Official Name: Plurinational State of Bolivia
Established: 6 August 1825 (Declared Independence from Spain)
Population: 11,428,245 (2019 estimate)
Religion: 70% Catholic, 17.2% Protestant, 9.3% No religion
Capital: Sucre (constitutional and judicial), La Paz (executive and legislative)
Order of Visit: Thirty-Fourth
First Visit: 18 December 2009
Last Visit: 30 December 2009
Duration: 13 Days
– Copacabana: Cute baby llamas, first experience on the stunning and massive Lake Titicaca
– La Paz: The unusual rock formations at Moon Valley, the amazing La Paz Cathedral and San Francisco Church
– Potosi: purchasing dynamite as a gift, exploring a surprising warm Potosi silver mine.
– Salt Flats: Exploring the massive picturesque Salt Flats, Christmas lunch in the middle of nowhere, staying in a hotel made of salt and celebrating Christmas, stunning sunrise of the Salt Flats
– Santa Cruz: Night club drinking and dancing
– Sucre: Hair rising high altitude plane landing, old Royal Palace (now a library), clothes museum, mini Eiffel Tower, difficult but rewarding high altitude hiking with magnificent views and 4,000 year old rock art.
– Uyuni: Exploring a sometimes creepy train cemetery.
– Uyuni Desert: Exploring stunning desert landscape, visiting boiling geysers, enjoying thermal bath, visiting red lagoon of Laguna Colorada, spotting flamingos at Laguna Verde (blue-green coloured lake)
Places Visited: Copacabana, La Paz, Potosi, Salt Flats, Santa Cruz, Sucre, Uyuni, Uyuni Desert
Bolivia Journal Entries
History and Geography
Covering 1,098,581 square kms Bolivia is a landlocked country located in western-central South America 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. A significant part of the country is at high altitude with the Andes in the West but also has low altitude areas in the East within the Amazon basin.
The region now known as Bolivia had been occupied for over 2,500 years when the Aymara arrived. However, present-day Aymara associate themselves with the ancient civilization of the Tiwanaku Empire which had its capital at Tiwanaku, in Western Bolivia. The capital city of Tiwanaku dates from as early as 1500 BC when it was a small, agriculturally based village. Tiwanaku disappeared around AD 1000 because food production become difficult to impossible. The area remained uninhabited for centuries thereafter.
Between 1438 and 1527, the Inca empire expanded from its capital at Cusco, Peru. It gained control over much of what is now Andean Bolivia and extended its control into the fringes of the Amazon basin.
The Spanish conquest of the Inca empire began in 1524, and was mostly completed by 1533. The territory now called Bolivia was known as Charcas, and was under the authority of the Viceroy of Lima. Founded in 1545 as a mining town, Potosí soon produced fabulous wealth, becoming the largest city in the New World with a population exceeding 150,000 people.
By the late 16th century, Bolivian silver was an important source of revenue for the Spanish Empire. A steady stream of natives served as labour force under the brutal, slave conditions of the Spanish version of the pre-Columbian draft system called the mita. Túpac Katari led the indigenous rebellion that laid siege to La Paz in March 1781, during which an estimated 20,000 people died.
The struggle for independence started in the city of Sucre on 25 May 1809 is known as the first cry of Freedom in Latin America. That revolution was followed by the La Paz revolution on 16 July 1809. The La Paz revolution marked a complete split with the Spanish government, while the Chuquisaca Revolution established a local independent junta in the name of the Spanish King deposed by Napoleon Bonaparte. Both revolutions were short-lived and defeated by the Spanish authorities in the Viceroyalty of the Rio de La Plata, but the following year the Spanish American wars of independence raged across the continent.
Bolivia was captured and recaptured many times during the war by the royalists and patriots. Buenos Aires sent three military campaigns, all of which were defeated, and eventually limited itself to protecting the national borders at Salta. Bolivia was finally freed of Royalist dominion by Marshal Antonio José de Sucre, with a military campaign coming from the North in support of the campaign of Simón Bolívar. After 16 years of war the Republic was proclaimed on 6 August 1825.
During the early 20th century, tin replaced silver as the country’s most important source of wealth. A succession of governments controlled by the economic and social elite followed laissez-faire capitalist policies through the first 30 years of the 20th century.
The Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR), the most historic political party, emerged as a broad-based party. Denied its victory in the 1951 presidential elections, the MNR led a successful revolution in 1952. Under President Víctor Paz Estenssoro, the MNR, having strong popular pressure, introduced universal suffrage into his political platform and carried out a sweeping land-reform promoting rural education and nationalization of the country’s largest tin mines. A military dictatorship was installed in the early 1960s.
The United States of America Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) financed and trained the Bolivian military dictatorship in the 1960s. The revolutionary leader Che Guevara was killed by a team of CIA officers and members of the Bolivian Army on 9 October 1967, in Bolivia. There is a lot of resentment towards the USA in Bolivia to this day.
Since the 1960s there have been successive coups, than short periods of democracy, followed by unstable governments and then political and civil unrest.
What I experienced
Bolivia is a vast country which I travel from one end to the other with a mixture of trains, buses, boat rides and flights. Most of these were hair raising transportation ‘adventures’ especially the dangerous roads and the landing at high altitude in Sucre I will always remember for the plane barely stopping at the edge of a cliff so be warned and accept it as part of the charm of the country.
My visit to Potosi really expose me to the worse excesses of unregulated capitalism and the dangerous conditions locals, and in particular indigenous people have had to endeavour and still endeavour. The landscape of Bolivia sticks in your mind. While visiting the Salt Flats rain caused the ground to become a mirror of the sky creating a surreal visual experience. Boiling geysers (which there tough smells) is a strong memory of my visit to Bolivia as well.
Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest lake that has large vessels sailing it, lying at 3,810 metres above sea level in the Andes Mountains and it dominates a lot of life. I got to experience this from both the Bolivia and Peru sides and this is one area worth the effort to visit.