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Cultural and Historical Tours in Bolivia
Touching the Sky: Sacred Lakes, Mountains and Glaciers
Up in the clouds. Close to the stars. Touching the sky. That is what we call this region, the Altiplano, bathed in the sacred waters of Titicaca and beneath the majestic peaks of the Andes. And in it is La Paz, the city of the "starry sky", the ancient Tiwanaku and a never-ending chain of high mountains and spectacular glaciers.
La Paz is the most important city in Bolivia. Situated at an altitude of over 3,640 meters, it is also the highest capital in the world. lt is a metropolis of narrow streets and unique topographical features, and from where the majestic lllimanI can be observed. In La Paz, the most important of all the Andean cities of Aymará origin, the most ancient and the most modern are combined to perfection. The modernity of its wide avenues exists alongside the ethnic variety and different customs of its population. Colonial and republican architecture remains intact alongside newer buildings that symbolize the city's progress. The original center of the city is the Plaza Murillo and its surroundings take the visitor back to the colonial era. The main street, a wide thoroughfare built along the river bank, is called El Prado, and nearby there are several indigenous markets – half of the population are descendants of the original Indian inhabitants – that fill the streets with stalls selling absolutely everything, making this area the picturesque centerpiece of the city. In the hearth of the old town and surrounded by colonial streets is the “Witches’s Market”, where traditional healing charms of the Kallawaya culture are sold.
The Moon Valley
This disturbing place is very near to La Paz, a valley with a unique lunar appearance. Erosion has formed an amazing labyrinth of small gorges, sharp pinnacles and surprising stalagmites. The result is an area which is strangely and enormously beautiful, to which many citizens come to get away from the pressures of the capital.
A beautiful transition area between the cold and dry Altiplano and the Amazon lowlands. A wide range of tropical fruits, coffee, sugar cane, cocoa and coca grow all year round thanks to the rainy climate.
A wide plateau with north-south and east-west mountain ranges, some at an altitude of more than 3,500 meters and covering an area of over 100,000 square kilometres. It is a hydro-graphic basin which affects the entire country’s climate. Its geographic predominance is such that Bolivia is often known as the “Country of the Altiplano”. It is not unusual to see herds of sheep and llamas gazing on the immense natural prairies.
lt would not be going too far to say that there is no other natural landmark that is as shrouded in myth and legend as the Sacred Lake or Titicaca. Among these tales is the one that tells of its waters, the refuge of the Sun and the Moon, being left in darkness for several days when the gods of creation were stranded in a food. Another legend states that the lake, “the mother of all waters”, was formed from the tears of the Sun God when pumas devoured his sons. Titikaka is the highest navigable lake in the world, 3810 meters above sea level, and the largest in South America with 8300 square kilometres. The influence of this lake has led to continuous human settlement both on its shores and islands, leaving valuable archaeological remains, such as those that can be seen on the islands of the Sun, the Moon and the Copacabana peninsula.
The architecture of the island of the Sun dates to the pre-Columbian era. Only the Chosen Few and the Virgins of the Sun live on the Island of the Moon. Their homes maintain their unique, subtle and beautiful appearance with their doors facing the snow capped Illampu mountain in testimony to the indigenous people’s esoteric religion.
The city of Copacabana is located between two hills that offer impressive views of the lake. Its principal attractions the huge, white Cathedral, built between and 1678. Other important islands are Suriqui and Kalahuta which, according to legend, used to have an underground network of funnels that connected the island to the capital of the Empire, Cuzco, in Peru.
Making one’s way across the water in one of the surprisingly resistant watertight reed boats (totora) is one of the most magical experiences possible to enjoy.
Its inhabitants, descendants of the Aymara Indians, still practice their traditional native dances.
