The Ultimate Bolivia Road Trip

hand drawn map of Bolivia road trip

Are you ready to undertake the Ultimate Bolivia Road Trip? Whether you have a few weeks or a few months, BoliviaSchedules can help you explore this country that with much of it at high altitudes will truly take your breath away!

From mountains scraping the heavens to high-altitude plains (altiplano) and salt flats; or sultry jungles to extensive wetlands, this Andean country has a bit of every type of landscape to satisfy your soul.

Bolivia doesn’t just shower incredible vistas upon its visitors. Its enigmatic culture also mirrors the dramatic contrasts of the landscapes.

Quick Facts About Bolivia

1 Formally known as the Plurinational State of Bolivia, the country is home to Aymara, Quechua, Guaraní, and other indigenous nations, each with fascinating dances, music, and artisan crafts. From the mines deep in the high Andes came the silver that adorns many of the country’s colonial Catholic churches.
2 Bolivia is one of the least expensive countries in South America. The currency is the Bolivariano or BOL and as of this writing is exchanging at 1 BOL for 0.14 USD or 0.13 EUR. Everything is affordable for shoestring travelers, whether you’re talking about lodging, food, or transportation, or sightseeing admissions. Your dollars and Euros will go much farther in Bolivia than in other countries.
3 There are two capitals. La Paz may be the largest city (and at 3,650 meters is the world’s highest capital), but it is only considered the administrative capital where there is a palace and lots of bureaucracies. However, the country’s constitutional capital is Sucre, where the highest court of the country sits.
4 Bolivia has a population of 12.48 million persons as of January 2024, spread across roughly 1.1 million square kilometers, for a population density of 11.28 persons per square kilometer. Nonetheless, you will experience much of Bolivia to be very remote and unpopulated.
5 The official language of Bolivia is…well, take your pick from 40, and English is not one of them! The top five languages spoken are Spanish (Castilian), Quecha, Ayamara, Chiquitano, and Guaraní. This lends itself to the related fact that Bolivia has the highest proportion (63%) of indigenous people of all countries in Latin America.
6 Bolivia is only one of only two landlocked countries in South America, with no oceanic coastline. The other is neighboring Paraguay. So you would think it does not have a navy, but you’re wrong. You’ll see the ships on Lake Titicaca (the world’s highest navigable lake) as well as in the port of Arica, Chile, with whom it has a long-standing treaty to lease a port from its neighbor.

Laying the Groundwork for your Bolivian Adventures

What You Need to Enter Bolivia?

Important: Visa requirements frequently change. Check with the Bolivian embassy in your home country for current requirements.

Travelers from Mercosur and CAN (Comunidad Andina) nations need only to present their valid national identification cards to enter the country.

To see if your country needs a visa, check Bolivia’s Foreign Relations Ministry’s website for current regulations.

Officially, a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for entry to Bolivia.

Where Can You Begin Your Bolivia Road Trip?

The starting point of your Bolivian adventure depends on whether you’ll be entering the country by air or by land.

If you are flying into Bolivia, both of the major cities – La Paz (in the neighboring city of El Alto) and Santa Cruz de la Sierra – have international airports.

If you are on a multi-country South American adventure, you may be entering Bolivia by land (or, in a few cases, by water). Bolivia has land borders with all its neighbors. From Peru, you can opt to use one of three land crossings or go across the lake. The Chilean-Bolivian border is accessed by international buses or by a multi-day tour through the Salar de Uyuni. To find out more about all these border crossings, as well as those with Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, pick up a copy of AndesTransit’s exclusive guide, South America Borders.

Book cover for South America Borders
South America Borders, available on Amazon.

What are the Health Concerns in Bolivia?

As mentioned earlier, Bolivia officially requires a yellow fever vaccination certificate to enter the territory. If you plan to travel into the Amazon jungle region, it is highly recommended that you have this vaccine. Consult with your healthcare provider about other vaccines that are recommended.

A common effect of Bolivia’s high altitude (especially above 2,500 meters) is altitude sickness (soroche). Among the symptoms are headache, dizziness, tiredness, and shortness of breath. If you ascend quickly to altitude or fly into La Paz (El Alto), then take it easy the first couple of days: walk slowly, rest, avoid greasy food and alcohol, eat lightly, and drink plenty of bottled water.

You can also take an over-the-counter medication for soroche at any local pharmacy (farmácia). There’s also the homemade remedy, which is coca leaf tea but be mindful that while coca consumption is legal in Bolivia, you may test positive for drugs in a urine test upon leaving. If you have only a week or two for your Bolivia vacation, you may want to consider flying into Santa Cruz and enjoying lower altitude adventures.

To protect your gut from stomach upsets, drink only bottled water, or use purifying drops or a good filter. Do not consume ice unless it’s from a package you get in a grocery store, or any drinks that you think might be made with unpurified/unfiltered water.

