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Map of Bolivia

Map of Bolivia

THE BASICS

Official Country Name: Republica de Bolivia (Republic of Bolivia)

Geographic Location: Located in the heart of South America. It is one of two landlocked countries in south America. (The other is Paraguay). It shares borders with Brazil on the north and east; Paraguay in the south-east; Argentina in the south; Chile in the south-west and west and Peru in west and north-west.

Geographic Size: Bolivia encompasses 1,098,000 sq. km. (680,760 sq. mi.). It is 1,500 km from north to south and 1,300 km at its’ widest point (930 and 806 miles respectively). It is roughly the size of Texas and California together or a little smaller than Alaska.

Political Departments (States): There are nine departments in Bolivia (similar to states): La Paz, Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Chuquisaca, Potosi, Cochabamba and Oruro.

Languages: Spanish (most widely used and primary language), as well as Aymara and Quechua which is used primarily by the more populous indigenous cultures on the altiplano and central valleys.

Government: It is a republic with three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial. It is democratic and is one of the most stable governments in the Americas.

Independence Day: Bolivia became a republic on August 6, 1825.

Capital: The official capital is Sucre (seat of the Judicial branch) but the de-facto and more well-known capital is La Paz (seat of the Executive & Legislative branches) It has an international airport, the embassies, many aid organizations and N.G.O.’s and is the headquarters for some of the largest businesses in the country.

Economy: Used to be based primarily on mining in the Andes and Altiplano region. Now, petroleum, gas and primary minerals as well as forest and agricultural products from the orient are the most important. Tourism is also on the rise and hopefully will keep growing and rise to be one of the primary sources of the Bolivian economy.

Population Type and Size: The population is approximately 9 million people. They are a mixture of races and cultures. Approximately 60% are of pure Indian bloodlines, 35% or so are mestizo (a mixture of Spanish-American and American-Indian). They are known as cholos or cholas (male/female) and refers to people with Indian blood lines that have emigrated to the cities and still wear some form of their original ethnic dress or costume. These same people who live in the country are referred to as campesinos or campesinas. Approximately 1% are of African ancestry, mostly descendants of the slaves during the Spanish conquest and colonial times that were used in the mines of Potosi and other regions. The remaining 4% are made up of mostly European descent from the Spanish and Germans as well as other groups like Chinese, Korean, Indian and many different religious groups from all over the world.

Religions: Approximately 97% or so of the population is Roman Catholic. But there is a significant mixture of Catholic and Pagan rituals, superstitions and beliefs that are expressed by mostly the indigenous population (but certainly not limited to them) on a normal and daily basis.

Education: Compulsory school attendance from ages 7 to 16 is the norm. But, due to a lack of resources and teachers in some rural areas, children may not reach their teenage years and have graduated from high school. The literacy rate of Bolivia is approximately 74%.

Ecological and Environmental State: Since Bolivia is an under-developed country it has left most of its lands as they have been before recorded history. But within the last twenty years due to a growing population and other economic factors, there has been a tide of emigration and development from the highlands to the tropical lowlands in search of land and a brighter future. This has created a lot of limited development in once virgin areas (especially in the tropics) and a lot pressure in other similar areas that used to be true wilderness. Within the last ten years the evolution of an environmental consciousness has arisen and the cataloging and protection of biologically diverse regions has taken place. Scientists and environmental groups world-wide have recognized that Bolivia has some of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. Within it’s borders are various branches of the Andes high altitude mountains and glaciers, the vast Altiplano plateau that include rivers and lakes (L. Titicaca & Poopo), the arid and frigid deserts in the south-western region, the world’s largest salt flat (Salar de Uyuni), cloud forests in the transition areas of the Andes, semi-tropical and tropical forests from the highland valleys to the eastern lowlands of the upper Amazon basin, vast tropical savannahs in the northern regions and the scrub forests and deserts of the Chaco in south-eastern Bolivia.

There is a strong push at this time to protect more and more areas for the preservation of the bio-diversity that exists there. There are presently 18 primary national parks and protected areas and another dozen or so areas that are being re-evaluated for park or protected area status. The vast range of geographic regions and climates adds to the immense variety of eco-systems and flora & fauna that Bolivia has within it’s borders. It truly is a country with an incredible wealth of flora and fauna that should be visited, often.

National Parks and Protected Areas: Currently there are 10 National Parks, 8 Protected Areas and 6 areas in re-evaluation for protected area status. The following are some of the most important in Bolivia.

