By Rachel Anderson, Rachel Anderson is a journalist travelling South America. She has previously worked for Sky News and Channel 4 News. Tuesday 12 Dec 2017 2:00 pm
Does swimming with pink dolphins in the Amazon or dreamlike cloud forests plucked out of Jurassic Park sound like your thing? I’m pretty sure that sounds like your thing. If so, give Bolivia the chance to charm you.
It’s an amazingly diverse country, and it is one of the cheapest in the Americas, helping you to stretch those holiday pounds. With altitudes upwards of 4,000 metres and little English spoken, it takes some determination to discover the riches of Bolivia. But arm yourself with coca tea and your Spanish phrasebook, and you can dive into a country you will never forget. La Paz and Sucre The rivalry between Bolivia’s two capitals has raged since 1898, when Sucre lost the crown to La Paz.
Slather on your SPF while surrounded by snow-capped mountains, because La Paz is the world’s highest capital city at a dizzying 3,640m, which means a strong sun and delightfully unpredictable weather. Want to stand out in the East London crowd? Visit the Witches’ Market to pick up your obligatory alpaca poncho. And pick up a traditional Bolivian pastry – a Saltenas – a delicious mix of sweet and savoury. You can get cheese, chicken or beef – or treat yourself to all three.
If you’re not feeling up to the street food, pop into Cafe del Mundo for an enormous sandwich or some Italian at Berlusca, which is tucked away in a little courtyard and serves fantastic value set lunches. Or get your adrenaline pumping and take a day trip cycling down the nail-biting Death Road. It leads to the charming town of Coroico, an escape from the city hustle and bustle that’s nestled in the condor-filled cloud forest.
If you’re craving something more genteel, La Paz’s rival is charming Sucre, where gentle hilly streets are lined with whitewashed colonial buildings. To hear about the country’s fascinating politics and history, go on a walking tour with Condor Trekkers, and visit a traditional drinking hole to crack out the Bolivian tunes on the 80s jukebox. Try delicious Venezuelan wraps from bargain lunch joint Bienmesabe, then burn it off by climbing the hill to enjoy a beer with the sunset from Cafe Gourmet Mirador.
Worship the sun at Lake Titicaca
Get your iPhone ready for the stunning Isla del Sol – the number one reason visitors make the stop to the lazy lakeside town of Copacabana. The island hosts multiple important Inca sites, and is dotted with trails begging to be explored. Huff and puff your way up The Thousand Steps (actually ‘only’ 400 steps) to be rewarded with a view unrivalled in northern Bolivia. Make time for a two-wheeled adventure: Lake Titicaca’s coastline has plenty to offer travellers who like the wind in their hair.
Rent a motorbike, prepare for a bumpy ride, and take the 18km ride north around the lake to the sleepy village of Sampaya. Not only do you get the chance to see vast swathes of uninhabited lakeside, but you also get to a glimpse of village life off the tourist trail. Back in Copacabana, grab a delicious real coffee (surprisingly rare in South America) at Kota Kahuana and gorge yourself on fresh pasta (handmade in front of you) at Trattoria Sapori d’Italia.
Escape to the wild
Fancy yourself an explorer? Take a 3-night boat trip through the rainforest with Deep Rainforest Tours. Eat and sleep by the river and pass through canyons as you journey into the Amazon. If swimming with pink dolphins or fishing for piranhas sounds like your thing, hop on a 40-minute flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque, for tours of Las Pampas in the Amazon and dodge monkeys hopping on your hat.
For scenes straight out of Jurassic Park (fortunately minus the murderous dinosaurs), travel east to Santa Cruz. It’s the jumping off point for Amboro National Park, a nature reserve with nearly a thousand species of birds, and mammals including sloths, pumas and the rare spectacled bear. If you prefer a glass of wine to wellington boots, travel to Tarija where you can tour vineyards producing the lesser known but surprisingly delicious Bolivian wine.
Play with perspective on the world’s largest salt flat
Ready to make your friends really jealous? No trip to Bolivia is complete without a visit to Salar de Uyuni. A three-day, two-night tour takes you to high altitude lagoons filled with flamingos, geysers, and relaxing hot springs to escape the high-altitude chill. But most importantly, see the world’s largest salt flat, which, as well as being breathtakingly beautiful, allows you to play with perspective to take photos that are as fun to make as to view.
This charming collection of bespoke cabins sit on a hill overlooking the stunning views of Lake Titicaca. Designed by German sculptor Martin Stratker, the unique rooms feature private gardens with hammocks inside and out. The excellent value suites each boast individual stoves for the chilly nights and a hot-tub is available for private hire. Suites at Las Olas start at £36 per night for a double, and £32 per night at La Cupula.
This lodge, nestled in a clearing in Amboro National Park, offers an oasis of calm surrounded by jungle. With only six rooms (and four more planned), there is a sense of bespoke intimacy to the accommodation and services. There are three pristine waterfalls guests can swim in minutes from the lodge. Rooms at Refugio Los Volcanes start at £63 for single occupancy and £74 for double occupancy. Room prices include three meals a day, and access to local ‘pathfinders’ who help guide you on the surrounding trails.
This boutique hotel sits a stone’s throw from Sucre’s main square. It’s a traditional house that’s been converted into a small collection of charming rooms, all sitting off a flower-filled courtyard. The hotel has several roof terraces, all with individual seating areas offering views over the city to the mountains beyond. Doubles at Hotel de Su Merced start at £59 per night, and suites at £70 per night.
There are flights from London to La Paz with several different airlines. Avianca currently offers some of the cheapest fares with rates starting from £655.