Brief History of Bolivia

Bolivia’s history is a rich tapestry that weaves together ancient civilizations, colonial conquests, revolutions, and struggles for independence. The region now known as Bolivia was home to various indigenous cultures, such as the Tiwanaku and Inca civilizations, which flourished long before European contact. However, the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, led by Francisco Pizarro, and Bolivia became part of the vast Spanish colonial empire.

For nearly three centuries, Bolivia remained under Spanish rule, with the exploitation of its rich mineral resources, particularly silver, becoming a major focus of the colonial economy. In the early 19th century, inspired by independence movements across Latin America, Bolivians began to resist Spanish rule. In 1825, Bolivia finally gained independence under the leadership of revolutionary Simón Bolívar, after whom the country was named.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Bolivia experienced numerous political upheavals, with frequent changes in governments and territorial losses due to wars with neighboring countries. One of the most significant conflicts was the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) against Chile, resulting in Bolivia losing its access to the sea, a loss that still deeply impacts the nation’s identity and geopolitics.

Throughout the 20th century, Bolivia continued to face political instability, economic challenges, and social inequalities. The exploitation of natural resources, particularly tin and oil, by foreign interests further exacerbated internal tensions. Indigenous communities, marginalized and oppressed for centuries, began asserting their rights and demanding greater representation and recognition.

In recent decades, Bolivia has seen a significant shift in its political landscape. The election of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, in 2005 marked a pivotal moment in the country’s history. Morales and his party, the Movement for Socialism (MAS), pursued policies aimed at reducing poverty, improving social welfare, and empowering the indigenous population.

However, Morales’s presidency was not without controversy, and he faced challenges to his authority. In 2019, after a disputed election, Morales resigned and went into exile, leading to a period of political uncertainty. Jeanine Áñez briefly assumed power but faced criticism for her handling of the situation and allegations of human rights abuses.

In the subsequent 2020 elections, Luis Arce, a member of the MAS party, was elected as president, marking a return to left-leaning governance. Bolivia continues to grapple with issues such as poverty, inequality, and environmental concerns, but it also showcases the resilience of its diverse culture and the ongoing struggle for social justice and equitable representation. The history of Bolivia stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of its people and their quest for a brighter future.

About Bolivia

Country Code: +591.

Crime: Crime in Bolivia, like in many other countries, is a complex and multifaceted issue. While Bolivia is not considered one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America, it still faces several crime-related challenges.

One of the primary crime concerns in Bolivia is theft and robbery, especially in urban areas. Pickpocketing, bag-snatching, and theft of personal belongings are common in crowded places like markets, public transportation, and tourist attractions. Tourists and foreigners are often targeted, so it is crucial to remain vigilant and take precautions to safeguard belongings.

Drug trafficking is another significant problem in Bolivia. As one of the world’s top producers of coca leaves, Bolivia struggles with illegal drug production and trafficking. The cultivation and processing of coca leaves are deeply rooted in the country’s history and culture, but illegal drug activities associated with coca have fueled violence and organized crime.

Kidnapping for ransom, known as “express kidnapping,” has been a recurring issue in Bolivia. Criminals may abduct victims for a short period to extort money from them or their families. This form of crime has affected both locals and tourists, emphasizing the importance of taking safety measures and staying informed about the risks in specific areas.

Violent crimes, such as homicides, are relatively higher in Bolivia compared to some other Latin American countries, although the rates have shown fluctuations over the years. Factors contributing to violence and homicides include drug-related activities, gang violence, and disputes over resources or territories.

Corruption within law enforcement agencies is an ongoing challenge in Bolivia and can hinder effective crime prevention and investigation efforts. Instances of police bribery and lack of resources may impact public trust in law enforcement.

To address these issues, the Bolivian government has implemented various initiatives, such as community policing programs and efforts to combat drug trafficking. Improving the overall socioeconomic conditions and reducing poverty could also have a positive impact on crime rates by addressing some of the root causes that drive criminal activities.

For travelers and residents alike, it is essential to stay informed about the current situation in Bolivia and take necessary precautions. This includes being aware of local customs and practices, avoiding risky areas, using reputable transportation, and securing belongings to minimize the risk of becoming a victim of crime.

Currency: Bolivian boliviano.

Electricity: Type A (2-pin flat), Type C (2-pin round).

Language: Spanish.

Latitude and Longitude: 16.2902° S, 63.5887° W.

Population: 12.08 million (2021).

President: Luis Arce.

The first time I spent an extended period in South America, was from January 2020- April 2020. I had just gotten off a Panama Canal cruise with Princess, and I flew to Cartagena.

I spent three weeks in Colombia, 3 weeks in Ecuador/ Galapagos Islands, 5 weeks in Peru and then I arrived in Bolivia, after a long bus ride. My intention was to visit La Paz then take a tour from the Salt Flats (Uyuni) to the Atacama desert in Chile.

