Bolivia


Bolivia destinations

about Superlative in its natural beauty, rugged, vexing, complex and slightly nerve-racking, Bolivia is one of South America’s most diverse and intriguing nations.

Adventure

Bolivia is not for the faint of heart: rattling down the World's Most Dangerous Road into sultry Yungas; soaring breathless above verdant La Paz valleys in a paraglider; jumping on a horse for a Wild West adventure near Tupiza; pulling a catfish that outweighs you out of an Amazon river (and maybe cooking it for dinner!). Whether your tools are crampons and an ice axe for scaling 6000m Andean peaks, or a helmet and bravado for jumping into the abyss on a glider, Bolivia's rocks, rivers and ravines will challenge – nay, provoke – you into pushing your own personal limits.

Culture

Bolivians love a parade, and hardly a month passes without a procession of brightly costumed celebrants honoring an important historical date or deity. You'll hear them from blocks away before the brass bands and whirligigging dancers approach and envelop you (you may even get to join in). Learn about the history and culture of the country's indigenous peoples at excellent museums, and through the continued presence of traditions and customs in everyday life. Bolivia has South America’s largest percentage of indigenous people – get to know them better by participating in community-based tourism and hiring local guides.

Nature

Bolivia is so biodioverse that unique species are being discovered to this day. Tiptoe into caves of tube-lipped nectar bats, their tongues probing the darkness. Tread lightly on the terrain of the poisonous annellated coral snake, deadly in look and effect. Listen for the cackling call and response of a dozen different macaw species (among 1000 bird species) including the world’s rarest, the bluebeard, which can only be found here. Multihued butterflies and moths flit at your feet in the jungle; lithe alpacas and vicuñas stand out in the stark altiplano. Deep in the forest live jaguars, pumas and bears.

Food & Drink

Ever had a llama tenderloin? Here’s your chance, maybe with a glass of Tarija wine. Bolivia's food is as diverse as its peoples and you'll find new delicacies to sample in every town. Markets are a good place to start, though the steaming pots of unfamiliar concoctions might test your nerve. Freshly blended fruit juices will no doubt become a daily habit, and Yungas coffee can be found in a number of new cafes that are popping up around Bolivia. La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz have thriving restaurant scenes where you can sample contemporary takes on traditional local dishes.

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A mad carnival of jostling pedestrians, honking, diesel-spewing minivans, street marches, and cavalcades of vendors, La Paz surrounds you: you'll love it, you'll hate it, but you can't ignore it. The city seems to reinvent itself at every turn – a jaw-dropping subway in the sky brings you from the heights of El Alto to the depths of Zona Sur in the blink of an eye. Standing hotels are remodeled at a manic pace, and new boutique hotels are springing up like rows of altiplano corn.

Coming from the Bolivian countryside, you’ll be struck by the gritty city reality. It’s the urban jungle, baby: diesel, dust, and detritus; blinding altiplano sun, cold cavernous corners of Dickensian darkness. Sharp-suited businessmen flank machine-gun-toting bank guards and balaclava-camouflaged shoeshine boys. Lung-busting inclines terminate in peaceful plazas. A maze of contradictions, where cobblestones hit concrete, and Gothic spires vie with glassine hotels, La Paz amazes and appalls all who enter.

Sights

The areas west of El Prado include the fascinating markets around Rosario, Belén and San Pedro, the cemetery and the sophisticated Sopocachi neighborhood, with some of La Paz’s best restaurants and nightspots. You can spend a few hours people-watching on Plaza Eduardo Avaroa, before hoofing up to the wonderful views from Montículo Park.

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Activities

You’ll get plenty of exercise hoofing up and down El Prado but you don’t have to head far out of town for a real adrenaline rush. Note that the Asociación de Guías de Montaña (www.agmtb.org, in Spanish) certifies guides in Bolivia, and it's worth checking out their information before deciding on an operation.

Climbing

La Paz is the staging ground for most of the climbs in the Cordilleras. From here novice climbers can arrange trips to Huayna Potosí, two to three days for B$900 to B$1200. More experienced climbers may look to climb Illimani or Sajama, each about four to five days for roughly US$485.

Hiking

Except for the altitude, La Paz and its environs are made for hiking. Many La Paz tour agencies offer daily ‘hiking’ tours to Chacaltaya, a rough 30km drive north of La Paz, and an easy way to bag a high peak without having to do any really hard-core hiking. Head to Valle de la Luna, Valle de las Ánimas or Muela del Diablo for do-it-yourself day hikes from La Paz.

