About one – third of Bolivia lies high in the Andes Mountains on a dusty plateau called the Altiplano. The weather here is bright, cool, and mainly dry, and the highest mountain peaks are capped with snow throughout the year.
This independent country has two capitals, La Paz and Sucre. La Paz, the largest city and the center of the government, is considered to be the main capital. It stands on the Altiplano plain at a height of about 12,000 feet. It is acknowledged as the world’s highest city and visitors arriving from the lowlands often feel uncomfortable and running out of breath due to the presence of the thin air. The main law courts are in Sucre, the country’s judicial capital.
When in Bolivia, be sure not to miss checking out these top ten not to be missed places.
The snowy Mount Illimani of 6,462 meters is located approximately 40 km in a straight line from the center of La Paz. If you pass by from the airport of El Alto via the El Alto-La Paz highway, there are two images that stick in the mind forever. First is the Hoyada, which contain the stunning city with buildings in the central part that are also climbing its slopes. Secondly, the imposing silhouette on the Mount Illimani which is the faithful guardian of the city. From the city center it is sometimes difficult to locate, but (if weather conditions help), it is possible to have an excellent view of Illimani from Avenida Camacho (banking district), from the side of the Mercado Camacho.
From there the view is breathtaking and worth it. The Illimani is actually the top of the volcano where the city of La Paz extends in a plane that is inclined at 45 degrees. It is a gigantic volcano that wields its enormous magnetism over its indigenous inhabitants. It is a great place for those who like skating on ice while admiring its cold and icy landscape. The majestic snow capped mountain frames the city and stands imposing and an ultimate trekking challenge for avid mountaineers. You can take a million worth of pictures if you are lucky and the weather is favorable to your side. It is very near the large snowy part of the Andes mountain range.
To say that this attraction is “average” does not make sense because the road is really impressive; fog, mud, steep, and dizzying heights. The biking trails are incredible and to discover all of it on board a two wheeled vehicle is an experience not to be missed. The road is famous and worth doing because they are already over a hundred years old but it is still a kind of adventure that is worth doing. Drivers and guides like the Biking Altitude, are very friendly, professional, and make the tour as a whole very comfortable. Choose the more expensive bike that is worth every penny with a good suspension system and very good brakes that will help make the trip more comfortable.
Guides are aware of the risk and take all necessary precautions but without neglecting the general idea of enjoying the tour as you cycle your way up and down its challenging biking trail courses. The guides are bilingual and are more than willing to help in any way possible. No need to have a high level of handling mountain bikes, but if you must follow to the letter the instructions of the guides, go ahead and enjoy it. The road itself is not difficult if you go quietly and choose the right tour operator to explore this course with.
Valle de la Luna
The Valle de la Luna attraction can be visited in two ways; on the tour bus (there is a route that includes a visit to the lunar valley), and independently. Be sure to stock up on sunscreens. The best way to see all of it is done in the morning. The place is fenced, well marked and the formations are quite original and quirky. You will make some great photos like you’re on the surface of the moon. It is the first thing to do in La Paz but if you have a few days worth seeing you will not regret a visit.
Admission costs about 15 Bolivianos and can be easily reached via a half hour bus ride from Peace. While the Valley of the Moon is one of the tourist attractions located in the outskirts of the city of La Paz, there are also nearby landscape formations in the south to the center of this type of erosions and even fully urbanized with residential neighborhoods. The petrified or hardened lava formation that flowed in different colors can still be seen and serves as a grim reminder of its last explosion at the foot of the mountain.
To enjoy this place you must learn to negotiate and haggle for the given price. At the Calle Sagarnaga, you will find everything you’re looking for and more. This group of enterprising streets offers handmade Bolivian crafts at a good price and with great memories of the place to bring with you. There is everything in this shopping area starting from; pants, bracelets, accessories, alpaca wool clothing, antiques, incense, native backpacks, etc. Up to the odd llama fetuses that serve as a tribute to Pachamama, and “ready magic” concoctions of the coca tea, various cacti, seed mix, among other things.
The intricate lace works sold by women sellers is a real delight for lovers of crafts. You will find many interesting souvenir pieces if you take time and see what the local tribes can provide. There are several travel agencies around and one can opt for extreme sports adventures that tour operators provide around here. Be sure not to miss the small store of rock and minerals on the street of Sagárnaga. On the right side of the street, about 5 minutes from the Cathedral you can find beautiful and high quality minerals at affordable prices.
