In 7-9 days
Spend a few days exploring the museums, churches and markets of La Paz – perhaps the oddest is the Coca museum, dedicated to the Coca plant, raw ingredient for cocaine but revered in Bolivia as a miracle plant.
La Paz makes a good base for day trips to Lake Titicaca, where you can explore the pre-Inca ruins of Tihuanaco, and take a boat out onto the lake to Isla del sol – the island of the sun. This is a deeply significant site for the Inca civilisation, who believed this to be the birthplace of the sun.
Cycle the death road
Another popular daytrip involves cycling “The World’s Most Dangerous Road” – a road connecting the highlands to the tropical lowlands that has the world’s worst safety record.
There are a number of operators in la Paz who’ll take you on this most thrilling of day-trips, a day-long freewheel that involves a vertical drop of around 3600m. Parts of the road are genuinely hazardous – with the single lane road clinging to the side of thickly-forested cliff faces. So take care, and watch out for daredevil truckers coming in the opposite direction.
Extend your stay in Bolivia’s tropical lowlands by visiting Bolivia’s slice of the Amazon rainforest. From Rurrenebaque head into the primeval forests of the Madidi National Park.
See the world’s largest salt flats
At the other end of the spectrum, Salar de Uyuni is Bolivia’s must-see attraction. It’s best seen on a crossing from Bolivia to Chile or vice versa, but there are companies who offer shorter trips.
A typical tour will last three days and will have you skimming across vast salt pans, the horizon bending away on all sides. Be sure to stay a night in one of the area’s salt hotels – the bricks, beds, floors and tables all hewn from thick chunks of pure salt.
The neighbouring Salvador Dali desert on the Chilean border is an otherworldy sprawl of reds, oranges and browns interspersed with haunting rock formations, extinct volcanoes and bright blue lakes covered in flamingos.
2 weeks +
More time in Bolivia means more time to experience the unique indigenous culture. Spend a little longer at Lake Titicaca, either staying in the jaunty beachside resort of Copacabana, or on one of the islands on the lake.
Isla del Sol has a well-marked day hike that follows an old Inca highway, and passes through a ruined Inca temple. Stay at one of the simple guesthouses on the island. The view of the sunrise over the Andes from the middle of Lake Titicaca is one of the continent’s most magical sights.
Sucre and surrounds
The friendly city of Sucre was once the capital of Bolivia and it retains an old world charm and a relaxed pace of life. There’s plenty to explore in town – from the colonial monasteries and churches through to a local dinosaur graveyard. It also makes a great base for a daytrip to the market town of Tarabuco.
Potosi is officially the world’s highest city, it’s a breathless place with a sad history. The mounatin looming over the town has been mined for silver since the Spanish conquest, and it’s still mined today with methods that have changed little. A tour of the mine is claustrophobic and – some would say – dangerous, but it’s an unforgettable experience, giving a stark insight into the daily struggle of Bolivia’s poor.