Travel & Learn Spanish in Bolivia
Bolivia is truly one of a kind. Boasting many of the world’s highest cities, mountains, and even vineyards, the country’s thin air and otherworldly landscapes challenge you in the best possible way. Most visitors to Bolivia may become breathless but pumped with adrenaline, and leave absolutely hooked.
- Fancy sampling city life, Bolivian style? Kick off your Bolivian adventure in La Paz, home to high altitudes and a labyrinth of narrow streets filled with witches and shamans.
- Keen on the prehistoric? Escape into the wide-open spaces of Torotoro National Park to hunt for dinosaur prints.
- Who needs beaches when you have fluorescent lakes? Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde are just two of the unbelievable sights on a 3-day tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats.
- After a selfie like no other? Take perspective-skewed photographs at the Uyuni Salt Flats.
- Maybe you’ll enjoy a glass of red in Bolivia’s secret wine region of Tarija, home to the world’s highest vineyards, or try chewing a ball of coca leaves, Bolivia’s solution to the heady altitudes.
- If you want to study Spanish in Bolivia, head to Sucre for a taste of the slow life.
- Bike aficionados will love riding a bike down Death Road, the world’s most dangerous highway.
- Still relatively unknown to the mass tourism market, Bolivia is a natural wonder that’s just waiting to be explored. Whether you're after ancient history, local indigenous culture, mysterious desert plains or lakes covered in Inca ruins, chances are you’ll find it in Bolivia.
What to See & Do in Bolivia
Live the High Life in La Paz
At 11,400 feet above sea level, La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world, and it’ll certainly leave you breathless. The narrow crowded streets are dotted with stalls selling trinkets, crumbling colonial churches, little plazas, and old palaces filled with artifacts - and everywhere you look, the red roofs rise upward into the mountains.
More modern attractions include rappelling down the side of an office building, wandering past San Pedro prison, made famous in the book ‘Marching Powder’, and riding above the city on the teleférico for truly jaw-dropping panoramic views.
Shop in the Witches’ Market
Despite the size of La Paz, the city is most famed for a cluster of streets known as the Witches’ Market. Here, you’ll find talismans to ward off evil and impotence, spells and potions for falling in love, and winning the lottery - and there’s a fair few llama fetuses on offer too, which are traditionally buried under the foundations of new houses to bless the family living there. It’s not recommended to buy into the market’s magical side, but it’s certainly an experience not to be missed.
Cycle Down the World’s Most Dangerous Road
Winding through the steep Bolivian mountains is a route known by locals as Yungas Road - but to visiting tourists and bike tour companies, it’s called ‘Death Road’. This downhill track, which starts high up in the Andes and ends in the jungle, combines incredible scenery with a sheer drop mere feet from your bike’s wheels, so hang onto your handlebars and feel the adrenaline rush of mountain biking down the world’s most dangerous road.
Death Road can be visited on an organized day trip from La Paz.
Learn Spanish in Sucre
Issues with breathlessness, be gone! As well as being much nearer to sea level than the rest of the country, Bolivia’s white city of Sucre is laid back, chilled, and filled with coffee shops, cafés and vegetarian-friendly restaurants; perfect for relaxing. The warm, spring-like climate and its good safety levels make Sucre a perfect spot to study Spanish in Bolivia - there are a number of excellent schools and the prices for classes can’t be beaten. When you’re not studying, check out the Folklore Museum and the General Cemetery for an insight into local Bolivian customs, and don’t miss the walk up to La Recoleta for fantastic views across the city and a well-deserved glass of lemonade.
Taste the Culinary Scene in Cochabamba
Cochabamba is known by Bolivians as the gastronomic capital of the country - which makes it the perfect place to get to grips with the local cuisine. Step away from the typical Bolivian fried chicken and menu del dia plates, and try wandering past the street food stalls for deep fried tukumanas complete with a variety of dipping sauces and salsa; pasty-like salteñas filled with meat, spices and juicy gravy; and rellenos stuffed with a mix of mashed potato and vegetable, egg or meat. To quench your thirst, have a sip of api morado, a thick purple maize drink which is usually served hot, or give mogonchinchi a try - a non alcoholic drink made with dehydrated peaches suspended in a cinnamon-flavored water. Bolivia’s most famed drink, though, is chicha; either fermented or non-fermented, this maize-based beverage often includes alcohol and is served in a pitcher, which is traditionally shared around the circle of drinkers. Bottoms up!
