Isolated in the heart of South America lies the landlocked country of Bolivia. Bolivia is home to a smorgasbord of landscapes ranging from the majestic icebound peaks and high-altitude deserts of the Andes to the exuberant jungles and vast savannas of the Amazon River Basin. A diverse country with various cultures and languages, it has a rich and tumultuous history. Here are some interesting facts about Bolivia.
Facts about Bolivia
1. Bolivia is the 27th largest country in the world.
Bolivia has a total area of 1,098,581 km² (424,164 sq mi), which makes it roughly three times the size of the US state of Montana. It is also the largest landlocked country in the Southern Hemisphere and the seventh-largest landlocked country in the world.
2. Bolivia shares a land border with five countries.
Bolivia is bordered to the north and east by Brazil (3,403 km / 2,115 mi), to the southeast by Paraguay (753 km / 468 mi), to the south by Argentina (942 km / 585 mi), to the southwest by Chile (942 km / 585 mi), and to the northwest by Peru (1,212 km / 753 mi).
3. The highest point in Bolivia is 6,542 m (21,463 ft) above sea level.
Nevado Sajama is an extinct stratovolcano in western Bolivia that stands an impressive 6,542 m (21,463 ft) above sea level. It is part of the western volcanic mountain range in the Andes.
4. Bolivia is home to the world’s largest salt flats.
Located in southwestern Bolivia, the spectacular Salar de Uyuni is by far the world’s largest salt flat, at over 10,500 km² (4.050 sq mi) in area. It formed as a result of prehistoric lakes that evaporated long ago. Salar de Uyuni is so flat that NASA uses its surface to calibrate sensors on board satellites!
During the dry season, from May to October, the dazzling salt surface shines with such intense whiteness, that it seems like ice or snow. When it’s covered in water after rain (November to April), the Salar transforms into the world’s largest mirror that reflects the surrounding mountain peaks. It’s often difficult to tell where the land ends and the sky begins.
Salar de Uyuni is believed to contain a majority of the world’s lithium (the element responsible for powering laptops, smartphones, and electric cars) reserves. It is also home to the world’s first salt hotel.
5. Bolivia has two capitals.
This is one of the fun facts about Bolivia. Bolivia is one of the few countries in the world with two capitals: The seat of government and executive capital is La Paz, while Sucre is the constitutional capital and the seat of the judiciary.
After Bolivia attained independence in 1825, Sucre was made the capital. This was largely due to Sucre’s proximity to the silver mines in the nearby mountains, which were vital to the Bolivian economy. However, it wasn’t long before La Paz began to emerge as its own important tin mining city. Over time, La Paz’s tin industry overtook the silver industry near Sucre and the city eventually became more important to Bolivia for economic purposes.
In 1899, Bolivia’s Liberal Party and Conservative Party clashed in a struggle for political power. The Liberal Party was backed largely by the tin mine owners of La Paz. Sucre’s silver mine owners backed the Conservative Party. When the Liberals overthrew the Conservatives, they bid to move the country’s seat of government to La Paz.
Ultimately, they reached a compromise. La Paz would become the seat of the executive and legislative branches of government. Sucre would remain the seat of the judicial branch. Today, Sucre remains the only capital of Bolivia listed in the Bolivian constitution. However, La Paz is the administrative or de facto capital in many circles.
6. Bolivia is home to the world’s highest navigable lake.
Lake Titicaca, which Bolivia shares with Peru, is the highest navigable lake in the world. Lake Titicaca has a surface elevation of 3,812 m (12,507 ft) and is the largest lake in South America by volume of water and by surface area.
7. Bolivia was under Spanish rule for nearly 300 years.
In 1538, the Spaniards defeated Inca forces near Lake Titicaca, allowing penetration into central and southern Bolivia. The struggle for Bolivian independence started in 1809 and after 16 years of war, Bolivia declared itself a sovereign republic on 6 August 1825. During the era of Spanish rule, Bolivia was known as ‘Upper Peru’.
