Despite the warm fertile lowlands that lie in the east of the country, nearly half of the Bolivian population are scattered across the windswept Andean region, where their rich and ancient cultures continue to flourish in harsh environmental conditions.
Bolivia has a landmass of 1.1 million square kilometers and is surrounded by its Latin American neighbours – boarders are shared with Brazil to the North and East, Argentina and Paraguay to the South and Chile to the Southwest and Peru to the Northwest. As of 2015, the landlocked nation had a population of 11 million people, with 70% of locals living in the three largest cities of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and La Paz. The capital is Sucre.
Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable body of water in the world, is the focal point of many indigenous peoples’ creation myths. Once said to have been the resting place of the Inca Sun Deity, Inti, today it is home to the famous floating islands – giant mobile rafts made of reeds that are home to whole villages.
Despite the repeated political upheavals that have dogged the region as a whole, Bolivians have a strong sense of tradition and connection to their landlocked country, the highest and most isolated in the continent.
Bolivia has the highest proportion of native language to Spanish speakers in the whole of South America (over two-thirds), and her people display the same natural pride in their music, dress and rituals, which survived and absorbed Catholic Spanish culture from the centuries of colonization with remarkable vigour. Back in 2005, when Evo Morales became the first fully indigenous head of state in South America, it marked a real turning point, and other indigenous leaders have since followed him.
In 2013, Bolivia welcomed 800,000 international visitors. The salt flats and Atacama Desert are the highlight of many visits: the wind carved rocks and spectacularly coloured lakes populated by flamingos have become something of a Mecca for backpackers. A traveller can also venture deep below the world’s highest city, Potosí, in working tin mines that were originally dug by the Spanish who were in search of silver.
Like Peru and Ecuador, Bolivia has a stunning natural variety; a descent down what is reputed to be the world’s most dangerous road will lead the adventurous traveller from the Andean Highlands to the northern marsh lands or the most accessible parts of the primary Amazon jungle in just a matter of hours.