Bolivia: Experience ‘Down Under’ Without Leaving the Hemisphere

Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flat; the closest you’ll come to Jupiter on this planet

The following is a guest blog post by my friend, Caroline Alethia, author of Plant Teacher

Imagine water so cold that if you fall in a local medicine man has to call your startled spirit back into your body. Imagine an island made out of floating edible reeds with people and animals inhabiting that same island and eating those very same reeds. Imagine a one-lane gravel path winding through the mountains with views spanning 1,000 feet from top to bottom and with the highest vehicular accident rate in the world.

Well actually, you don’t need to imagine these things because they all exist in solid reality in a South American country teeming with magic and majesty and known as Bolivia. The poorest country in South America, Bolivia’s tourism industry is still developing and, to many travelers, it continues to be an exotic destination. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a year living in this geographically diverse and multicultural nation and exploring some of its most beautiful attractions.

Start with Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable body of water in the world and home to the Bolivian Navy, the former Inca Islands of the Sun and the Moon, and the floating edible islands made of tortura reed. From Copacabana, buy day tickets from one of several local ferry companies and pack in a full eight hours visiting Inca ruins—roads, walls, terraced fields and sanctuaries for vestal virgins.

Continue by van to La Paz the next day and grab a bag of salteňas­—filled meat pastries—to enjoy for lunch. Be sure to stop in a café and sip coca tea to help your bloodstream acclimate to the thin air. (La Paz is the highest altitude capital in the world.) Spend your afternoon wandering through the brujeria­—the witches’ market—where you can buy potions, totems and charms to bring you luck in every aspect of your life. Oh, and try not to be too horrified by the open baskets you’ll see with mounds of dried llama fetuses.

After a day of wandering through the center of town and enjoying the Spanish colonial buildings and beautiful churches, cap off your evening with a trip to the Avenida Seis de Agosto—August Sixth Avenue. This stretch is home to some of La Paz’s schwankier restaurants, but with favorable exchange rates, you can enjoy a delicious dinner from soup to nuts and with beverages for less than $20.00.

If you haven’t had your fill of ancient ruins, consider either booking a day trip to Tiwanaku or flying to the eastern “department” of Santa Cruz to visit Samaipata. Both of these world heritage sites were homes to cultures now poorly understood and once forgotten. Did human sacrifices take place on these spots? Were the elaborately carved stone buildings mostly residential or primarily religious? While archeologists and historians debate these points, you can simply take in the beauty.

What I present to you here is just a smattering of what you can explore in this landlocked country which spans the extremes between Andean and Amazonian landscapes and cultures. There’s also Cochabamba with its stately tree-lined avenues and the tallest Christ statue in the world. There’s Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest (and highest altitude) salt flats that offer a landscape seemingly from another planet. Travel down what the Inter-American Development Bank has officially audited as “the world’s most dangerous road” to see the streams, waterfalls, foothills, and tropical flowers and birds of Los Yungas. Follow the final routes of Che Guevarra before he was captured and executed in this fiercely independent country.

And, if you can’t make it there in person, travel in your imagination with my book, Plant Teacher, which follows the lives of members of an American expatriate community alternatively forging their futures or coming to terms with their pasts in the heart of South America. At times inspiring, at times downright creepy, Plant Teacher has been hailed as an “engrossing” read and, best of all, half of the proceeds go to charity. Watch a trailer, read excerpts, and learn more about the Plant Teacher Project. And, wherever your adventures take you, may your travels be eye-opening, enlightening, and deeply satisfying.

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About Robert Kavalek

Robert Kavalek is a travel consultant who shares his love for traveling the world on theTRAVELER (www.RobertKavalek.com). While his specialties are Paris, Mexico and "digital overload escapes", he can advise clients on any type of vacation. In addition, he writes about travel destinations and travel tips on his blog and Facebook page. Robert has visited 31 countries and territories and hopes to check out at least one new country every year. He currently lives in Washington, DC.
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