Bolivian Embassy
106 Eaton Square, London, SW1W 9AD
Tel: 0171 235 4248 Fax: 0171 235 1286

Physical geography

Bolivia is situated in the centre of South America. It encompasses 424,194 square miles and has borders with Brazil to the north and east, with Argentina to the south, and with Peru to the west. On the southeast of Bolivia lies the border with Paraguay, while to the southwest lies that with Chile.


Although all of Bolivia is located within the Tropic of Capricorn, the country enjoys the full spectrum of existing climates. The temperature is not only regulated by geographical location, but also by the altitude above sea level; temperatures are lower at higher altitudes and higher at lower altitudes.

Due to its proximity to the Equator, the four seasons are not marked with much differentiation in contrast to other continents. The variation of temperatures between winter and summer is less than 10 degrees C.

Economic geography

Until 1986 the production of minerals such as tin, gold, silver, zinc, lead and others constituted the economic basis of Bolivia. However, the drop in prices in the international markets obligated the state to close important mining companies for the purpose of levelling its balance of payments. Currently, Bolivia's economy thrives on minerals, livestock and agro-industrial riches.

Bolivia also has rich petroleum deposits and refineries which meet the country's needs. It uses natural gas to generate energy, which it sells to the Republic of Argentina, and it also has agreements to export energy to Brazil and Chile. In the agricultural sector, due to the distinctive topographic characteristics of the country, there is an extensive range of different products from the tropical regions, the valleys and the high mountains.

Currently, tourism is one of the principal sources of income, surpassing traditional exportation.


According to carbon-dated research, the first civilisations of the Bolivian Altiplano developed around the year 2000 BC. Among the most important were the Wankarani, the Chiria and the Tiwanaku, the latter being one of the principal cultures among the great Pre-Colombian civilisations. Later came the Aymaras and the Collas, who were dominated by the powerful Inca civilisation until the arrival of the Spaniards.

In 1535, the Spanish 'conquistadores' Pizarro and Almagro initiated the conquest of the Collao, and ten years later the silver deposits of Potosi were discovered. Spanish domination lasted for three centuries in Upper Peru (presently Bolivia). In 1809, rebellions were initiated that were to last for fifteen years before Bolivian independence was finally achieved.

The Bolivian state was officially declared indepedent on August 6 1825 in the city of La Plata, presently Sucre, and was named in honour of the liberator Simon Bolivar. The name Bolivar was later changed to Bolivia at the suggestion of the liberator Jose Antonio de Sucre, who divided the Republic into departments.

Between 1879 and 1884 the War of the Pacific between Bolivia and Chile took place, resulting in the disastrous loss to Bolivia of its maritime littoral, leaving the country landlocked. Later conflicts with neighbours included the Acre conflict with Brazil in 1900-3 and the Chaco War with Paraguay from 1932-5.

Several revolutions followed the Chaco War, culminating in the 1952 revolution that ensured Victor Paz Estenssoro his presidency. The mines were then nationalised, with big political and social changes including a major program of agrarian reform.

Languages spoken by nationals

The official language is Spanish, but Aymara and Quechua are also recognised as such. There are also various ethnic groups, each with their own dialect, particularly in Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija.


The official time in relation to Greenwich Meridian is four hours earlier (GMT -4).


The Boliviano (Bs1=100 centavos) comes in denominations of 5, 10 20, 50, 100 and 200. Coins come as 1, 2, 10 ,20 or 50 centavos.

What one should not fail to see

The vast salt lakes near Uyuni are a 12 hour journey from the capital La Paz and are well worth the trek. Organised tours leave most days to take you into previously unimagined territory with geysers, boiling mud pools, red and green lakes that change colour to a backdrop of huge, smoking volcanos, all at an altitude of 6000 feet.

Potosi, home to the famous silver mines, lies in the northern region, and is the highest altitude for a city of its size in the world. Dropping into the depths of these mines and stumbling along tiny, dark passages with a severe shortage of oxygen is not your average holiday activity, but is well worth the effort.

12 hours in the opposite direction will lead you to the tropical regions, such as Rurrenabaque where trips into the Amazon are possible: rafting, trekking and a chance to see wildlife, such as macaw parrots and monkeys in their natural Amazonian habitat.

The most popular treks begin in the capital, La Paz, traverse the Cordillera Real on ancient Inca routes and end in the Yungas. The three day La Cumbre to Coroico trek is one of the most popular and accessible, in terms of distance from La Paz.

Most favourable seasons for sojourns and touring

There is no particular season to visit Bolivia. This vast country is made up of many different regions, each individually regulated by their own geographical location. However, the variation of temperatures between winter and summer is less than 10 degrees C. The wet season mainly falls between November and March, with the Amazonian regions experiencing a predominantly wet climate the whole year round.

How to dress

Warm clothing in the altiplano region, light clothing for the tropical plains with light clothing by day and warmer at night for the Yungas.

Main holiday sports

Swimming, hiking and rafting.

What to eat and drink

Rice is popular with a vast array of tropical vegetables and fruit available. A wider variety of food is available in the bigger cities.

What to buy

The number of traditional craftmanship markets which offer handcrafts from diverse regions of the country are remarkable. One can find items such as silverware, traditional handmade weavings, carvings in wood and stone, ceramics, tooled leather, musical instruments and a wide range of souvenir handicrafts.

Frontier formalities

Upon entering the country, your passport must be valid for at least one year. Tourist visas are granted for 30 days upon entry, and for 90 days with particular countries. However, some countries need to prearrange their visa - please check before setting off.