From the blue hues of Lake Titicaca to the brilliant white plains of Salar de Uyuni, and from hectic mountain cities to untouched Amazonia, Bolivia is fascinating place of ever-changing landscapes. This Bolivia itinerary details how you can experience the highlights of the country in just two weeks of travel.
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Bolivia travel: the basics
Who is this Bolivia itinerary for?
This Bolivia itinerary is for people who love dramatic landscapes and historic cities. It is perfect for those who like a wide range of activities, including sightseeing, adventure tours, and getting out and socialising.
The itinerary is based on our own travels as a couple through Bolivia, and closely follows the route we took. For details about who we are and how we travel, head over to our about page.
Our journey, like many, came mid-way through a South America trip on a travel career break. We crossed into Bolivia from Peru on Lake Titicaca, and ended in Chile after touring the Bolivian salt flats.
However, the itinerary can be adjusted easily to suit any entry and exit points. At the end I’ve also suggested some additional locations for a longer stay in the country.
When is the best time to visit Bolivia?
In general, the Bolivian winter from May to October is the optimal time to visit, as it coincides with the dry season.
It’s important to know, however, that the climate in Bolivia differs greatly between regions depending on altitude and topography. In high-altitude areas, for example – which encompasses most of the places in this itinerary – it gets very cold at night.
We travelled in Bolivia in the height of winter in June/July. We found that the temperature change could be extreme, from searing sunshine heat to bitter cold immediately after sundown. As such, you’ll need to pack appropriately (see below).
In the summer months from November to March – the rainy season – travel becomes much more challenging in the Amazon jungle to the north. Roads are flooded, the heat is more oppressive and there are a lot more mosquitoes around.
Coping with altitude in Bolivia
With much of the main backpacker route in Bolivia tracing the path of the Andes mountains, you will spend a lot of time in the country at high altitude.
Many of the stops on this itinerary are very high above sea level, including Copacabana (3,841m), La Paz (3,640m), Potosí (4,067m) and Uyuni (3,656m). Some activities take you even higher, such as the geysers on the Salar de Uyuni tour (4,950m) and Chacaltaya mountain (5,395m).
With this in mind, it’s important to be aware of altitude sickness and prepared for it. This article by Bolivian Life provides a comprehensive guide to dealing with altitude sickness.
Some simple steps to take include:
- Whenever you arrive in a new place at higher altitude, take at least a day to rest and acclimatise before undertaking any strenuous activity.
- Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- At higher altitude your body needs more calories, so eat plenty of snacks, especially carbs.
- Avoid drinking alcohol before ascending to a higher altitude or undertaking physical activity at altitude.
- If hiking, take it easy and have plenty of rest breaks.
- In Bolivia, coca leaves can help to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness. You can either chew them or drink them in tea.
Transport in Bolivia
In Bolivia we used many different modes of transport to get around, from buses and ferries to cable cars and 4x4s.
We primarily used buses to travel between the main destinations in this itinerary. While domestic flights between La Paz, Santa Cruz, Sucre and Cochabamba are available for around 50 to 100 US dollars, buses are much cheaper.
Contrary to some stories we heard before our time in Bolivia, we found bus transport to be relatively pleasant and comfortable. The road network is not as advanced as other South American countries, but the routes between tourist destinations are mostly paved.
As an example, we took an overnight bus from La Paz to Sucre with Trans Copacabana. The tickets were 180 bolivianos each, and we had a smooth ride with no problems sleeping.
In some instances it’s possible to book tickets online in advance, and Busbud is an excellent service for this, which we used regularly. But for the most part in Bolivia we found it better to book tickets in the bus stations. You can often find good deals this way, as various competing companies operate services on the main routes.
If you’re travelling into Bolivia from Peru, Bolivia Hop is also an option for getting from the border to La Paz.
If you plan to travel from La Paz up to the Bolivian Amazon, we’d recommend flying to Rurrenabaque. The bus journey, although much cheaper, is notoriously long and treacherous. Return flights cost around 170 US dollars with Amaszonas.
What to pack for your Bolivia trip
With the combination of high altitude, fierce sunshine and nighttime coldness, you need to be well prepared for Bolivia travel. Here are a few of the essentials you should consider packing:
- A warm, light jacket. We use 3-in-1 jackets, which are versatile and adaptable for different conditions. We use North Face Triclimate (Alex) and Jack Wolfskin (Lisa).
- A warm hat and scarf.
- Hiking socks, great for keeping your feet warm. We use Bridgedale (see men’s and women’s).