The sun is strong at high altitudes. Use a high-factor sunblock and good sunglasses to protect your eyes from UVA radiation.

And What About the Current Covid-19 Situation in Bolivia?

Foreign citizens regardless of their vaccination status and purpose of travel can enter Bolivia.

What’s the Climate Like?

Bolivia has a wide range of climates that all largely depend on the altitude. They vary widely, from polar-like conditions in the altiplano (high plains) to tropical steam in the eastern lowlands.

Altiplano – This high-altitude region is found in western Bolivia. Its desert climate is characterized by strong and cold winds. Daytime is marked by temperatures 2ºC to 15º, dry air, and high solar radiation. At night, it can dip to freezing or even below. Ground frosts are possible in any month, and snow is frequent.

Valleys and Yungas – These areas of northern Bolivia have a temperate climate with high humidity and frequent rains. Snow can occur at over 2,000 meters altitude.

Llanos – The plains of eastern Bolivia are hot with temperatures clinging up to 30ºC, humid, and receive a lot of rainfall. Dry winds called surazo blow from the south in May, bringing dry and cold weather.

Chaco – The Chaco covers the southeastern part of Bolivia. Here, the climate is subtropical and semi-arid. January is rainy and humid. The rest of the year experiences warm days and chilly nights.

How Can I Get Around Bolivia?

Bolivia is a large country and getting from Point A to Point B can take quite a while, not only because of distances but also due to road and weather conditions.

Buses in Bolivia are generally good, with quality ranging from “chicken buses” to more comfortable buses.

Train enthusiasts should look into the long and active role of trains in Bolivia, and some are still operating. About half of the routes, however, were cut during the pandemic and not returned to normal operations.  The major routes offer a variety of classes, depending on your budget and the level of comfort you seek. BoliviaSchedules can help you book train tickets through its home page the same way you would look up and reserve bus tickets.

In some parts of the country, especially in the jungle region, boats travel up and down and across rivers is common. On Lake Titicaca, there are ferries to get to Copacabana, and private boats are often hired for expeditions or even to cross to Peru.

The Ultimate Bolivia Roat Trip

Now that we’ve gotten some of the foundations laid down, I’ll share with you what I think is the Ultimate Bolivia Road Trip, based on my journeys to the Andean country. This extravaganza outlines a two-month sojourn in Bolivia, but if you have the time and money, you can easily stretch it into three months of incredible adventures.

LA PAZ

5 nights
Downtown Street Scene, La Paz, Bolivia
Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Even though it has 1.8 million residents, La Paz is still only the third-largest city in population. Its suburb, El Alto, is actually larger.  However, La Paz is the country’s most recognizable city and one of Bolivia’s two capitals, with the other being the constitutional capital, Sucre.

When arriving in La Paz, you’ll find that even the local people take it slow and easy walking up the steep streets, because at 3,640 meters, this is the highest capital city in the world! And because many of you will be coming from much lower altitudes, you’ll probably feel the altitude weighing on your chest even more than the locals do.

That doesn’t mean you can’t head out and begin exploring the city. You can just hit the streets walking, hop a city bus, or take the famed Mi Teleférico cable car system which has 10 lines to get you around the city.

One of the most famous sites of La Paz is the Mercado de las Brujas (Witches’ Market). Here along the sidewalks of Calle Melchor Jiménez, indigenous Aymara healers offer their services of bewitching ceremonies, as well as notions for healing in the form of plants or other novelties.

Use one of your five evenings to head out for some great fun to watch the sport of Cholita wrestling, which is an all-female form of the sport unique to Bolivia.

Museums

Museum-goers have a fine selection of institutions from which to choose. Note, however, that most museums charge a higher entry fee for foreigners.

To learn about Bolivian history and culture, stop by the Museo de Coca (Calle Linares Nº 906), or make your way to the Museo de Muñecas Elsa Paredes de Salazar that displays dolls dressed in the traditional clothing of Bolivia’s many indigenous nations.

The Museo Nacional de Arqueología Boliviana – Munarq features artifacts from Tiwanaku and other archeological sites in the altiplano region and is located at Calle Tiwanaku Nº 93, and Calle Federico Suazo. This would be a good stop to make before heading out on a day trip to see the real Tiwanaku archaeological complex a short distance to the west of La Paz.

Tiwanaku Status der Moench
Fulsen at German Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to hang out in the city for a while longer, then use it as a base for day trips. The most popular one we mentioned above is Tiwanaku, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the spiritual and political center of the Tiwanaku culture that ruled the region between 500 A.D: and 900 A.D. These pre-Inca ruins lie halfway between La Paz-El Alto and Desaguadero on the Bolivia-Peru border. It is easily reached with public transportation, including the option to go by a special tourist train on the second Sunday of each month.