  • Parque Nacional Apolobamba (La Paz)
  • Parque Nacional Amboro (Santa Cruz)
  • Reserva de la Biosfera y Territorio Indigena Pilon Lajas (Beni)
  • Parque Nacional Cotapata (La Paz)
  • Territorio Indigena y Parque Nacional Isiboro- Secure (Beni)
  • Parque Nacional Sajama (Oruro)
  • Parque Nacional Toro Toro (Cochabamba)
  • Reserva Nacional de Flora y Fauna Tariquia (Tarija)
  • Parque Nacional Madidi (La Paz)
  • Parque Nacional y Area Natural de Manejo Integrado Chaco (Santa Cruz)
  • Area Protegida Manuripi Heath (Pando)
  • Parque Nacional Carrasco (Cochabamba)
  • Parque Nacional Noel Kempf Mercado (Santa Cruz)
  • Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa (Potosi)
  • Reserva Nacional de Flora y Fauna Estacion Biologica del Beni (Beni)

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GEOGRAPHIC AWARENESS

Geographic Regions: Bolivia is made up primarily of six regions: The Andes, the Altiplano, the Yungas, the highland valleys, the Gran Chaco, and the tropical lowlands of the Parana and Amazon basins.

The Andes: Two major branches of the Andes make up Bolivia’s mountain territory. One, starting in the Nudo de Apolobamba (north of L. Titicaca and on the Bolivia-Peru border) heads generally south and south-east, east of Lake Titicaca, east of La Paz and continues south on the eastern edge of the Altiplano and continues into northern Argentina. This section is primarily made up of the Cordillera de Apolobamba, Cordillera Real and Cordillera Quimsa Cruz. These are steep and rugged mountains with permanent snow, glaciers and the origin of many whitewater rivers that primarily head to the eastern side of the Andes known as the Yungas. The mountains rise to over 21,300 ft and average between 17 and 19,000′. Without a doubt the most spectacular ranges in Bolivia. The other branch encompasses the Cordillera Occidental (Western Range) and has many isolated summits made primarily of volcanoes and makes up the western border of the country and heads south and continues into Chile. This is where Sajama (Bolivia’s highest peak at 21,465′) lies near the Chilean border and borders the Altiplano on the west.

The Altiplano: Altiplano means high plain but in reality it’s not very flat and is made up of valleys, small hills and rolling areas as well as salt flats, volcanoes, rivers and lakes. It runs from north of Lake Titicaca, between the two branches of the Andes, heads south and into northern Argentina and Chile. It is roughly 900 km (560 mi.) in length and about 200 km (125 mi) wide. It is generally cold and windy and mostly treeless. The vegetation is sparse and mostly made of tough clumps of grass called ‘ichu’, short and tough Thola bushes and occasional stands of native trees called Quenua. It has the world’s biggest salt flat (Salar de Uyuni) and various others as well as Red and Green lagoons in the south. Many volcanoes lie scattered among the plains and mesas and their volcanic flows have been shaped into a maze of canyonlands by the erosive powers of rain, wind, snow and hail over eons. Roads are few and rugged and no reliable gas or services are readily available. This landscape is quite rugged, has limited but interesting flora and fauna and beautiful as well.

The Yungas: This is the eastern side of the Andes and is primarily the steep jungle-covered mountains that head east and eventually meet with the tropical eastern lowlands. They are rugged and largely undeveloped due to their geographic and geologic characteristics. The upper reaches are made of cloud forests and the rivers that cascade of the high glaciated summits cut their way through this region and empty into the upper Amazon Basin. They are rich in flora and fauna and some of Bolivia’s most spectacular parks are located here. They are criss-crossed with Inca trails and were the only access into the lowlands for thousands of years. The development of a few roads in the 1930s and 40s and shortly a modern highway and the ensuing infrastructure will help develop this region quite fast. This region provides the bulk of fruits and vegetables for the highlands and is the region where the ancient coca plant is cultivated. The climate is hot and there is a lot of rain, especially in the summer time. For tourists, this is one of the major regions for trekking, rafting and nature tours and for gaining overland access to the lowlands.

