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Bolivia

About Bolivia - travel and country information, useful tips for one of South America's most unique destinations.

World's Leading Cultural Destination 2017

Bolivia is the World's Leading Cultural Destination 2017
Bolivia won the title of leading cultural destination at the World Travel Awards for hosting colorful parades and festivals just about every month.

General Information

Officially known as the Plurinational State of Bolivia is geographically the largest landlocked country in the Americas and one of South America's most diverse and perplexing nations. Bolivia is named after Simón Bolívar, a leader in the Spanish American wars of independence. It is equal in size to California and Texas combined. It is bordered to the North and East by Brazil, to the Southeast by Paraguay, to the South by Argentina, to the Southwest by Chile, and to the Northwest by Peru.

Bolivia has more than 13 different types of geography - making it one of the countries with the greatest biodiversity in the world and causing the climate to vary drastically with altitude and from one climatic zone to another. The climate in Bolivia ranges from humid and tropical to cold and semiarid.

The Oriente is a lowland region ranging from rain forests to grasslands and wetlands. It comprises the northern and eastern two-thirds of Bolivia. In the he western part you will find the great plateau of the Altiplano, enclosed by two mountain chains of the Andes. Almost half the population lives on the plateau, where you will find the cities of Oruro, Potosí, and La Paz. Lake Titicaca near La Paz is the highest commercially navigable body of water in the world. The Salar De Uyuni in the South-West is the largest salt desert in the world, and a truly unique sight not to miss.

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Is La Paz the capital of Bolivia?

Actually, the constitutional capital of Bolivia is Sucre, while La Paz is the seat of government. Sucre used to be called La Plata and was proclaimed the provisional capital of the newly independent Alto Perú (now Bolivia) on 1st of July, 1826. The city was renamed in honor of the revolutionary leader Antonio José de Sucre by President José Miguel de Velasco on the 12th July, 1839 and proclaimed the capital of Bolivia. The seat of government moved to La Paz at the start of the 20th century after the Federal Revolution of 1899 and due to Sucre's remoteness from economic activity following the decline of the silver mines in Potosí.

The current Constitution, approved in 2009, assigns the role of national capital to Sucre, not referring to La Paz in the text. The Supreme Court of Bolivia is also located in Sucre, making it the judicial capital as well. However, The Presidential Palace (Palacio Quemado), seat of the Bolivian executive power, is located in La Paz, as are the National Assembly and the Plurinational Electoral Organ (OEP).

La Paz, with a population of about 1,715 million, is the second largest city in Bolivia after Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which is the principal economic and financial center. La Paz is the highest administrative capital city in the world, definitely worth a day or two to visit.

So, in case you are confused: Sucre is the constitutional capital, La Paz is the seat of government and the administrative capital and Santa Cruz is the economic center. Oh, and Cochabamba is where the Souht American Parlament is located.

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Bolivia travel and tourism

Points of interest, attractions. The best tours in Bolivia and the top tourist attractions.

Tourism in Bolivia:

Many people think of Bolivia as primarily Andean country or think of Lake Titicaca or the Uyuni Salt Flats first. What they do not know is that the Andean region covers less than a third of Bolivia. Don't miss out on the other two-thirds of the country with beautiful tropical destinations such as rainforests and waterfalls, amazing national parks, the largest city in Bolivia, wonderful historic sites, all influenced by some of the less known ethnic groups in Bolivia such as the Moxos, Guarayos, Ayoreos, Guarani and Chiquitanos.

The top 10 tourist attractions in Bolivia

The top 10 tours in Bolivia

What you need to know before you travel:

Safety

Even though Bolivia is one of the least-developed countries in South America criminal statistics are quite low. In general, if tourists take basic security precautions, they may walk the streets in most areas of major cities without becoming victims of crime.

Traveling with children in Bolivia is also generally safe and fun, if you take into consideration the altitude, take shorter trips and choose the destinations with the climate in mind.