Outside La Paz are several stunning reserves where nature lovers can enjoy hiking, trekking, mountain climbing, and other activities. Many of these reserves are easily accessible by public transportation. Just 10 kilometers from La Paz, check out the bizarre rock formations of Valle de la Luna or the amazing geology and waterfalls of Cañón de Palca. Huayna Potosí is 56 kilometers away and very popular with mountain climbers.

Festivals

La Paz has a full slate of festivals throughout the year, but the most interesting are:

Alasitas, in which miniature objects symbolizing one’s desire are offered to Ekeko, the traditional god of luck and prosperity, requesting that the wishes come to fruition. Alasitas is a month-long event usually starting in late January.

Carnaval, a water-logged event throbbing with music and dance (February/March).

Festividad de las Ñatitas occurs on the 8th of November (following Day of the Dead ceremonies) and commemorates the forgotten deceased or those that died a violent death.

LAKE TITICACA

3 nights, including Copacabana for 1 night and Isla del Sol for 2 nights
Copacabana, Bolivia
User:Gerd Breitenbach, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The main town on the shores of Lake Titicaca is Copacabana, which is a small town of 15,000 people located four hours by bus from La Paz. While most are used to going downhill to get to a lake, Copacabana is actually almost 200 meters higher than La Paz, so you’ll be going up to get to the lake.

Attractions in Copacabana include the Basilica, which is a major religious pilgrimage site and has a museum. There is also the Museo de Poncho (42 Calle Baptista). On Sundays, be sure to catch the blessing of the cars!

Cerro Calvario is a hill above Copacabana that has wonderful views of the lake and islands and is a popular place to watch the setting sun. It is a 30-minute walk to the top. A longer hike to Yampupata is 17 kilometers and five hours one way, but once there you can catch a ferry to Isla del Sol.

February is a big festival month in Copacabana with both the feast day of the Virgen de Copacabana (2nd of February) and Carnaval (February/March). At both fiestas, you can witness the traditional music and dances of the region.

Isla del Sol is a large island accessible only by boat with two public ferry departures per day from Copacabana and from Yampupata. As the ferry makes stops at two ports on the island, you can get off at one and hike across the island to the other. This is the birthplace of the Inca nation’s founders, Manco Capac and his wife, Mama Ocllo. It is worth spending a few days to learn a bit about the indigenous culture here.

If you have extra time, pop on over to neighboring Isla de la Luna. Note: An entry fee to visit Isla del Sol is charged upon landing.

COROICO

2 nights
Yungas road to Coroico, Bolivia
Alicia Nijdam from Cordoba, Argentina, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To get to the next stop on our Ultimate Bolivia Road Trip, you’ll have to return to La Paz in order to go north to Coroico. There are two ways of getting there, one of which is simply taking a bus on the new highway. The other, however, is popular with avid bicyclists who can arrange a bike tour down the infamous Death Road, which is the old road down into the Yungas jungle. If you are opting to arrive by bike, check with the tour company about making Coroico the endpoint of your tour.

A mere 30 kilometers from La Paz, Coroico is one of the most underrated towns in the Andes. This laid-back village is where you may learn about Afro-Bolivian culture from the locals and visit the Centro Cultural Afro del Cafe y Coca 26 kilometers from Coroico between Trinidad Pampa and Coripata. In town, the museum Coca Wasi is dedicated to the medicinal plant after which it is named.

Coroico is a wonderful place for hiking. Trek to the local waterfalls or to Cerro Uchumachi (2-4 hours to the top) where there are incredible views of the Andes and the jungle. You can also go rafting or hang gliding (parapente); or visit banana, coffee, or coca farms (yes, legal ones).

Coroico’s big festivals are the Fiesta de la Virgen on the 20th of October and Día de Los Muertos from the 29th of October to the 3rd of November.

RURRENABAQUE

4 nights
Rurrenabaque Bolivia - The Amazon
Warren H, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From Coroico, you can take a bus to Rurrenabaque on the east bank of the Beni River. “Rurre” (as this town of fewer than 20,000 people is known) is a base for getting into the jungle, but it also has a few attractions in the town proper.

Visit the Museo Arqueológico y Etnográfico (Archaeological and Ethnological Museum) on the intersection of Calle Marbán and 18 de noviembre, and the pleasant and easy trail Sendero Ecológico Turístico “La Vertiente.”

The big draw, however, is the world-famous Parque Nacional Anmi Madidi. This 1,878,760-hectare reserve is home to a wide assortment of flora (an estimated 12,000 species, with 93 endemic species, 31 of which are exclusively found in the Madidi) and fauna (182 mammal species, 917 bird species, and 92 reptile species).

Noteworthy mammals are capybara, jaguar, giant otter, maned wolf, Andean bear, and several types of monkeys, including woolly monkey and spider monkey. Among the bird species are Andean condor, Andean military macaw, and Bolivian swallow-tailed cotinga.

Within the national park are several eco-lodges operated by the Tacana indigenous nation, including Albergue San Miguel del Bala and Albergue Ecológico Chalalán. Each offers 3-day/2-night (and longer) all-inclusive tour packages.

