Bolivia is an under-explored country with a rich history and topography and it offers the traveller a different kind of holiday experience. The South American nation is sandwiched between Peru and Chile to the west and Brazil to the East and is predominantly Spanish speaking, though it is also home to a number of indigenous cultures.
Named after freedom fighter Simon Bolivar, Bolivia is landlocked. The country was under the rule of Spanish conquistadors for centuries before declaring independence from Spain in 1825. Its history over the past two centuries has been turbulent, with a series of violent coups and uprisings. Bolivia has been relatively stable and democratic since 1982, but still suffers from economic and drug problems and it is important to check travel advice before visiting.
However, Bolivia also offers the chance to visit the breathtaking Andes and the ruins of ancient civilisations. Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake, spans the border of Bolivia and Peru and the blue waters are home to islands and Inca ruins. Bolivia is also cheaper and less crowded with tourists than neighbouring Peru, offering the chance to get off the beaten track for more adventurous travellers. A number of reputable travel companies offer guided tours of the country and its natural and historical sights at reasonable prices.
From the bleak and dramatic Andean deserts in the west of the country to the lush, tropical rainforests in the Northeast and the savannahs in the centre, Bolivia is home to a host of fascinating plant and animal life as well as an interesting history of human cultures. For those in search of extreme adventure, a trip down the Amazon, nature trails into the jungle to see monkeys and brightly-coloured birds and butterflies, and a spot of fishing in the piranha-infested waters can be arranged, with hotel or more basic accommodation along the way.
With a population of around 8.1 million, Bolivia is a fairly small country on the global stage and has only 7.41 inhabitants per square km in an area the size of France and Spain combined, but its has been home to human settlements since prehistoric times. It also borders a total of five countries in South America, including Argentina and Paraguay, providing an interesting base to see Central South America. The climate ranges from cold to tropical and the land from mountainous salt plains to dense jungles.
Bolivia's major cities, Sucre and La Paz, home to the country's government, are colourful and busy, with the influence of Spanish colonial rule mixing with indigenous cultures. La Paz is the world's highest capital at 3,580m (11,740 feet) above sea level and was founded by the Spanish in 1548. The country is also dotted with villages and towns run by local tribes, many of which are accessible to travellers and offer a taste of life in South America over the centuries. Many of the indigenous peoples have retained their own languages and traditional way of life.
It is worth learning some key Spanish phrases before visiting Bolivia, as English is not spoken in most towns, and travellers should try and visit on of the cities on August 6th for the lively Independence Day celebrations.