Mountain Biking

There are tons of mountain-biking options just outside of La Paz. Intermediate riders can take on a thrilling downhill ride on the World’s Most Dangerous Road, while advanced riders may wish to go for the less-traveled Chacaltaya to Zongo route or the rides near Sorata. Beginners not quite ready for the death road may want to check out the Balcón Andino descent near the Zona Sur, a 2400m roller coaster on a wide dirt road.

Sleeping

Most backpackers beeline for central La Paz to find a bed. The area around the Mercado de las Brujas (Witches' Market; between Illampu, Av Mariscal Santa Cruz and Sagárnaga) is a true travelers' ghetto. To be closer to a wider array of restaurants and a bar or two, consider Sopocachi. For more upmarket luxury, look along the lower Prado and further south in the Zona Sur.

Eating

La Paz is a real treat if you're looking to spoil yourself after the culinary minefields of rural Bolivia. A newfound gastronomic renaissance means you can now find creative vegan fare, homemade pastas, fresh sushi and, most importantly, inventive takes on traditional fare from the Amazon to the Andes. You won't eat better anywhere else in Bolivia, guaranteed.

Drinking & Nightlife

While dive bars and flashy clubs are ubiquitous in Casco Viejo, there are also many elegant bars in La Paz. Local, gilded youth mingle with expats at clubs along 20 de Octubre in Sopocachi and in Zona Sur, where US-style bars and discos are spread along Av Ballivián and Calle 21. The faux-Irish and British bars in Rosario aren't worth your time.

Entertainment

Pick up a copy of the free monthly booklet Jiwaki (available in bars and cafes) for a day-by-day rundown of what’s on. Otherwise, watch hotel noticeboards for bar and live-music posters, or check the newspapers.

Shopping

La Paz is a shopper’s paradise; not only are prices very reasonable, but the quality of what’s offered can be astounding. The main tourist shopping area lies along the very steep and literally breathtaking Calle Sagárnaga between Av Mariscal Santa Cruz and Tamayo, and adjoining streets. Head to the San Miguel neighborhood in the Zona Sur for stunning designer goods.

Travel with Children

From llama-dotted mountains and lunar-like landscapes to boat trips through steamy jungles, Bolivia offers adventures that will leave an imprint on young travelers. Visiting Bolivia is a one-of-a-kind cultural experience, and while traveling with children poses some challenges, the rewards are great.

LGBT Travellers

Bolivia's 2009 constitution is one of the first in the world to expressly ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However homosexuality is still not widely accepted by the populace and gay marriage and same-sex unions are illegal.

LGBT+ bars and venues are limited to larger cities, especially Santa Cruz and La Paz (check out Open Mind Club), but these are still somewhat clandestine affairs. Sharing a room is no problem – but discretion is suggested.

LGBT+ rights lobby groups are active in La Paz, Cochabamba and most visibly in progressive Santa Cruz, which held Bolivia’s first Gay Pride march in 2001.

La Paz is known for La Familia Galán, the capital’s most fabulous group of cross-dressing queens who aim to educate Bolivians around issues of sexuality and gender through theater performances.

Mujeres Creando (www.mujerescreando.org) is a feminist activist group based in La Paz that promotes the rights of oppressed groups.

What to do in La Paz

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Busy, buzzy Cochabamba is one of Bolivia’s boom cities and has a distinct, almost Mediterranean, vitality that perhaps owes something to its clement climate. While much of the city’s population is typically poor, parts of town have a notably prosperous feel. The spacious, ever-expanding new-town avenues have a wide choice of restaurants, eagerly grazed by the food-crazy cochabambinos, and the bar scene is lively, driven by students and young professionals. It's also the base for outdoor adventures further afield, including trips to Parque Torotoro. You could easily find yourself staying a lot longer than planned.

The city’s name is derived from the Quechua khocha pampa, meaning 'swampy plain.' Cochabamba lies in a fertile green bowl, 25km long by 10km wide, set in a landscape of fields and low hills. To the northwest rises Cerro Tunari (5050m), the highest peak in central Bolivia.

Sights

The Nuns of Santa Teresa

The Santa Teresa convent in Cochabamba houses what remains of an order of cloistered Carmelite nuns. A strict Catholic order with a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary, the Carmelites are thought to have been founded in the 12th century on Mt Carmel (hence the name). The order believes strongly in the power of contemplative prayer and shuns the excesses of society.