8. From 1867 to 1938, Bolivia lost about half its original territory.
This is one of the most fascinating facts about Bolivia. At the time of independence, Bolivia had twice as much land as it has today (well over 2 million sq km). Unfortunately between the years 1867 and 1938, Bolivia suffered the ignominy of squandering about half its territory to its neighbors due to bad decisions and wars. These wars were primarily fought over Bolivia’s rich natural resources.
For much of its existence, Bolivia has been characterized by political chaos, presided over by a cavalcade of dictators and military strongmen. Arguably, the most notorious of these opportunists was General Mariano Melgarejo, who ruled
as a dictator from 1864 to 1871. In 1867, during one of his drunken brawls, he traded a huge parcel of Bolivia’s northernmost territory in the Amazon Basin to Brazil for a horse! Today, this region still produces most of Brazil’s rubber.
Bolivia formerly owned part of the Atacama Desert and a long strip of Chilean coastline, including the port of Antofagasta. However, upon learning that Bolivia’s desert coastal strip was rich in guano, nitrate, and copper deposits, the Chileans decided they wanted it. After four years of battle in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), Bolivia lost the war, its territory, and tragically its only ocean access.
Next, Bolivia lost the territory of Puna de Atacama to Argentina. In 1932, Bolivia clashed with neighboring Paraguay over an inhospitable region, the Gran Chaco — then thought to be rich in petroleum. The war lasted three long years and claimed the lives of over 100,000 men. Bolivia again lost and Paraguay took about 75% of the Chaco that had previously belonged to Bolivia.
9. Bolivia is named after Simón Bolívar.
Bolivia is named after Simón Bolívar, the great Venezuelan military leader known as “The Liberator”. Bolívar was one of the most important leaders of South America’s successful struggle for independence against Spain. He is credited with contributing decisively to the independence of the present-day countries of Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama.
10. Christianity is the major religion in Bolivia.
Bolivia is a predominantly Christian country. The majority of the population identifies as Roman Catholic (≈70-75%), while approximately 15-20% identify as Protestant. The remainder of the Bolivian population is either irreligious or belongs to other religions.
11. Bolivia is very multiethnic.
The Bolivian population consists of three main groups—Native Bolivians (indigenous people), mestizos (of mixed indigenous and European descent), and people of European & Middle Eastern descent. Due to centuries of intermixing, it is difficult to determine the proportion of each, but it is estimated that mestizos form more than two-thirds of the total, native Bolivians make up about one-fifth, and people of European & Middle Eastern ancestry (whites) account for about 5% of the population.
The largest indigenous groups are the Aymara and the Quechua. White Bolivians are mostly of Spanish descent from the early settlers, but also those who arrived in the last 150 years from places like Germany, Croatia, Italy, Lebanon, and Syria. Bolivia is also home to small communities of Afro-Bolivians and Japanese Bolivians.
12. Bolivia has 37 official languages.
A cornucopia of languages is spoken in Bolivia. Spanish is by far the majority language spoken in Bolivia. It is the mother tongue for about 50-60% of Bolivia’s population and the majority of the population speaks it as a second language. Quechua and Aymara are the two biggest indigenous languages spoken in Bolivia and function as the mother tongue for about 35-45% of Bolivians.
Besides Quechua and Aymara, over 30 indigenous such as Bésiro-Chiquitano, Guaraní, Guarayu, Mojeño-Trinitari are spoken in Bolivia. Plautdietsch, a German dialect, and Portuguese are spoken by a minority of the Bolivian population.
13. Bolivia has two national flowers.
The Kantuta and Patuju are the two national flowers of Bolivia. The Kantuta is native to the western region of the country and the patuju is native to the eastern tropics of Bolivia. Both are red-yellow-green in color, like the Bolivian national flag.
14. The Llama is the national animal of Bolivia.
The Llama is the Bolivian national animal and is proudly shown on the coat of arms. Strong, tough, and capable of carrying massive loads, the llama has been bred and used as a pack animal by indigenous peoples of the Andes for thousands of years. It is also used for its dung-fuel, for meat, and for wool.
