South America’s Bolivia is home to a terrific assortment of attractions and activities to pique all interests. Whether you want to stroll around colonial towns, escape into the wonderfully scenic areas and be at one with nature, cycle along the world’s most dangerous road, visit indigenous markets, see ancient sites, and more, you will certainly never have time to feel bored in Bolivia. There are some places that could be considered slightly unusual and away from the typical tourist trail – why not add some of these to your Bolivian travel itinerary?
Some of the best unusual Bolivian attractions include:
Chacltaya Ski Resort
Within easy reach of La Paz, Chacltaya Ski Resort may not offer the best skiing conditions in the world, but you can brag that you have skied in the highest place in the world! Yes, that’s right, it is the world’s highest ski resort, which makes the journey worth it in itself. The altitude makes conditions tougher, and the views are incredibly scenic. There is a café and a ski centre in the area. It makes for a terrific trip even outside of the skiing season.
Known locally as Cementerio de Trenes, situated near Uyuni, this collection of old trains is really quite odd and surreal. In the middle of absolutely nowhere, you can see a collection of retired, rusty, dilapidated, and old trains that seem to have just been gathered in no-man’s land. One of the trains is covered with bullet holes from a hold up.
In Santa Cruz’s Guembe Biocenter you can visit the largest butterfly sanctuary on the planet. It is beautiful and really quite special. The enormous netted domes are home to an incredibly large selection of different butterfly species, and you can also see an impressive selection of colourful birds and pretty orchids. Peacocks, parrots, toucans, and macaws are amongst some of the feathered friends in the sanctuary. There are several nice lagoons where you can enjoy kayaking and fishing, as well as children’s play areas and shallow wading pools, camping facilities, and BBQ areas, making for a full day – or even longer.
Swimming, hiking, and biking are also waiting for you, as well as several places to eat and drink. You can explore on your own, or take a tour around the large complex. Learn all about the different types of butterflies and be dazzled by the sheer variety. You can climb high for amazingly wonderful views of the area. The orchid garden lies in the heart of the forest and is surrounded by intriguing stones.
The peaceful village of Laja was the initial site of La Paz. Today, it is a charming place to visit, with a large main square, one of the oldest cathedrals on the Antiplano, and home to some ancient, rare, and unusual koa plants.
San Pedro Prison
On La Paz’s Plaza de San Pedro, you can see one of the strangest tourist attractions in the world. As well as a pretty church and leafy square, one side of the square is occupied by a gigantic walled compound. It was a monastery in its former life, but is a famous prison today, housing some of Bolivia’s most notorious criminals. The imposing entry gate is flanked by armed guards, and a prison van sits patiently outside. Tours of the prison are possible, with foreigners handing their money over to shady characters in return for a chance to see inside one of the world’s poorest prisons.
If you are brave enough, you will wander through the prison’s kitchen, seeing the meals being prepared by and for inmates. You will also stroll through the various sections of cell blocks – there are eight different sections in the prison. Inmates can roam freely between the areas, and pay for their cell. They therefore range in levels of comfort and cleanliness. Those with less money live in very sparse conditions, often cramming several people into a cell designed for one. Mattresses are dirty, and the bare concrete walls and floors are from inviting. The richer cells, however, show very different conditions – television sets, DVD players, musical instruments, computers, and other modern trapping are evident. It is common for people to bring their families to live inside with them, so you will see men, women, and children wandering around the different areas. People work within the prison selling cells, and inmates who cannot afford to buy a cell must find a spot in the courtyards, corridors, and walkways to sleep and call home.
There are several shops and places to eat inside the prison, as well as a variety of vendors trying to sell things to the prisoners. Prisoners can also take jobs whilst inside. It is not like what you would expect in a high security facility, filled with murderers, rapists, gang members, drug dealers, thieves, and thugs. You will be escorted around by burly bodyguards, who are likely to be prolific and previously dangerous offenders.
La Paz Witches’ Market
Whilst incredibly popular with tourists in Bolivia, it is, nonetheless, a really strange and unusual place. Selling a wide selection of handicrafts, ingredients for spells, and traditional medicinal products, a visit to the bustling Witches’ Market is likely to be one that you will not forget in a hurry. It can be a little intimidating and scary!
Chiquitos Jesuit Missions
The elegantly restored Jesuit missions of Chiquitos are another one of the country’s unusual attractions. See grand and impressive churches, as well as simple dwellings at this UNESCO World Heritage.