Health

It is always important to take care of your health, but there are additional concerns to keep in mind when you're traveling. Whether you're taking a quick trip with your family or studying abroad for several months, it's easier to get sick when you're in a new place because your body hasn't had a chance to adjust to the food, water, and air in a new environment. Traveling can bring you in contact with things that your body isn't used to. Three of the most common health problems that you may experience when traveling are jet lag, altitude sickness, and diarrhea. When you fly across time zones, the differing amounts of light can change your internal body clock, resulting in a condition known as jet lag. Jet lag may cause symptoms like an upset stomach, insomnia, and tiredness.

Some areas of Bolivia reach extremely high altitudes, like La Paz, which ranges from 3,400 to 4,000 meters above sea level. Western Bolivia, including the Salar de Uyuni, Lake Titicaca and the cities of Potosi and Oruro, is also at a high level. High altitude can cause a number of health concerns, even for those in excellent health.

The subtropical areas of Bolivia carry a risk of yellow fever. You're advised to get vaccinated for this at least a month prior to traveling. Some neighboring countries, including Brazil, require anyone entering from Bolivia to have proof of a yellow-fever vaccination.

In addition to the medical issues, you must dress appropriately for the conditions. Especially consider the temperature fluctuations that occur in mountainous areas, particularly during the day compared to night. The sun in Bolivia is very strong and it is easy to get a bad sunburn very quickly, especially at high altitudes where the air is thinner and the cooler temperatures make you forget that you are in the tropics. To protect yourself from excessive sun exposure, stay out of the midday sun, drink plenty of fluids and avoid strenuous exercise in high temperatures. Always wear sunglasses and a hat. Use sunscreen with with both UVA and UVB protection. It should be applied generously to all exposed parts of the body approximately 30 minutes before sun exposure and should be reapplied after swimming or vigorous activity.

Visas

To enter Bolivia your passport must be valid for six months beyond the date of entry. Personal documents – passports and visas – must be carried at all times, especially in lowland regions. It's safest to carry photocopies rather than originals, but if you are going anywhere near a border area (even if you don't actually cross) you should have your real passport with you.

US citizens need a visa to visit Bolivia (a 90-day visa valid for 10 years costs US$160). Theoretically it is possible to obtain the visa upon arrival in Bolivia, but some airlines will not let you board your flight without one. Avoid problems and get one before you travel.

Weather and the best time to visit Bolivia

The weather in Bolivia depends much more on the altitude and topography of the region you plan to visit than the actual season of the year. At higher elevations, temperatures will vary from quite warm during the day to freezing cold at night. In the lower areas, the rain can seem unending even during the "dry" season. The valleys seem to live in an eternal spring and the mountains in everlasting winter. The best time to visit Bolivia depends on the places and sights you want to see, the tours you would like to take, and the mode of transport you wish to take.

Winter (dry season): June - July - August

Best for visiting the Bolivian Amazon (Rurrenabaque), Salar de Uyuni.

From April to October the weather is typically colder and drier. The coolest month tends to be July.

Summer (rainy season): December - January - February

Best chance of seeing the famous 'mirror effect' in the Salar de Uyuni.

From November to March the weather is typically warmer and wetter, though in some regions November may be quite hot and dry.

The altitude of cities like La Paz, Oruro and Potosi keeps things cool despite their tropical latitude, and warm clothing is advised year-round. In winter temperatures can drop significantly below freezing.

Santa Cruz, Rurrenabaque and other low-lying cities are usually "hot destinations" during most of the year.

Currency

The Bolivian currency is the Boliviano, and its symbol is Bs or BOB. Bills come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 bolivianos; in coins of 1, 2 and 5 bolivianos, and in 10, 20, and 50 bolivian cents.

The mid-market exchange rate USD to BOB has remained fixed by the Bolivian Central Bank for several years now. It currently stands at 1 USD = 6.96 BOB.

There are banks and exchange booths within the airport where you can exchange your currency for bolivianos. Street money-changers also buy sell currencies, usually at a marginally better rate than banks. Potentially counterfeit bills can be a problem though.

Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) are found in Bolivia's main cities. Be careful though, they don' always work! Also, there is a general limit of 200 USD per withdrawal`per day, so if you need to spend more cash, take precautions.

The most widely accepted credit cards in Bolivia are American Express, Visa, and Master Card.

Foreign currencies, in cash and travelers checks, can be exchanged in banks, "casas de cambio" (exchange booths or stores) and hotels. Banks only accept USD bills in absolutely perfect conditions (no markings, tears or even excessive dirt), so you may have a hard time paying with worn dollar bills anywhere.

The majority of transactions that take place are with American dollars and Euros, although in some places transactions are also done with less common foreign currency.Exchange rates for these is usually less favourable.

Time

The official time in Bolivia is 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-4). Bolivia does not follow daylight savings time therefore the time is the same year round and does not vary from one geographic region to another.

Food

Contrary to what many may say, food in Bolivia is so much more than just rice and fried chicken. Using mainly a mixture of Spanish cuisine and indigenous ingredients, traditional dishes in west (high) Bolivia are generally suited to the high, cold climate in the Altiplano. Gustu in La Paz by the famous Danish chef and co-founder of Noma en Copenhagen Claus Meyer offers interesting culinary experiments with typical Andean ingredients. Don’t miss out on llama steaks and quinoa, an Andean super-grain!

In lower (tropical) regions, the main local ingredients are yucca, fried bananas, river fish, and even turtles and crocodile tail (see below).

One of the best ways to experience the local cuisine in any city is to eat at the local markets where you can get a quick, tasty and satisfying meal for as little as 2-3 USD.

Holidays

Bolivians are rather fond of holidays. It would be a near impossible task to list all regional and local holidays when many activities are suspended, the official holidays when banks and offices are closed are:

  • January 1 - New Year's Day
  • January 20 - Constitution Day
  • Varies (February-March) - Carnival
  • Varies (March-April) - Semana Santa (Holy Week)
  • May 1 - Labor Day
  • June 14 - Corpus Christi
  • June 21 - Winter Solstice, Aymara New Year
  • August 6 - Independence Day
  • November 2 - Todos los Santos (All Saint's Day)
  • December 25 - Christmas

Please note that whenever a holiday falls on a weekend, the following Monday is usually declared a day off. Additionally, if it happens to fall on a Thursday or Friday, don't expect many people to be working until Monday.

Cultural Events

Gran Poder Festival

The Gran Poder Folkloric entrance is a traditional festival that takes place in the well-known Ch'ijini neighborhood of La Paz city since 1974. The "greatest Andean festivity" gathers approximately 30000 dancers of 60 folkloric dance groups, which dance along a 6 kilometer route inside La Paz city. The festival takes place between the months of May and June.

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Winter Solstice - Aymara New Year

The winter solstice is celebrated in Tiwanaku on every June 21st. This date marks the Aymara New Year or Machaj Mara; it also marks the beginning of a new agricultural year. The winter solstice indicates that the earth is at its farthest point from the sun. The Amautas (Andean priests) celebrate gratitude ceremonies to the Sun and the Pachamama (mother earth).

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Carnaval de Oruro - Oruro Carnival

The Oruro Carnival is a distinctly religious festivity in devotion to the Virgin of Socavón. Every year folkloric dance groups from all over Bolivia and the world meet up in Oruro to play tribute with their music and dances to the Virgin of Candelaria also known as Socavón. The dancers make a journey of several kilometers, culminating at the Sanctuary of the Virgin to whom they offer their dance as sacrifice in exchange for the granting of a wish.

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Official languages and people

Bolivia's population, estimated at around 11 million, is multiethnic, including Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans, Asians and Africans. It is also the most indigenous country in the Americas, with 60% of its population being of indigenous descent. After the Spaniards conquered the Incas in the 16th century, Bolivia's predominantly Indian population was reduced to slavery. The remoteness of the Andes helped protect the Bolivian Indians from the European diseases that decimated other South American Indians.

