Things to Do in Altiplano
Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. At 12,000 feet above sea level, the famous land is encrusted by a dense layer of salt and is part of the Altiplano or ‘high plain,’ formed by the uplift of the Andes Mountains. In total it covers more than 4,000 square miles of ground. Though largely devoid of vegetation and wildlife, it is a major breeding ground for pink flamingos every November. In dry seasons, it has cracked, desert-like appearance, though after rainfall the flat surface becomes extremely reflective with even a small amount of water covering the ground. The result is a remarkable mirror-like effect that has caused many to name Salar de Uyuni a natural wonder of the world.
Salar de Uyuni was created over centuries of transformation from what was once prehistoric lakes, the largest being the ancient Lago Minchín. It is now the most visited site in Bolivia.
There is no road in Bolivia with the official name of Death Road. It’s simply a nickname, and nicknames cannot just be given, they need to be earned. In the case of the Yungas Road leading from the capital city of La Paz to the rainforest outpost of Coroico, the road just happens to earn its grisly name an astounding 200 to 300 times per year.
One of the few roads to connect the Bolivian capital with the Yungas region of the country, this 43-mile stretch of open cliff has been deemed by many international organizations as the most dangerous road in the world. At many points along the journey the road is only 10 feet wide, and at virtually no point is there anything resembling a guardrail to protect against precipitous falls measured in the thousands of feet. Given these inherent dangerous and obvious risks, what’s the only natural thing to do when visiting La Paz finding yourself only 35 miles from the Death Road? Strap on a helmet and go mountain biking of course!
Since it opened its doors in 2003, La Senda Verde has offered refuge to over 350 animals rescued from illegal trafficking or abusive owners and today a varied population of monkeys, bears, ocelot, tortoises and birds roam the 12-hectare nature reserve, cared for by a team of dedicated volunteers. Located in the Amazon basin on the banks of the Yolosa River, La Senda Verde is perfectly located for discovering Bolivia’s rainforest and the wildlife reserve offers both day tours and overnight stays in their forest eco lodges, as well as opportunities for short and long term volunteering.
The monkeys are undeniably the star of the show at La Senda Verde and there are around 70 free-roaming primates, including spider, capuchin, howler, squirrel, owl and tamarin monkeys, but equally varied is the birdlife, with species including macaws, parrots, parakeets and toucans.
More Things to Do in Altiplano
There is a certain amount of irony surrounding the Bolivian street of Calle Jaen. Considered to be the best example of a colonial street in the capital city of La Paz, Calle Jaen two centuries ago served as a home to many of the revolutionaries who would help lead Bolivia out from the shackles of colonialism and onward towards Bolivian independence. When strolling the narrow, cobble-stoned alley of modern day Calle Jaen, it’s humbling to think that some of the most influential figures in Bolivia’s tortured history once walked the same street and went to bed at night in the same colorful houses which stand here today. One such revolutionary who once called Calle Jaen home, was Don Pedro Domingo Murillo, the renegade rabble-rouser who was ultimately hung in the square, now bearing his name. His former home is one of the Calle Jaen museums today and visitors are able to walk inside and explore period pieces left over from his days in the capital.
Bolivia’s Presidential Palace, or Palacio Quemado, was built in the mid-19th century and has been through a lot, now serving as the official residence of the President of Bolivia. Its name means “Burned Palace,” which originated after the site was set on fire and nearly burned to the ground during an uprising against the president in 1875. Despite the fact that the palace has been rebuilt and redesigned multiple times since, the name just stuck. The inside of Bolivia’s Presidential Palace is neo-classical. Its exterior has brightly painted walls, contrasting white window frames, stately columns, and lengthy balconies. If you look on top of the building, you will see the Bolivian coat of arms and an Andean condor flying above it. The marble staircase inside is nothing short of impressive and leads to important rooms like the President’s office, the Mirrors Halls, the Presidents Hall, Red Hall, and the Presidential bedroom.
Rising stoically from the center of Plaza Murillo, the neo-classical La Paz Cathedral brings a historic, colonial flare to the bustle of modern day La Paz. When the old cathedral which once stood in its place was commissioned to be torn down in 1831, grand plans were made for erecting a cathedral which would soar to heights unsurpassed by the previous. The only problem, however, was that this ended up taking a little longer than most had planned.
With the first stones laid in 1835, the Cathedral - officially known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of La Paz - was never fully completed until 1989 when a mad scramble was set in place to finish the edifice for the impending visit of Pope John Paul II. Nevertheless, under the designs set forth by the original architect, Manuel Sanahuja, the now-completed La Paz Cathedral features soaring blue domes, five naves and vaulted ceilings inside the building which still house scores of devout Catholic worshipers.
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