Landlocked Bolivia is many people’s idea of a quintessentially South American country. It has a variety of dramatic landscapes and a dominant indigenous culture, living alongside the legacy of Spain’s baroque colonial presence. This robust, but economically poor republic has a romantic, often difficult and edgy history, tinged with popular struggles and marked by the influence of over-sized, colourful characters.
The natural scenery is stripped down to the basics: the skeletal slopes of ice-capped Andean peaks, the desolate plains of the altiplano, tree-less, rocky desert, almost vertical valleys and canyons, and unsullied jungle rainforest.
The lifestyle of the majority of the people has changed little since the time of the Conquest. Their haunting panpipe music, florid costumes and the ubiquitous llamas are recognised by most: less familiar is the blanket of pristine rainforest, the most bio-diverse of any similar jungle on the planet; the oilfields and cattle ranches of the friendly lowland oriente and the subtropical valleys brimming with citrus orchards.
High-altitude La Paz, the capital, is possibly one of the most extraordinary in the world, with maze of adobe houses clinging to steep canyon sides, dwarfed by its mountain backdrop, and a theatrical street-life.