- A sleeping bag liner for an extra layer of warmth at night.
- Walking shoes or hiking boots. Take a look at our guide to the best hiking boots for travel.
- Sunglasses, especially for Salar de Uyuni, where it gets extremely bright. We recommend polarised sports sunglasses such as Duduma.
- Sunscreen. Don’t be deceived by the cold on Salar de Uyuni – you can still burn!
Last but not least, don’t forget your backpack! We pick out some of the best backpacks for long-term travel to help you choose.
Travel insurance for Bolivia
You would be unlucky to come to any harm in Bolivia, but to make sure you have peace of mind on your trip we highly recommend investing in some travel insurance (read more in our guide here). Better to know you’ll be covered if anything were to happen, right? We recommend using World Nomads, which offers great packages suited to backpackers and tailored coverage for adventure activities.
SafetyWing is another reliable option. In most cases it is more affordable, and especially good if you plan to spend an extended period of time in the country. However, it’s also possible to arrange a policy for shorter periods if needed. See our SafetyWing insurance review for more details.
What to know before you go
While Bolivia is generally a safe country with one of South America’s lowest crime rates, there are still potential risks for travellers.
In particular, there are petty crimes and scams for which tourists are a target. This article by World Nomads summarises some of the most common examples as well as other safety considerations in the country.
When undertaking adventure activities in Bolivia, such as mountain-biking on Death Road or 4×4 tours of Salar de Uyuni, be sure to check out the safety standards of tour companies before booking. Some have been known to cut corners to compete on price, which can result in big safety risks. Take time to look up reviews first.
Tap water is not safe to drink in Bolivia; you need to buy bottled water in shops. When staying in a single location for a few days, it’s most cost-effective to buy a large bottle and decant it into smaller containers.
Bolivia itinerary: two weeks
This Bolivia itinerary begins in on the shores of Lake Titicaca in the town of Copacabana, close to the the Peruvian border. It finishes with a tour of Salar de Uyuni before crossing the south-west border into Chile.
Along the way, the itinerary incorporates the historic cities of La Paz, Sucre and Potosí. There is a mixture of different activities and sightseeing included, with resting points for acclimatisation and personal exploration.
Stop 1: Copacabana and Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest-altitude large lake, perched at over 3,800m above sea level straddling Peru and Bolivia. We arrived in Copacabana by bus from Puno in Peru. For more detail on how to spend your time here, check out our article on two days in Copacabana.
Day 1: Arrive and relax
If you’re arriving from Peru, like we did, you should already be well acclimatised to the altitude. The first day is a chance to find your bearings around the town and enjoy the relaxing lakeside vibe.
The White Anchor, located on the lakefront at the bottom of Avenida 6 de Agosto, is a very useful navigation point. Avenida 6 de Agosto itself has a great selection of restaurants, shops and local services. Grab an evening bite to eat in one of the spots along here.
Day 2: Day trip to Isla Del Sol
Isla Del Sol is the largest of the 40+ islands on Lake Titicaca, and can be reached in a short boat ride from Copacabana. It makes for a great day out, combined with a trip to nearby Isla De La Luna.
When you arrive in Copacabana you may be bombarded with vendors selling day trip tickets to the islands. Take your time to find a good deal; we paid just 45 bolivianos each at a laundry shop on Avenida 6 de Agosto.
The ferry takes about 90 minutes each way, with a short transfer between the two islands. On the islands, you can explore well preserved Inca ruins and enjoy the mountainous scenery around the lake.
Back in Copacabana, have some fresh lake ‘trucha’ (trout) from one of the waterfront stalls at sunset, washed down with a local beer.
Day 3: Explore Copacabana + bus to La Paz
With nearly a full day of free time before moving on, take the chance to explore Copacabana. In the morning, walk up to the summit of Cerro Calvario, an unmissable hill that peers over the town’s north side. It’s about a half-hour steep climb to the top, rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of the lake and the town.
Take time to explore some of the town’s sights at your own pace. The cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana is an impressive example of colonial architecture. For lunch, try out the local markets up the hill from Plaza 2 de Febrero.
If you have an hour to spare in the afternoon, hire a swan pedalo on the lake. Be ready to get your haggling game on; there are no set prices and you can always negotiate a good deal.
We travelled from Copacabana to La Paz by bus with Bolivia Hop, which was great as it allowed flexibility on our departure time. If you’re enjoying Copacabana, it gives you the option to stay for longer.
The bus journey to la Paz is broken up by a short ferry ride, where we saw one of the most spectacular night skies we’ve ever seen. The Milky Way was out in full dazzling view.