Local families believed that a daughter in the convent guaranteed the entire family a place in heaven, so there was strong pressure on the first daughter of every cochabambino family to enter into the convent. Such was the demand to get some real estate in heaven that there was even a waiting list set up when no vacancies were available. An elderly nun had to pass on before a new young nun was allowed in.

Life inside was tough, and a rigid class system operated. Those who paid a considerable dowry (equivalent to more than US$150,000 in modern money) earned themselves a velo negro (black veil) and a place on the council under the control of the Mother Superior. The council was responsible for all the decisions in the convent. As the elite members of the order, velos negros were blessed with a private stone room with a single window, where they spent most of their day in prayer, religious study and other acceptable activities such as sewing tapestries. Each velo negro was attended by members of the velo blanco (white veil), second-class nuns whose family paid a dowry, but could not afford the full cost of a velo negro. Velo blancos spent part of their day in prayer and the rest in the personal service of the velo negros. Daughters of poor families who could not afford any kind of dowry became sin velos (without veils). They slept in communal quarters and took care of the cooking, cleaning and attending to the needs of the velo blancos.

The rules inside the convent were strict. Personal effects weren't permitted and communication with other nuns was allowed for only one hour a day – the rest was spent in total silence. Meals were eaten without speaking and contact with the outside world was almost completely prohibited. Once a month each nun was allowed a brief supervised visit from their family, but this took place behind bars and with a black curtain preventing them from seeing and touching each other. The only other contact with the city was through the sale of candles and foodstuffs, which was performed via a revolving door so that the vendor and the client were kept apart. Such transactions were the sole source of income for the nuns who were otherwise completely self-sufficient.

In the 1960s the Vatican declared that such conditions were inhuman and offered all cloistered nuns the world over the opportunity to change to a more modern way of life. Many of the nuns in Santa Teresa rejected the offer, having spent the better part of their life in the convent and knowing no different. Today most of the few remaining nuns are of advancing years and while the rules are no longer as strict as they once were, the practices have changed little. These days the cloistered lifestyle is understandably less attractive to young girls in an age where their families permit them to exercise their own free will.

Worth a Trip: Punata

This small market town 50km east of Cochabamba is said to produce Bolivia’s finest chicha (fermented corn drink). Tuesday is market day and May 18 is the riotous town festival. Access from Cochabamba is via micros (B$8, one hour) and taxis (B$10) that depart when full from Plaza Villa Bella at the corner of Av República and Av 6 de Agosto between 5am and 8pm.

Worth a Trip: Tiquipaya

The town of Tiquipaya, whose name means 'Place of Flowers,' is located 11km northwest of Cochabamba. It is known for its Sunday market, and for its array of unusual festivals: in late April or early May there’s an annual Chicha Festival; in July there's a Potato Festival; the second week in September sees the Trout Festival; around September 24 is the Flower Festival; and in the first week of November there’s the Festival de la Wallunk’a, which attracts colorful, traditionally dressed women from around the Cochabamba department.

Micros leave half-hourly from the corner of Ladislao Cabrera and Av Oquendo in Cochabamba. A taxi costs about B$50.

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Activities

There's no shortage of outdoor activities within a couple of hours' drive or less from Cochabamba. Rock climbing, trekking, canyoning, whitewater rafting and paragliding are best.

Sleeping

Two good hostels draw the majority of backpackers. Hotels are abundant, but they're generally lacking in character compared to other well-traveled cities in the region. Don’t be tempted by the rock-bottom prices in the market areas and around the bus station. They're cheap for a reason: the area is dodgy after dark.

Staying in nearby Quillacollo or Tiquipaya is also an option.

Eating

Cochabambinos pride themselves on being the most food-loving of Bolivians and their city's reputation as the culinary capital of the country is deserved. The highest concentration of good restaurants is in La Recoleta, an upscale neighborhood north of the center; there are several recommended Argentinian-style churrasquerías in a pedestrian plaza here.

Drinking & Nightlife

There’s a flourishing bohemian-style bar scene popular with mostly university-aged students along España, between Mayor Rocha and Colombia. In La Recoleta, a slightly older crowd heads to spots along Paseo del Blvd, and El Pasaje Portales has several nightclubs playing Latin and electronic music. The nightlife along El Prado (Av Ballivián) mostly involves drinking at street-front restaurants.

Entertainment

The new Hupermall in La Recoleta has a cinema, as does the multiplex Cine Center with several screens showing the latest Hollywood flicks (plus there's a food court and ATMs). More atmospheric, if also dingy, are the Cine Heroínas, Cine Teatro Capital and the smaller Cine Astor. For information about what’s on, see the newspaper entertainment listings.