The Highland Valleys: This region lies east and southeast of the Altiplano and has the most hospitable climate in the whole country. It is made up of the rolling hills, valleys and basins that are part of the Central Cordillera. The soils are fertile and the climate is Mediterranean-like, except that it rains in the summer (just like the rest of Bolivia) as opposed to the winter time. The second most populous region of Bolivia has the cities of Cochabamba, Sucre, Tarija and Potosi. Only Potosi has the disadvantage of being high in the mountains and doesn’t enjoy the nice climate of the others. This region is where a large majority of the colonial Spanish cities were founded and the huge mansions and estates are being renovated to accommodate more tourists for them to enjoy some of the past glory and charm of days gone by. Major roads connect all of these cities and a few modern highways have brought these areas into the 21st century only recently. In-country flights give easy access to these areas from cities across the country.

The Gran Chaco: This region is located in the south-eastern corner of the department of Santa Cruz. It borders with Argentina and Paraguay. It is characterized by being a harsh and almost impenetrable flat land of thick brush, cactus and grassy expanses with some forested areas. It’s generally hot and very dry and a coat of dust (or during the rainy season – mud) covers everything. Being so harsh and isolated it provides one of the most diverse regions for wildlife (like peccary and jaguar) and flora and birds where they are not afraid of man. A lot of petroleum production also comes from this area. There are very few roads and harsh driving conditions without any services of any kind. Very few and isolated settlements are in this region. Villamontes is the only large town, situated on the railway and said to be Bolivia’s hottest spot, regularly in high 40s (C) /105-113 (F). A harsh but beautiful land.

The Tropical Lowlands: This region is made up of two major basins the Upper Amazon in the north and east and the Parana in the south-east. In the north lies the vast savannahs, thick jungles and broad rivers of the Beni, Pando and La Paz departments. In the East lies the grasslands and jungles of Santa Cruz and in Cochabamba lie the jungles and rivers of the Chapare region. Where Cochabamba and Santa Cruz meet is the elbow of the Andes and it offers a whole range of ecosystems from high mountains and cloud forests to semi-tropical valleys and thick jungles and rivers. Amboro and Carrasco National Parks are located here. All of this region offers hot and humid climate with rain possible anytime of the year. Truly a bountiful land of flora and fauna and indigenous forest people who are dwellers of the fragile Amazon basin. Noel Kempf Mercado National Park is located in the northeastern tip of Santa Cruz and the Chaco is also another National Park. Unfortunately, this region is also where the majority of the trees for the timber industry are being cut down and the forests being destroyed.

 

A caravan of 4x4's visit the Salar de Uyuni on Bolivia's Altipla

 

WHAT TO BRING

Obviously this depends on your planned activity and where in Bolivia you will be travelling. One thing is for sure though: Travel light and be flexible with your possessions. If you’re going to the highlands then your needs will differ than if you’re going to be in the tropics. If you’re of the adventurous kind a backpack or pack with a hidden harness system is best. If you’ll be travelling in the cities and from hotel to hotel then a regular hard case or duffel bag with a large and beefy zipper will be fine. A small day pack or shoulder bag is quite nice and very handy.

Travel in the Highlands:
A system of layering is best where you can add or subtract a layer of clothing as needed. This system is divided into the underwear (next to your skin), the insulating layer (worn on top of your underwear layer) and the foul-weather layer (protects you from the elements). The underwear you buy should be light, warm and comfortable and synthetic. Stay away from cotton because it does not dry quickly (due to perspiration) and holds onto water (your perspiration) unlike the synthetics which dry quickly and maintain their insulating value. The middle or insulating layer can be any piece of clothing that helps you maintain your heat next to your body, like a thick shirt, sweat shirt, sweater or synthetic pile jacket (as well as pants). A shell or jacket (and pants) that is windproof and waterproof (yet breathable) is a good outer shell that will protect you from the cold winds, rain, hail or snow you might experience in the highlands. A removable or stow-away hood is great. Some light synthetic gloves, a wool/synthetic hat and wool socks round it off. As you become colder or warmer you add or subtract a layer as needed.

Travel in the Lowlands:
In the tropics your biggest problem will be the heat and humidity and depending on the season and location, the insects as well. Take two sets of clothing; one for the trail and one for the camp, that way you can maintain yourself clean and comfortable when your trail clothing is drying. Also take a lightweight pair of shoes that you will keep dry for camp. Lightweight materials of synthetic or cotton blend for pants and shirts (with long sleeves) at allow for the flow of air are best. They breathe well and vent your body from the heat. A pair of shorts and cotton t-shirts are quite good as well. Lightweight hiking boots or trail shoes are comfortable and rugged and sandals are also necessary if you’re in the water often. A good hat with a wide brim all the way around are better than baseball caps because they will protect your ears and neck from the intense tropical sun.
A good pair of sunglasses and a bandana are also needed. Don’t forget an insulating layer, like a synthetic jacket, for the evening as the nights can sometimes be cold because of the extreme temperature change from day to night. A wind-breaker that is waterproof will keep the rain at bay and the heat in as well. Synthetics are almost always better than cotton because they dry quickly, don’t rot, and are in most instances more rugged.

