Twenty centuries of evolution have left their mark
in modern and cosmopolitan cities such as Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the country's
industrial capital. However, the passage of time has not eroded Bolivia's rich
cultural past. For example, the colonial treasures which remain practically
intact in the city of Sucre and the numerous chapels, churches and cathedrals
throughout the country which pridefully display their Spanish heritage. The
history of two cities, Oruro and Potosi, is identified with the search for
silver and other minerals. This variety of regional characteristics and customs
gave rise, over the centuries, to different lifestyles which are reflected in
the carnivals, fiestas and music so typical of Bolivia. A kaleidoscope of visual
- and also musical - pleasures awaits the tourist in Bolivia. In her
interior one finds a treasure of breathtaking views and varied cultures that are
a delight to the senses. The maximum blend, or a mix, of these various
lifestyles can be found in La Paz: Bolivia's government center which is nestled
in the foothills of majestic Illimani volcano. Museums and restaurants
exist side by side with handicraft shops in this city to create a singular
cultural identity in this South American country that, definitely, has a lot to
offer. the institution of the Inca pantheon as the official state religion.
first inhabitants of Bolivia were nomadic hunter-gatherers who came across the
Bering Strait. It is commonly believed that these first Asian colonizers reached
the South American continent by 12,000 BC. This initial settlement period lasted
until about 1400 BC when the more advanced culture of the Chavin began spreading
their influence from coastal Peru throughout the Andes. Around 300 BC, the Chavín
inexplicably disappeared, and in there place the Tiahuanco culture of the
Bolivian Altiplano rose to dominance. During the next 1000 years the Tiahuanaco
culture prospered and advanced in art, agriculture and architecture until it
equaled that of ancient Egypt. Eventually, the Tiahuanaco civilization began to
fade too, giving way to the Incas of Peru. Theories abound about what happened
to Tiahuanaco, including one that the says the Inca royalty were the descendants
of the crumbling Tiahuanco culture. The Incas quickly grew to dominate an
immense region stretching from Columbia to Argentina, and including all of the
The Spanish arrived in 1531, and Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro made
their way inward looking for wealth and land. They returned to Spain to look for
reinforcements in order to return to the New World. Return he did, marching into
Cajamarca, in northern Peru, before capturing, ransoming and executing the Inca
emperor, Atahualpa, in 1533.
Modern day Bolivia was referred to as Alto Peru by the new Spanish governors.
Bolivia was so far away from the new capital of Lima on the coast that most
indigenous Bolivians were initially unaffected by the conquest. This all
changed, however, with the discovery of silver in Potosi. The mines of Cerro
Rico, or the Rich Hill, would make the Spanish crown richer than even a king
could dream. Thousands of fortune hunters from Europe poured into Bolivia, and
Potosi became the largest city in the Americas overnight. In the following
centuries, millions of conscripted Indians would die in the atrocious mines of
Potosi. The Spanish soldier, administrators, adventurers, and settlers became a
strong landed aristacracy, and the indigenous people of Bolivia were reduced to
tenant farmers and slaves.
With such wealth and poverty living side by side, Bolivia, it was only a
matter of time before rebellion ignited in Bolivia. It was in Sucre that the
first call for independence in Spanish America sprang. After independence in
1824, Alto Peru became the Republic of Bolivia. With much territory, Bolivia was
a precious target for invaders looking for land. This became obvious when Chile
attacked in 1879, igniting the War of the Pacific. Chile in the end triumphed
and took the only coastline Bolivia ever had. In the following years, Peru,
Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay each carved away at Bolivia.
Bolivia has undergone 191 governments since independence. It has
been ruled by corrupt officials and hard line military juntas. Finally, in 1982
a leftist civilian movement called the Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionario
won the election against the military. This government began the difficult job
of reforming the government into a true democracy.
Today the currant president of Bolivia is Hugo Banzer Suarez.
Bolivia is now relatively peaceful, and is trying promote tourism as a way to
increase economic opportunity. Transportation infrastructure is improving,
tourist services are springing up everywhere, and Bolivia is on its way of
becoming the next hotspot to visit in the world.
the Tibet of the Americas, landlocked Bolivia is the highest and most isolated
country in the Americas. With elevations ranging from sea level to over 21,000
feet, the Bolivia landscape offers a mind blowing array of complex ecosystems
and stunning scenery. Bolivia is also home to the largest indigenous population
in the Americas. With over 50% of it's population maintaining traditional
lifestyles and beliefs, Bolivia is a cultural treasure that is only now being
appreciated, discovered and studied.
Approximately the size of France and Spain combined, Bolivia can be broken
into five geographic regions - the stark Altiplano, the lush Yungas, the fertile
highland valleys, the scrubland of the Chaco, and the impenatrable Amazon Basin.
Most of the population lives on the Altiplano and highland valleys. It's on
these windswept plans and high valleys where the birth of Andean culture can be
found. In archological sites like Tiahuanaco near La Paz and Quechua villages
like those near Hacienda Candelaria, visitors can feel the ancient spirits of
the Andes and begin to understand the rich cultural heritage that is Bolivia.The
wild places of the Yungas, Chaco and Amazon have their own draw. These places
offer some of the best opportunity to see South American wildlife. It's still
possible to see vicuña, spectacled bear, condor, jaguar, capybara, and others
in these wild places.
Bolivia's Colonial heritage is among the longest in the Americas. Ornate
buildings line the cobblestone streets of crumbling Potosi, and the White City,
Sucre, still lives up to its name with whitewashed buildings and red clay
rooftops stretching out in all directions. Bolivia's cultural heritage and
stunning natural beauty lies waiting to be discovered!
RELIGION, LANGUAGE AND FOOD
The predominant religion is Roman Catholic, but there is a scattering of
other Christian faiths. Indigenous Bolivians, however, have blended Catholicism
and their traditional beliefs. An example is the near synonymous association of
Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and the Virgin Mary.
Spanish is the official language throughout Bolivia, although only 60-70% of
the population speaks it, and then often as a second language. The indigenous
languages of Quechua and Aymara are the preferred languages. When bargaining in
rural markets, a Quechua word or two will not only endear you to the vendors,
but usually get you an extra orange or more juice! Several other small
indigenous groups speak their own languages. English is understood in the best
hotels and in airline offices and travel agencies, but it's of little use
Bolivian food consists mainly of meat, corn pancakes, rice, eggs and
vegetables. Local specialties include pique a lo macho, grilled beef and
sausage; lechón, suckling pig; and cuy, whole roasted guinea pig-however