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Chile > General Information

Bolivia is the Tibet of the Americas – the highest and most isolated of the Latin American republics. A landlocked country on the widest stretch of the Andean Cordillera, with geographical and climatic zones ranging from snowcapped Andean peaks to vast, low-lying savannas and jungles. With several indigenous groups, Bolivia is also the most traditional country on the South American continent. Over 50% of the population is of pure Indian blood, and many people maintain traditional cultural values and belief systems.

Bolivia has certainly had a turbulent and explosive history, but nowadays its image as a haunt of revolutionaries and drug barons is greatly overstated. Although it still faces some difficult problems, it remains one of South America’s most peaceful, secure and inviting countries. In fact, the word most often used by locals is tranquilo.

La Paz
Founded by Alonso de Mendoza in 1548, La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (the City of Our Lady of Peace) is a great place to explore on foot. Although Sucre is the official capital, La Paz is the Bolivian centre of commerce, finance and industry, and the de facto capital. This is a busy modern city, with its centre at the base of the canyon and sprawling impromptu housing all the way up the surrounding hillsides. The city unfolds at the bottom of a canyon 5 km (3 miles) wide and it is nearly 4000 m (13,120 ft) above sea level, so visitors should be prepared for cool evenings and mornings.

Explore the city’s many fine museums or its historic ecclesiastical structures, such as the Iglesia de San Francisco, whose architectural details reflect the indigenous and mestizo heritage of modern Bolivia. The city is also renowned for its many markets, including the Mercado de Hechicería (Witches’ Market), where Paceños and visitors may purchase potions and incantations made from all sorts of herbs, seeds, and secret ingredients to remedy any number of illnesses (real or imagined) and protect from evil spirits. There is also a thriving black market and a Carnaval market, where locals purchase carnival costumes. You’ll also find a wealth of shops selling all sorts of handicrafts, mainly alpaca wool products, silver jewellery, woven textiles and leather goods. Optional activities in La Paz include museums, excursions to Tiahuanaco ruins (cradle of Inca civilization), a tour of the Valley of the Moon, or a visit to the world’s highest ski resort, Chacaltaya (5600 m/18,368 ft). To the south of the city is the Valley of the Moon, with crater-like formations made of sand.

Salar de Uyuni
From La Paz we take a bus and train will to the spectacular Salar de Uyuni. From here starts the beginning of our unforgettable excursion in 4x4 vehicles. Twice submerged by a large, high-altitude lake, the salt flats now cover a total area of over 12000 square km (7440 square miles) and are one of the country’s main salt mining centers. The last large lake dried up about 8000 years ago, leaving the small lakes of Poopó and Ururu, as well as the salt flats of Uyuni. Absorb stunning views of the salt-encrusted lake bed surrounded by golden-hued mountains, snow-capped peaks and an endless azure horizon that will forever engrave itself in your memory. Despite its isolation and challenging climate (cold and blustery most of the year), Uyuni has earned the nickname of Hija Predilecta de Bolivia (Bolivia’s Favourite Daughter). Most of its hardy residents are either Public Sector workers or salt miners in the dried out lake beds, with tour operators a close third. The main attraction in town is the Train Cemetery, a collection of rusting railway relics, just southwest of the present train station.

After crossing the salar de Uyuni we cross into the spectacular desolate landscapes of the Bolivian Altiplano. The tour takes us further through Laguna Colorada, 4278 m/14,031 ft (a large red lagoon, the colour of which is due to algae & plankton growth in the mineral-rich waters), and Laguna Verde, at 5000 m (16,400 ft), a striking blue-green lake (high concentrations of lead, sulphur, copper and other minerals). The numerous geysers, boiling mud pools, and thermal baths, and Licancabúr volcano, 5960 m (19,549 ft), which looms just behind the lagoon are clear evidence of the region’s association with volcanic activity. Surprisingly, both wildlife and flora manage to survive and even thrive in the desolate landscape, this includes vizcachas (of the rodent family), flamingos (3 varieties), and assorted varieties of cacti.

Potosí
Situated at 4070m (13,350 ft), Potosí is the highest city, of its size, on earth. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. Potosí provided a large share of the silver mined and shipped back to Spain until the early 1800s, when both the supply of silver and world market prices began to decline. Working conditions for miners were appalling, and a large portion of the indigenous population was decimated. African slaves were brought in to replace the native workers, and it is estimated that as many as eight million indigenous people and Africans died in the mines during the first three centuries of Spanish colonial rule.

Surcre
The country’s official capital, Sucre, is situated at nearly 2800m (9184 ft) and offers its visitors and inhabitants a more moderate, comfortable climate than cities at higher elevation. Before the conquest, military, religious and political leaders of the local indigenous population made the their homes on the present day city site. The site became the headquarters for the Spanish Royal Court, which by the late 1700s ruled over colonial Paraguay, parts of Peru, Argentina, Chile, and most of Bolivia. In 1825, in the wake of the Latin American independence movement, the city was renamed Sucre, after Simon Bolívar’s second-in-command, General Sucre. The city’s fine museums, colonial buildings and ties to the independence movement make it a city of great historical interest.
 


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