If you’re looking for adrenaline-pumping action, look no further than Bolivia. Its epic landscapes are giant outdoor playgrounds for thrill seekers, from climbing up glaciers to rappelling down waterfalls and cycling along one of the world’s most notorious roads. Here are ten adventures to take you out of your comfort zone and get your heart racing.
Trekkers make their way across a snowy Huayna Potosi © Subbotsky / Getty Images
Scale a snow-capped peak
Dominating the La Paz skyline, the majestic Cordillera Real is home to some of Bolivia’s highest summits and endless mountaineering opportunities. The Condoriri Massif consists of 13 ice-capped peaks and experienced climbers can summit three of them – Pequeño Alpamayo, Pico Ilusion and Cabeza del Condor, the highest and most demanding at almost 5,700 meters (18,700 feet) – on an unforgettable five-day mountain adventure. Inexperienced – and determined – climbers can tackle Huayna Potosi, often dubbed 'one of the world’s easiest mountains over 6,000 meters (19,685 feet)' for its accessibility. You'll get some basic training, just make sure you're fit and have spent several days at high altitude.
Operator we recommend: Bolivian Mountain Guide
Surf a sand dune
Lomas de Arena Regional Park, just 30-minutes drive from the city of Santa Cruz, is fast becoming the sand-boarding capital of South America. Its sculpted sand dunes are part of a protected reserve that’s surrounded by forest and home to sloth, monkeys, capybaras and a multitude of birds. The tour includes wildlife spotting from a 4WD and on a guided walk, before whizzing down the towering 12 meter (40 feet) dunes on a specially designed board, either standing up or sitting down.
Operator we recommend: Nick's Adventure Tours
Rap jumping in La Paz gives you the opportunity to test your superhuman wall-descending skills © AIZAR RALDES / Getty Images
High-altitude rap jumping
If you’ve always wanted to make like Spider-Man, then rap jumping in central La Paz could be for you. This vertigo-inducing adventure isn’t for the fainthearted: otherwise known as "forward abseiling," the activity involves rappelling face down. After a couple of practice runs you’ll be jumping face first down a 50-meter (164 feet) building with the ground rushing up to meet you. But don’t worry, someone’s working the brakes and if you chicken out you can always go backward, in traditional abseiling style. You can even dress like your favorite action superhero to do it.
Operator we recommend: Urban Rush
Ride the rapids
Bolivia has no shortage of white-water action, for novices to experienced river runners. On a day-trip from La Paz, you can ride the level III and IV rapids on a 38-kilometer (24 mile) stretch of the Coroico River in Yungas. It’s a thrilling roller-coaster ride, but there are enough peaceful sections to take in the stunning jungle scenery. The Huarinilla River can also be experienced in a day trip, or serious rafters can opt for multi-day expeditions on the Tuichi River in Madidi National Park.
Operator we recommend: Liquid Madness
Going underground in Potosí
If heights aren’t your thing, try crawling through the 550-year-old mine shafts of Cerro Rico, the mountain that made Potosí one of the world’s richest cities in colonial days. But this is no museum piece; it’s a working mine and a downright dangerous one at that. On a four-hour tour, you’ll follow a guide – ex-miners are usually the best – around the claustrophobic passageways and witness first-hand the tough conditions that the workers face. Don’t go as a voyeur but try to engage with them – they’ll be grateful for gifts of coca leaves and cigarettes.
Operator we recommend: Marco Polo Tours
The area surrounding the Salar de Uyuni offers up plenty of adventure for the adrenaline-seeking traveler © Sarah Gilbert / Lonely Planet
Explore beyond the Salar de Uyuni
The world’s largest shimmering salt flat and its cactus-studded islands are just the start on this three-day, off-the-beaten-track tour of some of Bolivia’s most extraordinary scenery, from Dali-esque rock formations to the world’s driest desert and colorful lagoons scattered with pink flamingos. You’ll marvel at still-active volcanoes, wallow in hot springs, meet the resident llamas and vicuñas of the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve and sleep in rustic refugios or one-of-a-kind salt hotels. And at this altitude, nighttime temperatures often drop below freezing.
Operator we recommend: Red Planet Expedition
Zip through the Amazon
Get a monkey’s eye-view of the jungle on a community-friendly canopy tour near Rurrenabaque. Canopy Villa Alcira is owned and run by indigenous Tacanas and you’ll learn about wildlife-rich Madidi National Park, as well as zipping over it at high speeds. Zzip the Flying Fox offers three lines in Yolosa that can be combined with Death Road for an all-around adrenaline rush; the highest soars 350 meters (1,148 feet) above the jungle floor, you can reach speeds of up to 85 kilometers (53 miles) an hour on the fastest, and the most scenic looks down on a wildlife reserve.
Paraglide over La Paz
If you dream of soaring like a condor, why not try a half-day tandem paragliding tour over La Paz? The morning flights take off from Huajchilla in the south of the city, and they might even let you take the controls, at least for a minute; for the rest of your aerial adventure just sit back and enjoy the spectacular views over Illimani Mountain – even better than from the teleférico (cable car) to El Alto. Saphanani is another top paragliding spot just 45 minutes from the city of Cochabamba.
Operator we recommend: Andes Xtremo
Cyclists navigate the twists and turns of Bolivia's Death Road © Filrom / Getty Images
Cycle down ‘Death Road’
The white-knuckle descent from Andes to Amazon along one of the world’s most dangerous roads is guaranteed to earn you bragging rights. It begins at around 4,700 meters (15,420 feet) among the peaks of La Cumbre Pass close to La Paz, turns from tarmac to dirt and gets gradually hotter and dustier until it ends around five hours later in Yolosa. On route, you’ll negotiate sharp curves and sheer drops, stop to admire the spectacular scenery and zigzag passed roadside memorials to all the motorists who didn’t make it.
Operator we recommend: Gravity Bolivia
Adrenaline junkies will love the Vertical Route, around two hours from La Paz. The circuit is compact but action-packed, starting with a 15-meter (49 feet) rappel, followed by the Tibetan Bridge – a 30-meter (98 feet) long, triangular suspension bridge made up of just three, thin wires. Next comes the via ferrata ascending a steep wall for around 40 meters (130 feet) before a zipline, another longer rappel, rounding off with freefall jump off the edge of the cliff. And some say that the road to reach it is just as terrifying.