15. The Andean Condor is the national bird of Bolivia.
The Andean Condor features on Bolivia’s coat of arms. With a wingspan of over 3 m (10 ft), the Andean Condor is one of the world’s largest flying birds, making an unmistakable silhouette as it soars above the Andes mountains at altitudes of up to 6,500 m (21,325 ft).
16. Bolivia is home to the highest capital city in the world.
Well, sort of. Although not Bolivia’s constitutional capital, La Paz is the country’s executive capital and the seat of government. La Paz lies at an altitude of 3,640m (11,942ft), making it the highest capital city in the world.
17. Despite being landlocked Bolivia still maintains a navy.
Landlocked Bolivia maintains a standing navy of about 5,000 personnel, in preparation for the day it reconquers the coastline lost to Chile in the War of the Pacific in the late-19th century! The country has not reconciled with the loss of its Pacific coast and the existence of the Navy symbolizes the hope of regaining its coastal territory.
The loss of its coastline was a devastating loss to Bolivians and the country never stopped trying to get its shoreline back, arguing that lack of direct access to the ocean has hindered Bolivia’s economy. Bolivians are so focused on reclaiming what they lost, that each year on 23 March, they commemorate the “Day of the Sea,” which refers to the day on which Bolivia lost its access to the sea to Chile.
It is highly improbable that Bolivia will reclaim its territory in the near future. But that doesn’t hinder Bolivians from dreaming that one day they’ll be able to gaze out into the Pacific from a beach they can call their own.
18. Santa Cruz de la Sierra is the largest city in Bolivia.
Situated on the Pirai River in the eastern Tropical Lowlands of Bolivia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra (or just Santa Cruz) is the largest city in Bolivia. Santa Cruz is Bolivia’s economic powerhouse and generates more than one-third of the country’s GDP. The city is also home to Bolivia’s largest airport.
19. The national currency of Bolivia is the Bolivian boliviano (BOB).
The Bolivian boliviano (BOB) is the national currency of Bolivia. Although the most recent version of the boliviano was introduced in 1987, previous versions of the currency have existed since 1864.
20. 50-60% of the world’s Brazil Nuts supply comes from Bolivia.
Although Brazil is the top producer of Brazil nuts in the world, Bolivia is by far the world’s largest exporter, accounting for 50-60% of the global supply. The country is the world’s second-biggest producer of Brazil nuts.
21. Bolivia has had 17 constitutions since its foundation.
This is one of the wackiest facts about Bolivia. Chronically plagued by political turmoil, Bolivia has had 17 constitutions (fifth-most among nations), including the present one, since its independence in 1825.
22. Bolivia is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bolivia are the City of Potosí; Fuerte de Samaipata; Historic City of Sucre; Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos; Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System; Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Center of the Tiwanaku Culture; and Noel Kempff Mercado National Park.
23. In Bolivia, your marital status dictates your right to vote.
This is definitely one of the more amusing Bolivia facts. In many countries voting rights depend solely on a person’s age, but in Bolivia voting rights depend on a person’s age and marital status. In Bolivia, you are eligible to vote at the age of 18 if you are married! If you’re single, you’re not allowed to vote until you’re 21!
24. Football is the most popular sport in Bolivia.
No surprises here. Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in the country. The Bolivian men’s national football team has qualified for the FIFA World Cup only thrice – in 1930, 1950, and 1994. Their biggest success came in 1963 when they won the Copa América, the main men’s football tournament contested among national teams from South America.
25. The national flag of Bolivia has a depiction of its flag within the flag itself.
The Bolivian national flag is divided into three equal, horizontal bands of red, yellow, and green. The Bolivian coat of arms is centered in the middle yellow band. The national flag of Bolivia was adopted in 1851.
Each of the three colors found on Bolivia flags represents a different aspect of the nation’s character. The red band represents the blood shed during the battle for independence, the yellow band represents the nation’s rich mineral deposits or prosperity for the nation, and the green band represents the country’s fertility.
The distinctive Bolivian coat of arms represents the nation as a whole and its long heritage. It features a central cartouche surrounded by six Bolivian flags, muskets, laurel branches, an ax, a red Phrygian hood, and has an Andean condor on top.