Our favourite place to eat in Copacabana
Aside from the fresh fish from the waterfront stalls, our best dining experience in Copacabana was at La Orilla, a homely restaurant on Avenida 6 de Agosto. It serves a great selection of local and international dishes in a welcoming, relaxed atmosphere.
Where to stay in Copacabana
In Copacabana we stayed at Hostal Piedra Andina, which I can honestly say was one of our best ever hostel experiences. It’s a little walk away from the town centre, but totally worth it.
The hostel is more like a guest house in reality, and offers beautiful balcony views over the lake. There was a fantastic free breakfast of eggs, ham, cheese, pancakes, avocado, fruit and coffee. Amazing value for what we paid.
Stop 2: La Paz, city on top of the world
La Paz is the world’s highest-altitude capital, and our favourite city in South America. Its colourful, energy-filled neighbourhoods are spread across sweeping mountainous terrain. Its skyline looks spectacular lit up if you arrive late in the evening, as we did.
Below I outline our suggested itinerary for four days and nights in La Paz. For more ideas, read our article on fun things to do in La Paz, Bolivia.
Day 4: explore the city and see a cholita wrestling show
As always, your first full day in a city is the time to get your bearings. For just 3 US dollars, you can take a city walking tour with Red Cap. This will introduce you to the city’s most famous spots such as the Witches’ Market, Plaza Murillo and San Francisco Church. You can also ask the guide for local recommendations on places to eat.
Later in the day, get yourself to a cholita wrestling night, a truly unique local event. Note that they are only held on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, so you may need to fit this into a different day depending on your timings. You can book tickets in advance with transfers.
The concept, inspired by Mexican lucha libre wrestling, sees cholitas – Bolivian women in traditional indigenous dress – get into the ring. It’s a one-of-a-kind showcase of entertainment and athleticism not to be missed while you’re in the city.
Day 5: Chacaltaya and Valle de la Luna tour
There are few places in the world where you can venture to 5,400 metres above sea level with barely any walking or climbing involved. One such place is the peak of Chacaltaya, which is just a couple of hours’ drive from La Paz. We took a day trip that incorporated Chacaltaya and Valle De La Luna, a maze of bizarre ancient rock formations and canyons near the city.
Tours are available at many agencies in La Paz; we booked ours through our hostel (see below). On the tour, we were taken by minibus to a hut near Chacaltaya’s summit. We walked up the final hundred metres or so, which is no mean feat at that altitude. At the top there’s a stunning view of the surrounding peaks and the winding road back down the mountain.
Day 6: Death road mountain-biking
North Yungas Road was once renowned as the world’s most dangerous road, with an alleged death toll of hundreds every year. Today it’s a bucket-lister for adventurers who come to mountain-bike down it from top to bottom.
‘Death Road’, as it is known, weaves through over 60 kilometres of lush rainforest scenery navigating past jaw-dropping cliff edges. We did the tour with Barracuda Biking, which has an excellent safety record. It was an adrenaline-filled day of fun, and the guides looked after us very well.
Day 7: El Alto market, then night bus to Sucre
Mi Teleférico in La Paz is the world’s highest cable car system, and a scenic way of getting around the city. Take a trip on the red line from Estación Teleférico Central up to El Alto for some of the most breathtaking views. At the top you will find El Alto Market, the biggest market in Bolivia. Hundreds of stalls are crammed together, selling all manner of trinkets from car parts to children’s toys. You can take a guided tour of El Alto including the cable car ride and visit to a local shaman.
There are plenty of cheap local places around the market to grab some lunch. We took the night bus from La Paz to Sucre with Trans Copacabana. It’s usually possible to buy tickets at the bus terminal on the day. El Dorado is another reputable company that operates the route. A departure tax of 2 bolivianos is payable at the station before you leave, so make sure you have some spare change.
Our favourite place to eat in La Paz
La Paz is a great city for sampling street food and market café stalls. Our favourite spot was Mercado Lanza, a huge multi-floor food market that resembles a repurposed parking lot. At the busy lunchtime stalls you can find all sorts of Bolivian fare at unbelievably low prices. On the top floor, look for the stalls selling giant ice creams and fruit salads.
Where to stay in La Paz
We spent four nights in La Paz at Loki Hostel. Like many of the city’s hostels it’s a party place, but we found that it had a good balance and it was easy to get a good night’s sleep if we needed it.
