Once a part of the ancient Inca empire, Bolivia is a multicultural, geographically diverse, and democratic country in the heart of South America. After the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire in the 1500s, the country was named Charcas. The country won its independence in 1825 and was named after Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan leader in the Spanish-American Independence war.
The nation’s architectural landscape consists of the archaeological remains of the Tiwanaku and Inca empires, along with the Baroque style of the colonisers. Andean-Baroque emerged as an amalgamation of the indigenous Bolivian architecture and the Baroque style from Europe. In modern-day Bolivia, modern & postmodern styles remain prevalent, with some architects like Freddy Mamani, reimagining Bolivia’s built heritage to give birth to New Andean architecture.
Here are 15 must-visit places for you in Bolivia:
1. Tiwanaku Archaeological Site
Located at the Lake Titicaca basin at the Peru-Bolivia border, Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) began as a small settlement that grew into a planned political and spiritual centre for the Tiwanaku culture between 400 A.D. to 900 A.D. The site includes the ruins of temples and pyramids that showcase a complex political structure and its prominent religious nature. The site was raided by Spanish tribes and much of its architectural components were compromised.
The archaeological site was designated as a heritage site by UNESCO in 2000. The remains display efficient drainage systems through all the ashlar block structures set at regular courses and adorned with large stones with exceptional craftsmanship.
2. Plaza Murillo
Designed by Juan Gutiérrez Paniagua in 1558 as part of the city’s rectilinear grid, Plaza Murillo is the central plaza of the executive capital of Bolivia, La Paz. The open space is connected to the political life of Bolivia featuring prominent buildings such as the Presidential Palace, National Congress of Bolivia, and the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.
Draped in the Baroque style of the Spanish colonizers, the plaza showcases the rich heritage of the city in all its glory. The lively plaza has also been the centre stage of many coups and revolutions in the past.
3. Iglesia de San Francisco
Reconstructed in 1784, Iglesia de San Francisco is a Catholic church in the heart of the city of La Paz. The church blends the Spanish Baroque style with indigenous symbols such as the masked figures, dragons, snakes, and tropical birds. The exterior displaying an intricately-carved stone facade is one of the finest examples of Baroque-mestizo style.
The interior, however, fades into a more Neoclassical architectural style. The Plaza de San Francisco in front features a sculpture honouring the three cultures of the Tiwanaku, the Incas, and Modern-day Bolivia. The Museo San Francisco and connected plaza, adjacent to the church, has revived the city’s landmark. The bell tower provides some of the best views of the city.
4. Calle Jaén
Just a short uphill walk away from both Plaza Murillo & Plaza de San Francisco, Calle Jaén is the only street in La Paz that has retained its colonial characteristics. Walking down Calle Jaén’s narrow cobblestone street, through the hues of red, blue, green, and pink is like taking a step back in time.
Tucked away in the maze of streets, Calle Jaén is lined with museums, art galleries, and stores. An important hideout of the rebels against the Spanish empires, the street has maintained its colourful exteriors and ornamentation, which remains the main attraction of the place.
5. Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos
Located in Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia, the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos is a series of mission settlements of the Christianized Indians. Largely inspired by the ideal cities envisioned by the 16th-century philosophers, the six remaining structures form a living heritage in the Chiquitos territory.
The adaptation of European Christian religious architecture to local traditions and styles is evident in the structures. Resembling large houses, the church features a gable roof overhanging an extended gallery as a porch on the west and long walls defining interior aisles divided by carved wooden columns and bannisters.
The only exception is the San Jose church which follows a traditional baroque model. The six structures on the site have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1990.
6. Casa de la Libertad
Designated as a national memorial and the birthplace of the nation, Casa de la Libertad (Freedom House or House of Liberty) is a heritage museum in the city of Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia. A must-visit for both history and architecture buffs, the Bolivian declaration of independence was signed on August 6, 1825, under the fine inlaid wooden ceiling of the building.
An architectural gem of the Vice Regal period, the museum is supported by granite columns and the native cedar door is studded with bronze nails. The Independence Hall features carved and gilded Hispanic & American Native choir stalls and seating and a multicoloured Mudejar coffered ceiling. The walls are adorned with portraits of revolutionaries of the Independence movement.
7. Convento de San Felipe Neri
Sucre is known as the ‘White City of the Americas’ and Convento de San Felipe Neri contributes to the title. Originally a monastery, the stone structure was later covered with a layer of stucco, and now functions as an all-girls parochial school. Neoclassical in style, the building was constructed between 1795 and 1799 by Friar Antonio de San José Alberto.
Although the building is open to the public, the gate remains locked and visitors have to ring a bell on the right to be let in. The entrance leads to a large inner courtyard surrounded by beautifully preserved corridors. One of the most popular attractions in Sucre, Convento de San Felipe Neri provides breathtaking views of the city from its bell tower and tiled rooftop.