Travel with Children

From llama-dotted mountains and lunar-like landscapes to boat trips through steamy jungles, Bolivia offers adventures that will leave an imprint on young travelers. Visiting Bolivia is a one-of-a-kind cultural experience, and while traveling with children poses some challenges, the rewards are great.

Getting There

Air

The flight between La Paz and Cochabamba’s Jorge Wilstermann International Airport – only 4km southwest of the center – must be one of the world’s most incredible (sit on the left coming from La Paz, the right from Cochabamba), with fabulous views of the dramatic Cordillera Quimsa Cruz and a (disconcertingly) close-up view of the peak of Illimani. Most flights between Santa Cruz and La Paz touch down briefly at Cochabamba and the city also connects them with flights to Sucre.

BoA, Ecojet, Amaszonas and TAM combined, run a bunch of daily flights between Santa Cruz and La Paz via Cochabamba and a couple of daily flights to Sucre. There are also daily flights to Oruro, Trinidad and Tarija, the latter continuing on to Yacuiba a couple of days a week (the schedule changes). Flights to Uyuni generally connect via La Paz.

Micro B (B$2) shuttles between the airport and the main plaza. Taxis to or from the center cost B$25 to B$30. To Quillacollo or Tiquipaya it's B$50.

Bus

Cochabamba’s main bus terminal, just south of the center, has an information kiosk, a branch of the tourist police, ATMs, luggage storage and a casa de cambio (money exchange bureau). The traffic around the terminal is a mess; if bags are small and light and it's daytime, it might be worth walking a few blocks to hail a taxi.

Trufis (collective taxis) and micros to eastern Cochabamba Valley villages leave from a variety of spots south of the center, along Av República at the corners of Barrientos, Av 6 de Agosto and Mairana.

Torotoro micros (B$35) with Sindicato de Transporte Mixto Toro Toro Turistico depart daily, when full, from around 7am until late in the afternoon, but waits can vary; 1½ hours isn't unusual. Arrive around 7am or go with a group and it should be quick. Services to the western part of the valley leave from the corner of Avs Ayacucho and Aroma. For Villa Tunari, micros to Chapare leave from the corner of Avs República and Oquendo.

Expreso Campero runs minivans to Aquile and Peña Colorada leaving Cochabamba at noon, 4pm and 6pm.

Departures to La Paz and Santa Cruz leave frequently throughout the day. Oruro and Potosí are mostly nighttime trips.

Bolívar and Trans Copacabana generally have the most qualified drivers and so are the most recommended bus lines.

Best to buy your tickets in the morning the day of your trip. If you turn up in the evening, shortly before departure, we've heard stories of people being scammed.

What to do in Cochabamba

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Proud, genteel Sucre is Bolivia’s most beautiful city and the symbolic heart of the nation. It was here that independence was proclaimed, and while La Paz is the seat of government and treasury, Sucre is recognized in the constitution as the nation’s capital. Set in a valley surrounded by mountains with a glorious ensemble of whitewashed buildings sheltering pretty patios, it’s a spruce place that preserves a wealth of colonial architecture. Sensibly, there are strict controls on development and it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1991. Both the city and its university enjoy reputations as focal points of progressive thought within the country.

With a selection of excellent accommodations, a mild and comfortable climate, a wealth of churches and museums, and plenty to see and do in the surrounding area, it’s no surprise that visitors end up spending much longer in Sucre than they bargained on.

Sights

To experience Central Highlands culture in an environment unmediated by tourism, head to the more off-the-beaten-path villages of Candelaria or Icla, both to the south of Tarabuco.

The former, around 88km southeast of Sucre, produces some of the highest quality hand weavings – blankets, rugs, ponchos and bags – in the local style. The community has established a weaving association, which owns a museum and textile store that explain the meaning and significance of their intricate designs. The store has a large selection of the same high-quality weaving found in Sucre, but at lower prices, with 100% of the profits going back into the small fair-trade association.

Some Sucre operators run tours leaving for Candelaria on Saturday, staying the night and proceeding to Tarabuco’s market on Sunday morning. The weaving association can also arrange stays in private homes, but this is best arranged in advance through an agency in Sucre. Do not arrive in town without an arrangement for accommodations, as there are no formal hotels.

Icla, another 13km south, is set in an imposing canyon dripping with waterfalls and riddled with caves, some with interesting geological formations and cave paintings. It's remote and extremely beautiful, with scores of dinosaur footprints in the surrounding area. The local government is trying to promote trekking in the region. Homestays are available; try asking for doña Nora or doña Rosa.