For those travelers that have more time to spare, it is possible to volunteer at an animal rescue organization.

TRINIDAD & THE JESUIT CIRCUIT

6 nights
San Ignacio de Velasco church on the Chiquitania Jesuit Circuit, Bolivia.
Geoffrey Groesbeck, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The capital of the Beni Department, Trinidad makes a good rest stop as you go through this sparsely populated region.

While you are enjoying the pleasures of civilization, you can take in the Museo Itícola at the Universidad Autónoma del Beni, dedicated to the over 400 specimens of fish found in the region’s lakes and lagoons. Also at the university is the art gallery Galería de Artes Juan Carlos Aguirre Muñoz and the Museo Etnoarqueológico Kenneth Lee exhibiting Moxos indigenous pottery, textiles and other artifacts (Avenida Ganadero, 3 km from town). Other museums are Museo Histórico del Beni (Casa de la Cultura, Calle Santa Cruz and Antonio Vaca Diez) and Museo Héroes Benianos del Chaco (Calle Melitón Villavicencio and Plaza de los Excombatientes).

Trinidad, founded in 1686, was one of the original Jesuit missions in this region and is thus where the Jesuit Circuit begins.

The Jesuit Circuit

From Trinidad, you will enter the Chiquitanía Jesuit Circuit which has seven 17th and 18th-century Jesuit mission churches. To find these intricately carved wooden churches of Baroque architecture in the midst of such challenging landscapes is both eerie and astounding. All of the churches on this circuit form part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You’ll be taking the circuit clockwise. The distance between towns averages 1-3 hours, so several can be visited in one day. Most of the churches have museums.

Pass the night in these small indigenous villages and savor life off the beaten track.

After busing some six hours east from Trinidad, you’ll arrive at San Ramón, where there is lodging. The next day, travel one hour to San Javier, constructed in 1691, and then to Concepción, founded in 1709 for another night of lodging. On day three, journey the 171 kilometers to San Ignacio (constructed in 1748), which is the largest town on the route and will be your rest stop for this day. Day four starts your adventure earlier than the other days, taking in San Miguel (1721), San Rafael (1695), and Santa Ana (1755), all of which have museums and craft workshops. Continue on then to San José de Chiquitos and spend the night there. From here, you can either go back west to Santa Cruz, but you would be missing four additional churches farther east, and worth going out of your way to include them for a full experience. They are the two San Juans (de Taperas (1699) and de Chiquitos), Santiago (1754), and Santo Corazon (1760).

These last four towns are also on both a highway and rail line that you can use to get back to Santa Cruz.

If you are crunched for time, one- to four-day tours may be arranged in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

SAN JOSÉ DE CHIQUITOS

2 nights
San Jose de Chiquitos
Diego Tirira from Quito, Ecuador, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This Jesuit mission was founded in 1697 to evangelize and train the indigenous Chiquitano people. Use this pleasant town to chill out after the Mission marathon and get ready for the next leg of your Ultimate Bolivia Road Trip.

While you’re kicking back and relaxing, visit the mission church and its museum. Two kilometers outside the village is Parque Nacional Histórico y Arqueológico Santa Cruz la Vieja, the ruins of the original founding of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in 1561. The Chiquitano community offers gastronomic tours of their traditional cuisine.

San José de Chiquitos celebrates its patron saint, Saint Joseph, on the 1st of May. Festivities include religious rituals that are a fusion of Christian and Chiquitano beliefs, with processions, indigenous dancing, and Baroque music.

THE PANTANAL

4-day tour
Pantanal vista frontera Bolivia-Brasil
Ducaraleo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From San José de Chiquitos, you’ll travel seven hours by bus or an 8–10-hour overnight train to Puerto Suárez or Puerto Quijarro in the Pantanal region, the largest wetlands in South America. Tours into the Pantanal can be arranged in Puerto Suárez (easiest) or Puerto Quijarro (which is also has a border crossing into Brazil and will allow you to visit the Brazilian Pantanal).

Bolivia’s Pantanal is protected by Parque Nacional ANMI Otuquis. This 1,022,423-hectare park has an abundance of fauna species: 59 of mammals, including 2 marsupial species, 6 primates, and 15 carnivores; 179 bird species; and 35 species of reptiles and amphibians. Keep an eye out for maned wolf, jaguar, giant otter, giant anteater, caiman, anaconda, crowned eagle, and jabiru.

Pantanal tours include boating and walking excursions. These tours can also be arranged in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

SANTA CRUZ

2 nights
Biocentro Guembé
Photo by Natalia Rivera, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr.

Take the train from Puerto Suárez or Puerto Quijarro to Bolivia’s largest and most modern city, Santa Cruz de la Sierra. This is a totally different world from Bolivia’s western Andean part, and for many years there has been a cultural and political gulf between the two halves of this country that will become plainly clear when you visit Santa Cruz.