Spanish is the official and predominant language, although 36 indigenous languages also have official status, of which the most commonly spoken are Guarani, Aymara and Quechua languages.

Although the official religion is Roman Catholic, and the majority of the population claims to be Catholic, freedom of religion is accepted in Bolivia. Ties with the Catholic Church have remained strong through agreements and pacts between Bolivia and the Vatican.

Geography

Bolivia Geography Map

Bolivia has a territory of 1,098,581 Km2.

Bolivia's geography is comprised of in broad terms the Altiplano (High Plains) with mountain ranges between 3000 and 6000 meters above sea level, valleys between 1500 and 3000 meters above sea level and tropical areas at around 200 meters above sea level. Two thirds of the Bolivian territory are tropical areas and more than three quarters are fertile lands for agriculture.

When traveling from the Altiplano to the Amazon, you will have a hard time believing you are still in the same country.

Flag

Day of the Flag: August 17.

The flags of Bolivia

The Republic of Bolivia declared itself independent in 1825. The use of two flags was decreed, known at that time as Bandera Menor and Bandera Mayor. Currently, they are denominated as the civil and state flag respectively.

When the Republic of Bolivia was founded, both flags consisted of three horizontal bands; two green at the ends and one red at the center.

At the center of the civil flag, within the red stripe, was a yellow star surrounded by an olive branch and a laurel branch on the left and right.

In the Greater Flag, the design of the star with branches was repeated five times representing the five departments of the country at that time: La Paz, Potosí, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca and Santa Cruz.

Subsequently, on July 25, 1826 during the presidency of Marshal José Antonio de Sucre, the flag was replaced by one of three horizontal stripes of equal size incorporating the yellow strip, but at the upper end of the national flag.

The state flag had the coat of arms in the center. This flag was in use until October 31, 1851, date on which the current flag was adopted. Between 1836 and 1839 this flag was used as the flag of the State of Bolivia during its participation in the Peru-Bolivian Confederation.

Historical Dates:

The first national flag was created by the Law of August 17, 1825 in the General Assembly of the new Republic.

"The national flag will be bicolor, green and red, the main stripe will be red, and on both sides two green strips the width of a foot, on the field will be placed green ovals, formed of olive branches and laurel, one in the middle and four on the sides, and inside each of these ovals a golden star."

This first flag lasted one year, however, the Constituent Congress of 1826 modified it by Law of July 25, 1826: "The national flag shall be the same as designated by the General Assembly in the Law of August 17, putting in place of the five gold stars, an upper yellow strip, and the arms of the Republic at the center, within two branches of olive and laurel. "

This second flag was valid for 25 years. During the government of Manuel Isidoro Belzu and by law of the National Convention of November 5, 1851, the three definitive colors were fixed: Red on the top, yellow in the center and the green at the bottom.

The Supreme Decree of July 14, 1888, regulates the use of the national flag: "The national flag consists of three horizontal strips of equal width and dimensions, placed in this order: a red one on the top, a gold color in the center and a green one in the bottom ".

The red symbolizes the blood shed by the Bolivians in the War of Independence. The yellow is the representation of the mineral wealth that Bolivia has and the green is the hope and the plains of a booming Bolivia. On October 31, 1855 the Convention gathered in Oruro approved the new tricolor, which has been maintained until now. The flag so designed was hoisted on the lighthouse of Conchupata, in the department of Oruro, which was declared a national monument on November 5, 1855.

The current flag

The national flag consists of three horizontal stripes of equal width and dimensions placed in this order: red at the top, gold at the center and green at the bottom.

The day of the flag is celebrated every 17th of August.

The flag has three versions regulated by a Supreme Decree promulgated on July 19, 2004. The civil flag corresponds to the national flag, while the state flag includes the coat of arms of Bolivia in the center.

The flag used by the Bolivian Armed Forces adds to the center of the flag the shield surrounded by an olive branch to the left and a laurel branch to the right.

In addition, the naval flag of Bolivia is composed of a blue field with the national flag in the canton surrounded by nine golden stars representing the nine departments of the country.

