La Paz: La Paz is headquarters of Bolivia's finance and commerce, as well as the main visitor destination. Lying in a natural basin and protected from the harshest Andean winds, snow-capped Mount Illimani (21,000 ft.) provides a spectacular back-drop to the city. Of interest in La Paz: San Francisco Church, richly decorated around native and religious themes; Central Market with rows of stalls teeming with activity; Witches Market for traditional folk remedies; and The Valley of the Moon, a unique landscape formed naturally by the wind and weather. Museum highlights include the outdoor Museum of Tiahuanaco with an excellent collection of artifacts, and the Casa de Murillo, an artfully restored colonial home with paintings, furniture, and period costumes. There are a wide variety of restaurants. Be sure to take in a "pena" or folklore show featuring the instruments and haunting music of the Altiplano. Hotels available to suit every taste and budget.
Lake Titicaca: World's highest navigable lake is a 3,500 sq. mi. inland sea at an altitude of 12,500 ft, Titicaca is actually one larger lake and a smaller one connected by a relatively narrow strait. Legends say the first Inca rose from the lake's depths. Still in use on Lake Titicaca are famous totora reed boats. Travelers crossing the lake between Peru and Bolivia stop at the Island of the Sun and mainland Copacabana. The Island of the Sun can be visited on a day trip from La Paz and is included on hydrofoil and catamaran lake crossings. An ancient Inca stone stairway takes visitors up to the ruins of Pilko Caima where the view is superb. From La Paz the lake is 1 hr. via bus or car. Excellent hotel accommodations available on the Bolivian lakeshore.
Copacabana: Just 100 mi. from La Paz, Copacabana, on the edge of Lake Titicaca, seems world's apart. There is a large, well restored church containing the 16th century miracle-working Dark Virgin of the Lake, also known as the Virgin of Morena, Bolivia's Patron Saint. Carved by the Indian Tito Yupanqui, the Dark Virgin of the Lake draws pilgrims from around the country. Lining the walkway around the church are Indian women in their black bowler hats selling colorful shawls, hats and handicrafts as well as religious items. Outside the church one may witness ceremonies blessing new cars and trucks. There is a weekly fiesta on Saturday that's followed on Sunday by climbing Calvary Hill of the Holy Sepulchre, past stations of the cross, for penance. From La Paz: 4 hrs. by bus. Clean and friendly hotel accommodations available.
Tihuanaco: The mystery site of Tihuanaco pre-dates the Inca and contains five different horizons of habitation. Legend says Tihuanaco was built in a single night by a race of unknown giants. When the Incas arrived they found the city already in ruins. Monumental architecture found here include the giant Gate of the Sun, the semi-subterranean temple, the Puma Punku compound, Kalasaya compound and Acapana pyramid. From La Paz: 3 hrs. via car or bus. Hotels available in La Paz. Chacaltaya: Just 15 mountainous miles (but 90 min. driving time) from La Paz is the world's highest ski run, Chacaltaya. Season is December through March. The rope tow reaches 17,124 ft. and views from the top are inspiring. Skiing, though, at this altitude takes a well conditioned heart and mind!
Sorata: Just 41 miles (but 4-6 mountain-driving hrs. one way) from La Paz, Sorata lies at the foot of Mount Illampu. The valley surrounding it has best been described as "Shangri-La." Featuring views of Lake Titicaca, Sorata is a scenic spectacular. The area's caves have gigantic stalactites. The region offers challenging mountain climbing for the experienced climber
South of La Paz:
Oruro: Located 140 miles from La Paz, Oruro is a railway hub and regional center for tin, silver and tungsten. Considered the home of Bolivian folklore, the "Diablada" ceremony during Carnival on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday is a must see. A bear and a condor clear the path for a procession of masked dancers led by Satan and Lucifer. Alternating with them in the lead are St. Michael, the Archangel and China Supay, the Devil's Wife, whose role is carnal temptress. Following them are hundreds of dancers in diabolical costumes, leaping, shouting and pirouetting. From La Paz: 3 hrs. by bus or car, 5 hrs. by train. Good hotels.
