Welcome to Bolivia! If you’re about to jump on your plane to La Paz, or on your bus to cross the border, you’re still in time to learn a thing or two about the country. Which languages are spoken there? What’s the capital city? Are you sure? Well, all that’s down here to help you prep your arrival. You’ll discover also a couple of things about the Bolivia landscapes, the weather, altitude and the country flag. And the coolest part: at the bottom, you’ll find all Green Mochila posts about Bolivia.
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Why visit Bolivia
Bolivia is a traditional country where Indigenous habits and community lifestyles are very strong. It’s a perfect destination if you want a radical escape from the Western routine. There’s a colourful chaos in the streets and a strong attachment to Nature. It’s also perfect for street food lovers.
Amazon rainforest, gravel mountain roads and dizzying heights – Bolivia is definitely a land of adventure. With wild landscapes in vast uninhabited areas, but also the clear lack of infrastructure, Bolivia isn’t for the faint-hearted. Add to this the almost constant feeling from the sickening altitude deep in your guts, the headache, the breathlessness…
This description might have put you off. But if it turned you on, then you’re the right person for the right place, and you will love Bolivia. Bring your hiking gear, because the fun in Bolivia is mostly outdoor.
Already set on visiting Bolivia? Find more travel tips in our backpacking guide.
Weather & Climate in Bolivia
The country only has 2 seasons although the weather varies a lot from one region to the other.
The rainy season runs from November to March. It can be drastic, cutting off roads and turning whole areas to mud, especially in the lowlands and the Amazon. Even the stunning landscapes of the Altiplano can turn pretty miserable with the grey skies and the humid cold.
The dry season, which is also the tourist high season, runs between April and the end of October. It’s also the colder season, which can be particularly biting in the Altiplano. In the lowlands, temperatures get higher, but not a high as the level of humidity.
Discover the Bolivia landscapes
The geography of Bolivia is very diverse and can be divided into 2 main regions:
The Altiplano is a region of high plateaus where the Andes mountains are the widest. It’s an arid land of otherworldly desert landscapes and bizarre rock formations. Volcanoes and a prehistoric sea have shaped a landscape of colourful lakes dotted with flamingos, salt flats and rock forests filled with sea shells.
The lowlands are a land of good agricultural value, that include the Amazon jungle to the north of the country. Besides the thick rainforest, you’ll see fertile plains covered in crops, but also some primeval canyons littered with dinosaur footprints.
-> Highlights: Madidi National Park & Torotoro National Park
Altitude in Bolivia
The whole south-west of Bolivia is at high altitude, at 3,500 m (11,500 ft) and above. It includes the towns of La Paz, El Alto, Copacabana, Potosí, Uyuni and Oruro.
The altitude sickness, locally known as soroche, can have unpleasant effects on your body. It’s of the utmost importance that you give your body a day or 2 to get used to it: keep it easy and rest.
You shouldn’t feel the soroche in the in-between region, that is in and around Tupiza, Sucre and Cochabamba. The rest of Bolivia is at low altitude.
Name & capital of Bolivia
The official name of the country is “Plurinational State of Bolivia” (Spanish: Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia) since the reform of the Constitution in 2009. You will probably hear about ex-president Evo Morales during your travel. Loved by some, hated by others, Morales stayed more than 10 years in power before being ousted by a coup d’état. As a matter of fact, one of his reforms was to give better recognition to the various Indigenous groups, which represent more than half the whole population.
The name ‘Bolivia’ comes from Simón Bolívar, the famous General who helped free a large chunk of South America from the Spanish rule. If you’re not familiar with him yet, you’ll see his name often enough throughout the Andes.
There are 2 capital cities in Bolivia. La Paz (full name Nuestra Señora de La Paz) is the political and financial capital; but the constitutional and judicial capital is Sucre.
Flag of Bolivia
The flag of Bolivia is a horizontal tricolour of red, yellow and green, symbolising:
- red: the blood shed by the heroes of the Republic
- yellow: the country’s natural resources (wealth)
- green: the importance of Nature for the country; green is also the colour of hope
In the centre is the Bolivian coat of arms, which represents the condor and the alpaca, both sacred animals; the Cerro Rico mountain in Potosí, symbol of its past wealth; the plain, the palm tree and the wheat show the present wealth of the country, its natural resources and diversity.
Since the new Constitution, the Wiphala, flag of the Andean Indigenous peoples, is also an official symbol of the country.
Languages in Bolivia
Spanish is the most widely spoken language in Bolivia but it’s definitely not the only one. You will probably hear the 2 main Indigenous languages on your travels, especially if you venture to the market hall: Quechua and Aymara.
Besides these 2, the Constitution of Bolivia recognises 34 other Indigenous languages that I shan’t list all here. Fun fact: Plautdietsch is a German dialect that is spoken in Santa Cruz de la Sierra by around 70,000 Mennonites.
Ready to rumble? Follow our handcrafted Bolivia itinerary for 2 & 3 weeks.