Plaza 24 de Septiembre
The city of Santa Cruz does not have many sightseeing options like other Bolivian cities, but the square of the Plaza 24 de Septiembre is a great start to know all the reference in the to find everything; good restaurants, bars, craft shops, and money exchange houses. Around here the landscaping of its squares is always neat and well maintained. The Plaza 24 de Septiembre is an important historical old landmark in Santa Cruz. It is a place where people gather to walk, talk, and rest. There are interesting government buildings and old churches within its perimeter.
On Sundays there are dance performances around. On Wednesdays and Saturdays there is a craft fair on the square past the Cathedral. It is visited by tourists and becomes pretty crowded especially at night. It is an ideal central plaza where foreigners and locals can gather, converge, observe and learn about each other’s culture. You can feel an inner peace and the freely wandering doves are a spectacle to behold. You have to buy a package of corn to feed them and just enjoy the show as they happily scoop the corn off the ground. It is mandatory to visit the Santa Cruz Cathedral that stands opposite the square and know its ancient architecture, the ornate ceiling and the altar.
Biocentro Guembe Mariposario
The center of the butterflies is worth taking a full morning or afternoon for to enjoy the pool and make a contact with nature. It is good for children and you must spend at least 3 hours to absorb all the magic inside the Biocentro Guembe Mariposario. It has a guide service (included in the entry cost) that explains the entire process of butterflies and different sites found in the attractions such as; Butterfly, Bird, Tortugario, and the Orquidiario. Families and kids can also swim on its fantastic the pool or to use the paddle boats in the lagoon.
There is a “monkey island” and several paths as well as a restaurant. Check out the Aviary and Turtle Sanctuary that is located in the forest with a high fence something like a 6 story building within the sector where the animals are in their natural habitat. If you are in luck you can meet at a 1 meter distance, a Peacock and a set of toucan family. The top of the stairs leads to the viewpoint (the highest look-out tower in Bolivia) where you can find other forms or species of unusual birds and the entire landscape of Santa Cruz City. It is an excellent place to have a completely different day and combine a beautiful walk with nature.
House of Liberty Museum (Sucre)
In the city of Sucre, a visit is essential to the Freedom House or the Casa de la Libertad (House of Liberty Museum) because it is the birthplace of the South America and Bolivia’s struggles for emancipation. It produces a very strong emotion go their premises, see the domestic chapel of the Jesuits, the auditorium of the Universidad San Francisco Xavier, now Independence Hall, the Hall of fighters where see the figures of Azurduy Juana and her husband Padilla, Martin Miguel de Guemes, Vincent Moto Mendez and Camargo, the room dedicated to the Flag of Belgrano (also known as the Flag of Macha, referring to the jurisdiction in which it was found), and the room dedicated to Antonio José de Sucre.
You can also visit the Colonial room, the House of Representatives, and Presidents Room. Visiting hours listed on the door of the House are Monday through Saturday from 9 to 12:30 and 14:30 to 18:30, Sunday from 9-12 pm. These times differ somewhat with those listed on the website so you should check them. The input value is 10 Bolivianos for domestic and 15 Bolivianos for foreigners. The visit is done with a guide but it also allows self guided tours around the house where guests are allowed to take pictures. The Freedom House has attached a small shop where you can buy souvenirs. Access is from the same house, or from the street through a separate entrance.
Church of San Felipe Neri
The Church of San Felipe is beautiful and inspiring inside to spend time and learn some of the EARLY history of Sucre. You can visit the catacombs beneath the church and of course up to the terrace and take a picture with the twin towers, one of the awesome parts of the church that was built manually with stones. The patio is full of corridors, arches, nice architecture, and antique statues. It is nice places to take pictures, sit, and contemplate. There is a museum and a guided tour can be arranged to have a better understanding of the church and its historical importance to Bolivia.
The viewpoint from the Plaza de la Recoleta is an ideal viewpoint where you can have a spectacular panorama of the city in a roofed corridor that overlooks the square of the monastery of La Recoleta. Its craft vendors freely sell their wares inside the religious site where cafes and restaurants also abound.
The oldest part and monastery of Sucre stands next to the Museum of the Indian Art. If you want to visit the inside of the 17th century monastery, a monk can guide and tour you around inside their premises or you can stroll outside and just enjoy the idyllic views of the second main city.
Salar de Uyuni
The Salar de Uyuni is the famous repository of the worlds largest salt mine. It has an immense size, a plain solid white landscape, and almost bottomless, all salt structure that makes it look like a place from another planet.
The arrival is a bit long, but all the fatigue of the journey to observe the majesty of the “white magic” is removed and all that is left is a great natural wonder and the joy of a spectacular visit. It is truly a magical place that is worth seeing.