Best of Bolivia
- 2 weeks
This bare-bones itinerary will take you to the best of Bolivia – from colourful markets to stark salt plains to a city in the sky – at a head-rattling pace.
Start out with a day of acclimatization in La Paz visiting the markets. History buffs can take a side trip to Tiwanaku. From La Paz, head to Lake Titicaca. Allow up to three days on the lake to take in the sites of Copacabana and Isla del Sol and continue your acclimatization. From there, circle down the altiplano (via La Paz) to the Salar de Uyuni for a bone-chatteringly cold three-day jeep tour. You can often extend your trip to take you to the former territory of Butch Cassidy in the pleasant cowboy town of Tupiza.
Swing up to Potosí, a starkly beautiful Unesco World Heritage city, situated at 4070m, where you can visit the mint and mines. After a day or two, head to the white city of Sucre to hang out with students in grand plazas. Return to La Paz via Cochabamba, taking in the views along the way. On your last day in La Paz, consider a day of museum-hopping or take a mountain-bike ride down the World's Most Dangerous Road to Coroico.
The Whole Country
- 5 weeks
Set aside a month or longer to acclimatize to the high altitude, take in one of Bolivia’s signature treks, climb a peak, do a mountain-bike trip or simply dive into Bolivian culture.
From La Paz you can choose from a variety of day trips, including a visit to Tiwanaku or hiking in nearby Chacaltaya or Valle de la Luna. The adventurous can take on the Takesi or Choro Treks, or ride a bike (or bus) down the World’s Most Dangerous Road to Coroico in the Yungas. Next head north to Rurrenabaque and the famous Parque Nacional Madidi – depending on your time and budget you can get here by land, air or boat. Take the time to explore this wild, little-trodden utopia. From ‘Rurre,' you can fly or take a boat to some of the more remote parks, like the Reserva Biosférica del Beni or simply head over to Santa Cruz. From here you’ll kick off a multi-day road trip through the Jesuit Missions Circuit, curling back around via Santa Cruz to the unique ruins near the cooler-than-thou village of Samaipata and the spectacular Parque Nacional & Área de Uso Múltiple Amboró. Head up to Cochabamba for good market buys. From there you’ll start gaining some altitude as you pass through the culturally charged towns of Sucre and Potosí. After you’ve had your fill of these colonial masterpieces, cruise down to wine country near Tarija for a few days of warm weather, wine and chilled-to-perfection zen. You can then loop across to Tupiza for a day or two of mountain biking, while you arrange your four-day Salar de Uyuni trip, going the back way to avoid the crowds. On the way back toward La Paz, adventurous spirits may wish to stop near Curahuara de Carangas, before heading on to the high-plains wonderland of Parque Nacional Sajama, where hot springs and wildlife-watching await.
If you've still got time, continue through La Paz to Copacabana for a day or two of beachfront fun on Lake Titicaca. Cruise over on the ferry, stopping at Isla de la Luna for an afternoon on your way to Isla del Sol. It’d be easy to spend five days here, trekking to lost valleys, ruins and small indigenous villages.
Four to Five Weeks
The Cordilleras and Yungas
- 2 weeks
Trapped between the heights of the Andes and the Amazon, this fascinating area is a trekkers', climbers', hikers' and bikers' wonderland.
Getting here is half the fun. Trekkers can start from outside La Paz, traveling by foot via the Takesi or Choro Treks into the heart of the Yungas. You can also get into the Southern Yungas on a butt-busting daylong mountain bike ride down the World’s Most Dangerous Road. Be sure to spend a few days at the end of your descent in the pleasant Yungas villages of Coroico or Chulumani, both of which offer plenty of day hikes, swimming options and a chilled-out traveler vibe. From there, it’s back to the capital and on to climbing and trekking in the Cordillera Real, stopping in the cool-air, soft-spirited Andean town of Sorata. Adventurers could take on any number of treks from Sorata, good mountain-bike adventures or head up to the glaciated peaks of the Cordillera. If you have the time, extend your journey to the seldom-visitedCordillera Apolobamba for visits with lost tribes, wildcat miners and loads of deep wilderness trekking.
- 3 weeks
This trip will get you away from the main tourist track and into Bolivia’s warm southern comforts. Along the way, there are a few trekking options, interesting cultural centers and energetic cityscapes.
Start with a few days of partying in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s second city. It’s great fun just wandering around the streets as you soak up camba (lowland) culture. Next make your way out of the city for a week-long dusty adventure through the Jesuit Missions Circuit, a series of beautiful missions where baroque music and faith meld with the chilled-out culture of the Guaraní. Cruise back through Santa Cruz on your way to the pre-Inca ruins at Samaipata and tip-top wildlife watching at the Parque Nacional & Área de Uso Múltiple Amboró. From the park (backtracking via Samaipata and Santa Cruz) make your way down to the relaxed wine-country town of Tarija. After a few days in town, you can customize the tail end of your adventure, with hikes along the Inca Trail in the Reserva Biológica Cordillera de Sama or in any of the numerous national parks and reserves unique to the Chaco region.
- 4 weeks
Over half of Bolivia’s territory lies in the Amazon, and yet this is one of the least visited parts of the country. Waterway adventures here are good (and wet) in the rainy season, but if you plan on any type of road travel you should stick with the dry months.
Start in Santa Cruz, a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city with a dreamy (sometimes steamy) climate and tropical atmosphere. Dip into the urban culture for a while and party with the rich kids in the discotecas. From here fly or catch the overnight bus to Trinidad, a sleepy town with a pretty plaza. With enough time, the boat trip down the Río Mamoré from Trinidad to Guayaramerín is highly recommended as a way to soak up the Amazon jungle vibe. If you don’t have the time, stay in town for a bit, whirling around on a motorcycle for a local fish meal, a visit to a museum or two, and a much-needed siesta or three – it gets hot.
A three-hour bus ride will take you to the Jesuit mission village of San Ignacio de Moxos – if possible, plan your trip around the town’s colorful, not-to-be-missed festival in July. From here, wildlife-watchers should make a detour via El Porvenir into Reserva Biosférica del Beni, where the trained eye can spot up to 500 unique species of birds, including a cornucopia of herons and egrets, along with prayerful cormorants, wings spread in apparent supplication. There are around 100 different mammals in the reserve, also home to the Chimane tribe.
It’s a long slog from here via San Borja to Rurrenabaque, hammock country, from where you can set out for a couple of days on a jungle or pampas tour. One option is to get your jungle fill at the San Miguel del Bala ecoresort, just upriver from Rurrenabaque. Whatever you do, don’t miss a trip to Parque Nacional Madidi. Bolivia’s best-known national park offers a week's- or a lifetime’s-worth of adventures in over 1.8 million hectares. The park’s remarkable biodiversity is best enjoyed at a slow pace and you should leave enough time to stay in the highly regarded, community-run Chalalán Ecolodge.
Three to Four Weeks
Whether you've got six days or 60, these itineraries provide a starting point for the trip of a lifetime. Want more inspiration? Head online to lonelyplanet.com/thorntree to chat with other travelers.