Known as the "Birthplace of American Men", Tiwanaku is the capital of the Tiwanakota culture, which was at its strongest three centuries before Christ. It is72 km away from La Paz, not far from Lake Titicaca. The remains of this ancient civilization still exist in megalithic form, with symbolic inscriptions that still have not been deciphered. The quality of the stonework, ceramics and, most especially, of the hydraulic engineering that was used, are the reasons why these ruins are considered the most important of all those that document the history of Andean culture. The origins of this civilization, whose ruins have been partially restored, are shrouded in mystery. Some believe that it is an affirmation of Aymara culture, while other believe that it was the refuge of the Atlantes. There have even been suggestions that they came about as a result of massive migrations of people from Asia who built their city here.
According to archaeological studies, some150.000 people lived here, more than in any other city in the world at the time. Among its great monuments are the Akapana and Puma Punku, the semi subterranean Temple, the famous Puerta del Sol, the Ponce Monolith and the temanins of Kantataita, Putuni and Kerikala, where some 30 hectares have been excavated.
From La Paz, several impressive and snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Real can be reached, most of which are over 6000 meters high: Illimani, Huayna Potosí, Condoriri, Illampu.
Modern Facilities and History
The modern world and history meet in the region consisting of the town of Santa Cruz and the area around, where Jesuit missions are common. The untouched nature of the villages, the large livestock ranches, the archaeological sites and the craftsmanship...all form part of its attraction.
Santa Cruz de la Sierra was founded by Ñuflo de Chavez in 1561.
A walk through the town's old center takes you past the City Cultural Hall (Casa Municipal de Cultura), the University's Auditorium (Paraninfo), the History Museum, the Social Club, the metropolitan Cathedral and the Departmental Prefecture and City Hall, among other places. The church was reconstructed in 1770, and in 1838, during Mariscal Andrés de Santa Cruz's government, the old church was replaced by an eclectically styled new one, designed by the French architect Phillippe Bestres. Due to the modern hotel accommodation and tourist services that it offers, Santa Cruz is the ideal base for cultural tours.
Chiquitanía and the Jesuit Missions
Several jungle tribes lived in the marvelous Chiquitos area in the pre-Columbus era, and were evangelized by Company of Jesus missionaries who built Spanish villages in the middle of thick jungle. Their value is mainly in their churches' architecture, a mixed Baroque in style, decorated with murals, golden altars and marvelous altarpieces cut in gold plated woods, pulpits, chests and stunning columns. The result was marvelous churches like San Javier, Concepción, San Rafael, San Miguel, Santa Ana, and San José de Chiquitos, declared part of Humanity's Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. The indigenous skills of the Chiquitanos can be seen in several forms of craftsmanship, such as wood cuttings, weaving, pottery, basket making and the making of musical instruments.
The beauty of the surrounding means that its real name translates as the Village in the Valley of Purification. Founded in colonial times, among its main attractions are the church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria and the Provinces' Archaeological Museum. However, the main attraction is undoubtedly the Fort, or as it has been recently called, the Ceremonial Centre, which is the epicenter of the archaeological sites in the entire valleys area, of world-wide importance in terms of size and quality. lt is a pre-Colombian monument of sculpted stone, immense in size and value, 200m long, 60m wide and 23m in length, in which interesting zoomorphic figures can be seen.
Colonial wealth: silver and dinosaurs
Sucre and Potosí are considered part of humanity's cultural heritage and are the hub of this region where colonial inheritance, the historic past and, of course, the remains of the old silver-producing mines, are the main tourist attraction. There is also the chance to see areas of great natural beauty and indigenous villages that will take you closer to popular traditions and customs.
The constitutional capital of Bolivia, part of humanity’s historical and cultural heritage and a city that stands as a monument of America, there is no lack of adjectives to describe Sucre’s unequaled colonial beauty. It was founded in 1538 under the name of La Plata, and is now the country’s official capital. In 1776, the city was renamed Charcas. ln the colonial period, it was the most important center of the Spanish empire in this part of Latin America. On August the 6th 1825, independence was declared and the new Republic of Bolivia was created, named after the freedom fighter Simon Bolivar.