Museums

Santa Cruz has a wealth of museums, from human to natural history, from archaeology to art. Check out these great museums:

  • Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff (Avenida Irala 565) to learn about the region’s flora and fauna;
  • Museo Etnofolclórico (Calle Beni, Parque Arenal) for its exhibition of traditional clothing, musical instruments and other items;
  • Museo Guaraní (3er Anillo, across from the Santa Cruz Zoo), focused on the Guaraní indigenous culture;
  • Museo Regional de Historia (Calle Junín 151, between Libertad and España).
  • The city also has a wide array of cultural centers offering plays, concerts and other events.

Parque Regional Lomas de Arena is a nature area twelve kilometers southeast of Santa Cruz that features sand dunes towering up to 12 meters in height. Camping is possible, but you must bring all equipment and provisions, and ask permission at the control post.

Mariposario Güembé is also nearby and covers 24 hectares, making it one of the world’s largest butterfly sanctuaries.

From San José de Chiquitos, you’ll travel seven hours by bus or an 8–10-hour overnight train to Puerto Suárez or Puerto Quijarro in the Pantanal region, the largest wetlands in South America. Tours into the Pantanal can be arranged in Puerto Suárez (easiest) or Puerto Quijarro (which is also has a border crossing into Brazil and will allow you to visit the Brazilian Pantanal).

Bolivia’s Pantanal is protected by Parque Nacional ANMI Otuquis. This 1,022,423-hectare park has an abundance of fauna species: 59 of mammals, including 2 marsupial species, 6 primates, and 15 carnivores; 179 bird species; and 35 species of reptiles and amphibians. Keep an eye out for maned wolf, jaguar, giant otter, giant anteater, caiman, anaconda, crowned eagle, and jabiru.

Pantanal tours include boating and walking excursions. These tours can also be arranged in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

SAMAIPATA

3 nights
An elevated walkway allows for nondestructive viewing of the carved red sandstone rock that is the ceremonial center of Samaipata Fort.
Dan Lundberg, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the Quechua language, Samaypata means “Place of Rest above the River”, and that is precisely what this small town provides: rest from the heat and noise of Santa Cruz. It also offers a fine variety of enjoyable activities and is one of Bolivia’s favorite tourist destinations with quaint artisan shops, really good restaurants, and romantic streets to stroll around in the evening.

The main attraction of this village is the Fuerte de Samaipata, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This archaeological site contains the ruins of a pre-Inca (Chane) temple complex, as well as Inca and Spanish remains.

Samaipata is a major gateway to Parque Nacional Amboró, a 637,600-hectare preserve that protects almost 4,000 Amazonian, Chaco mountain, dry inter-Andean, and other ecosystems of flora species. Fauna includes 127 mammal species, 818 species of avifauna, 105 of reptiles, and 76 of amphibians.

Samaipata’s wine industry dates to colonial times and has seen a rebirth in recent years. Stop by and try the fruits of the vines at one of the town’s three vineyards: Uvairenda, Bodegas Landsua, and El Último Vargas.

From Samaipata, you can embark on the Ruta del Che on a tour or on your own. The first major stop is Vallegrande (119 kilometers / 4 hours).

VALLEGRANDE

2 nights
Ruta38 outside Vallegrande, Bolivia
Jim McIntosh, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Vallegrande is but one of the places in Bolivia where you can follow in the footsteps of one of the 20th century’s most famous rebels, the Argentinian-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

This unassuming colonial town is where his body was exhibited in the hospital’s laundry to the international press and where three decades later, his remains were found in a mass grave at the airstrip just outside of town. Both of these sites can be visited. Also, check out the village church where people venerate him as San Ernesto.

Ask around about transport to La Higuera (61 kilometers / 3 hours from Vallegrande). Depending on the season and weather conditions, trucks leave once or twice a week. La Higuera is the settlement where Guevara was assassinated. The school where he was held is now a museum. Local people can guide you to the ravine where he was captured.

To make this trip as simple and certain as possible (especially with transportation), you can book a tour in Santa Cruz to take you from there or from Samaipata to both Vallegrande and La Higuera. If you have more time and interest, you can schedule a multi-day trekking tour of the Ruta del Che which will take you to other villages associated with Guevara’s sojourn and operations in the region.

For the next leg of our Ultimate Bolivia Road Trip, we need to return to Santa Cruz to catch the weekly Thursday train south to our next destination, Villamontes. The trip from Santa Cruz takes about 14 hours by train or 8 hours by bus. You can reserve your ticket for the bus or train here on BoliviaSchedules.