Bus company 12 de Marzo has a daily departure at 4pm from Sucre to Candelaria (B$15) and Icla (B$20, four hours); buses leave from Bustillos near the bus terminal. Return trips to Sucre leave from Icla at around 1pm.

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Sleeping

Accommodations in Sucre are on the whole good value, with no shortage of hostels; most of the choices are in attractive whitewashed colonial buildings built around pretty central courtyards. Some midrange to upmarket places have boutique features in historic buildings. For an authentic Bolivian experience ask at the various language schools or travel agencies about homestay options. The cheapest places cluster near Mercado Central and along Ravelo and San Alberto.

Eating

Sucre has a good variety of quality restaurants and it’s a great place to spend time lolling around in cafes. You can find good salteñas (meat-and-vegetable pasties) and the Sucre specialty mondongo chuquisaqueño (spicy pork stew on top of a large corn kernel). Thanks to the city's status as Bolivia’s chocolate capital, shops cater to those with a sweet tooth.

Drinking & Nightlife

Many restaurants, especially Joy Ride Café, Florín, Imaynalla and Kultur Berlin are popular drinking spots, and get lively – especially during their respective happy hours. Om is easily the most stylish. Sureña is the locally brewed beer and comes in five varieties; Chanchito is the darkest. For discotecas (weekends only), head north of the center; it’s easiest by taxi.

Entertainment

There’s a monthly brochure detailing Sucre’s cultural events; look for it at tourist offices or in bars and restaurants. Art centers La Guarida Espacio Cultural and El Mercado draw a local bohemian crowd. Other establishments provide language courses and host cultural events.

Shopping

The best place to learn about traditional local weavings is the Museo de Arte Indígena, but to buy them you are best off going direct to the villages. Prices are steep by Bolivian standards, but the items are high quality. Several shops near the central plaza sell locally made clothing, from high-quality alpaca sweaters to cheap ponchos.

Getting There

Air

You can fly internationally between Sucre and Buenos Aires, Madrid, Salta and São Paulo on BoA.

BoA, Ecojet and Amaszonas offer several flights a day to Cochabamba, La Paz and Santa Cruz; Amaszonas also flies to Uyuni (around B$374 one way) daily Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There are direct flights on BoA to Tarija several days a week. TAM also serves Sucre, La Paz and Santa Cruz; however, the location of its local office was in flux when we last visited.

The city's new airport named Alcantarí International Airport, located in Yamparáez, 30km south of the city, is still a work in progress. The space feels mostly vacant, with few shops or eateries open, especially for night flights. There is an ATM, but no money exchange. Unlike the old airport, however, it's less vulnerable to bad weather and certainly isn't in danger of being overrun by housing developments. Departure tax is B$11.

The airport is a 40-minute taxi ride (B$50) from the city at night (longer during the day when there's more traffic). Or you can grab a shared one, minimum two people (B$60), from Plaza Tréveris or a micro that leaves when full from a spot near Plaza Camargo (B$8).

Bus & Shared Taxi

The bus terminal is a 3km uphill walk from the center along Av Gutierrez and most easily accessed by micros A or 3 (B$1.50) from along Ravelo, or by taxi (as the micros are too crowded for lots of luggage). You can also walk and get there quicker in midday gridlock. Unless you’re headed for Potosí, it’s wise to book long-distance buses a day in advance in order to reserve a seat. There’s a terminal tax of B$2.50; services include an information kiosk, but no ATM. To save the trip to the bus station, many centrally located travel agents also sell tickets on selected services for a small commission.

There are plans to build a new bus station in the next couple of years.

Take an early evening bus to La Paz, as opposed to an afternoon one, so you don't arrive at an ungodly hour. A new company called El Mexicano (leaves 6pm) is the best for the Santa Cruz route, and Andes Bus to Oruro or Tarija is like flying 1st class on a plane.

If you are headed to Tarija or Villazón, you'll have more luck going to Potosí; the quickest and comfiest (if not the cheapest) way to get there is in a shared taxi (B$50, two hours), which can be arranged through your hotel or by calling direct. Try Super Movil.

For Uyuni, we recommend 6 de Octubre buses (either cama, ie fully reclining, or semi-cama), which leave at 9am and 8pm daily.

What to do in Sucre

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Santa Cruz may surprise you with its small-town feeling, colonial buildings and relaxed tropical atmosphere. Bolivia’s largest city oozes modernity yet clings stubbornly to tradition. The city center is vibrant and thriving, its narrow streets crowded with suited business people sipping chicha (a fermented-corn drink) at street stalls. Locals still lounge on benches in the main square listening to camba (eastern lowlands) music, restaurants close for siesta and little stores line the porch-fronted houses selling cheap, local products.