Loki has a sky bar on the seventh floor with an awesome city view, and this is where the party takes place every night with different themed events. The dorms on the floors below are well secluded from the noise. The sky bar also does great food at reasonable prices, and the facilities in general are very good.
Stop 3: Sucre, Bolivia’s White City
Sucre, Bolivia’s constitutional capital, is one of South America’s most historic colonial cities. Once the seat of national government, today its centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site identifiable by its old whitewashed buildings and quaint cobbled streets.
Arriving early on the night bus from La Paz, two full days with one overnight stay is a decent amount of time to soak up the city’s chilled atmosphere and see the highlights. Many people choose to stay a lot longer and take up Spanish lessons, which are some of the cheapest in South America. For more inspiration on the city, read our article on things to do in Sucre.
Day 8: self-guided walking tour
Once you’ve made your way to your accommodation, checked in and grabbed a coffee, it’s time to take a look around. Head to Plaza 25 de Mayo, which is the main centre of activity in old Sucre. The main point of interest in the square is Sucre Cathedral, a grand three-century-old building with many original features in tact.
Make sure you come back after dark to see its golden features accentuated by night lighting. After exploring the centre, take a walk to Parque Simón Bolívar and see the mini-tower designed by Gustav Eiffel. At the weekend it’s worth coming here at night as well to see the light show at Fuente del Bicentenario, a large water fountain on the park’s north side.
Day 9: city view from Recoleta + bus to Potosí
In the morning head to El Patio Salteñaria to try one of the best salteñas in Bolivia. This pastry snack is a national favourite, stuffed with meat, olives, potatoes, egg and raisins in a spicy sauce. After some lunch in the centre, work it off by heading uphill to Recoleta, some 20 minutes’ walk south-east from Plaza 25 de Mayo.
At the top you will find a beautiful city panorama view as well as local craft markets and the cobbled courtyard of Plaza de Anzurez. Relax with a coffee and cake at Café Gourmet Mirador before making to the bus terminal. The journey to Potosí is around three hours with buses leaving regularly.
Our favourite place to eat in Sucre
Sucre has plenty of restaurants to choose from, but we loved the local vibe at Mercado Central, the main city marketplace. In a large upstairs section there is whole host of street food stalls selling Bolivian dishes at cheap prices.
Where to stay in Sucre
We stayed at Clavel Blanco Hostel in Sucre, a nice budget accommodation close to Plaza 25 de Mayo. It has excellent facilities, including a large, well equipped kitchen and a cheap laundry service. The free breakfast was one of the best we’ve had in a hostel.
Stop 4: Potosí, city of the silver mines
Potosí is one of the world’s highest cities at over 4,000m above sea level. It is the nucleus of South America’s silver mining history; at the height of production, the city had a population larger than London and Paris.
Today, the mines inside Cerro Rico mountain – infamous for their high mortality rate – are still operational. Visitors can take guided tours inside the mines with local workers. We wrote all about our experience on one of these tours.
Day 10: Cerro Rico mines tour
Before taking a trip inside the Cerro Rico mines, it’s important to be aware of the dangers, and to make an informed decision when choosing a tour company. We chose Big Deal Tours, run entirely by ex-miners. Although a little more expensive than others, they are committed to high safety standards and put profits into improving working conditions in the mines.
Day 11: Explore the city + bus to Uyuni
The bus from Potosí to Uyuni takes around four hours; it’s good to set off by midday to allow some time at the other end to scout for Salar de Uyuni tour options. This leaves some time in the morning to take a look around the old city. The museum at the National Mint of Bolivia is full of fascinating stories, although be aware that it’s closed on Mondays. There’s also some beautiful colonial architecture to explore, such as Torre de la Compañía and San Lorenzo Church.
Our favourite place to eat in Potosí
Pique macho is an awesome national dish in Bolivia that is basically a huge heaped plate of beef, sausage, french fries, boiled egg, onions and tomato, drizzled in mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup. We had our best taste of this at Pub 4060, a local joint down a cobbled Potosí side-street.
Where to stay in Potosí
In Potosí we stayed at Casa de Huespedes La Vicuña, a hostel in a charming old building full of ornate furniture and the odd piano. The bedrooms were slightly cramped, but the facilities covered everything we needed. For the price we paid, we were very pleased with the generous free breakfast.
Stop 5: Uyuni and the Bolivian salt flats
The final stop of this Bolivia itinerary is the small city of Uyuni. This is the launchpad for exploring Salar de Uyuni, the world’s biggest salt flat, and the biggest tourist attraction in Bolivia. The surrounding area is also adorned with many unusual topographical features, such as many-coloured lagoons, oddly shaped rock formations and spouting geysers.
