Incan ruins. The Island of the Moon is much smaller, but also pretty. When you get back for dinner, skip the pizza and have some Titicaca trout on the shore in Copa. It doesn't get fresher than water-to-grill.
Skip Copacabana around February 2nd unless you're into hundreds of people dancing drunkenly in the streets, and instead stay at the Andean Eco Village in Huatajata. They own the hydrofoils I was telling you about. They'll get you over to Sun Island in less than an hour. In Copa, you can also climb to the top of "Calvary" hill, which has seven stops - the seven stops Jesus made as he walked with his cross on his back to his crucifiction. If you make it up to the top, you'll have one of the most beautiful views of the lake and surrounding snowcapped Andes Mountains. Don't take your camera and forget to charge the batteries first, like I did last time... I hope some of you will share your photos of Lake Titikaka.
If you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in Copacabana or Lake Titikaka, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, enter our Titicaca Travel Forum.
Yungas: Coroico, Caranavi, Death Road
To the North of La Paz you can take a trip to the Yungas either on the new paved 2-lane highway by bus or car (where you can visit towns such as Coroico, Chulumani and Caranavi or even continue on as far as Rurrenabaque or Trinidad in Bolivia's second largest state of Beni) or by way of one of the most exhilarating and famous (or shall we say infamous) tourist attractions of Bolivia, by biking down what has become known as Death Road, and otherwise known as the World's Most Dangerous Road. As a child I took this road many times. It lives up to its name and can cost you your life. It's not a joke and if you choose to do the biking tour, please follow every single solitary instruction you are given. Do not horse around on your bike, do not tempt fate, get distracted, or go too fast, because it honestly isn't funny. About 200-300 people die on this road each year when buses and trucks go over the cliffs. But it is gorgeous, and on a bike you have plenty of room... most of the time...
Up on the highlands in the opposite direction (heading Southwest from La Paz and toward Lake Titicaca) are the ruins of Tiwanaku (sometimes spelled Tiahuanaco) which was the ceremonial epicenter of Andean culture for thousands of years and has a great museum and of course, ruins of temples and monoliths as well as the Puerta del Sol (Sun Gate) that shouldn't be missed. In this section you can read about its history and watch some videos on the legends and myths that surround this unearthly city. What's the most mysterious thing about Tiahuanaco?
You'll hear what scientists have to say about whether or not Tiwanaku is the oldest city on Earth. Many hotels have day-trips that leave at about 8 am and return by 4 or 5 pm. Most include the ride out there and back, lunch in the village, visits to the ruins, and the cost of the ticket to enter a cool museum that has been built. When I was younger, there was no official tour, just the ruins themselves, and there was this little old guy who kept a row of skulls on a shelf in his house and that was the museum. And he charged you to see them :)
If you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in Tiahuanaco, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, click here to enter our Tiwanaku Travel Forum.
Carnaval in Oruro and All Over Bolivia
Oruro's claim to worldwide fame is the Carnaval de Oruro where you'll catch the biggest, best cultural spectacle Bolivia has to offer. There are many other sites and attractions in and near Oruro such as some interesting museums, hot springs and tours of the mines. You can also read about how Carnaval is celebrated elsewhere in Bolivia where our history, cultures and ethnic groups are completely unrelated to the Andes, such as in Santa Cruz. I, unfortunately, do not have any photos of Carnaval in Oruro because the last time I went, I was mugged and my camera was stolen. You have to be careful during Carnaval because of all the drinking. Some people can't drink and think so tourists become targets for theft. Always carry your belongings in FRONT of you and you'll be fine. And yes, it IS as amazing as everyone says and worth the trip. Does anyone out there have some amazing pictures of Carnival in Oruro?
If you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in Oruro, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, click here to enter our Oruro Travel Forum.
Potosí - The World's Highest City
Not only is Potosí higher than La Paz, during colonial times Potosi was the most populated city on Earth! There was so much silver in the mines at Cerro Rico that the Spanish (and Bolivians after them) have mined it for over 500 years. Tin overtook silver to become Bolivia's prime export during World Wars I and II and Bolivia's wealth increased dramatically at the time. As of only about 15 years ago, oil and natural gas from Eastern Bolivia (Santa Cruz and Tarija) have replaced tin to fill Bolivia's coffers.
