Bolivia Uncovered

The landlocked country of Bolivia is incredibly diverse yet often overlooked, and is much less visited than its neighbours. With South America’s largest percentage of indigenous people, unique species of wildlife that are still being discovered and some of the continent’s best landscapes, Bolivia should be on every traveller’s list.

We start our journey in Madidi National Park, one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, spanning Andean and Amazonian ecosystems and home to various traditional tribes. Then we fly to Uyuni on the Southern Altiplano, our gateway to one of the most extreme and expansive vistas on earth, the Salar de Uyuni. As we travel through the high altitude plains we come across strange rock formations, boiling hot mud pools, and landscapes like a painter’s palette of colour, with brightly hued lakes and glistening salt flats stretching to the horizon.

The cities of La Paz and El Alto are our next points on the map, where we wander through their historic squares, and visit the bizarre Witches’ Market, and then move on to Lake Titicaca and Sun Island, said to be the birthplace of the Inca Empire. And as the wealth of history in Bolivia doesn’t stop at the Incas, we visit the pre-Inca city of Tiwanaku, the site of an important empire that reigned for almost a thousand years, before descending into the forested foothills of the Andes and the peaceful town of Coroico, a centre for Bolivia’s coffee industry.

From awe-inspiring wildlife and pre-Inca ruins, to high-altitude deserts, pristine salt flats and the highest navigable lake in the world, we are confident that every twist and turn – and there will be a fair few on Bolivia’s roads – will leave you completely wonderstruck.

Bolivia Uncovered

Highlights

  • Breath-taking scenery in Salar de Uyuni
  • The Amazon Rainforest
  • Visit Lake Titicaca
  • The ancient site of Tiwanaku
  • Incredible drive through the Yungas
  • See the ‘fighting cholitas’

Day 1 - La Paz

Arrive into La Paz and transfer to hotel. Overnight Hotel Rosario or similar.


Day 2 - Rurrenabaque – Madidi National Park

Fly to Rurrenabaque and take a boat to our Amazon lodge. Sailing on the Beni and Tuchi rivers and passing through the Bala Cañon, we reach Madidi National Park and try to catch our first glimpses of Amazonian wildlife. We then take a short walk to the lake where our cabins are located before heading out to the mirador viewpoint. In the evening we take a night walk to observe the nocturnal sounds and creatures of the rainforest. Overnight Chalalan Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Madidi National Park
Spanning an astonishing nineteen thousand square kilometres, and with altitudes ranging from 300-5500m above sea level, Madidi National Park is home to a complex variety of Andean and Amazonian ecosystems. Its pristine savannah, cloud forest, rainforests and glacial mountain areas offer spectacular scenery and are home to over 700 species of animal, and an unbelievable eleven percent of the world’s total bird species. Madidi also boasts an incredible array of butterfly and flowering plant species. The park is so biodiverse that it is considered to be one of the most important conservation areas in the world.

Chalalan Lodge
Chalalan is a multi-award winning ecolodge, offering traditional thatched Tacana-style cabins and overlooking a large lagoon enriched with wildlife. The lodge is a huge success story and the first of its kind in this area. Having been established by international conservation groups, it is now owned and operated by the indigenous Uchupiamonas community from San José, guaranteeing the sustainability of their culture and the region for future generations as opposed to the destructive logging and hunting way of life. Chalalan profits are distributed within the local community at the end of the year and go towards health, education and sport, also supporting environmental causes. Chalalan is responsible for the conservation of 10,000 hectares within the indigenous territory of San José of Uchupiamonas and is committed to using clean energy and careful water and waste management techniques. They have also initiated a forest enrichment programme in which they plant trees of high ecological value that are currently under pressure in the region.

Day 3 - Madidi National Park

Follow the Tapare Trail to look out for monkeys as well as species of birds including toucans, macaws and eagles. In the afternoon we take another wildlife walk with a particular focus on plant and animal behaviours, with other activities including handicrafts and a canoe ride on the lake. In the evening we also set out by canoe to observe the nocturnal wildlife. Overnight Chalalan Lodge or similar.  (BLD)

 


Day 4 - Madidi National Park

Walk a trail to the Eslabon River to try and spot species such as the Black spider monkey, tapir, deer and peccary. In the afternoon we have time to relax and swim before heading out at night to try and spot caiman and other creatures. We will also learn about the customs, habits and rituals of the Uchupiamonas indigenous people. Overnight Chalalan Lodge or similar.  (BLD)


Day 5 - Madidi – Rurrenabaque – La Paz

We visit the parrot clay lick and take our last wildlife walk, before travelling by boat to Rurrenabaque and flying to La Paz. Overnight Hotel Rosario or similar. (BL)


