You might have heard about the mysterious country of Bolivia from time to time. As for most people, though, not much is known about it. That’s precisely why you should stick around — these 21 interesting facts about Bolivia will broaden your worldly view.
Bolivia is often associated with violence and drugs in movies and T.V. shows, such as Scarface and Bullet Train, which have warped many people’s perspectives of the country. There’s more to the “Tibet of the Americas” than meets the eyes on Hollywood screens.
So let us delve deeper, as scratching the surface won’t suffice. The Plurinational State of Bolivia has some interesting things to share. All you have to do is to keep on reading.
Psst: Brush up on your La Albiceleste knowledge by reading these fun facts about Argentina.
Let’s not waste another moment. These Bolivia facts are hot and ready.
Bolivia has a dizzying altitude sitting roughly 16,732 ft (5,100 m) above sea level. Its capital La Paz is the highest capital in the world, reaching 11,740 ft (3,580 m) above sea level.
It’s truly a country of extremes and various terrains, including the Amazon rainforest, Andes Mountains ranges, and the Atacama Desert. These extremities are pretty challenging to live in, which makes Bolivia so isolated.
Being so high up, the air is much thinner, causing altitude sickness that leads to symptoms like breathlessness, nausea, and headaches for those who aren’t acclimatized. So if you struggle with your breathing already, the last place you want to be is in Bolivia.
Bolivia’s famous Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat that exists. It has an otherworldly appearance and is probably the most captivating and extreme vista in South America, possibly the entire globe.
This magical sight was created by prehistoric lakes that evaporated long ago, leaving behind a glistening salt flat stretching 4,050 square miles over the Altiplano. What makes it so fascinating is how the Salar de Uyuni reflects the skies above and the landscapes surrounding it.
After some rain, the Salar de Uyuni becomes the world’s largest natural mirror. It’s so shiny and reflective that you could probably see your face in it.
Bolivia has an interesting geography. It’s in the middle of South America, surrounded by multiple big countries. Brazil is to its north and east, Argentina and Paraguay sit to its south, and finally, Chile and Peru are to its west.
This means the country has no access to the ocean, but why do they have a navy? Well, Bolivia used to own 250 miles (402 km) of South America’s Pacific Coast, which they were unfortunately forced to secede during the War of the Pacific. This war took place from 1879 to 1883 against Chile.
To this day, the landlocked country is still trying to get its shoreline back. That’s because landlocked countries miss out on maritime trade and essential sea resources, which are crucial to economic advancements. Their navy remains a symbol of their refusal to relinquish this reclamation.
Not only is Lake Titicaca the largest freshwater lake in South America, but it is also the world’s highest lake. That’s because Lake Titicaca sits 12,500 ft (3,810 m) above sea level in the Andean Altiplano — that’s insanely high.
What’s more impressive is how old this lake is — it’s been around for a million years, making it one of Earth’s last 20 ancient lakes. Being so old, it makes sense why this lake is said to be the birthplace of the Inca empire, with many ruins supporting this claim.
Did you know that 40% of all animal and plant life on Earth can be found in Bolivia? With the Andes Mountains and Lake Titicaca on one end and the Amazon rainforests on the other, it’s no wonder Bolivia’s ecosystem thrives with various species.
And its world-renowned Madidi National Park gets targeted by wildlife and nature enthusiasts for its diversified biodiverse ecoregions and wide range of flora and fauna.
Madidi National Park is home to species like majestic pink dolphins, jaguars, sloths, spectacled bears, pumas, and many more. Some of the plant life include the walnut tree, the mountain pines, and the yuvraj huaycho, amongst others.
Many people think La Paz is Bolivia’s official capital, and you can’t blame them. That’s because the country actually has two capitals: La Paz and Sucre, and both play essential roles in the Bolivian Government.
La Paz functions as the administrative capital and is home to the government and finance center of the country. However, (this is where it can get confusing), Sucre serves as the only official capital of Bolivia, even though many see La Paz as the de facto capital.
If you’re scratching your head right now, you’re not the only one. Most people just stick to the “two capitals” thing.
One of the most interesting facts about Bolivia is that almost 55% of its population is indigenous. This means that Bolivia has the highest number of natives in Latin America. So, you’ll have plenty of history and local culture to absorb if you ever visit this fascinating country.
Bolivia recognizes 36 indigenous groups, including the Aymara, Guaraní, Chiquitano, Moxeño, and Quechua. The Bolivian population is broken up into three main groups.
They are the Indians (indigenous people), mestizos (mixed-race people of Indian and European descent), and European (mainly Spanish) peoples.
Minority groups include Afro-Bolivians, Japanese, and European groups.
Bolivia is a multiethnic and multilinguistic country thanks to all the indigenous, mestizos, and minority groups. Boasting 37 official languages today, there was a time when only Spanish, Aymara, and Quechua were considered official languages.
Baure, Ayoreo, Puquina, Kallawaya, Araona, and Canichana are all part of the official languages, and the list goes on. While this is super diverse, Spanish remains the most widely spoken language as with all countries in South America.
There’s always something special about how a country or region got its name. For Bolivia, its story starts with renowned political leader, Simon Bolivar. He’s the man who made history when he led the Wars of Independence and liberated five South American countries from Spanish rule.
He unshackled Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia from Spanish clasps. To honor his achievements, the country was named after him, and he even became the first official president of Bolivia.
Related Read: Fun Facts About Ecuador
San Pedro Prison, or Saint Peter’s Prison, was once a landmark in La Paz that tourists flocked to. People wanted to see how inmates could live in a walled society with their families. Today, it’s home to 1,500 inmates, and you won’t be able to visit anymore.