Drink Bolivian Wine in Tarija
In the south of Bolivia is the country’s wine capital of Tarija where the majority of Bolivia’s grapes are grown and harvested. Tarija is a laid back town with palm tree-lined streets and, as you might imagine, the focus of life here is centered around wine; visiting wineries, touring small family-run vineyards and taste-testing the local specialties. Sit out at one of Tarija’s plazas with a good, cheap bottle of red and indulge in some people watching.
Chew Your Way into Bolivia's Coca Leaf Culture
It may look a little suspicious at first, but the act of chewing coca leaves is not about drugs, it’s about Bolivian tradition. These indigenous leaves have been used for centuries - both by chewing and by brewing in tea - to act as a mild stimulant, and they’re often present in sacred ceremonies. Most importantly for visitors, chewing coca will help you adjust to the altitude, as well as provide you with increased energy and improved digestion.
Check out the Coca Museum in La Paz for a more in depth look at history and its effect on Bolivian culture.
Stand on Top of the World at Mount Chacaltaya
The landscapes surrounding La Paz are seriously stunning. Just a few hours’ drive away is Mount Chacaltaya with 360-degree panoramic views of all the peaks of the surrounding mountains including the city of La Paz in the distance. At around 17,000, a little abandoned building marks the spot where the world’s highest ski resort once stood; it’s only a few hundred meters from the resort to the snow-covered peak of Chacaltaya but it will take a surprisingly long time thanks to the air being so thin. Top tip: pack a bag of coca leaves and an extra few layers - it's chilly up there.
Chacaltaya is a half-day trip from La Paz.
Hunt for Dinosaur Tracks in Torotoro Park
In the mood for some pre-historic history? Look no further than Torotoro National Park, which is practically stuffed to the fossilized gills with ancient bones, cave paintings and dinosaur footprints. It’s also an outdoor adventurer’s playground with canyons, waterfalls and at least 40 different caves to explore - like Caverna Umajalanta, which stretches over 300 feet below sea level and is one of the longest and deepest caves in the country.
Torotoro is a four-hour drive from Cochabamba.
Road Trip Through Eduardo Avaroa National Park
Ever felt like you’re on Mars? The landscapes of southern Bolivia are truly extraordinary, like something out of a science fiction movie: think vast swathes of emptiness dotted with herds of llamas, suddenly punctuated by a bright green lake flanked by even brighter pink flamingos, or volcanic rock formations rising out of the dust. The only way to see the park is through an organized package tour, usually on route to the Salt Flats. You’ll head out in a 4x4 with a guide and a chef, who’ll take care of your food and accommodation for 3 to 4 nights, so do your research thoroughly before you go.
Surrounded by Salt in the Salar de Uyuni
At over 4,000 feet above sea level, the Salt Flats at Uyuni are all that remain of a dried-out prehistoric lake bed - but it’s still the largest salt flat in the world. Uyuni is Bolivia’s biggest tourist attraction and thousands of perspective-skewing photos have been taken on the glimmering white salt plains, complete with pools of water reflecting the cloud-filled skies during the wet season (January to March). Make sure your itinerary includes a night spent in one of the nearby hotels, which are made entirely of salt - right down to the walls, tables and beds.
Get Spooked out in Uyuni Train Cemetery
Wander the shores of Lake Titicaca
After spending time in Bolivia’s congested cities, Lake Titicaca is the perfect respite. It’s surreal to see the lake’s bright blue water with snow-covered mountain peaks on the horizon; Titicaca sits at over 12,000 feet above sea level, making it the world’s highest navigable lake. Lakeside is the small town of Copacabana (not to be confused with Brazil’s more bustling beach), a sleepy place that’s a great base to explore the surroundings on foot, by rented bike or on a boat tour around the lake.
Explore the Ancient Magic of Isla del Sol
One of the largest islands of Lake Titicaca is Isla del Sol, a rocky piece of land just under 10 miles long. The Incas believed that their sun god was born there so the island is littered with almost two hundred 15th century Inca ruins. The island has no paved roads or cars, meaning hikers can walk the length of the island along the dirt paths in peace, stopping off at one of the island’s family-run guesthouses when the sun goes down.