Day 6 - Uyuni

Transfer to the airport and fly to Uyuni. Overnight Jardines de Uyuni or similar. (B)

Uyuni
At 3368m above sea level and set on the bleak southern Altiplano, is the bitterly cold town of Uyuni. Uyuni is the jumping-off point for tours into the otherworldly landscapes of the surrounding region, namely the Salar de Uyuni and the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. The town was founded in 1889 and its location at the junction of the railways that enter Bolivia from Argentina and Chile, meant that in its heyday it was Bolivia’s main gateway to the outside world. If it weren’t for travellers passing through to visit the salt flats, Uyuni would most likely be a ghost town, as after the decline in the fortunes of Bolivia’s railways there is little other reason for the town to thrive. The Thursday market and street stalls are a good place to hunt for warm woollies before heading out on a 4wd expedition.

Day 7 - Uyuni – Colchani – Salar de Uyuni – San Pedro de Quemes

The first stop of the day is the train cemetery in Colchani, where we will see the rusty remains of hollowed-out train bodies that date back to the early 20th century. We visit a salt-processing town and then continue on to the otherworldly wonder that is the Salar de Uyuni. We also stop to admire the rare ecosystem of Incahuasi Island, an island covered with ancient cacti that can grow up to 18 metres tall. Overnight Takya de Piedra or similar. (BLD)

Salar de Uyuni

The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s biggest salt flat, covering 4050 square miles (9000 sq km) of the Altiplano. The salt flat was left behind by a prehistoric lake that evaporated long ago and is one of the most extraordinary attractions in South America. The thick crust of salt extends to the horizon, making you lose all concept of distance and space and it is covered with polygonal patterns of salt rising from the ground.

In the dry season, the salt flat surface shines with the intense whiteness of snow and in the rainy season – and when nearby lakes overflow – a thin layer of water transforms the flats into an enormous mirror, reflecting the sky and surrounding mountain peaks perfectly. At night, the eerie white glow of moonlight is reflected in the salt and illuminates the entire landscape.

The high altitude and reflective surface of the Salar de Uyuni means that little heat is retained and it can get extremely cold. Whilst by day, temperatures can soar as high as 30 degrees Celsius, they can drop below -25 at night and as far as -40 – with wind-chill factor included – meaning this is one of the widest day-night temperature fluctuations found anywhere in the world.

The alien terrain of the Salar de Uyuni serves as an extraction site for salt and lithium – the latter, an element responsible for powering smartphones and laptops. In addition to the local workers who harvest these minerals, the Salar de Uyuni is home to the world’s first salt hotel and some of the small hostels are also built from salt.

Day 8 - Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa – Siloli desert – Ojo de Perdiz

We continue driving to the Cañapa, Hedionda, Honda and Charkota lagoons. The lagoons are towered over by snowy peaks and are populated by large colonies of flamingoes and other birds such as ducks and Wallata geese. We may also spot vicuñas and as we ride through the Siloli desert (4500m), we might be lucky to see a viscacha or two. This high-altitude desert is scattered with rock outcrops that have been sandblasted into surreal shapes. We stop at the Stone Tree, shaped by erosion over thousands of years. Overnight Takya del Desierto or similar. (BLD)


Day 9 - Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa – Uyuni

Driving south, we visit Laguna Verde and Laguna Colorada (green and red lagoons). Their piercing colours will make for some incredible photography, especially as the red lagoon will most likely be dotted with pink flamingos. We also stop at the geological phenomena that is the Sol de Mañana geyser and the hot springs at Los Polques. Overnight Jardines de Uyuni or similar. (BL)

Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa

Covering the most southwestern corner of Bolivia, Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa is a 7147sq km wildlife reserve that ranges between 4000-6000m in altitude. The main attractions within the reserve are the remarkably beautiful and bizarre-coloured lakes – several of which host large populations of flamingos – and the Sol de Mañana Geyser.

The biggest and most striking lake to photograph, is Laguna Colorada. The natural pigments of algae in the lake and its mineral-laden waters mean that the lake is red in colour and this changes in intensity during the day.  The algae are a rich food source for flamingos and all three species nest here in large numbers, including the rare James Flamingo. Laguna Colorada is bordered with deposits of bright white ice and borax, the latter a mineral used in glass, acid and paint manufacture. Also startling is Laguna Verde, a vibrant green lake set at 4300m. The lake’s green hues are owed to arsenic and other minerals in its waters and the colours range from turquoise to deep emerald, dependent on how much the wind stirs up its sediments.

Set at an altitude of 5000m, the Sol de Mañana geyser is set amidst boiling pools of sulphur and mud. The geysers high-pressure jet of steam shoots out from the earth at great height in the early morning in sub-zero temperatures.