In the external lower corner there is a star that represents the lost territory of the Litoral and the longing to recover the exit to the Pacific Ocean.

The flags of Bolivia

First Flag of Bolivia: Created by the Deliberative Assembly of August 17, 1825 Three horizontal stripes. The upper and lower strips of green and the middle, thicker, red. In the central strip 5 golden stars in laurel leaves, representing the 5 departments that Bolivia had at the time of its foundation: La Paz, Potosí, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca and Santa Cruz.

SECOND NATIONAL FLAG

Second Flag of Bolivia: Modification effected by Law of July 25, 1826, under the presidency of the Marshal, Antonio José de Sucre. Three symmetrical horizontal stripes. Yellow the upper, red the middle and green the lower. In the central strip (red) the first Bolivian Shield was worn. Flag of the Republic of Bolivia.

THIRD NATIONAL FLAG

Regulated by Supreme Decree of July 14, 1888

On November 30, 1851, the National Assembly, at the suggestion of President Manuel Isidoro Belzu, modified the homeland banner, giving it the current shape and colors. However, just during the presidency of Gregorio Pacheco Leyes the modification of Belzu was regulated by Decree of July 14, 1888, which states: "The National Flag consists of three horizontal strips of equal width and dimensions, placed in this order: a red one in the upper part, a gold color in the center and a green one in the lower part ".

Current Bolivian flag

Official Flag of Bolivia: The national flag is governed by the Law of November 5, 1851, issued in the presidency of Manuel Isidoro Belzu. Three symmetrical horizontal stripes. The upper strip is red, the middle strip is yellow and the lower strip is green. The law of Belzu does not include the National Coat of Arms in the tricolor pavilion, but the custom imposes placing the patriotic shield in the central strip.

History

Prior to the Spanish conquest, the Andean region of Bolivia was part of the Inca Empire, northern and eastern lowlands were inhabited by independent tribes.

In 1538 the Spanish conquered Bolivia, which becoma part of the vice-royalty of Peru. For almost three hundred years, Spain built its empire in great part upon the silver that was extracted from Bolivia's mines, specifically the Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) in Potosí. Potosí briefly became one of the largest and richest cities in the world during this period.

Bolivia, named after independence fighter Simon Bolivar, broke away from Spanish rule in 1825; much of its subsequent history has consisted of a series of nearly 200 coups and counter-coups. The Independence Day of Bolivia is August 6 of 1825.

Bolivia lost great slices of territory to three neighboring nations. Several thousand square miles and its access to the Pacific ocean were taken by Chile after the War of the Pacific (1879–1884). In 1903, a piece of Bolivia's Acre Province, rich in rubber, was ceded to Brazil. In 1938, after losing the Chaco War of 1932–1935 to Paraguay and Argentina, Bolivia gave up its claim to nearly 100,000 sq miles of the Gran Chaco region.

Some important dates from the country's recent history:

1824 - Simon Bolivar, after whom Bolivia is named, liberates the country from Spanish rule. One year later, Bolivia becomes independent with Simon Bolivar as its first president.

1952 - In a nationalistic revolution peasants and miners overthrow the military regime. Victor Paz Estenssoro returns from exile to become president and introduces social and economic reforms, including universal suffrage, nationalisation of tin mines and land reform.

1964 - Vice-President Rene Barrientos stages a military coup followed by a period of political unrest and military coups.

1989 - Jaime Paz Zamora becomes president and makes a power-sharing pact with former dictator Hugo Banzer.

2003 September-October: protests fuelled by government plans to export natural gas via Chile. President Sanchez de Lozada resigns and is succeeded by Carlos Mesa. Mesa is forced to resign two years. Socialist leader Evo Morales wins presidential elections, becoming the first indigenous Bolivian to fill the post.

2006 - Bolivia nationalises the operations of foreign energy firms.

2009 - A new constitution is approved.

2014-2016 - Evo Morales wins a third term as Bolivia's president; two years later he loses a referendum for the right to run a fourth time.

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