The Essentials:
Personal medication and prescriptions, basic first-aid kit, travel alarm clock, small headlamp with extra bulbs and batteries, multipurpose knife/pliers tool, spare set of contacts or prescription glasses, high quality sunglasses, 30 feet or parachute cord (many uses), sewing kit, personal hygiene kit, precision tweezers, small synthetic towel, water bottle that won’t leak (Nalgene), water purification tablets or purifier, contraceptives, tampons, lightweight sandals or surf shoes, Spanish-English dictionary (pocket-size), waterproof sunscreen (minimum SPF 25), strong insect repellent (for the tropics), patience and a good sense of humor.

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TOURISM

Bolivia has a lot of potential for the complete tourism vacation. Depending on your interest, time and budget you can choose the traditional tourism that involves travel to cities and learning about the colorful history of Bolivia or you can head outdoors to experience the grandeur of what Bolivia has to offer. The incredible geography, stunning vistas and the hidden secrets that are hidden from the regular traveler are experiences that are not soon forgotten. Bolivia packs in a lot of variety in a small package.

We at Explore Bolivia have been travelling all over Bolivia since we were young. We are familiar with every corner of this country and what we want to do is show you our special places.

Bolivias’ primary regions for adventure travel: The Andes and Altiplano, The Yungas and Chapare, The Tropical Lowlands of the upper Amazon basin, The Gran Chaco and the Central Valleys. Explore Bolivia operates exclusive tours to all these areas. We offer soft adventure and hard adventure tours that combine Adventure, Culture and Geography. Travel to these regions with Explore Bolivia and experience what few people have had the fortune of seeing.

Soft Adventure Tours:
Trekking along the shores of Lake Titicaca
Birdwatching tours in the Tropical Lowlands of the Beni, Santa Cruz, Pando, Cochabamba and La Paz.
Photographic tours on the Altiplano and Andes, including magical lake Titicaca.
Four Wheel Drive tours on the Altiplano
Sea Kayaking on Lake Titicaca

Hard Adventure Tours:
Mountain Biking in the Andes and Altiplano
Trekking on Inca Trails along the Cordilleras Apolobamba, Real and Quimsa Cruz.
Mountaineering in the Bolivian Andes
Exploratory trips to un-run rivers and wild regions in the tropics

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COMMUNICATION

Postal Service: There is a national postal system that serves the whole country. All capitals, major cities and towns have post offices which serve national and international destinations. There are offices of the major courier companies (UPS, Fedex, DHL, etc.) in all capital cities.

Phone System: The national phone company, Entel, has national and international offices across the country. One can call internationally from all major cities, many small towns and some villages. Faxes can also be sent. Prices vary depending on where you are. Cellular phones are quite popular and work across the country. All major cities have the service from either Entel or private phone companies. National and International service is available across the country as well as internet access.

Telex: They can be sent and received from the Entel offices as well but direct phone or fax service is more convenient and prevalent.

A photographer aims her lens towards the salt pyramids in Bolivi

TRAVELER’S BASIC INFORMATION

Embassies: Are located in La Paz and some may have consulates in the major capitals of the different departments. Check with the Bolivian Embassy of your country for specific information.

Visas: Requirements for all countries change with frequency so you must contact the Bolivian Embassy in your country to get the latest details. Currently American citizens DO NEED a visa to enter Bolivia if they are tourists. Your passport should have validity for at least 6 months beyond your entrance date to Bolivia. A minimum 30-day stay is allowed when you arrive in Bolivia and the Immigration dept. will stamp your passport and give you a green stub of the Immigration document you are supposed to fill out upon entry. This 30-day period can be extended to 90 days at the Immigration department in La Paz or other major cities. Some countries require you have visas to enter their country as well, so make sure you have them before trying to enter from Bolivia. You can obtain visas in the Embassies or consulates within Bolivia for other countries.