Day 10 - La Paz – El Alto – La Paz

Today we fly to La Paz. We explore the city, first stopping at Plaza Murillo, where the Bolivian Government is based. We visit the immense Cathedral, Presidential Palace and the 16th century San Francisco Church, then head to the intriguing, if rather gruesome, Witches’ Market to see the strange collection of good luck charms and ritual products on offer. In the afternoon, we take the cable car to El Alto to admire the futuristic buildings designed by famous Bolivian architect, Freddy Mamani. Overnight Hotel Rosario or similar. (BLD)

La Paz

Sitting at a dizzying 3500m above sea level in a depression gouged into the altiplano, is La Paz, the political and commercial hub of Bolivia and capital in all but name. Dwarfed by the icy peak of Mount Illimani, the valley floor is a smorgasbord of vibrant street markets, museums, ministries, colonial churches, white-washed houses and bustling plazas, whilst the steep valley slopes that rise up either side of the city are carpeted with the ramshackle, red-brick homes of the city’s poorer inhabitants.

The city has a population of around 800,000, two million if you include El Alto and Viacha. It was founded as a centre of Spanish power in the Andes and has always had two very distinct societies – the indigenous and the European. Banks, government offices and fast food restaurants share space with Aymara markets selling ritual paraphernalia used for appeasing the spirits and mountain gods, and the Aymaras make up the majority of La Paz and El Alto’s population. The most popular thoroughfare for strolling and socialising in La Paz is the Prado, which runs along the course of La Paz’s river, the Río Choqueyapu.

Named La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de la Paz, meaning ‘The City of Our Lady of Peace’, the city was founded in October 1548 by Spanish conquistador Alonso de Mendoza, on the orders of Viceroy Pedro de la Gasca. The foundation of La Paz was to commemorate the end of ten years of civil war between rival Spanish factions, fighting over the combined territories of Alto and Bajo Peru. Gasca ended the war with force and executed rebel leader Gonzalo Pizarro in April 1548. The city is sited in the Choqueyapu valley and developed a commerce-based economy.

Day 11 - Chacaltaya – Moon Valley – La Paz

We travel to Chacaltaya mountain, located 45km from La Paz and with a height of 3500m. The mountain is nestled within the Andes mountain range and the view from here is incredible. We will be able to see the snow-capped giants that are Huayna Potosi, Illimani and Mururata. In the afternoon, we travel south of La Paz to see the rock structures and lunar landscape of Moon Valley. Overnight Hotel Rosario or similar. (BL)


Day 12 - Copacabana (Lake Titicaca) – Sun Island

We drive to the town of Copacabana on the shore of Lake Titicaca and take a boat to Sun Island. The island is known as the place where the Inca empire was born and we visit a religious centre in the south of the island, called ‘Pilkokaina’ or ‘Temple of the Inca’. Later we take a small walk to the ‘Fountain of Eternal Youth’. Overnight La Estancia Ecolodge or similar. (BLD)

Lake Titicaca

Set at an altitude of 3810m and measuring 190km by 80km, Lake Titicaca is the biggest high-altitude body of water in the world and the highest navigable lake in the world. This expansive and utterly tranquil, deep-blue lake straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia and can be visited on either side. The lake is dotted with both rigid and floating islands that are home to indigenous communities and has always played a major role in Andean religious conceptions.

As the biggest body of water in an otherwise arid region, it’s considered a powerful female deity that controls rainfall and climate. The Incas believed that the creator god Viracocha once rose from its waters and created the sun and moon. They also claimed that their ancestors came into being here and the remains of their shrines and temples can be visited on Isla del sol and Isla de la Luna. The lakeside town of Copacabana is also of religious importance, as it is home to Bolivia’s most important Catholic shrine.

Day 13 - Copacabana – Tiwanaku – La Paz

Returning to Copacabana, we visit the Brown Virgin’s Sanctuary and the local fair before travelling back to La Paz. En route, we stop at the ancient, pre-Inca city of Tiwanaku. The city was founded around 1500BC and became the capital of a massive empire that lasted almost a thousand years. Overnight Hotel Rosario or similar. (BL)


Day 14 - Coroico

Driving along the Yungas road, we reach Coroico and the Munaipata Coffee Farm. The organic farm is based at 1500m above sea level and we learn about all of the stages of the coffee process, from planting to roasting. The scenery is a real highlight of the day ranging from the lush, forested Andean foothills to more distant views of the Cordilleras icy peaks. Overnight Viejo Molino or similar. (BLD)

Coroico

The peaceful town of Coroico has been named one of the most enchanting spots in the Yungas. Perched on a steep mountain slope at an altitude of 1760, it enjoys a warm, pleasant climate and boasts panoramic views across the forest-covered Andean foothills, all the way to the icy peaks of the Cordillera Real and beyond. Coffee is harvested in the town, after the ‘Guinda’ (ripe coffee fruits) are collected from the nearby plantation at Munaipata (1500 metres above sea level). The descent into Coroico is spectacular, as you start amid the icy peaks of the Cordillera Real, before plunging down through the clouds, via narrow gorges clad with thick rainforest, into the humid valleys of the Yungas.

