Andrea has lived abroad in Bolivia. In her two years there, she traveled the country extensively and discovered her love of writing.
Bolivia: A Beautiful Paradox Come to Life
Bolivia is a land of puzzling contradictions. The aptly named "Heart of South America" is a bit of a paradox. Each province is so unmistakably original that you cannot possibly lump them all together. From the scorching, arid desert in Santa Cruz to the rousing mountains in Tarija, there is something new, something unpredictable, something so breathtakingly beautiful about this country.
Beni's jungles pull you into their humid embrace, while the peaks of the Andes Mountains tease you with their unscalable tops. The city of El Alto, with its crumbling architecture, melts into a steep valley, turning into the dazzling La Paz, with the famed Lake Titicaca peeking around each new corner.
Yes, Bolivia is a country full of surprises just waiting to be unwrapped.
1. Bike Down "Death Road" in the Yungas Forest
Not for the faint of heart, the Yungus road is considered one of the world's most dangerous roads. Cut deep into the cliffside of the Cordillera Oriental mountain chain, the Yungas road connects the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, with the low-lying region of Yungas in the Amazonian rainforest.
At first, the road does a steep climb and then gradually drops 3,650 meters at a breathtakingly steep descent. The road is narrow, often unpaved, and unguarded from a drop-off into a 600-meter abyss.
If this hasn't dissuaded you, there are tours that will guide you down Yungas road by mountain bike. While reputable tour guides will take every precaution, it is up to each individual to ensure their safety.
The history of the road is intriguing—it was built in the 1930s during the Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners—but what really draws tourists are the magnificent views. The Yungas is a cloud forest, high in elevation and rich in vegetation. The luscious greenery, misty peaks, and waterfalls require even the most hardcore adventurer to pause, even if just for a moment, and reflect on the beauty.
2. Stroll the Streets of La Paz and Soar to New Heights
Any expedition to Bolivia is incomplete without a visit to the enchanting capital, La Paz. La Paz is the third-largest city in the country and is also the highest administrative capital in the world, sitting in the Andes at over 3,500 meters. Once you adjust to the high altitude, you will find yourself quickly taken by the snowcapped mountains and the incredible infrastructure of the city.
La Paz is an example of Bolivia in its truest form: a contradiction, a disagreement. An excitingly advanced aerial car transit system dangles over bustling streets full of vendors in cultural attire. Working professionals stroll in and out of shiny, newly constructed multi-function hotels, with stories dedicated to movie theaters, boutiques, and fast-food restaurants, while just around the corner, the congested streets melt into cobblestone pathways at the feet of Gothic churches. Beyond the city, with its tranquil plazas and ferocious energy, lies Titicaca, the large freshwater lake that connects Bolivia to its neighbor, Peru.
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The list of things to do and see in La Paz is extensive. The best way to experience this metropolis is to immerse yourself in its noise and embrace its chaos. You may love it, you may never want to return to it, but you will never forget it.
3. Dive Into Bolivia's Jungles for an Immersive Experience
Bolivia's jungles are scattered across the country, from the humid depths of the Beni to the Upper Amazon River Basin. In these havens away from the bustle of city life, there are many protected areas virtually untouched by humans. For a truly authentic experience, you can work with eco-conscious guides to get an intimate view of exotic wildlife and the land they call home.
Northwest of La Paz, the Madidi National Park has over a thousand species of birds, hundreds of animals, including jaguars and tapirs, and over 8,000 species of flora. In the department of Santa Cruz, the Amboró National Park is home to rare species such as the bespectacled bear and the ocelot. Bolivia has what scientists consider to be one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, and its national reserves reflect its impressive diversity.
4. For an Unexpected Adventure, Visit the Eerie Train Cemetery in Uyuni
The Great Train Cemetery in Uyuni, Bolivia, is truly a sight to behold. Desolate and abandoned on the edge of the small trading town, the slowly eroding ruins found their beginnings in noble intentions.
In the early 19th century, there were plans to build a vast network of trains out of Uyuni. At the time, Uyuni was already an essential transportation hub in South America. But technical difficulties, along with rising political tensions, left the plans abandoned.
The trains have since sat in their spot, rusting away against the backdrop of the chilled altiplano, making for an intriguing must-see if you plan to visit the region.
5. See the Ivory Ocean, Bolivia's Salt Flats
Arguably one of the most beautiful things to see in Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni is a stunning natural phenomenon. These are the world's largest salt flats and were the result of a prehistoric lake that dried up, leaving behind nearly 11,000 square kilometers of blindingly white salt, unique rock formations, and islands speckled with cacti. This unique ecosystem is home to bright pink flamingos, the elusive Andean fox, and the shy viscacha, a type of chinchilla.
In the dry season, the salt flats are cracked and dry, like a broken ivory chessboard, but the wet rains of summer leave the salt flats covered in a thin sheen of water. The ensuing result is what some have called the world's largest mirror, an unbroken reflection turning everything into a cerulean sky.
Bolivia Awaits You
If you seek adventure in unknown places, Bolivia may be the destination for you. From soaring cities to vast deserts and dense jungles, this is a country that has something for everyone to enjoy. The opportunities for adventure are endless, from floating in a reed boat on Lake Titicaca to zip-lining over the Yungas jungle. At the end of your journey, you may find yourself leaving this marvelous place, but it likely will never leave you.
© 2020 Andrea Burton