Bolivia is a landlocked country located in western-central South America. It shares borders with Brazil in the north and east, Paraguay in the southeast, Argentina in the south, Chile in the southwest, and Peru in the northwest. The country is very diverse with 36 indigenous languages. It is also one of the wettest countries in the world with an annual rainfall of over 5 meters. The country is wealthy in minerals but still remains the poorest country in South America.
Bolivia is one of the lesser known countries in the continent but is extremely rich in history and culture, and has some of the most diverse landscapes. It often gets overlooked in grand backpacking trips around South America as it doesn’t have many mainstream attractions like the other bigger countries, but this can really work to your advantage if you want to visit somewhere with less tourists and more authentic experiences.
14 Interesting facts about Bolivia
1. The river dolphins in the Amazon are pink in colour. Their colour is still a topic of discussion among the scientists as they try to find the reason behind it. The possible explanations include the presence of blood vessels near the surface of their skin, age of the dolphin, chemical disposition of the water and the temperature of the water.
Their colour remains a curiosity among the locals as well. According to an old legend, these dolphins transform into handsome young men at night and emerge from the water to seduce the young women in the villages. Once the sun comes back up they return to the river and back to their original dolphin form. Well, I like the boys who can carry pink confidently!
2. Due to the climate and location in the tropics, Bolivia is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. 40% of all animal and plant life on the planet can be found in Bolivia.
The Madidi National Park is considered to be the crown jewel and has over 270 species of mammals, 1250 species of birds, nearly 500 species of fish, over 200 different types of amphibians and reptiles and thousands of species of insects.
The country is also home to the largest butterfly sanctuary in the world located in Santa Cruz.
3. Lake Titicaca in Bolivia is the highest large lake in the world. Located at 12,507 feet above sea level, it also the largest freshwater lake in South America.
4. Bolivia is home to the largest mirror on Earth. Yes, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat (10,582 km sq.). When it rains, a thin layer of water is formed in the salt flat creating a reflective surface, thus making it the world’s largest natural mirror. This is the most popular tourist destination of the country.
There is a hotel dedicated to Salar De Uyuni which is made out of salt. The hotel named Palacio de Sal (Palace of Salt) was built in 1993-1995 using blocks of salt for the floors, walls and ceiling. Even the furniture is made from salt. There are salt beds, tables, chairs and sculptures.
5. Bolivia is one of the two landlocked countries in South America, the other being Paraguay. The country used had a large section of South America’s Pacific coast which it lost to Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-83). Bolivia is also the highest country in the continent.
6. If we are talking about heights, then El Nito at the height of 13,615ft is the highest large city in the world. A large city is the one with population greater than 100,000.
7. Bolivia also has the highest administrative capital city in the world (11,975 ft). Sucre is the official capital but La Paz is known as the working capital due to its sheer size, the location of the central bank, government ministries, and foreign embassies. Bolivia is one of the few countries in the world with more than one capital cities.
8. We all have learned about Zebra crossings in our school. But how many of us actually follow the rules? Bolivia has an interesting concept where people dressed as zebras wander the streets helping the kids to cross the roads and educating everyone about road safety.
9. Bolivia takes the concept of thinking out of the box very literally. A clock on the National Congress building in the main square of La Paz runs backwards to remind citizens to be creative and think differently. So does that mean the past lies ahead and the future lies behind? I am very confused.
10. The San Pedro Prison in La Paz is not a usual prison. It is an open prison with no guards on the inside. The prisoners live and work here and many live with their families too. As the majority of wives of prisoners do not work and they are without their husband’s income, they are not able to afford to live in the city, so would go to stay with their husbands in the prison but could come and go as they pleased. The children are also allowed to go to school and play outside. What a different world!
The prison got famous after the book ‘Marching Powder’ written by Australian backpacker Rusty Young came out. It is a real life account of life in the prison as told by Thomas McFadden who was caught trying to smuggle over 5 kilos of cocaine out of La Paz airport back in 1996. A lot of tourists started coming to the prison where unofficial tours were operated. These tours are now closed due violence against visitors.
11. The largest collection of dinosaur prints can be found just outside the city of Sucre. There are 5055 footprints from at least 8 different species of dinosaurs in Bolivia which are 68 million years old. And they are on a vertical cliff.
12. The world’s most dangerous road is in Bolivia. The Camino de las Yungas road, northeast of La Paz is 56 kilometres and is known as ‘Death Road’. Nearly 200-300 people die from falling off the road every year. There are cross markings placed along the cliff edge where vehicles have fallen in the past to remind the passing drivers.
13. In Bolivia, you are considered smarter and more responsible after getting married. And therefore your marital status dictates your right to vote. You are eligible to vote at the age of 18 if you are married but if you are single, the eligible age is 21 for voting.
14. If you are craving a Big Mac then you will to fly out of Bolivia. It is one of the few places in the world where there is no McDonald’s. The chain did operate in the country for 14 years but had to shut down in 2002 due to poor sales. The locals did not want to buy their food.
Trip leader Sakshi’s Recommendations if you are visiting Bolivia:
Salar de Uyuni: As mentioned before, Salar de Uyuni is one of the prettiest places you will see in the country. The place will blow you away. It is quite popular for some creative photography as well.
Read more about the place here.
Lake Titicaca: The highest lake in the world should not be missed when you are in the country. It is the birthplace of the Inca civilization and is surrounded by traditional villages and ancient ruins. The area is rich in history. You can take a boat ride to the nearby villages or a day trip to Isla del Sol.
Witches Market: There is a famous witches market in La Paz. You will be greeted by the old women and witch doctors sitting on the entrances of their shops and stalls selling all kinds of lotions and potions to relieve a variety of different ailments. They are also there to help you grant spells for love, revenge, fertility or money.
You will also see Llama fetuses for sale. They are usually bought and buried under the foundations of a new house. The sacrifice is a gift to Pachamama (mother earth) and is believed to bring good luck, protection, and prosperity!