Cochabamba: Bolivia's third largest city, founded in 1542. Cochabamba is an important agricultural center and is often called the "Garden City" for its temperate climate. There is a small, interesting Archaeological Museum here with prehistoricartifacts, hieroglyphic inscriptions, and pre-Incan textiles. There are frequent fiestas, especially around Carnival time, with rival groups competing in music, dance and costumes, and "mascarita" balls with the women wearing long, hooded satin masks. Excellent outdoor market Wednesday and Saturday. From Cochabamba excursions can be made into the Chapare, at the edge of the jungle and to the Sipe Sipe Inca ruins, an archaeological complex declared a national monument in 1929 with buildings, temples, and a tower that mark the solstice and equinox. From La Paz: 30 min. by air, 12 - 16 hrs.via car or bus, 8 hours by ferrobus. Several good Bolivian resort hotels provide accommodations for multi-night stays.
Santa Cruz: Located on the eastern slope of the Eastern Cordillera, Santa Cruz is a modern-day boomtown. It is rapidly developing into a major retail center and has recently grown to become the country's second largest city. Founded in 1651 by Spaniards arriving from Paraguay, the city is hot except from May-August when cold "surazo" winds blow up from Argentina. Visit the Cathedral to see hand-wrought colonial silver. Carnival is celebrated with masked balls and street dances. From Santa Cruz there's a fascinating day trip to the unique, mountaintop ruins of Samaipata which the German writer Eric von Daniken claims was a launch pad for prehistoric spacecraft. From La Paz: 1 hr/ 40 min. by air, 23 hrs. by car or bus.. Comfortable hotels in-town. Gambling casino.
Potosi: At 13,349 feet, Potosi was founded in 1545 by the Spaniards after they had discovered the Indian silver mine at Cerro Rico, the hill at whose foot the city now stands. For 300 years Cerro de Potosi was the world's largest, richest silver mine, helping finance Spain's ascent as a world power. The saying "It's worth a Potosi" still refers to anything superlatively rich. Large parts of Potositoday remain colonial, with twisting, narrow streets and mansions, many with their 17th century coat of arms still on the doors. Fascinating walking tours. From La Paz: ferrobus and bus service available (both 10 hrs.). Several hotels in charming colonial structures.
Sucre: Bolivia's constitutional capital, Sucre was founded in 1538. Long isolation has helped it preserve its courtly charm. Today, local law requires all buildings to be painted the original colonial white. Public buildings are impressive - the 17th century Cathedral's museum has a jewel-encrusted Virgin of Guadelupe. The Church of San Miguel - reopened after 120 years, contains carved and painted ceilings, pure-white walls gold and silver altar, and San Lazaro which is Sucre's oldest church built in 1537 has fine silver work and alabaster. There are excellent museums. Drive to the top of Cerro Churquella, via a road flanked by Stations of the Cross to see the statue of Christ, a panorama of Sucre, and the countryside. Colorful Indian market in Tarabuco can be visited on Sundays on a full-day excursion. From La Paz: 1 hr. air, 18 hrs. bus or car, 20 hrs. ferrobus. Several excellent hotels.
Tarija: Known for its mild climate, Tarija was founded in 1574 in the rich valley of the Guadalquivir River where maize, vegetables, wheat, potatoes, and splendid grapes thrive. There is a good archaeological collection and the city is famous for its processions. Most famous is the procession of San Roque on the first Sunday in September. From La Paz: 1 hr. 20 min. by air, 13 hrs. by bus or car, 15 hrs. ferrobus.. Good hotels available, some with swimming pools.
Northeast of La Paz an all-weather road traverses La Cumbre Pass (15,498 feet). In a little over 50 miles, snow-capped peaks and snow-fields drop to 11,000 feet into the luxuriant green Alto Beni area where one may visit:
Coroico: Perched on a hill at 5,800 ft. Coroico offers outstanding scenery but limited facilities. Can be visited in a day's excursion from La Paz, or on an overnight trip in adequate accommodations. Bananas and glaciers can be seen all in one day.
Chulumani: Capital of the South Yungas, Chulumani is the regional center for citrus fruits and coffee. Reached via the La Cumbre Pass, a visit to Chulumani is generally an overnight trip.
The Beni Lowlands: Here Bolivia's rich, tropical forests are crisscrossed by rivers that flow into the Amazon basin. Abundant wildlife may be seen on adventure safaris. Trinidad, founded in 1686, is the area's major town. From Trinidad one may make riverboat excursions and day trips into the tropical lowlands for bird watching, nature viewing, fishing, hunting and to visit the Siriono Tribe at Eviato Mission.