Day 15 - La Paz – El Alto – La Paz

Transfer back from Coroico via La Paz and onwards to El Alto in the evening. We go and see a cholita wrestling match, in which the ‘Fighting Cholitas’ wrestle to stand their ground, displaying female empowerment and fighting for gender and racial equality. Overnight Hotel Rosario or similar. (BL)

El Alto and the Fighting Cholitas

Overlooking La Paz, on the rim of the Altiplano is the fourth-biggest, poorest and fastest-growing city in Bolivia, El Alto. The city is largely populated by Aymara migrants who have come from the surrounding high plains and the population is close to a million, with a staggering sixty percent under twenty-five years old. Tin-roofed adobe shacks and half-finished red brick buildings sit side by side with the ‘Neo-Andean’ style ‘cholets’ built by architect Freddy Mamani. These colourful, gaudy mansions house shops, party venues and family homes.

El Alto can be reached by a journey on the cable car from La Paz, which offers splendid, panoramic views. It is also home to the world’s biggest flea market – selling everything from clothes and furniture, to groceries – and the ‘Fighting Cholitas’. The word ‘cholita’ comes from the Spanish word ‘cholo’ (chola for females) meaning mixed race. When Spanish colonialists first arrived in South America, they introduced a degrading caste system that ranked people according to colour and race to maintain dominance.

In this caste system, ‘cholos’ ranked as the lower middle class and were discriminated against for centuries. As women from a socially marginalised community, the Cholitas not only faced social, economic and political challenges, but gender discrimination too. These indigenous Aymara women resist against patriarchy both outside and inside the ring. Dressed in iconic bowler-hats and pollera skirts and displaying feisty spirit, they wrestle to display female empowerment, gender and racial equality and to reclaim the respect that they so rightfully deserve.

Day 16 - La Paz

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)


Flamingos on the altiplano - Bolivia holidays
Road down to the Yungas - Bolivia holidays and tours
Colonial era houses in La Paz - Bolivia holidays and tours

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by an English-speaking guide throughout as well as local English-speaking guides with specialised knowledge, in each destination. Please note, for groups of less than 4, you will be accompanied by local guides in each destination only.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If, however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves, we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

British nationals don’t need a visa to visit Bolivia. The length of stay permitted is 30 days and can be extended for a further 60 days at no charge. Your passport must contain an entry stamp, otherwise you’ll have to pay a fine to leave the country. If you enter Bolivia overland, make sure your passport is stamped at both sides of the border with an exit stamp from the country you are leaving and an entry stamp on the Bolivian side. Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of six months from date of entry into Bolivia. Some other nationalities including various European nationalities and citizens of the USA, do require a visa. Feel free to contact us if you are unsure.

Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover, which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The Bolivian currency is the peso boliviano (BS) and is more commonly referred to as the ‘boliviano’. The best way to carry money is to have both cash and your card, so you always have a back-up. ATM’s are widespread and you can withdraw both bolivianos and US dollars from the ATM’s that are attached to bank branches. The cash limit varies from bank to bank as does the transaction fee and commission. Bisa, BNB and Banco Mercantil de Santa Cruz tend to be the best ones to use.

Credit and debit cards are mainly only used in expensive shops and restaurants and in some hotels and tour agencies. American Express cards are rarely used. It’s a good idea to carry plenty of cash into rural areas just in case, although most towns have ATMs and US dollars can be changed into bolivianos at money changers and banks almost everywhere in the country. Break large denomination notes at every opportunity – in hotels and big shops – as small change is in short supply in Bolivia and people may be reluctant to accept larger notes. Be wary of forged notes – bolivianos and dollars – and avoid changing money with street money changers.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to Bolivia.

We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in Bolivia. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Flamingos on the altiplano - Bolivia holidays
Road down to the Yungas - Bolivia holidays and tours
Colonial era houses in La Paz - Bolivia holidays and tours
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
15 August 2021
Price (PP) -
£3,999
Single Supplement -
£650
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
14 August 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,999
Single Supplement -
£650
Trip Status -
Available