About Bolivia

About Bolivia

The Andes Mountains run from North to South along the entire western regions of Bolivia in two parallel mountain ranges called
the Cordillera Occidental (western range) and the Cordillera Oriental (eastern range). The Cordillera Occidental is of volcanic origin. Volcanoes are currently dormant but emit sulfurous gases. The highest peak in Bolivia, the snowcapped Sajama (which rises to 6542 meters) is located here. The greater part of this range has an elevation of about 4000 meters above sea level. The entire region is sparsely populated.
The Cordillera Oriental runs from northern Bolivia to Argentina and is more ancient than the western range. It contains a series of granite mountains in its northernmost section (called the Cordillera Real, or Royal Range). Many of them exceed 6000 meters and are snowcapped yearound. The Illimani (at 6322 meters - 21,184 feet - seen in this photo), which overlooks the city of La Paz when it isn't clouded over, and the Illampu (at 6424 meters - 21,276 feet) both have large glaciers. The central section of the Cordillera Oriental (or eastern range) is called the Cordillera Central. Here the land is actually a huge block of the earth's crust that was lifted up and tilts eastward. It descends gradually toward the East. Its rivers also drain in this direction making the land here temperate and fertile. Bolivia has many VERY different geographical zones!
The Altiplano stretches between the two ranges. It is 805 kilometers (503 miles) long and 129 kilometers (87 miles) wide. At about 12,000 feet above sea level, it is nearly 300 miles wide. It was originally a deep rift between the two cordilleras, but over time filled up with sediments that washed down from the peaks. Lake Titicaca, at 3810 meters above sea level (12,507 feet), is located here. It is the highest navigable body of water in the world, is South America's largest lake and control of it is shared by Peru and Bolivia. It's average depth is 215 meters, and its maximum depth is 370 meters. Visitors can cross from Copacabana to the Islands of the Sun and Moon to view ancient Incan ruins. It is a freshwater lake and drains southward through the Desaguadero River to Lake Poopó, South of La Paz, between Oruro and Potosí, which is salty and shallow, generally less than 4 meters deep.
The land is arid and barren with little vegetation. Several salt flats, the remains of ancient lakes that have since dried, can be found here. Called salt beds or salt pans, the Uyuni Saltpan is the largest, covering 9000 square miles. The salt is more than 5 meters deep. Tourists can spend the night in a hotel made completely out of bricks of salt.
The ruins of the great Tiahuanaco Empire are also found here. Oddly, one of the most surprising attractions on the Altiplano is an extensive flock of pink flamingos! The scenery on the Altiplano is considered breathtakingly beautiful worldwide. The cities of La Paz (Bolivia’s de facto capital), Oruro (where Carnaval is celebrated each year), and Potosí (home to the world-renowned silver mines) are found in this geographical region of Bolivia.
Eastward the mountains are cut through by streams and rivers forming a wide section of lush valleys, Bolivia’s most fertile region. This geographic area, still at anywhere between 8500 and 3000 feet above sea level, is famous for its coffees and teas, fruit and flora, and of course, coca. Cochabamba (Bolivia’s third largest city), Sucre (Bolivia’s capital), and Tarija (home to Bolivia’s world-famous wine country) are part of this lush valley region and are sometimes referred to as the country’s garden spots. (This is a photo of the "Cristo", a huge statue of Jesus that looks out over the city of Cochabamba from high on a hill).
Everything East of the Andes Mountains is considered the lowlands (sábanas, or savannahs) and this is Bolivia's most fertile region, covering more than two-thirds of the country. This is one of Bolivia's tropical geographic zones and this extensive region has a varied topography, resulting in climactic differences as well. Because of this, the lowlands are divided into three separate geographic areas: The northern region, extends over the Departments of Pando and Beni and parts of northern Cochabamba, and is covered in dense tropical rainforest. Three of Bolivia's most important rivers (the Beni, Madre de Dios, and Mamoré Rivers which flow northward toward the Amazon) are found here and during the rainy season this region frequently floods. Cobija (capital of Pando) and Trinidad (capital of Beni), both located in Bolivia’s extensive tropical forests
The central region, (the northern half of the Department of Santa Cruz) is drier with rolling hills, forests and savannahs. The city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia's largest city is located here, as are most of the nation's oil and natural gas reserves.
The southeastern region bordering Paraguay is called the "Chaco" geographic region, and is dry throughout most of the year. However, during the 3-month rainy season heavy rains turn this region into a swamp which eventually drains off into the Pilcomayo and Paraguay Rivers. Oil and gas have also been found here.
Bolivia has nine political and geographical divisions called departments (similar to states in the US or provinces in Canada). Each department is divided into provinces (rather like US states are divided into counties) and each province is divided into further sections called cantons and municipalities. Each department has a capital city where the departmental seat of government is located:
La Paz - La Paz
Cochabamba - Cochabamba
Oruro - Oruro
Potosí - Potosí
Santa Cruz - Santa Cruz
Tarija - Tarija
Beni - Trinidad
Pando - Cobija
Chuquisaca - Sucre
Bolivia's geography explains the following as well:

Natural hazards: cold, thin air of high plateau is obstacle to efficient fuel combustion, as well as to physical activity by those unaccustomed to it from birth; flooding in the northeast (March-April)
Natural resources: tin, natural gas, petroleum, zinc, tungsten, antimony, silver, iron, lead, gold, timber, hydropower
Environment - current issues: the clearing of land for agricultural purposes and the international demand for tropical timber are contributing to other more devastating changes in geography like deforestation; soil erosion from overgrazing and poor cultivation methods (including slash-and-burn agriculture); desertification; loss of biodiversity; industrial pollution of water supplies used for drinking and irrigation. Our geography is changing, but this is having negative effects on the environment as well.
Bolivia's geography is defined by extremes, with a climate that varies with altitude from humid and tropical to cold and semiarid. The terrain ranges from the soaring, rugged Andes Mountains (the high point is Nevado Sajama at 6,542 m), to a highland plateau (Altiplano), down to hills and then the lowland plains of the Amazon Basin. The variety of plant and animal life is understandably diverse, as is the ethnic diversity of the people, making Bolivia a fascinating country for adventurous travelers to explore.

