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Introduction to Bolivia
Bolivia is the fifth largest country in South America, about the size of Texas and California combined together, twice the size of Spain. The population is 11.5 million.
Bolivia has no territory connection to an ocean – it is a landlocked country, that lost its access to the Pacific Ocean in the 1884 War of the Pacific to Chile.
The capital city is La Paz, situated in western Bolivia on the Andean Altiplano at 12,000 feet above sea level, which makes is the world’s highest national capital. La Paz shares the status of Bolivia’s capital with Sucre, a city situated in the south of the country. La Paz has a population of almost 2 million people.
Geography of Bolivia
Bolivia has three main geographic regions :
● the Andes Mountain Range that stretches in a broad arc across western Bolivia.
Sandwiched between two Andean chains is the Altiplano, a high plateau 600 miles long and 80 miles wide, where almost half the population lives. La Paz is situated here, as well as the Altiplano’s most prominent feature – Lake Titicaca (at its northern end).
The eastern flank of the mountains is known as the Yungas. Yungas is an area of semitropical valleys that offer some of the most spectacular scenery in Bolivia. Two of the country’s most important cities, Sucre and Cochabamba, are located here.
● the Amazon Rainforest occupies the northern part of the country.
In the east the jungle passes into the tropical Lowlands. Although comprising over 2/3 of the territory, these regions are sparsely populated. The exception is the central area of
● the Lowlands, that have a drier climate and land cleared for cultivation.
The city of Santa Cruz is located here, as are most of Bolivia’s petroleum and natural gas reserves. The area also holds a number of pristine and unique national parks and reserves.
The southern part of the Lowlands is a continuation of the Chaco of Paraguay, a semi-arid region shared by Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Virtually rainless for nine months, the area becomes a swamp for the three months of the rainy season.
Transportation in Bolivia
La Paz is the starting point for visiting the country.
From La Paz, travelers either head west for Lake Titicaca and on to Peru (it’s a 100-mile, 3.5-hour bus drive), or south for the Uyuni Salt Plains, Sucre and Potosí.
Due to generally bad roads, travelling in Bolivia can sometimes be a hellish experience, especially when going by bus on the Altiplano.
To travel more conveniently, the country has 3 main airports in La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz that connect the eastern, central and western parts of the country.
In Bolivia, just like in most South American countries, there are three levels of bus service with corresponding prices :
– bus normal, which is a normal long-distance bus,
– bus semi-cama (semi-sleeper) with wider, reclining seats,
– bus cama (sleeper class) with wide, fully reclining seats and a toilet (these are best for long and overnight travels.
Tickets can usually be purchased right before the start of the trip.
Approximate travel times
From La Paz, it’s about 8 hours by bus to Cochabamba, 10 hours by bus to Santa Cruz, 8-9 hours on a night bus to Sucre, 11 hours by bus to Potosí, and 12 hours on a night bus to Uyuni (this trip is not recommended due to bad road conditions; most travelers go by bus to Oruro and from there by train).
Direct buses between Uyuni and Potosí take 4 hours, between Potosí and Sucre 3 hours.
Direct buses between Sucre and Cochabamba (200 miles) take 10 hours but the trip is not recommended due to bad road conditions. Direct flights between the two cities take 40 minutes; there are also connecting flights via La Paz.
Direct buses between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba (300 miles) take about 11 hours (most buses leave in the evening and arrive in the morning). Direct flights between the cities take 45 minutes; there are also connecting flights via La Paz.
More information on local transportation can be found in individual posts.