This is not the Bolivia that you see on postcards, but it is the place with the greatest population diversity in the country – from the overall-wearing Mennonites strolling past Goth kids, to the Japanese community, altiplano immigrants, Cuban doctors, Brazilian settlers and fashionable cruceños (Santa Cruz locals) cruising the tight streets in their SUVs. It’s worth spending a few days here, eating at the international restaurants and checking out the nightlife.

Sights

Though the city has no standout sights there is plenty to see and do around town. If the heat saps your energy though you may prefer to just stroll around, sip a fruit juice in one of the city’s many cafes or do some people-watching in the shade of the buzzing Plaza 24 de Septiembre.

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Sleeping

Santa Cruz's accommodations are more expensive than elsewhere in Bolivia, and those on a tight budget might find the quality of lodgings poor. Nonetheless, there are some good hostels and a growing number of midrange hotels, as well as some sleek boutique hotels. Luxury options are generally away from the center and are more like resorts than hotels.

Eating

The international population has rolled up its sleeves and opened some fine restaurants, so what the city lacks in attractions it makes up for in gastronomic offerings. Av Monseñor Rivero is lined with snazzy restaurants that get posher, or more expensive, the further you walk from the center. At the other end of the scale, cheap fast-food joints line Ayacucho.

Drinking & Nightlife

The hippest nightspots are along Av San Martín, between the second and third anillos (rings) in Barrio Equipetrol (B$15 to $B20 taxi from the center). Hot spots change frequently so it’s best to dress to impress, cruise the piranhar (strip) and see what catches your fancy. Cover charges cost B$20 to B$70. Most places don’t warm up until 11pm.

Flights & getting there

Air

Viru-Viru International Airport, 15km north of the center, handles some domestic and most international flights. International destinations served by direct flights include Asunción, Buenos Aires, Lima, Madrid, Miami, Panama City, São Paulo and Santiago de Chile.

The smaller Aeropuerto El Trompillo, in the southeast of the city receives some domestic flights.

Flights to national destinations leave frequently and it's easy enough to find a seat to anywhere, or at least a suitable connection via Cochabamba.

Transport Options

Handy minibuses leave Viru-Viru for the center (30 minutes). Taxis for up to four people cost B$70 from Viru-Viru or B$30 from the more central El Trompillo.

Bus, Micro & Shared Taxi

The full-service bimodal terminal, the combined long-distance bus and train station, is 1.5km east of the center, just before the third anillo at the end of Av Brasil. For departmental destinations turn right on entering, for national and international destinations turn left.

The main part of the terminal is for flotas (long-distance buses) and the train; on the other side of the tunnel is the micro (minibus) terminal for regional services. Most flotas leave in the morning before 10am and in the evening after 6pm. Taking a series of connecting micros or taxis can be a faster, if more complicated way, of reaching regional destinations, rather than waiting all day for an evening flota.

To the Jesuit missions and Chiquitania, flotas leave in the morning and early evening (after 8pm). Micros run throughout the day, every two hours or so, but only go as far as Concepción. Buses to San Rafael, San Miguel and San Ignacio (B$60 to B$70, eight hours) run via San José de Chiquitos and depart between 6:30pm and 8pm.

Smaller micros and trufis (shared car or minibus) to regional destinations in Santa Cruz department leave regularly from outside the old bus terminal and less regularly from the micro platforms at the bimodal terminal. Trufis to Buena Vista (B$23, two hours), wait on Izozog (Isoso), near the old bus terminal. Trufis to Samaipata (B$30, three hours), leave from Calle Aruma near Av Grigota, one block past the 2do anillo. Trufis to Vallegrande (B$60, five hours) depart from behind the shopping center 'Shopping del Automovil' at Km 6 on Doble Vía La Guardia, beyond the sixth anillo. Flotas to Vallegrande (B$35) leave from the same place at 9am, 1pm, 3pm, 6:30pm and 7:30pm.

What to do in Santa Cruz

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With its pleasantly mild climate and easily walkable colonial center, you may find yourself lingering in Tarija longer than expected on your way to or from Argentina or Paraguay. Despite the fact that many Bolivians from bigger cities regard South Central Bolivia as a backwater, Tarija's palm-lined squares, tight streets, laid-back feel and lively restaurants feel just the right amount of cosmopolitan and sophisticated. After an afternoon with a glass of local vino on the central plaza you might consider relocating.