8. La Recoleta
Perched on the slopes of Cerro Churuquella at the edge of the city of Sucre, La Recoleta is a Franciscan monastery originally constructed in the 1600s. Due to its location, the monastery provides brilliant views of the city below. The structure has been used as a convent and museum as well as a prison and barrack.
It provides an important urban landscape to the city and is a prominent reflection of colonial religious architecture. The whitewashed building currently functions as a museum housing anonymous sculptures and paintings from the 16th to 20th centuries, including numerous interpretations of St Francis of Assisi.
9. Party Halls in El Alto
Breaking the monotony of the low-rise bare-brick cityscape of El Alto, Freddy Mamani designed the first Salon de Eventos or ‘Party Hall’ for a local Aymara entrepreneur. Now, more than 60 similar structures are scattered across the city. Termed as Neo-Andean, this architectural style is a revival and reinterpretation of the architecture style of pre-Colombian Bolivia.
Set 60 km away from the Tiwanaku site, Mamani has taken the motifs and symbols of the indigenous community and tried to translate them for a contemporary world. Mamani describes his buildings as an exuberant act of self-expression by Bolivia’s long-marginalized indigenous majority.
10. Catedral Metropolitana San Sebastián
One of the oldest structures in the valley, the Catedral Metropolitana San Sebastián or simply Cochabamba Cathedral is a cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church. The building is placed in a Latin cross plan with the facade showcasing Andean architectural features of the time.
Located in the Plaza 14 de Septiembre, the cathedral is one of the most important structures because the most representative liturgical activities are carried out there. Plaza 14 de Septiembre is an integral part of the urban landscape of the city. The building was declared a National Heritage Site by the Senate of Bolivia in 2012.
11. Cristo de la Concordia
Modelled after the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the Cristo de la Concordia sits atop San Pedro Hill, to the east of Cochabamba, Bolivia. The cement and concrete statue was designed by César and Wálter Terrazas Pardo and was constructed between 1987 and 1994.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Christ of Peace’, the statue is 34 m high with an additional 6 m high pedestal. The statue dominates Cochabamba’s skyline and can be reached through a cable car ride or after 1250 steps. The statue’s outstretched arms and the inner sanctum of His head serve as viewing platforms providing amazing views of the city below.
12. Palacio Portales
Located in the upscale neighbourhood of Quera Quera in Cochabamba, Palacio Portales was designed by the French architect Eugène Bliault. Though conceived as the residence of Simón Iturri Patiño, the family never inhabited it, and currently functions as the Simón I. Patiño Pedagogical and Cultural Center.
Symbolising Bolivia’s gilded mineral age, the palace is a structure of opulence stocked with some of the finest imported materials like Carrara marble, French wood, and Italian tapestries. The exterior was inspired by the Versailles Palace, while Granada’s Alhambra inspired the games room.
13. Fort Samaipata
Situated in the eastern foothills of the Bolivian Andes, Fort Samaipata or El Fuerte de Samaipata is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lying under the modern-day Santa Cruz department of Bolivia, the 20-hectare pre-Colombian site encompasses buildings of the Chanes, Incas, and the Spanish.
The archaeological site constitutes a complex artistic, architectural and urban form testifying the existence of the extraordinary development of pre-Columbian cultures in the Andes-Amazon region with high ceremonial and religious tradition. Divided into two halves, the northern part houses the ceremonial sector while the southern sector houses the residential and administrative sector.
14. Isla de Sol
Isla del Sol or Island of the Sun is an island in the southern part of Lake Titicaca in the La Paz department of Bolivia. The island is accessed through two ports on the island and boasts of spectacular views, hiking trails, and the birthplace of the first Incas.
The ruins of the Inca empire on the island include a labyrinth-like building called Chinkana, Q’asa Pata, and Pillkukayna, which were believed by the Incas to be the birthplace of the Sun God. They believed that the sun was born behind a large rock to the east, shaped like a crouching puma called Titi Khar´ka (Rock of the Puma) hence the lake’s name.
One can also visit the Isla de Luna (Island of the Moon) nearby by boat and explore the ruins of the Inca temple of the virgins.
15. Uyuni Salt Flats
World’s largest salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni lies near the crest of the Andes in the Daniel Campos Province in Potosi in southwest Bolivia. An eerie yet stunning landscape, the salt flats are a result of the transformation of a giant ancient lake. During certain months the rain pours and covers the landscape with a thin layer of water converting the land into an expansive mirror.
Salar de Uyuni is a breathtaking vista and a dreamscape for photographers and visitors alike. In 2007, a hotel named Palacio de Sal was constructed entirely with salt blocks in the Uyuni flats.