Search for Silver in Potosí
Initially made famous for the silver ore found inside the nearby Cerro Rico mountain in the 16th century, Potosí is now more well known because of the mines which still operate today - and which still result in many miners’ early deaths. Tours inside the rabbit warren of mining shafts are possible, but those less keen can get an idea of Potosí’s huge historical importance by visiting the Casa Nacional de Moneda. Once the center of Bolivian currency as the country’s former royal mint, you can wander the steep hillsides filled with 16th century colonial mansions, churches and architecture. Remember to stop and catch your breath though - at over 13,000 feet above sea level, UNESCO-protected Potosí is one of the highest cities in the world.
Tip: The 2005 documentary ‘The Devil’s Miner’ is worth watching before visiting Potosí.
The Bolivia Trail
Rapido travel2 weeks or less
A speedy circular route around Bolivia could look something like this (saving Death Road for your final return to La Paz, just in case you take a tumble):
La Paz - Salt Flats (trip to train cemetery) - Potosí - Sucre - Lake Titicaca (trip to Isla del Sol) - return to La Paz (side trip to Death Road)
Tranquilo travelUp to a month or more
It makes sense to travel slowly in Bolivia. If you have the time to take things easy, an itinerary like this one could be right up your street. This route works if you’re moving through South America, from the border with Peru and down towards Chile/Argentina.
La Paz (side trips to Death Road, Mount Chacaltaya, Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol) - Cochabamba - Torotoro Park - Sucre - Potosí - Tarija - Uyuni (trip to train cemetery) - Salt Flats
Hiking, biking, and glacier climbing: despite the slow pace of life that Bolivia seems to have at first glance, adrenaline rushes are actually everywhere. You just need to know where to look.
Lake Titicaca (for hiking) - Death Road (for cycling) - Mount Chacaltaya (for climbing) - Torotoro Park (for hiking, climbing and caving) - Salt Flats (4x4 riding)
For Cultural Seekers
Spirituality abounds in Bolivia. Whether it’s the mysteries of shamanism, the fascinating indigenous cultures like the Quechua and Aymara people, or simply the heady altitude, there’s no doubt that the country feels entirely otherworldly. This itinerary traces all the most interesting cultural spots in the country.
Lake Titicaca - Isla del Sol - La Paz (for the witches market) - Torotoro Park - Sucre (for cultural museums) - Potosí (for mining history)
Bolivia Travel Tips
learn Spanish in Bolivia
Perhaps owing to Sucre’s balmy climate and positive reputation on the long-term traveler circuit, there are a number of great Spanish schools to choose from in Sucre.
Known also as “the white city”, to walk along Sucre is like to move back in the time, turning it into one of South America’s most interesting and fascinating cities. Sucre Spanish School is located just at 3 minutes’ walk from the city central square “Plaza 25 de Mayo” in the historical city center, is specialized in private Spanish language instruction, which offers both private and group lessons (1 to 4 people max). Extra activities for students include cooking classes, wally-ball matches and salsa lessons.
If you prefer to base yourself in La Paz, Pico Verde offers private classes that are intense but well structured with teachers who are flexible with scheduling, while Instituto Exclusivo is located in the quieter neighborhood of Sopocachi, giving a more local feel; plus, the school can help organize homestays.
In Cochabamba, Sustainable Bolivia has an intensive Spanish language program and can help students find volunteer projects around the city as well as provide classes in Quechua, an indigenous Bolivian language. The city is a rich combination of tradition and modernity, the perfect place to shine all over Bolivia and discover the hospitality and the cultural wealth of the Bolivians, Carmen Vega which is run by a Franco-Bolivian couple, offer individual and group classes, help with arranging homestays and possibility to participate on volunteer work.
And if you’re looking for a place to sip wine between classes Altiplano Spanish in Tarija provides classes tailored to the specific need of each student and comes with an attached hotel that offers bed and breakfast accommodation.
guest author bio - Flora Baker
Flora Baker has been in love with Latin America since she spent eighteen months attempting to become fluent in Spanish while journeying around the continent.