Tarija is also the base for excursions further afield, especially to the vineyards on its doorstep in El Valle de la Concepción and to surrounding villages and nature reserves.

Chapacos – as tarijeños (Tarija locals) are otherwise known – are culturally distinct from other parts of the country.

Sights

Worth a Trip: Inter-Andean Valleys

During the summertime, there are several places in the valley to go swimming in the rivers, including Tomatitas, Coimata and Chorros de Jurina. The tour companies operating out of Tarija generally include Coimata and sometimes Tomatitas on their 'Campiña Chapaca' half-day tours.

Tomatitas, with its natural swimming holes, three lovely rivers (the Sella, Guadalquivir and Erquis) and happy little eateries serving cangrejitos (soft-shelled freshwater crabs), is popular with day-trippers from Tarija 5km to the south. The best swimming is immediately below the footbridge, where there’s also a park with a campground and barbecue sites.

From here you can walk the 9km to Coimata. If coming from Tarija, turn left off the main San Lorenzo road (micros from the city to Coimata leave from Calle Comercio at the Mercado de los Campesinos). After less than 1km, you’ll pass a cemetery on the left, which is full of flowers and brightly colored crosses. Just beyond it, bear right towards Coimata. Once there, turn left at the soccer field and continue to the end of the road. Here you’ll find a small cascade of water and a swimming hole that makes a great escape, as lots of tarijeño families can attest. There’s also a choice of small restaurants serving misquinchitos and doraditos (fried local fish with white corn), as well as cangrejitos (small freshwater crabs). From this point, you can follow a walking track 40 minutes upstream to the base of the two-tiered Coimata Falls, which has a total drop of about 60m.

Another swimming hole and waterfall are found at Rincón de la Victoria, 6km southwest of Tomatitas in a green plantation-like setting. Instead of bearing right beyond the colorful cemetery, as you would for Coimata, follow the route to the left. From the fork, it’s 5km to Rincón de la Victoria.

The twin 40m waterfalls at Chorros de Jurina, 26km northwest of Tarija, also make an agreeable destination for a day trip. Set in a beautiful but unusual landscape, one waterfall cascades over white stone while the other pours over black stone. In late winter, however, they may diminish to a mere trickle or dry up completely. The route from Tarija to Jurina passes through some impressive rural landscapes. From near the flowery plaza in San Lorenzo, follow the Jurina road, which turns off beside the Casa de Moto Méndez. After 6km, you’ll pass a school on the left. Turn left 200m beyond the school and follow that road another 2.5km to the waterfalls. From the end of the road, it’s a five-minute walk to the base of either waterfall. The one on the left is reached by following the river upstream; for the other, follow the track that leads from behind a small house.

Micros A and B to Tomatitas leave every 20 minutes from the corner of Domingo Paz and Saracho in Tarija (B$2), some continuing on to Jurina (B$7) via San Lorenzo. Get off near the school and then walk the rest of the way. For Coimata, similarly frequent departures leave from the corner of Campesino and Comercio (B$3) in Tarija.

Worth a Trip: San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo (population 21,400), 14km north of Tarija along the Tupiza road, is a quaint village with freshly whitewashed adobe facades, cobblestone streets, carved balconies, a church built in 1709 and a charming plaza shaded by towering palm trees. Next to the plaza is a tiny market with vendors selling a variety of pastry specialties including rosquetes (basically a crunchy, dry doughnut with white frosting).

The town is best known as the home of José Eustaquio ‘Moto’ Méndez, the hero of the Batalla de la Tablada, whose former house is now the Museo Moto Méndez, aka 'Casa de los Libertadores de America.' The popular Fiesta de San Lorenzo takes place here on August 10 and features chapaco musical instruments and dancing. During Easter, yellow flowers are hung along the streets and buildings, providing a dash of color to the town's white stucco palette. After seeing the museum, head 2km north to the former Méndez family chapel, Capilla de Lajas, which is delicate, exquisitely proportioned and a fine example of colonial architecture.

Just to the north is the former home of erstwhile Bolivian president Jaime Paz Zamora, with an adjacent billboard paying homage to him. Only a few kilometers north of here, you can arrange in advance for a guided tour of El Picacho, Zamora's beautiful estate – he'll likely be on hand to regale visitors with stories.

Micros and trufis (B$3, 30 minutes) to San Lorenzo leave from the corner of Av Domingo Paz and Calle Rojas in Tarija approximately every 20 minutes during the day. All of the tour companies in Tarija include a stop in San Lorenzo on at least one of their designated itineraries.