Bolivia's population is culturally, racially and socially diverse, a clear reflection of the native indigenous groups that have inhabited the country’s various regions for thousands of years, and a result of the historical assimilation of other races over time. The following demographic data is all based on 2006 statistics and/or estimates.
Bolivia is one of only three countries in Latin America whose largest population segment is comprised of Amerindians - the other two being Guatemala and Peru.
Aymara (2 million), Chiquitano (180,000), and Guarani(125,000) are the largest. The great majority of European descendants are of Spanish origin, although fairly large German, North American and Italian communities exist as well. There are also smaller Asian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Chinese, and other minority groups. Many of these families settled in Bolivia several generations ago.
Bolivia is one of the least-developed countries in South America. Almost two-thirds of its people, many of whom are subsistence farmers, live in poverty.
Population density ranges from 1 person per square kilometer in the far southeastern savannah region to about 10 per square kilometer in the Andes highlands.
Annual growth rate as of July 2006 has been estimated at about 1.45%.
Census According to Bolivia’s 2005 census, the country had approximately 8,858,000 inhabitants in 2005. However, a July 2006 estimate indicates this has since increased to about 8,989,046.

Languages Spanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymara (official), Guaraní, Pano, and other dialects. Spanish is the first or native language in about 50% of the country. Today Quechua and Aymara are still spoken throughout a large part of Bolivia and are two of Bolivia's three official languages. This map shows the area of Bolivia in which Aymara and Quechua are still primary languages (Aymara and Quechua are also spoken as a primary language by many people who have migrated to other regions, and to many others they are second languages).
Religions The great majority of Bolivians are Roman Catholic (95%) and this is the country's official religion, although Protestant denominations (5%) are expanding strongly. Islam is practiced by the descendants of Middle Easterners, many of whom originated in Lebanon. There is also a small,yet influential Jewish community. More than 3 percent of Bolivians practice the Baha'í faith, giving Bolivia one of the largest percentages of Baha'í practitioners in the world. Due to extensive Mormon missionary efforts, there is a substantial Mormon demographic. A colony of Mennonites resides near Santa Cruz. Many indigenous communities interweave pre-Columbian and Christian symbols in their worship. Indigenous groups still live and practice their native beliefs, and tend to blend them with Roman Catholicism.
Cultural Development The cultural development of present-day Bolivia is divided into three distinct periods: pre-Columbian, colonial, and republican. Important archeological ruins, gold and silver ornaments, stone monuments, ceramics, and weavings remain from several important pre-Columbian cultures. Major ruins include Tiahuanacu, Samaipata, Incallajta, and Iskanwya. There are many more archeological sites that are yet to be explored.
Literacy (definition: age 15 and over can read and write) total literate population: 87.2%. The literacy rate tends to be much lower in some rural areas. Approximately 90% of children attend primary school, but some for only a year or less.
Bolivia's distinctive topography and ecology have had an enduring impact on settlement patterns. They also have figured in the relations among the country's diverse groups because the isolation most communities and regions faced until at least the 1950s.
Population: In 2004 Bolivia had an estimated population of nearly 9.3 million, with an annual growth rate of 2.4 percent. Bolivia has low population density, only 8.5 people per square kilometer. In terms of geographic settlement, 42 percent of Bolivians live in the altiplano region in the west, followed by 30 percent in the eastern plains region and 29 percent in highland valleys in the central part of the country. Urbanization is low but rising. The urban population of the country is increasing at a rate of 3.6 percent annually, mostly as a result of the migration of rural residents to cities. In 2004 about 62 percent of Bolivians lived in cities, including 40 percent in cities with more than 200,000 inhabitants. La Paz, located in the altiplano, and Santa Cruz, in central Bolivia, are the most densely populated cities. Oruro, located in the altiplano southeast of La Paz, is Bolivia’s fastest growing urban area.
Demography: Bolivia has a young and ethnically diverse population. Statistics show that 35 percent of the population is younger than 15, nearly 60 percent is 15–64, and only 4 percent is 65 and older. Experts estimate Bolivia’s birthrate at nearly 23.8 births per 1,000. The infant mortality rate stands at 53 deaths per 1,000 live births and the child mortality rate at 66 deaths per 1,000 live births, while the overall death rate is 7.6 deaths per 1,000. Life expectancy in Bolivia, 65.5 years on average, is shorter than in most other South American countries.
Ethnic Groups and Languages: Ethnically, Bolivia is not dominated by any single group of people. In a survey conducted in 2001, the National Statistics Institute found the following breakdown: mestizo (mixed race), 30 percent; Quechua, 28 percent; Aymara, 19 percent; and European, 12 percent. The remaining 11 percent come from a collection of ethnicities. Spanish is spoken by 87 percent of the population. Quechua (34 percent) and Aymara are the other prominent languages.


The Andes

At least above the sea level the Andean mountain chain is the longest in the world. They stretch from Venezuela through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, to the southern parts of Chile and Argentina. For large part the Andean main chains run of two parallel chains with very different landscape forms through almost the whole of South America. At least 7,500 km long rises this still very young folds mountains near the Pacific Ocean.

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