During the Spanish occupation of South America, Bolivia’s silver mines were instrumental in sustaining the wealth of the Empire. After independence was declared in 1809, Bolivia’s wealth and stability declined, following wars with Chile, Argentina and Peru. It was ruled by a succession of military governments, one of which in 2000 took the controversial step of selling the public water works to an American owned utility. This proved to be the catalyst for a four-year recession followed by a socialist revolution in which the Aymaran Indian Evo Morales emerged leader.
The country has a stunning array of natural attractions, including the tip of the Andes, a portion of Amazonia, and the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca. There is also a great cultural heritage of not only Spanish colonialism but also the ancient Incan civilization.
In total, there are 39 different tongues spoken in Bolivia. Only three of these are officially recognised. Spanish, or Castellano, is spoken in business, government and cities. This is usually mixed with local dialect, but a visitor will be able to communicate in most parts of Bolivia with standard Spanish. In extremely rural areas, it is possible that there will be no Spanish speakers. The other two official languages are the native tongues Quechua and Aymara.
The unit of currency in Bolivia is the Boliviano. As of the 12th October 2006, 1 Boliviano would buy you; 0.07 Pound Sterling 0.103 Euros or 0.130 US Dollars. US dollars are accepted in many hotels, restaurants and tourist shops in cities.
Bolivia has a tropical climate, although a large variation can be expected between different altitudes. Generally speaking as you go further west, the altitude increases, the temperature and rainfall drop. La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world, and despite being so close to the equator, reaches only 17 degrees Celsius in July, and 19 degrees Celsius in November. Occasionally temperatures drop below freezing point.
Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America, and the highest navigable lake in the world. It straddles the border of Bolivia and Peru in the Andes. In some ways it is the cradle of the Inca civilization, and is littered with sites of cultural interest. The best way to see the lake is on a boat trip out to one of the several islands. The most significant of these is Isla del Sol. Inca belief held that Viracocha, the god that created the Universe, was standing on Isla del Sol when he created the sun. Given that the Incas believe all life comes from the sun, Isla del Sol became a sacred ground for the Andean civilization, and the island contains many artefacts and historical sites, including Inca sacrificial tables, a set of steps ('footsteps of the sun'), and a holy rock shaped liked a puma. There is also a museum containing hundreds of items found in the lake and on the island. A visit to Lake Titicaca is a great way to combine a visit to one of the most beautiful and dramatic natural environments in the world with the religious centre of an ancient civilization.
La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia, but not the constitutional capital. The seat of the Supreme Court is Sucre. The city was built as the headquarters of Spanish colonialists in Bolivia in 1542. The centre of the city is Murillo Square, which is named after one of the leaders in the 1809 revolution. The square is closed by some of La Paz's principal official buildings; the Presidential Palace, the National Congress, and the City Cathedral.
For a unique shopping experience, go to the 'Witches Market' in La Paz. You can buy all kinds of potions and spells, get your fortune told and even put curses on your enemies. If this all seems a little superstitious, you can stick to the traditional market activities of buying groceries and haggling for souvenirs. In Bolivia, a dried Llama foetus is supposed to bring good luck, and you can prepare it in different ways depending on which sphere of your life you'd like it to effect. Businessmen often keep a dried foetus embalmed with herbs and sweets on their desk.
There are a variety of clubs in La Paz and Sucre, most of which open around midnight. Local bars are known as whiskerias, and will be open most of the day and night, as long as there are people to serve. Folk music is extremely popular in Bolivia, and many clubs will have local ensembles playing traditional Andean music on Friday and Saturday nights.
La Paz has the world's most dangerous road, felicitously named ‘Death Road’, which has 100 fatalities per year on its 70km stretch. However, this is as more due to the notoriously reckless Bolivian drivers than the quality of the road itself. To drive in Bolivia, you need an international driving license, and if you are not able to produce one, the police may ask for a hefty bribe. Driving in the mountains should only be attempted by those with nerves of steel and a comprehensive insurance policy, as one has to contend with drunk truck drivers, people sleeping in the road, cyclists without lights, and serious potholes.
Food and Drink
A national dish of Bolivia is ‘empanada salteña.’ This is prepared by baking diced chicken, raisins, chives and pepper within a bread dough. Meat tends to dominate most Bolivian dishes. Guinea pigs, llama and suckling pig are favourites. Another staple is a sauce called llajhua, which is made from tomatoes and peppers. Beer is popular; Chicha is one of South America's favourite beverages.
Tourist InfoViceministerio de Turismo/Tourist Office, La Paz
- +591 (2) 236 7463