Check out our guide to taking a tour of Salar de Uyuni for an in-depth view of the experience. Read on below for the basic essentials.
Days 12–14: Salar de Uyuni tour
Many people book Salar de Uyuni tours before arriving in Uyuni. By doing this, you will almost certainly pay more than you need to. By shopping around the different tour company offices and bartering on price, you can usually get a bargain deal at less than a day’s notice. As usual, though, never compromise on safety standards and always check the company’s record.
We began our three-day Salar de Uyuni tour with short stops at the Uyuni Train Cemetery and craft markets of Colchani before heading out into the mesmerising white salt desert. During the afternoon of the first day we took our obligatory perspective photos and visited Isla Incahuasi, a fish-shaped island of cactuses in the middle of the salt flat.
On the second day we stopped at a multitude of viewing points for towering volcanoes, colourful lagoons and ancient rock formations. The highlight was seeing flamingos frolicking in the red waters of Laguna Colorada. At night we were treated to some spectacular stargazing under a perfect clear night sky.
We started early on the final day to head up to bubbling geysers at nearly 5,000m altitude. After breakfast we took a dip in some hot springs before seeing some more distinctive lagoons: Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca.
Finally, after stopping to marvel at the towering Licancabur Volcano, we crossed the border into Chile and took a transfer bus to the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama. (Most tours have the option for either returning to Uyuni or continuing on to San Pedro.)
Our favourite place to eat in Uyuni
We only spent one night in Uyuni, and rather than try one of the many restaurants around Plaza Arce, we decided to explore a little further afield. Walking south-west from the centre along Avenida Ferroviária we reached a row of cosy local restaurants with meat sizzling on BBQs outside.
We picked one at random (all had similar dishes and prices) and it was great. We had piles of meat, chips, rice, salad and a drink each, with the total bill just 42 bolivianos.
Where to stay in Uyuni
We stayed at Piedra Blanca Backpackers Hostel before our Salar de Uyuni tour. We found it to be an excellent hostel with clean, modern facilities, spacious lockers, strong wifi, good social spaces and a fab free breakfast.
Where to stay in San Pedro de Atacama
We spent five nights at San Pedro Backpackers Hostel in San Pedro de Atacama. We were originally booked in for three, but we enjoyed hanging out there so much we extended our stay. It has a great social vibe with a campfire and outdoor bar, as well as two well equipped kitchens, hammocks, on-site laundry and lots of other great facilities.
For more accommodation options in the town, see the San Pedro de Atacama section of booking.com.
Our favourite place to eat in San Pedro de Atacama
We usually recommend restaurants specialising in local food, but in San Pedro de Atacama our favourite spot was actually a pizza joint. Pizzeria El Charrua on the central Avenida Caracoles has a great selection for reasonable prices. Try the house favourite americana or the siciliana.
More ideas for your Bolivia itinerary
Feeling like you’d like to spend a bit more time in Bolivia? Here are a few more places for you to consider that we didn’t include in our two-week itinerary.
We chose not to visit the Amazon jungle in Bolivia, as we had already done so in Peru a few weeks earlier. The main hub in Bolivia for exploring the Amazon is the northern town of Rurrenabaque. From here you can take discovery tours by boat to explore the unique Amazonian ecosystem and wildlife.
The Tiwanaku Ruins are located some 70 kilometres to the west of La Paz by road, and provide an alternative day trip from the city. The pre-Inca civilisation ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with archeological artefacts dating back over 1,500 years preserved immaculately. The site was once the administrative centre of the ancient Tiwanaku culture. Find out more on the UNESCO website.
Tupiza, a city in the south of Bolivia, is an alternative starting point for Salar de Uyuni tours, and also a popular entry point to the country for travellers coming from north-west Argentina. A landscape of barren canyons and valleys, legend dictates that it was the site of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s last stand against the Bolivian army.
Cochabamba, a city in central Bolivia, is seen by many as the country’s culinary capital. Throughout the city you can find generously portioned national dishes for remarkably cheap prices. It’s also home to El Cristo de La Concordia, the highest Cristo statue in South America, with an awesome view of the city and its surroundings.
Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city, is located in the country’s eastern tropical region at a much lower altitude than the destinations along the Andean backpacker route. The city is famed for its vibrant nightlife and restaurant scene. It’s also a springboard for exploring an amazing diversity of wildlife in three surrounding national parks.
Have you spent time travelling in Bolivia? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.
Looking for more South America travel itineraries? See our following guides:
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