I would have gone all the way down through Chile to the glaciers, around to Argentina, then up to Brazil, specifically North Pantanal. The day I arrived in the Uyuni Salt Flats, is the day most of South America initally shut down due to Covid (March 2020).

Luckily, I managed to get a flight back to La Paz but  there were no flights out of the country at that point. I spent three weeks in a hostel, until that hostel didnt have enough guests to stay open, then three weeks in an Airbnb.

It was a miserable time to be honest; you could only leave the building one day a week (based on the last number of your passport) to go to the grocery store. I didn’t really talk to anyone in person for three weeks, a strange feeling.

Finally, the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia hired a charter flight to fly all the Americans back to Miami. I did get to visit Bolivia, but hopefully I will make it back there sooner than later.

National Parks

Bolivia boasts a diverse and stunning array of landscapes, and its national parks are a testament to the country’s rich natural beauty and biodiversity. These protected areas cover a wide range of ecosystems, from the high Andean mountains to the vast Amazon rainforest, providing habitats for numerous plant and animal species. 

Sajama National Park: Located in the western part of Bolivia, Sajama National Park is the country’s oldest national park and encompasses the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. The park is named after the majestic Nevado Sajama, the highest peak in Bolivia.

It is known for its unique flora and fauna, including llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and the endangered Andean condor.

Madidi National Park: Situated in the northern part of Bolivia, Madidi National Park is part of the vast Amazon rainforest and is considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Its lush rainforests, rivers, and wetlands are home to an incredible variety of plant and animal species, including jaguars, giant river otters, macaws, and capuchin monkeys.

Noel Kempff Mercado National Park: This park is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia. It is renowned for its unique combination of Amazon rainforest, savannahs, and towering sandstone mesas known as “tepui.”

The park provides a haven for wildlife, including the elusive jaguar and the giant anteater.

Torotoro National Park: Nestled in the central part of Bolivia, Torotoro National Park is known for its remarkable geological formations, including limestone cliffs, deep canyons, and impressive caves. Fossilized dinosaur footprints can be found in the park, making it a fascinating destination for paleontologists and visitors alike.

Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve: Located in the southwestern corner of Bolivia, this reserve is characterized by its otherworldly landscapes, including colorful high-altitude lagoons, geysers, and salt flats. It is home to unique Andean wildlife such as flamingos, vicuñas, and the rare James’s flamingo.

Carrasco National Park: Situated in the central part of the country, Carrasco National Park is a vast area of cloud forests and montane rainforests. It is a haven for diverse flora and fauna, including a variety of orchid species, spectacled bears, and the elusive Andean mountain cat.

Tunari National Park: Located near the city of Cochabamba, Tunari National Park offers a convenient escape to nature for both locals and visitors. Its high-altitude cloud forests provide a habitat for various bird species and offer opportunities for hiking and ecotourism.

Top Tourist Attractions

Bolivia is a country of breathtaking landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and unique experiences that attract tourists from all over the world. 

Salar de Uyuni: One of Bolivia’s most iconic attractions, the Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. Located in the southwest of the country, it offers a surreal, otherworldly landscape that seems to stretch endlessly.

Visitors can explore the salt flats, take perspective-bending photographs, and visit nearby colored lagoons and geysers.

Lake Titicaca: Straddling the border between Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It is steeped in Andean mythology and culture, with traditional communities living on the lake’s islands.

Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna are two popular islands to visit, where ancient Inca ruins and stunning views await.

Tiwanaku: The archaeological site of Tiwanaku is an ancient city located near Lake Titicaca. It was once the capital of a powerful pre-Inca civilization and features impressive stone ruins, including the Akapana Pyramid and the Sun Gate.

Tiwanaku is a UNESCO World Heritage site and provides insight into the region’s pre-Columbian history.

La Paz: Bolivia’s administrative capital, La Paz, is a city dramatically situated in a deep valley surrounded by mountains. The city’s bustling markets, colonial architecture, and the famous Witches’ Market are among its main attractions.

Visitors can also take the cable car ride (Teleférico) for panoramic views of the city and the Andes.

Potosí: This historic mining town in southern Bolivia was once one of the wealthiest cities in the world due to its rich silver deposits. The Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) is a significant landmark, and visitors can explore the mines to gain insight into the challenging working conditions of the miners.

Sucre: Bolivia’s constitutional capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Sucre is a charming colonial city known for its well-preserved architecture and whitewashed buildings. It offers a glimpse into Bolivia’s colonial past and is home to several museums and historic landmarks.

Yungas Road (Death Road): Brave adventurers can embark on a thrilling mountain biking experience along the Yungas Road, famously known as the “Death Road.” This narrow and winding mountain route offers stunning views but requires caution due to its historical reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous roads.