Even though the Andean Region of Bolivia only represents 28% of our territory, it symbolizes the image of the country and therefore how it is internationally known and most commonly recognised. Among the reasons to explain this positioning I can mention that the Andean Region has played a major role in our pre-Hispanic, colonial and republican history and hence attracts most of the international tourists to the country. Of course another big argument is that the city of La Paz is located in the Andean Region and is the most attractive city for long-distance tourists. Little known fact: though La Paz is oftentimes referred as our capital city is in fact the seat of the government (Sucre is our capital). Getting into the topic of travelling to the Andean Bolivia, most of international tourists will visit Peru or Chile after or before visiting this Region. In this post I am introducing the best tourist destinations of the Andean and Sub-Andean Regions of Bolivia and will try giving you a clue for planning your trip to the country, especially if it is for the very first time.
La Paz city, Lake Titicaca and Tiwanaku
This is a classic tourist spot and the most offered route by tour operators. La Paz city is very exotic because of its high altitude (3,640 m), its streets of colonial style going up and downhills, its Andes Mountains named “Illimani” and “Illampu” that decorate the city’s landscape and for the notorious presence of the Aymara people. The Aymaras are Amerindians who adopted some characteristics of the Spanish colonizers creating an interesting mixture of Andean and Spanish culture.
The Lake Titicaca, which Bolivia shares with Peru, is the world’s highest navigable lake (3,812 m) and an amazing mystic place. Copacabana is the most famous city on the edge of the Lake and was named after the Virgin of Copacabana, who also gave her name to the world famous “Copacabana beach” in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). The lake is large (8,372 km2) and has over 40 islands. The most visited ones are the Islands of the Sun and the Moon.
Tiwanaku is until now the most studied Pre-columbian archaeological site in Bolivia. This important UNESCO World Heritage Site reached its apogee between 500 and 900 AD but started around 1200 BCE in its village period. Each year Tiwanaku becomes epicentre of the summer solstice, important event for locals and tourists who get together once a year to see how the sun recharge their energy at the beginning of a new Aymara year.
Uyuni salt flat, historic cities of Sucre and Potosí and Tarabuco traditional market
This is so far my favourite route in Bolivia, especially if it is your first time exploring the country. First of all, Sucre and Potosí are traditional cities from the colony period where you can learn a lot of our history during the Spanish conquest until the beginning of the Republic. Remarkable is the colonial architecture style in Sucre (our Capital city) and the Cerro Rico in Potosi, reputed to be the world’s largest industrial complex in the 16th century.
Secondly, the Uyuni salt flat is the largest in the world with 10,582 Km2 and can be discovered during a 3 days-tour together with amazing colored lagoons, volcanoes, native cultures, local fauna, deserts, hot springs and much more – an outstanding natural and cultural highlight worldwide. Nowadays the Uyuni Salt flat has become the most attractive Bolivian destination for tourists from around the world.
Thirdly, the Tarabuco town (64 Km. from Sucre) is a great place where getting to know one of our more than 30 ethnic groups. Each Sunday along the year you can visit the Tarabuco Market, where peasants from all around come to sale their products. This is definitely the best chance to get to know the Yampara people. If matches your schedule, the Yampara people organizes a festival on the third Sunday of March, dancing an autochthonous dance named Pujllay, with colourful traditional costumes. Definitely worth seeing it!
Los Yungas, Sorata Valley and Sajama National Park
These three destinations are not meant to be combined on a same trip but if you are in La Paz city you can choose from one of them and be sure all are worth it.
The Yungas Ecoregion is very well known as the “death road” due that the access road is narrow, curvy and dangerous and therefore has caused many deaths. The interesting thing about the Yungas is that though only 3 hours away from La Paz city the weather and landscape changes dramatically from the cold, dry and high mountains toward the green humid and subtropical hills. To reach the Yungas you can hike the famous “Inka trail” (45 km walking track), do a downhill bike tour or just take a local bus for La Paz to Coroico, the most touristic town. Yungas is also home of the only community of African-Bolivians, which I think is also very interesting to visit. One of our most popular music’ style, the Saya, has been inspired from their music.
Sorata is a town located in the foothills of Mount Illampu and Ancohuma. The way there takes around 3 hours by public bus from La Paz. The town is very attractive to visit and many small tourist businesses have been created. If you decide to visit Sorata is because you like hiking and mountain climbing. One of the most famous walks near Sorata is to the Gruta de San Pedro. The walk there and back (2½ hours each way) is interesting and at the end of the walk you will see a cave with a lagoon inside. Many tourists reach Sorata as a start point for their climbing plans to the Cordillera Real. One popular trek is to Laguna Glaciar and Chillata going up to 5038 m.
The Sajama is an inactive volcano and the highest peak in Bolivia with 6.548 meters. Nowadays the area is a national park that protects the world’s highest forests consisting of Keñua trees. The surrounding area has plenty to offer including natural hot spring pools, archaeological sites, geyser fields and many endangered animal species like the Andean puma. As this would not be enough, the municipality of Curahuara de Carangas integrated by Aymara population has many interesting cultural things to offer including the Sistine Chapel of the Altiplano built in 1608.