In Potosí the two most interesting things are the mines and the Casa de la Moneda. When I was little, women were not allowed into the mines. Only men could go in. The miners believed that El Tio (the devil) would cave the mines in if women entered. Working conditions have not improved at all over the past 30 years and although tourists can now enter some of the shafts, I don't really suggest going too far in. Safety from falling rocks and cave-ins is a problem even for miners today, as they dynamite without discretion. But the other problem is the silica. Miners have an average life-span of 45 years because they spend their entire lives breathing in the invisible silica particles that are like fiber glass that cuts away at their lungs.
The Casa de la Moneda (the Spanish Mint) is where the Spanish turned much of the silver into imprinted silver coins before sending shiploads of them to the King of Spain. It's an extremely interesting museum now. The rest of the city is very cool too. It's very ancient and colonial and you can find cool antiques from Europe (which if you're from Europe, probably aren't antiques to you :)
If you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in Potosí, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, click here to enter our Potosí Travel Forum.
Uyuni - World's Largest Salt Desert
The Salar de Uyuni
(a vast salt desert up to 120 meters deep) is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bolivia. Three million acres (12,000 square kilometers) of blinding white salt were left behind millions of years ago by the receding Lake Minchín. It's vast and extremely flat expanse is enjoyed by tourists who like to play with the optical illusions the lack of horizon causes - super fun photo opportunities await you here. Who's got the most unique photo of the Uyuni salt desert?
Located at over 3000 meters above sea level, it gets very very cold at night. You can stay at a hotel where everything right down to the furniture is made completely out of salt bricks. You can also travel around and visit nearby Avaroa National Park, Fish Island, and some awesome hot bubbly mud baths and geysers that are amazing for your skin. Take plenty of sunblock here. You'll burn even if it's overcast. If you go during the rainy season the water accumulates on the salt and reflects all the clouds in the sky. It looks like you're driving or walking on water. The great thing is that you can now fly to Uyuni on Amaszonas Airlines from La Paz. You can take a bus too, of course.
If you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in Uyuni, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, click here to enter our Uyuni Travel Forum.
Sucre - Bolivia's One and Only Capital
is one of my favorite cities in Bolivia. It's totally colonial architecture is beautiful and it's everywhere. There's a large park across the street from the Supreme Court building where kids can "climb" a rusty replica of the Eiffel Tower. Everywhere you look the houses have European balconies, there are tons of antique shops where you can get European antiques that are hundreds of years old, and pay attention to the glass in many of the windows of the homes and buildings on the center plaza - many still have centuries-old French glass panes.
Other places to visit include the Recoleta at the top of the hill where the convent is to get a great view of the entire city and the cemetery which is gorgeous and where many of Bolivia's former presidents are buried. Little kids give you a complete tour with a history lesson to boot. Also, there are several cool bars and restaurants. I personally like La Tertulia which is kind of quiet and dark and a great place to have some coffee and a good read. Sucre has the cleanest market I've ever seen anywhere in Bolivia.
There are several beautiful colonial churches, lot of great architecture, beautiful parks and plazas, and really nice people. There is also a historical museum and the Casa de la Libertad, where the first Bolivian constitution was signed and there are several colonial paintings and documents on display. Lastly, visit the natural history museum where you can see pieces of pottery, weavings, and even mummies that are thousands of years old. Strangely, at night Sucre reminds me of Cuzco, Peru.
If you go to the main plaza in Sucre you can find the DINO TRUCK and take a day tour (it's only about 4-5 hours total) to the world's largest repository of dinosaur footprints ever found! CalOrcko, also known as Parque Cretácico (Cretaceous Park). They'll have you there and back in 1/2 a day for about Bs. 50! (Unfortunately, in early 2011 a portion of this hill collapsed, taking with it a fairly large section of the prints) but it's still immensely cool. The life-sized dinosaur statues all over the park are pretty awesome and as you walk through they play these weird sounds that they imagine dinosaurs must have sounded like ... kind of creepy but in a really realistic and interesting kind of way. Sucre is great for family vacations.
Don't miss the museums in Sucre, there are TONS. Especially the Ethnographic museum where you can see mummies and all kinds of cool stuff. And at the weaving museum you can see people weaving on looms. By the way, Sucre is also Bolivia's one and only capital city. Here's why people mistakenly think Bolivia has two capitals or that the capital is La Paz. What were your favorite tourist attractions in Sucre?
If you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in Sucre, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, click here to enter our Sucre Travel Forum.