VILLAMONTES

2 nights
Historical monument to Saint Francis in Villamontes, Bolivia
Jim McIntosh, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Villamontes is the heart and soul of Bolivia’s Gran Chaco region, and in more ways than one. This was a major zone of operations and saw bloody battles during the Chaco War against Paraguay (1932-1935). It, therefore, maintains a vintage ambiance of a military town. Museo de la Guerra del Chaco has excellent exhibits explaining the war (Plaza 6 de Agosto). Museo Etnografico Weenhayek teaches about the local indigenous cultures (Calle Bolivar and Capitán Manchego).

If nature is more your bag, Villamontes has you covered. Take an outing down to the Río Pilcomayo for a picnic and fishing (license required). Parque Nacional Aguaragüe, west of Villamontes, contains not only large swaths of the dry Chaco ecosystem, but also the Serranía del Aguaragüe. The 108,307-hectare reserve is covered with various varieties of quebracho trees, nicknamed “ax-breakers” for their wood so hard that it can break metal. The fauna is reminiscent of such a harsh environment: several types of armadillos, collared anteater, crowned eagle, turquoise-fronted amazon, toto toucan, and rattle and coral snakes.

Villamontes is both a gateway to Paraguay and to Argentina, so you are positioned to cross the border to either country from here. But our road trip will be looking back westward into what many say is Bolivia’s most alluring region.

TARIJA

3 nights
La Casa Dorada, Tarija, Bolivia
Evel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Board a bus in Villamontes for a 5.5-hour ride to our next destination, Tarija.

Nicknamed the “Bolivian Andalusia,” Tarija is totally different from any other part of Bolivia. Vineyards producing the country’s finest wines drape this mountainous landscape on either side of the banks of the Río Guadalquivir. Spend several days visiting the various vineyards in town. Two invite visitors, the first being La Casa Vieja / Vinos Doña Vita, 25 kilometers outside town, which produces 15 varieties of wines. Viñedos y Bodegas Milcast: Vino Aranjuez is the other one (Avenida Angel Baldivieso 1976 and Barrio Aranjuez) and it focuses on creating Chardonnay Blanc, Savignon-Blanc, Tannat Rosé and Tannat-Merlot wines.

For more sober entertainment, browse the Museo Paleontológico y Arqueológico (Calle Virginia Lema and General Trigo) which features Tarija’s rich fossil and archaeological histories. Casa Dorada, Tarija’s house of culture located at Calle Ingavi Nº 370, has art galleries and offers cultural events. Museo Franciscano de Tarija (Calle Colón N° 641) traces the Franciscan order’s work in the region since their arrival in 1606. A nature outing worth taking is to Chorros de Jurina waterfalls.

The first fortnight of March, Tarija celebrates its grape harvest festival, Vendimia Chapaca.

South of Tarija is the Bermejo/Aguas Blancas border crossing to Orán, Argentina.

TUPIZA

2 nights
Quebrada de Palala, Tupiza, Bolivia
Evel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tupiza is accessible by bus from a number of cities, and by the Oruro-Uyuni-Tupiza-Villazón train line. It is a pleasant town to spend a few days in. Visit Museo Municipal de Tupiza on Calle Sucre, which covers the themes of archaeology, history, and culture.

The town is surrounded by rugged red mountains. Petroglyphs and interesting geologic formations can be seen at Valle de Los Machos, El Sillar, and Entre Ríos.

The most popular excursion, though, is to San Vicente where the legendary US rebels Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in a shootout (but this is just one of the Bolivian towns associated with the famous outlaws).

Tupiza’s big festival is the Fiesta de Reyes (Feast of the Three Kings), held on the 6th of January on the outskirts of Tupiza in the Remedios barrio.

Tupiza is an alternative jumping-off point for tours to the Uyuni Salt Flat (Salar de Uyuni).

 

UYUNI

Salar de Uyuni (3 nights) & Uyuni town (2 days)
Salt Mounts, Uyuni, Bolivia
Luca Galuzzi (Lucag), edit by Trialsanderrors, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The big draw to Uyuni isn’t the town, but rather the mind-bending experience of Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. Tours to the salar can be arranged in the town of Uyuni, or in Tupiza, Potosi, La Paz, and other cities. Beware of fly-by-night outfits and instead talk with other travelers about their experiences, or check with the tourism office to make sure the agency you are interested in is registered and legitimate.

Three types of tours can be booked into the salt flat: a day trip from Uyuni for those who are short on time; a three-day excursion deeper into the salar; or a four-day journey that takes you all the way through the salar and over the Chilean border. Most of the Bolivia-Chile border-crossing tours run during the dry season (May-November).

Salar de Uyuni isn’t just about inconceivable landscapes like the Árbol de Piedra, there is actually life on these arid flats! The most spectacular sight is seeing hundreds upon hundreds of flamingos take flight! If you want to capture the mirror effect of the salt flats, then book your tour for the rainy season (December-April). At this time of the year, though, some parts of the plains may be impassable.

