It can be dangerous to travel in Bolivia – the roads are bad, with dirt switchbacks carved into cliffs; the buses are old and the soaring mountains tower over towns with tumbling boulders on the loose. Their capital city has the highest (and shortest) runway in the world, and the thin air will have you gasping for breath at every step. But there’s adventure at every corner and the diversity of the land will blow you away. Bolivia is also the most indigenous of the Latin American countries, meaning that tradition is alive and well, and seeps into modern day life, creating curious juxtapositions that will keep you thinking for days.

Transport and infrastructure is not great in Bolivia – which is perhaps what makes it such an adventure. Most of the travelling you will do will be by coaches which weave up and down the mountain roads through the night and are regularly stopped at military checkpoints. For any long trip, bring a sleeping bag, otherwise you risk you hair freezing to the window as you gain altitude. Most companies offer ‘coche’ prices for long-haul rides; these buses have reclining chairs, hopefully heating and perhaps even a working toilet so it can be worth the extra few pounds. Prices are still cheap with some overnight rides starting at £5.

Best for: Jungle adventures – Rurrenabaque

Rurrenabaque is as close to an Amazon adventure as you’ll ever get – the 12-seater propeller plane that lands in a clearing in the jungle will give you a good idea of what’s to come. The airport is a small concrete hut, and from there you will be piled into a van and then a boat to the simple jungle lodges built along the water’s edge. You can only visit Rurrenabaque on a tour as professional guides are needed. On most jungle trips, you’ll travel by boat up the river, stopping to fish for piranhas (for dinner); you’ll also swim with pink dolphins, who are so tame they’ll come right up to you in the murky water (don’t ask what else lurks in the river; you won’t want to know, especially given that the night before you went cayman spotting). A trek through the jungle in search of a cobra is another common activity; and all this will end with you swinging on a hammock as monkeys and macaws chirp in the trees above and the sun sets over the river.

Where to stay: Hotels and tours are packaged together. We mean hotel in the loosest sense of the word – think wood cabins and hammocks. It’s best to book in La Paz but we recommend choosing by word of mouth. Not all the tours are as professional as each other and the best measure will be other travellers’ experiences.

 

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Best for: Surreal landscape – The Salt Flats

The salts flats are entirely out of this world, and we mean that – miles and miles of crystal clear, reflective white salt that has hardened in place of an old lake. The diamond like ground is endless with surreal cactuses popping up out of nowhere – and then nothing for miles. To visit the salt flats you must book a jeep tour (or the hardy can motorcycle). A favourite activity is the perspective photos you can take while there; with nothing in the background your depth perception will become entirely skewed and the results can be amusing. The sunsets are like nothing you have ever seen as the whole land turns pink. On your travels you will stop at deep blue lagoons, a train graveyard, and a lake of pink flamingos.

Where to stay: Everyone who visits the salt flats stays at the same few places so you will have no choice but the highlight is definitely the Salt Hotel, which is made entirely of – you guessed it – salt. And yes, you can lick the walls. You can book tours from the nearest town of Uyuni. Responsibletravel.com lists a range of companies – most of them offer the same thing.

Best for: Exploring mythological islands – Late Titicaca

Bolivia’s highest mountains are set against this shimmering blue lake with small islands dotted on the surface. The terrain here is rugged and the towns are rough around the edges; a combination of cocaine smugglers who hide-out in the vast cliff sides, indigenous communities who live, eat and sleep on tiny reed islands, and villages that throw a fiesta like you would not believe, drinking Chicha (incredibly strong handcrafted beer) and telling stories deep into the night. Take a boat to the legendary Isla Del Sol, which was believed to be the birthplace of the sun in Inca mythology and revel in the mystery. It’s serene, beautiful and mysterious, and you will never come across such clean air, ever again. Not to mention the feeling you will have as you sit a top a rock on the highest point of the island, and gaze out over the magical lake.

Where to stay: Inti Kala on Isla del Sol has a huge deck with great views but we recommend exploring as you’re bound to come across a number of family-run gems, each with their own charm. If you stay around Lake Titicaca, you will likely be in either the border town of Puno, which is chaotic and more of a stop-off, or in Copacabana, which is scenic and brightly painted. Hotel Wendy Mar is clean and reliable, £20 a night, hotelwendymar.com.

 

 

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Best for: History and culture – Sucre

White-washed Sucre is a UNESCO world heritage site and it’s also Bolivia’s most beautiful city. With sublime colonial architecture, pretty patios and big plazas, there’s a calm that settles over the centre as people simply hang out and talk the day away. Food in Bolivia is not perhaps its selling point but visitors to Sucre may beg to differ – the saltenas here (meat wrapped in pastry) are top-notch, and enjoying them in the market squares at lunchtime with local families is great fun. Sucre’s central market is full of strange vegetables and potatoes in colours you didn’t know existed (Bolivia grows over 4000 varieties of spuds!) and the fruit shakes whipped up by women in traditional bowler hats and rubber flip flops are pretty delicious.

Where to stay: There’s great value for money here, with the stylish five-star Parador Santa Maria La Real going for £56 a night. If you want to keep it cheap, Amigo Hostel is a popular option with everything you’d expect from a backpacker’s hang-out, £4.26 a night.

Best for: High-flying city slickers – La Paz

La Paz is one of the highest capitals in the world – and boy will you feel it as you weave in and out of the narrow hilly streets catching your breath. But luckily that will give you plenty of time to stop and look around – the cobbled roads that dramatically spill down into the valley below (bring your hiking boots even for a day stroll) are crammed full of crumbling old world buildings and lively street stalls. The ‘Witches Market’ is a sight to behold as women in traditional clothes sell all manner of oddities from soap that will improve you sex life to dried llama fetuses. The Coca Museum is also worth a stop off, with it’s detailed and well ordered history of the cocaine industry from jungle harvesting in the Andes, to it’s arrival on the streets of America.

Where to stay: For a party, head to Adventure Brew Hostel where they brew their own beer and you can take a bath in the nectar if you so desire, £5.28 a night. Loki hostel, which is part of a chain, also offers all-night fun and the staff can help with forward planning, £4.87 a night.

 

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