Documents: In order to enter or leave Bolivia you must have your documents in order. Legally, anyone entering Bolivia should have proof of onward passage and/or sufficient funds for their estimated length of stay in Bolivia, but this is rarely enforced. It is recommended that you make photocopies of all your important documents and travel with those copies as well as your originals.

Money: The currency in Bolivia is called a Boliviano. It is divided into 100 cents (centavos). The Boliviano comes in paper notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 Bolivianos. The coins are in centavos of 10, 20, 50, 1 Boliviano and 2 Bolivianos. To change money one can go to Casas de Cambio (money exchange houses), or to the money changers on the street. Banks may do so, even if you don’t have a bank account. Traveler’s checks can be changed at the Casas de Cambio, hotels or travel agencies (with proof of identity) and possibly some retail businesses if you purchase something. Credit cards are widely accepted today and most hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, rent-a-car agencies, airlines, and other businesses will accept them but they all will add a small percentage for the credit card fee they are charged by credit card companies. If you don’t want to pay that small fee you will likely not get to use your card, so check beforehand. Money machines (ATM’s) are quite abundant and credit cards, money/check cards can be used if they are within the systems shared by most international banks.

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EXCHANGE RATE

(The current exchange rate is always changing)

But you can find it at The XE.com Universal Currency Converter.

Business Hours: In general business hours are from 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon, break for two hour lunch and resume from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Many businesses open earlier and stay open later. Banks in general open from 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon and from 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM and some have branches that open on Saturdays from 9:30 AM to 12:00 Noon.

Time: Bolivia is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. For example: If it’s 12:00 noon in La Paz, it’s 11:00 am in Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York. It will be 10:00 am in Chicago, 9:00 am in Denver, and 8:00 am in San Francisco.

Electricity: Bolivia uses the world standard of 220 volts at 50 cycles. But in certain areas like La Paz and a few other areas in Bolivia, 110 volts at 50 cycles (like the US and Canada) is also used. Be sure to ask before you plug in. If in doubt assume its 220 and use a converter, but be sure that it is for the intended purpose and for the correct electrical appliance.

Public Holidays:
New Year’s (January 1)
Carnaval (February or March)
Semana Santa (Easter Week – March or April)
Dia del Trabajo (Labor Day – May 1)
Corpus Christi (May)
Independence Day (August 6)
Dia de Colon (Columbus Day – October 12)
Dia de los Muertos (All Saint’s Day – November 2)
Navidad (Christmas – December 25)

Department Holidays:
Oruro (February 10)
Tarija (April 15)
Chuquisaca (May 25)
La Paz (July 16)
Cochabamba (September 14)
Santa Cruz (September 24)
Pando (September 24)
Beni (November 18)
Potosi (November 10)

Tourism Offices: The National Secretariat of Tourism (SENATUR) has offices and kiosks in most major cities and towns including airports, bus and railway stations that have some information for tourists regarding destinations and general information. But, the better bet is to contact independent travel agencies and tour operators (either in-country or outside of Bolivia) for specific information. Guide books for the country (by independent publishers) are also a great source of information – usually done by travellers for travelers. The Embassies and consulates in foreign countries also have tourist information about Bolivia.

Guide Books: Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) there are many guide books that have been written about Boliva by non-Bolivians. This has caused the problem of reporting and publishing of information that is not often accurate. The other problem is that most people who write guide books have their own “personal points of view” that may or may have much to do with Bolivian reality. Another problem is that many guide books push the “accepted norm” that Bolivia is “cheap” and that is just not the case. Some things may be cheap (compared to what?) and others are not. This causes problems for the locals because many travelers use the guide books as “travel bibles” and often demand ridiculously low prices for certain products or services. This is not only unfair for the locals but often creates problems with the tour operators that have to “compete by lowering prices” as opposed to competing with better services. For international travelers it is likely that their money goes a long way but for Bolivians that is not reality. We feel most guide books are helpful, have generally good info, but we do not condone the “marketing” of Bolivia as a cheap destination. Please use the guidebooks as a tool for information – not to take advantage of the locals.

Maps: Good maps of Bolivia are hard to find but the Instituto Geografico Militar is the place to go for topographical maps of most of Bolivia (they restrict sale of sensitive or border areas). They are located in La Paz and other major cities. There is a series of shaded relief maps that highlight the major tourist areas, as well as regular road, political, transportation and cultural maps in most book shops (librerias). In the US try: Maplink in Santa Barbara, CA. and the National Technical Information Service (Springfield, VA). In Canada (Vancouver) try Travel Map Productions and in Great Brittain (London) try Stanfords.