26. Bolivia is home to the most dangerous road in the world.
The Yungas Road in Bolivia is often considered to be the most dangerous road in the world (or at least it used to be). Its infamous reputation has earned it the nickname “El Camino de la Muerte”, which translates to “The Road of Death.” This deadly 64 km (40 mi) stretch of road runs between the city of La Paz and the town of Coroico. Cut into the Cordillera Oriental Mountain Chain, the Yungas Road was constructed in the 1930s by the Paraguayan prisoners of the Chaco War.
The Yungas Road begins in La Paz, at 3,600 m (11,800 ft) above sea level and rises 20 kilometers to an altitude of 4,700 m (15,420 ft). From there it descends continuously to 1,200 m (3,935 ft) near the town of Coroico.
In most places, the road is no more than four meters (13 feet) across and looks like a small ribbon draped around a steep, never-ending cliff. It is unsealed, dusty, bumpy, and with sheer drops that would make anyone behind the wheel sweat! Falling rocks from the towering cliffs above the road and mudslides are also an ever-present threat.
Until 2006, the Yungas Road was the sole option for traveling from Coroico to La Paz. Nearly 300 people were killed here every year until the mid-1990s. Fortunately, in the last 20 years, the fatality rate on the Yungas Road has drastically decreased thanks to the work done to improve road conditions that made it so lethal.
27. Bolivia doesn’t observe daylight saving.
Daylight saving has never been observed in Bolivia.
28. Capital punishment is outlawed in Bolivia.
Although the last execution in Bolivia took place in 1974, Bolivia fully abolished the death penalty in 2013.
29. Conscription is mandatory in Bolivia.
Military service is compulsory in Bolivia for all men between the ages of 18 and 22.
30. Bolivia is home to the second tallest statue of Jesus Christ in the world.
Here’s one of the random facts about Bolivia. The Christ of Peace (Cristo de la Concordia) in the city of Cochabamba is the second tallest statue of Jesus in the world and the third-largest statue in the Southern Hemisphere. The statue is slightly smaller than Christ the King statue in Świebodzin, Poland
Modeled after the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the Christ of Peace statue is 34.2 m (112.2 ft) tall, on a pedestal of 6.24 m (20.5 ft), for a total height of 40.44 m (132.7 ft).
31. Bolivia has never won a medal at the Olympics.
Bolivia is the only South American country to have never won a medal at the Olympics.
32. It is legal to grow Coca leaves in Bolivia.
Coca production in Bolivia dates back to 3000 BC. Coca leaves were sacred to the Incas and were given by Inca royalty to the gods. It is quite common to see Bolivian people chewing coca leaves, drinking coca tea, or eating coca sweets. Coca leaves are used to decrease the sensation of hunger, alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness, but also for ceremonial purposes.
33. Bolivians have some weird beliefs and customs.
This is one of our favorite Bolivia facts. The fusion between indigenous religions and Catholicism has left Bolivia with a slew of bizarre customs and beliefs that are perplexing to outsiders. Some of our favorite Bolivian beliefs are:
- Burying llama fetuses under houses in order to curry favor with mother nature
- Pouring alcohol over cars as a blessing
- Punching your friends in the hopes of a good harvest
- Reading the future through coca leaves
- Decorating the real-life skulls of deceased humans in the belief that their souls will bring good fortune and protection
34. In 2009, Bolivia officially changed its name from “Republic of Bolivia” to “Plurinational State of Bolivia”.
In 2009, Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president promulgated a change to the Bolivian constitution, recognizing in statute the multicultural nature of Bolivia and the inclusion of the Indigenous people of 36 cultural nationalities.
The new constitution changed the official name of the country from the Republic of Bolivia to the Plurinational State of Bolivia in order to dignify the diversity of Indigenous people that make up Bolivia.
35. Bolivia has the second-largest natural gas reserves in South America.
After Venezuela, Bolivia has South America’s second-largest natural gas reserves. It is one of the nation’s main energy sources and export products.
36. Bolivia drives on the right.
Vehicles in Bolivia drive on the right side of the road.