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Sleeping

Budget accommodations are found mainly north of Bolívar, though most places in this price tier do not have heating and you may need it in winter. Many good midrange options are within several blocks of the central plaza; the city's only real high-end place is a few kilometers north of the center.

Eating

Chapaco cuisine is unique and Tarija’s restaurants pay it due homage. Get a copy of the Guía Gastronomica from the tourist office for mouthwatering ideas. It's worth noting that the majority of restaurants and cafes, except those around the central plaza, shut down for siesta between 12:30pm and 2:30pm or 3pm. Most are also closed Sundays.

Drinking & Nightlife

Tarija's bar and cafe scene is vibrant and many of the popular restaurants transform into drinking dens after dark. The Friday bohemian night at Macondo de Pizza Pazza Bar is worth planning your trip around.

Shopping

La Vinoteca is the best place to sample and then pick up a bottle of wine from any of the area bodegas. It also sells other locally produced foodstuffs. Bodegas Aranjuez, Kohlberg, La Concepción and Campos de Solana all have shops near one another just off Plaza Sucre. For cloyingly sweet artisan wines, hit one of the shops lining Calle Sucre between Domingo Paz and Cochabamba..

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Nestled between two hills on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca, Copacabana is a small, bright and enchanting town. It's long been a religious mecca, and local and international pilgrims still flock to its raucous fiestas, but lakeside strolls and meanderings up El Calvario will get you far from the madding crowd. Copa is the launching pad for visiting Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, and makes a pleasant stopover between La Paz and Puno or Cuzco.

Sights

Copacabana’s central attractions can be visited in one long but relaxed day, but there are some great trips further afield. Much of the action in Copa centers on Plaza 2 de Febrero and Av 6 de Agosto, the main commercial drag, which runs from east to west. At its western end is the lake and a walkway (Costañera) that traces the shoreline. The transportation hub is in Plaza Sucre.

Activities

To visit Islas del Sol and de la Luna you can either take a ferry or go the luxury route with a La Paz–based tour operator for a guided excursion (adding a night or two in their hotels on Isla del Sol).

Worth a trip

The areas around Copacabana offer plenty of adventure. The trip to Yampupata is a worthwhile excursion by foot, bike, minibus or taxi. Here are a few DIY activities that will take you beyond the standard tourist tracks.

Las Islas Flotantes (Floating Islands) While there aren't any true floating reed islands to visit near Copacabana anymore (for that you'll need to head to Huatajata), there are a few faux islands that locals flock to for fresh trucha. You can walk from town to Isla Flotante Kalakota, near Kusijata, or you can hike or take a taxi to the more scenic Isla Peñon near Chañi.

Lost ruins Ask Centro de Información Turística for a list of nearby Inca ruins and strike out on your own. Some, but not all, Inca sites are listed here. Admittedly, many are now neglected or rarely visited.

Hike south of town The stunning peninsula south of town will give you a different perspective of the lake. To start your hike, head out 6km to the village of J’iska Q’ota. Catch a minibus marked ‘Kasani’ (B$4) and you’ll arrive in 10 minutes. Follow the road toward the lake heading in a northeasterly – and then northerly – direction around the peninsula and back to Copa.

Bike from town Hire a bike at Copacabana Beach and head off into the hills or in the direction of Yampupata – a hilly, but beautiful, journey.

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Sleeping

A host of budget options abound, especially along Jáuregui, charging about B$30 to B$40 per person. There are also several midrange options that are well worth the extra bolivianos. During fiestas accommodations fill up quickly and prices increase up to threefold.

Eating

Some of the best Titicaca fish is served at beachfront stalls, though hygiene is questionable. The bargain basement is the market comedor (dining hall), where you can eat a generous meal of trucha (river trout) for a pittance, or an ‘insulin shock’ breakfast of hot api morado (corn drink; B$4) and syrupy buñuelos (doughnuts or fritters; B$3).

Drinking & Nightlife

New nightspots come and go as frequently as tour boats. To find out what's happening while you're in town, it's best to ask the touts on Av 6 de Agosto.

Shopping

Local specialties include handmade miniatures of totora-reed boats and unusual varieties of Andean potatoes. Massive bags of pasankalla, which is puffed choclo (corn) with caramel, the South American version of popcorn, abound. Dozens of stores sell llama- and alpaca-wool hats and sweaters. Vehicle adornments used in the cha’lla and religious paraphernalia are sold at stalls in front of the cathedral.

What to do in Copacabana

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