Uyuni town

Even if you don’t have the time or money to take a tour out into the salt flat, there are some things to check out in the town of Uyuni itself. Museo del Salar (Ayacucho and Avenida Ferroviaria) covers all things concerning the salt flat. Train aficionados should drop by the Museo Ferrocarril y Centro de Interpretación Uyuni (Calle Tomás Friás), but even better the Train Cemetery that is 3 kilometers outside town, which is an outdoor museum of old steam trains and rail cars. Museo Arqueológico y Antropológico de los Andes Meridionales (Avenida Arce, near Colón) is an archaeology museum featuring mummies, textiles, ceramics and other artifacts.

With a few more days to spend, you can set off on an excursion to Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, a 714,745-hectare reserve protecting mountain, altiplano, and wetland landscapes. This is the habitat for three varieties of flamingo (Andean, James’, and Chilean), as well as vicuña and north Andean deer, among other mammals.

Carnaval, a moveable feast running in February/March is a raucous affair in Uyuni.

Even if you can’t afford to stay there, don’t leave Uyuni without a visit to see Hotel Luna Salada located on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, a hotel entirely made of salt …. right down to all the furnishings!

POTOSI

2 days
Potosi and Cerro Rico, Bolivia
Jbmurray, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spain’s colonial riches were exploited from this town and its mines in Cerro Rico (Rich Hill), which still contains the world’s largest silver deposit. An estimated eight million indigenous workers have died in the Cerro Rico mines of Potosí over the ages, making it one of South America’s spookiest destinations. Touring a mine is one of the most popular tourist activities in the city.

Because of its historical and cultural importance, Potosí is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has many fine colonial churches, especially the Catedral (Plaza 10 de Noviembre) and the Torre de la Compañía (Calle Ayacucho). Many other churches have museums featuring religious art. The Casa Real de Moneda (Calle Ayacucho) was the royal mint in colonial times from 1759-1773, and today it houses a museum with sections on armaments, mineralogy, and art. Casa Museo Humberto Iporre Salinas (Nogales 653) tips its proverbial hat to the famous Bolivian composer.

If you have a few more days to blow, you can visit the colonial haciendas of Cayara (20 kilometers west of Potosí) and Samasa (20 kilometers northeast).

A major celebration in Potosí is the three-day Fiesta del Ch’utillo (August 23rd to 26th). Although dedicated to San Bartolomé, this festival has its roots deep in the pre-Inca past.

SUCRE

3 nights
The state government building (Sucre is the capital of Chuquisaca Department) was originally the Palace of Government of Bolivia when it was completed in 1896, but then the government moved to La Paz in 1898.
Photo by Dan Lundber, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr.

The constitutional capital of Bolivia, Sucre is well-deserving of it being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is replete with colonial architecture, gorgeous churches, and lots of culture. It has had a number of names over the centuries: in pre-Columbian times, its name was Charcas; during the Spanish occupation, it was La Plata; and after independence, Chuquisaca. In 1839, the name was changed to its present one, in honor of Antonio José de Sucre, the field marshal who garnered the country’s independence and later became Bolivia’s second president.

Stroll down the cobblestone streets, dropping into a colonial church now and again. Some of the most notable ones are the Cathedral (Plaza 25 de Mayo) and Iglesia de San Lázaro (Calvo 449), the city’s oldest Catholic temple.

Casa de la Libertad (Plaza 25 de Mayo) is now a museum and is where in 1825 Mariscal Sucre declared Bolivia’s independence from Alto Peru. Other museums are Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore (Calle España 74) and Museo de Arte Indígena (Calle Iturricha 314).

About five kilometers northeast of town is Parque Cretácico, a museum preserving dinosaur footprints found at Cal Orck’o.

A major festival in Sucre is the Festival de Chuntunquis, highlighting traditional Christmas dance. It runs throughout the month of December.

Sucre can be reached by bus from Potosí (3 hours). An alternative way to do the trip is to take the thrice-weekly buscarril (rail bus-train) from Potosí to El Tejar (5 kilometers from Sucre).

COCHABAMBA

2 nights
Entrada folklórica carnaval de Cochabamba bolivia corso de corso caporales mujeres en traje típico
Albaro2020, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cochabamba, the City of Eternal Spring, is Bolivia’s fourth-largest city with a population of over 630,000. It is on the major highway that connects La Paz and Santa Cruz. Cochabamba is also called the “Gastronomic Capital of Bolivia”, so be sure to savor traditional dishes like salteñas, silpancho, sopa de maní and fricasé.

Even though Cochabamba is a modern, thriving city, its center still has a colonial feel to it. Just leisurely walk about the area, dropping into the Catedral and other churches. Museums of interest are Museo Geraldine Byrne de Caballero (Nataniel Aguirre and Jordan), an archaeological-ethnographical museum; and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Palacio Portales, Calle Potosí 1392).