The city was renamed Sucre. From its founding to the present day, the city has been famous for its artistic leanings and its ability to bring together works by leading Bolivian and international artists, as can be seen by the quantity and quality of monuments and works of art there.
Important institutions, such as the Archbishopric of La Plata, (now Chuquisaca), the Universidad Mayor Real y Pontificia de San Francisco Xavier de Chuquisaca university, the seat or the Charcas Court and later the Bolivian Government, and the presence of the Supreme Court of Justice attracted a number of influential and educated people to rh city who created and defined its spirit. At 2830 metre above sea level, Sucre today is a peaceful town.
The constitutional character of its capital city status is accentuated even further by the presence of the San Francisco Xavier University, one of the oldest in America. The Casa de la Libertad (Freedom House), one of the country's most symbolic buildings where the Declaration of Independence was signed, is situated there. Around the place there is also the sixteenth-century Cathedral. Other religious buildings, such as the La Merced, San Francisco, San Miguel and Recoleta churches are true architectural jewels that must not be missed.
The area around Sucre has a great deal of paleontological value. Not far from Sucre, there are the dinosaur tracks at Cal'orcko that are an area of great scientific attraction, with over 20 different types of tracks in pieces of rock that are over 800 m long and 60 m wide. Dinosaur tracks can also be seen at the Farallón de Orepajla, and in the vicinity of the town of Quila Quila.
The Market at Tarabuco.
65 km from Sucre is one of the most traditional markets in the Andes. Despite the village of Tarabuco being constructed for strategic reasons – to block access to the pass to Chiriguano Indian expeditions - it is today famous for its market and inhabitants, who preserve their special ethnic features of slender faces and tallness. The Sunday market takes place in the center of the village and attracts the Indians from the surrounding areas. Everyone wears dark red striped ponchos, and a helmet made from heat treated leather (montera) in imitation of the conquistadores.
Situated at more than 4000 meter above sea level, the town of Potosi is one of the highest in the world. Its history is closely linked to that of silver. In the sixteenth century, it was one of the most desolate places in the foothills of the Andes. With neither means of communication nor organized agriculture, it found itself in a recently discovered, hostile world. But there was the silver mountain that would produce the economic miracle that would radically transform the European economy. One of the great attractions is the legendary Cerro Rico de Potosí, or mining mountain, which dominates the town and its mines. Currently silver is still being extracted from them.
The hill has more than 5.000 entrances to the mines and tunnels, a lot of them interconnected. The silver led to the creation of the Casa Real de la Moneda (the Royal Mint), which is undoubtedly the most important building in civil colonial architecture in Latin America. Construction probably started in 1750 and continued for 23 years at enormous cost. The Pinacoteca, the furniture, textile, regional clothing, coin and anthropology collections provide the visitor and student with many educational opportunities.
Particularly outstanding are the silver plating machines, with their three wooden gears that were brought over from Spain and which are still capable of minting coins, the enormous cedar beams supporting storeys and roofs, and the elliptic dome containing the main oven used in the melting of the silver. Also, of interest is the archive containing more than 80.000 documents pertaining to life in Potosi.
At the end of the sixteenth century, Potosi was the most populous city on the planet.
It is estimated that during the colonial period, the mining center supplied Spain with more than 50.000 million dollars, such was the abundance of silver extracted by its inhabitants. Historians calculate that during three centuries of the colonial era, 8 million Africans and Indians lost their lives in these mines. A walk through the narrow streets of the Villa Imperial (Imperial City) is a truly marvelous experience. Time seems to have come to a standstill in the towers of its churches.
ln 1987, UNESCO declared it to be part of humanity's natural and cultural heritage, affirming its "exceptional and universal value that must be protected as an asset belonging to each and every one of us".
The old town center is an exact reproduction of a sixteenth century Spanish town, with a church every two blocks, narrow cobbled streets with closed overhanging balconies, and intricate patterns sculpted in the wood.