Car Rental: There are plenty of car rental agencies in all major cities across the country. The prices tend to be steep because of the high cost of vehicles, service, spare parts, gas and the unpredictable and rugged roads of the country. 4WD drive vehicles like Toyota (Land Cruisers, Hi-lux), Nissan (Patrol), Mitsubishi (Montero, Galloper), Land Rover (Range Rover, Discovery, Santana) and Suzuki (Vitara) are the vehicles of choice for any trip outside the cities. You need a passport, international drivers license or valid driver’s license, and a major credit card.

Accommodations: The range of accommodations throughout the country can be anything from a hammock under a thatched roof to rooms in private homes and residential, and from hostels to 1 to 5 star hotels in the major cities. In general, the more remote it is, the less chances of finding quality and comfortable accommodations. Most cities and towns offer hotels, hostels and residential of all levels.

Weights and Measures: Like most of the world, Bolivia uses the Metric System. But, in the markets they also use the Imperial system of pounds as well as the metric system. But, in general the metric system is the standard.

Safety and Security: It is safe to say that Bolivia has been and is still one of the most peaceful, safe and hospitable countries in the Americas. We are fortunate that guerrillas are not part of this society and extreme crimes are not the rule but the exception. Thousands of tourists per year have been travelling to this unknown destination for a decades and have experienced warm hospitality, charming people and a welcome hand.

Police: There is the national police which wears a green uniform and has various departments like the Transit, Radio Patrol and others divisions. They are often mistaken for the army because of the uniform. They are helpful with travellers needs across the country. There is a division called the Tourism Police that help and protect the many tourists that visit Bolivia.

Food and Water: Since Bolivia is still a developing country, travelers still need to develop a common sense approach to travel and diet while visiting Bolivia, especially in more remote areas. Be aware that your body and the organisms living in your stomach and intestines are used to one type of diet and when you travel that diet changes and so stomach upsets or worse may be a result. Some people travelling to more developed countries have run into the same problems as people coming here. In the larger cities and towns food and beverages served in reputable restaurants will generally be safe to eat and drink.

If you are not sure, “boil it or peel it” is a safe course of action. In general, it’s best to stay with bottled or boiled drinks and maintain yourself hydrated as much as possible, especially in the highlands and the tropics. If you are not sure, either treat it chemically or physically with a quality water filter that kills and removes bacterias and viruses. But, by all means do not think that it’s all going to make you ill. Psychologically you’re not helping your body and system and for sure you will be missing out on a culinary spectacle that Bolivia is known for. Experiment and try everything; eat and drink and use common sense. The food and drink of this country are what make it so special.

Hospitals and Clinics: All major cities and towns of any considerable size will have hospitals and clinics available to the public. The clinics tend to be better than hospitals in most cases as they are privately owned and operated. Thus their services and doctors are not dependent on the local governments for supplies, training and equipment.

Film and Photography: Bolivia is a photographer’s shangri-la. It offers everything from the high Andes with it’s glaciers and rugged summits to magical Lake Titicaca and the vast undulating Altiplano. From the many temperate valleys to the deserts it has variety and an incredible array of geographic spectacles. In the tropics are the jungles, savannahs, rivers and wildlife that will leave you breathless. And within all these regions live a great variety of people whose customs, religion and way of life are open to countless photographic opportunities. Be sensitive to their privacy and wishes if they don’t want to be photographed. Please ask first, and if they do not want you to take a picture or film them, don’t. And by all means do not pay for photos as you are creating a bad example and negative precedent for the next photographer after you. Bring plenty of film (more than you think you’ll need), extra batteries, a variety of lenses from wide-angle to telephoto and a rugged camera bag to protect your equipment. A small sturdy tripod is also good as well as a dedicated flash unit. The quality of light is wonderful in the highlands and Amazon and everywhere in between and will make for spectacular photos. A polarizing filter may help but learn its pros and cons before using it indiscriminately. Film (slide and negative) is readily available in the major cities and fairly priced. You can also find digital cameras and compact flash cards as well.  Most consumer and some pro-sumer photo equipment is available but make sure you buy from a proper camera dealer that will offer you a factura (receipt) and a guarantee of some sort. Batteries that fit most photo cameras are available as well.