Beni - Pink River Dolphins and Wildlife
I've gone to Beni many times and recently returned. I've built a whole section on
on the site. One of my favorite places is
but I really can't decide. It's all SO beautiful. Take a look for yourself. Beni is famous for its large cattle ranches, gorgeous rives, pink river dolphin tours, amazing fishing and bird watching opportunities, and its over 20 super interesting ethnic groups, (you didn't think all of Bolivia was Aymara or Quechua did you?) To tour Beni you'll want to start in Rurrenabaque or its capital city of Trinidad. Aren't pink river dolphins crazy cool?
If you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in Beni, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, click here to enter our Beni Travel Forum. And Rurre has become such a popular tourist attraction in Bolivia that I've created a new Rurrenabaque Travel Forum too.
Santa Cruz - Where I Now Love Living
This entire website, at its inception, was dedicated almost exclusively to Santa Cruz, so of course I have an entire section on
Santa Cruz Tourism
and another on
Santa Cruz Ecotourism
in Bolivia's largest state. You'll find a list of the top 100 things to do in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the capital city, and dozens of tours to other areas such as Samaipata, the Jesuit Missions (ever watch the movie The Mission with Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro?), and two of Bolivia's most visited national parks, Amboro and Noel Kempff. I absolutely love living in
I add stuff to the Santa Cruz section EVERY DAY!!! If you're ever in Santa Cruz, let me know if you need suggestions on what to see, or where to eat, or things to do, or places to stay. I dare you to say there's nothing to do in Santa Cruz.
If you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in Santa Cruz, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, click here to enter our Santa Cruz Travel Forum. And since so many foreigners fall in love with Samaipata it has become a top tourist attraction in Bolivia as well. Enter the Samaipata Travel Forum.
Cochabamba - It's Not Just About Coca
I've been to Cochabamba a LOT over the past 30 years. One of the main attractions is it's huge statue of Jesus which stands atop a high hill overlooking the entire city. You can actually enter the statue and look out some tiny window-holes it has. You just can't go to Cocha and not take a cable car up to the giant Jesus. That would be like ... sacrilege.
Cochabamba has a large outdoor market called La Cancha where you can get lots of stuff really cheap like clothing and handcrafts. There are other outdoor markets too, but La Cancha is where locals and tourists alike all shop. Share your best Cochabamba travel stories.
If you're in Cocha, it's worth the 2-3 hour trip out to Villa Tunari, although this is Bolivia's main coca producing region and there are times when it may not be safe for American tourists. Usually any aggression is politically motivated. Villa Tunari is located in the Carrasco National Park area and is absolutely GORGEOUS. It's also where Inti Wara Yassi's Machia Park animal refuge is located, although the future of this refuge is uncertain as local authorities have begun to build an illegal coca road through this national protected area.
Back to Cocha the city. There are some great clubs if you're into night life and also a really nice botanical garden. Cochabamba has some wonderful large cathedrals and churches you can see too.
Although I have family there and visit quite a lot, I haven't yet built a full section on Cochabamba. However, if you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in Cochabamba, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, click here to enter our Cochabamba Travel Forum.
Tarija - Land of Music and Wine
Since this website was primarily about Eastern Bolivia and we go into greater detail than any other site on the net, Tarija is the next section we've built for you, after taking a long 10-day trip. Tarija is Bolivia's stunningly beautiful southern-most department. It's known for its bounty of flowers and amazing wines and singani (an alcohol that is clear like vodka but made from grapes).
Tarija is a tiny department, but has a lot to see. Tarija has the liveliest music in Bolivia, used to be a part of Argentina, is the prettiest place to spend Easter week in Bolivia, has the friendliest people, has a great Paleontology Museum, and I like it so much, it's where I would live if I didn't live in Santa Cruz. Besides, ever try the wine in Tarija?
Pando has an interesting past. It lost half of its territory to Brazil (the northernmost region of Acre, now know as the Brazilian state of Acre). Read the History of Pando to learn why this is one of the reasons Pando is the most sparsely populated departments of Bolivia. However, there are a lot of very nice natural areas in Pando, such as beautiful lakes, rivers and lagoons. I haven't built a section on Pando yet because it's the one place I've been away from the longest. I haven't been there since before digital cameras were born... and I need to take an update trip! Soon!
If you have any questions about things to do, places to stay or eat, or tourist attractions in Pando, or if you'd like to share your travel stories and photos, click here to enter our Pando Travel Forum.
I hope you've enjoyed hearing my personal take on some of the fun and interesting stuff to do while you travel Bolivia. Be sure to bookmark our site so you can return after your trip and share your travel stories with us!