That’s a good thing, though, as its doors officially shut down to visitors due to violence committed by inmates toward tourists. Allowing visitors to the largest prison in La Paz, where people wander freely, was probably not the best idea in the first place.
Many of you might be repulsed right now, but in Bolivia, hearing “guinea pig” or “Cuy” means a tantalizing feast is about to be had. Yip, this is a fact, not fiction — Bolivians eat these fluffy critters as their traditional meat.
So only visit Bolivia if you’re not a hardcore vegan or guinea pig lover. It’s actually a massive part of Bolivia’s diet (specifically in the Andes highlands), with many serving them fried, broiled, or roasted.
This incredible country was once called “Upper Peru” during the Spanish Colonial Rule. The name changed after the Bolivian War of Independence on 6 August 1825 after liberator Simon Bolivar,as mentioned above.
The Spanish were the first to colonize Bolivia in the early 1500s while on the quest for gold and resources. The rule was brutal, to say the least, and lasted from 1500 to 1800 A.D.
Besides La Paz, El Alto is yet another Bolivian city that reaches impressive heights: 13,615 ft (4,150 m), to be exact. This makes it the highest city in the world.
El Alto is also Bolivia’s youngest city at only 35 years old and its second-largest city with an ever growing urban population.
One odd Bolivia fact is that the country hosts The Witches’ Market. It’s a bizarre and mythical market that looks the part of a fantasy Disney movie about magic.
This extraordinary place sells everything from medicinal herbs, amulets, lucky charms, and talismans to mummified frogs and owl feathers.
Sounds unreal, right? Well, it definitely exists, and you can find it in La Paz, where it’s also known as Mercado de las Brujas. Some people come here for more than trinkets and lucky charms.
The market is a hub for spiritual workers and healers who read your fortune and help conduct offerings to Pachamama (an Inca goddess that translates to ‘Mother Earth’).
One of the most interesting facts about Bolivia is that you can watch Cholita Wrestling. What is this type of wrestling, though? You may not be familiar with Cholita Wrestling as it is only practised in this country by indigenous women.
It’s believed that the sport provides stress relief and a sense of community to victims of domestic abuse. The match unfolds with a male attacking a Bolivian woman (Cholita), who always triumphs by body-slamming her opponent.
If that sounds like fun to watch, then be sure to check one of these out if you ever visit.
The Cholitas dress up in their signature, bright puffy skirts and braided hair. Sometimes they also wrestle other women, and it’s quite entertaining for many.
Parque Nacional del Gran Chaco Kaa-Iya is a vast Integrated Management Natural Area. It’s located in the Gran Chaco region south of the city’s Department. This park is the biggest in Bolivia and one of the biggest in South America, with a larger surface area than Belgium.
Covering a massive 13,286 square miles (34,411 square kilometers), you can just imagine the sheer number of wildlife present here.
Kaa Iya National Park is a hit for jaguar spotting, and you’ll likely glimpse the Chacoan peccary, maned wolves, pumas, giant armadillos, and many other exotic animals and plants.
Standing prominently in Plaza Murillo, the main square of La Paz is a picturesque building that features a peculiar clock. The clock runs backward to serve as a reminder always to think out of the box. Do you think they’ve achieved this message?
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A UNESCO world heritage site preserves and protects a country’s cultural and natural heritage. Since its existence, Bolivia has racked up seven of these precious sites:
- City of Potosí (1987)
- Fuerte de Samaipata (1998)
- Historic City of Sucre (1991)
- Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos (1990)
- Noel Kempff Mercado National Park (2000)
- Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture (2000)
- Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System (2014)
Each of these fascinating sites is worth visiting, but the City of Potosí is the most popular.
Perched in the southern highlands of Bolivia, Potosí showcases a museum of cultural significance, Casa Nacional de la Moneda, and ornate colonial buildings.
In addition, this city has a long mining history since the discovery of silver in 1545.
In fact, today, you can visit the silver mine inside Cerro Rico, considered to be one of the most dangerous mines in the world. You can read my experience in the mines of Potosí here.
While there are four freshwater river dolphin species in South America, Bolivia’s river dolphin stands out for its grayish, pink skin. This unique skin tone does not result from eating too much shrimp like the flamingo. No, there’s a much funnier reason behind it.
According to studies, these happy creatures are born with greyish tones that later turn pink due to scar tissues resulting from rough play or fighting. And similar to humans, male dolphins play a lot more, so they are strikingly pinker.
From personal experience, I can say these dolphins are pretty playful and love to nibble on your feet, which is scary when you’re swimming in murky waters in the Amazon. This is how my experience camping in the Amazon went.
This is not highly recommended at all (duh), but technically those traveling on the Yungas Highway in La Paz are in for a rough ride.
What’s crazier is that even its nickname, “Death Road,” won’t keep people at bay as it’s now a major tourist destination. First, a huge prison society, now this — no wonder adrenaline junkies love this country.
On a serious note, around 300 people sadly lose their lives on this road annually. What makes it so dangerous are the narrow, muddy roads with low visibility and hazardous mountain conditions.
If you love butterflies, then Bolivia has got your back with multiple butterfly sanctuaries and even one of the largest in the world. You can see these beauties flap their wings at the most renowned sanctuary, the magical Guembe Biocenter in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Their butterfly farm features a breeding and production system under professional biologists who managed to reproduce 52 native species.
As you can see, Bolivia is so naturally and culturally diverse that these facts are just scratching the surface of how interesting the country is. Did any of these fun facts surprise you?
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