Bolivia, officially known as the Plurinational State of Bolivia, is landlocked by its bordering South American countries Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay.
The republic has a population 10,500,000 with an estimated 53% of its population living in poverty. Bolivia has the highest proportion of native people of any country in South America, with around half of its population self identifying as indigenous.
Many ancient civilizations lived in Bolivia; most notably the Tiwanaku and Inca empires. The Tiwanaku civilization began as early as 1200 BC flourishing until at least 800 AD. The capital city of Tiwanaku is a UNESCO World Heritage site with numerous ruins that bear witness to the empire that played a leading role in the development of the Andean civilization.
Following the collapse of Tiwanaku, between 1438 and 1527, the Incan empire grew to prominence throughout Western Bolivia. While the political and administrative center of the empire was located in Cusco, many historians believe the spiritual center was Lake Titicaca.
According to Incan belief, the Creator emerged from Lake Titicaca before creating the celestial heavens and human beings.
In 1527, Bolivia was invaded by Spanish conquistadores, led by explorer Francisco Pizarro. Today’s Bolivia was under Spanish colonial rule for nearly three centuries.
The city Potosi was a major center for Spanish conquistadors and Bolivia was considered its most attractive territory due to its abundance of silver and tin.
Independence from Spanish Rule is celebrated on August 6th and considers 1809 its official year of Independence. Actually August 6th 1809, marks first day of an 18-year struggle led by Simon Bolivar (Bolivia’s namesake!) to establish the republic.
A notable time in Bolivia’s establishment as a country was the War of the Pacific (1879-83), where Bolivia lost its seacoast to Peru and Chile (in addition to nitrate-rich fields). Although Bolivia is very resource-rich (silver, tin, agriculture, lithium, and more!), the absence of a coastline is often cited as a reason for increased poverty and a source of contention for Bolivians even today.
In 2013, Bolivia census data reported that approximately 41% of its population are of indigenous origin.
As of 2009, Bolivia’s official country title was constitutionally changed to the “PlurinationalState of Bolivia” to acknowledge the 36 recognized indigenous groups living within the country borders.
Bolivia has the largest proportion of indigenous people in Latin America, with the Quechua and Aymara groups being the two largest cultures. There are about 2.5 million Quechua, who are native to Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, Potosí, Oruro and La Paz.
The Aymara are the second largest Bolivian indigenous people (2 million) and are native to La Paz, Oruro and Potosi.
Bolivia’s cultural diversity is expressed in many ways; most specifically through its regional food, clothing, and dances. Traditional Bolivian music almost always has a dance accompaniment.
Bolivian music styles, like Bolivian clothing, vary greatly from one region to another and are invariably connected to typical Bolivian dances. In Bolivia music is usually not created just for playing, and almost all traditional Bolivian music can be danced to.
The biggest celebration where you can see the great variety of dances is Carnaval. Carnaval is celebrated throughout the country, with the biggest festivities happening in Oruro.
The Carnaval de Oruro is a unique display of folklore declared the “Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2001. Here, you can witness the most skilled, colorful, and emotional dances and dancers of Bolivia perform.
Some of Bolivia’s most popular traditional dances are the Morenada, Diablada, Tinku, and the Cueca.
Geography and Biodiversity
In 1987 Bolivia made the world’s first debt-for-nature swap with an international conservation organization for the 135,000-hectare Beni Biosphere Reserve—a portion of Bolivia’s foreign debt was purchased to support the reserve.
Bolivia continues to conserve its environment with the 1995 creation of the 1,895,750-hectare Madidi National Park.
Although Bolivia is landlocked, it shares Lake Titicaca (where its navy is based!) – the highest navigable lake at an elevation of 3,805 meters – with neighbor Peru.
Other impressive geographic sites include the Amazon river (with pink dolphins!), the Andes mountain range (yielding more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes!), and the Salar de Uyuni.
It boasts a position as one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, and is home to more than 1,400 species of birds (including the Andean condor, which it displays on its national flag).