There are several ways to escape the city vibes. Drop by the Jardín Botánico Martín Cárdenas (C. R. Rivero Torrez 1630) or hop onto the teleférico (cable car) up to Cristo de la Concordia, a 34-meter-high statue of Christ atop Cerro de San Pedro. South of Cochabamba is Laguna Alalay, a popular green space for hiking, bike riding, and bird watching.

Train adventurers might be interested in taking the local buscarril (rail bus-train) from Cochabamba to Aiquile (193 kilometers of Cochabamba; about halfway to Sucre), which departs three times per week and returns the following day.

Cochabamba’s main festivals are Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria (2nd of February) and Fiesta de la Virgen de Urkupiña (15th August).

TORO TORO

2 nights
Toro Toro National Park - Canyon
Mauren Jauregui, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Toro Toro is way off the usual tourist trail that in fact was introduced to us by one of you, a veteran traveler who rated it one of The 13 Best Small Towns of South America. It is best reached by bus from Cochabamba. This is a typical Andean village, with cobblestone lanes and adobe houses.

Toro Toro is the gateway to Parque Nacional Toro Toro, a landscape full of reminders of the dinosaur past. The 16,000-hectare park has not only palaeontological wonders but also geological ones. Highlights include Ciudad de Itas, Umajalanta (with a cave inside the column where you can spelunk), Vergel, and Cañón de Toro Toro (where condors can often be seen).

Toro Toro’s patron saint is Tata Santiago, who is commemorated on the 25th of July.

ORURO

2 nights
Oruro Bolivia Festival Carnaval
Elemaki, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Oruro is at the tallest elevation of this trip, a whopping 3,709 meters, but that doesn’t keep over 300,000 people from living there.  It is famous for its Carnaval (February/March) that has been the setting in films like Esito Sería, directed by Julia Vargas and recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

But this town has much to offer that it makes AndesTransit’s 10 Alternative Destinations in South America. Oruros’s museums give great insight into the lives and beliefs of its residents. Museo Nacional Antropológico Eduardo López Rivas (Avenida España s/n) covers archaeology, ethnomusicology, ethnography and folklore. It has a stunning collection of carnival masks. Museo Minero del Socavón (Linares 1377), located within a mine shaft, focuses on the history and economics of mining in Oruro, and the Virgen of Socavón. The veneration of the Virgen de Sacován, patron of miners, occurs on the 2nd of February and also during Carnaval.

Parque Nacional Sajama, a 94,939-hectare park is nearby in the mountains and altiplano. Because of the harsh environment here, wildlife is scarce and vulnerable. Species include vicuña, Andean Mountain cat, Darwin’s rhea, and two varieties of flamingos.

With this Ultimate Bolivia Road Trip winding down, you might need a good soaking in the Aguas Termales de Capachos hot springs, located 10 kilometers east of Oruro.

LA PAZ

2 nights
La Paz Teleferico
EEJCC, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now we are back where we began. It is time to rest from these past months of intense traveling and hit the markets for souvenirs to gift to the folks back home. Don’t forget to prepare your bags for the flight back!

Shorter Itineraries

If you only have a few weeks of vacation time, don’t fret. You can still take in Bolivia’s diverse beauty by carving out a section of this itinerary that suits you best.

These are itineraries that you can undertake in the span of two weeks to one month.

Highland Tour (Two Weeks)

The Highland Tour will take you to the best high-altitude attractions Bolivia offers. This is the part of Bolivia that most people know from travel documentaries, articles, and Instagram photos: the high Andean mountains, Lake Titicaca, the Uyuni salt flats, and indigenous villagers dressed in colorful clothing. But there is much more to see here!

If you’re flying into La Paz’s airport in El Alto, it will take a few days for your body to get adjusted to the altitude. For a short trip to Bolivia, it is advisable to stick to this region. It’ll be easier on you and allow you to better enjoy your vacation with your body having been acclimated.

highlands route tour bolivia

  • La Paz (3 nights)
  • Lake Titicaca – Copacabana and Isla del Sol (3 nights)
  • Uyuni (2 nights)
  • Potosí (2 nights)
  • Sucre (2 night)
  • Oruro (1 night)
  • La Paz (1 night)

Lowlands Tour (Two Weeks)

Lowlands tour bolivia

The Lowlands Tour uses Santa Cruz de la Sierra in eastern Bolivia as the base from where to explore Bolivia’s wonderful tropical regions.

  • Santa Cruz (3 nights)
  • San José de Chiquitos (Jesuit mission) (1 night)
  • Puerto Suárez or Puerto Quijarro (1 night) – by bus (7 hours) or train (8-10 hours, overnight)
  • Pantanal tour (3 days)
  • train Puerto Suárez or Puerto Quijarro-Santa Cruz (1 day) – ferrobus, 3x weekly, 13 hours; Expreso Oriental train, 3x weekly, 17 hours
  • Samaipata (2 nights) – via Santa Cruz
  • Vallegrande (2 nights) – day trip to La Higuera
  • Santa Cruz (1 night)

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