 

Subtle light slowly emerges during sunrise in Bolivia's flooded

 

CLIMATES

In general the climates in Bolivia are dictated mostly by altitude not latitude. The basic weather pattern of Bolivia is the wet and the dry season, which happens at the same time country-wide. There are basically five separate climatic regions: The Andes and Altiplano, the Yungas and Chapare, the temperate valleys, the Chaco and the tropical lowlands of the upper Amazon basin.

Andes and Altiplano: In the highland region, located in the western third of the country, the weather does not change too dramatically from season to season. In general it’s a cold weather region because of its geographical location and the weather patterns that affect it. It has been said that in the Andes one can experience all seasons in one day. During the night, it’s cold like Winter, in the early morning, it’s like an early Spring, during the day it’s like a hot Summer and in the late afternoon it’s like a crisp Autumn day. The weather can be hot during the winter days (May to September) but can get bitterly cold at night, and well below freezing the further south you go. During the wet season (December to March) it will be cold when it rains but can be very pleasant during the day when the sun is out and the nights can be mild.

The Yungas and Chapare: The Yungas and Chapare regions are the eastern side of the Andes that are between the high Andes mountains and the upper Amazon basin. The geography for the most part is steep and rugged with a lot of jungle and whitewater rivers, which are abundant. This region is generally hot and humid and the climate does not change much during the year, except when the rains come during the wet season (December through March). During the dry season it rains less but it’s still hot and humid.

The Temperate Valleys: These valleys are generally concentrated in the central and south-central part of the country have some of the most pleasant climates in the country. The geographic variety of the rolling hills and temperate climate made this region a favorite for the Spaniards during the colonial era. They characteristically don’t have the extremes temperature changes that occur daily or seasonally in other regions. The climate is mild and Mediterranean-like with warm to hot days and pleasant night-time temperatures. This region is where the majority of the fruits and vegetables come from and which are distributed country-wide.

The Chaco Scrub and Plains: In general the Chaco is known as the desert of Bolivia. It is generally flat with some rolling hills and valleys and a few rivers that drain the sparse landscape. Most of the plants have adapted to the very hot temperatures and low humidity that this region is known for. Short bushes, thorny branches, coarse grasses and cactus make up the majority of the plant life with a few scattered large trees. Since it’s so inhospitable few people live here and so the abundance of wildlife is varied and abundant. Hot, dusty and dry would describe the Chaco except in the rainy season when it’s hot and the dust turns to mud.

Seasonal Temperatures: Once again, it depends on where you are in the country. During the dry season (the winter time) temperatures are generally colder and can be downright freezing in the highlands (and well below freezing the further south you go ) and it can be pleasant in the lowlands. The wet season (the summer time) brings hot temperatures and humid conditions to the tropics and cold and wet conditions to the highlands. In the middle altitudes (the valley region) temperatures don’t change in extremes like the highlands and lowlands. Winter has the most beautiful climate and temperatures in the valley regions.

Best Seasons for Travel: There are primarily two seasons in Bolivia – the dry and the wet. The dry season is from May to October, the winter time months. The wet season is from November to April, the summer time months. It is coldest during the months of June to September and wettest from December to March. The dry season is best for travel due to the better road conditions and generally sunny skies and warm temperatures during the day. Travel to most regions of Bolivia is certainly possible year round but you must be prepared to deal with the seasonal changes (as in most countries that experience severe seasonal weather changes) and their effects on weather patterns and the subsequent roaand atmospheric conditions.

The Tropical Lowlands: These regions, which make up most of the Bolivian territory are composed of the upper Amazon basin in the north and northeast regions and the Parana basin in the east and south-east region. These tropical lowlands have a variety of ecosystems and in general they are hot and humid year round. During the rainy season (December to March) the rain is constant and torrential downpours are the norm. It will rain probably everyday during the wet season and flooding is a normal part of the process. The rainforest ecosystem depends on the seasonal flooding to function normally. Hot and humid would describe the lowlands’ climate. But, there are bitterly cold winds that come up (called Surazos) from Patagonia and the Argentine pampas that can drop the temperatures 30-40 degrees for days on end.

Rainfall: The wet season country-wide is from late November to late March or early April, depending on where you are geographically. The quantity of rainfall varies from region to region, but the tropics get most of the rain by far. It can rain any day of the year in the Yungas and parts of the tropics as well. The highlands get very little rain in the winter except when it snows or hails, which are more frequent in the summer – wet season.

 

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