A visit to Tiwanaku will take you back in time to an impressive city built by an extremely technologically advanced pre-Inca society. The Tiwanaku culture is believed to have lasted for 28 centuries, from 1600 B.C. to A.D. 1200. In this time, they created some of the most impressive stone monoliths in the world, developed a sophisticated irrigation system, and gained an advanced understanding of astronomy and the workings of the sun. Their territory spread from northern Argentina and Chile through Bolivia to the south of Peru. These people never came into contact with the Incas. By the time the Incas made it to Peru, a 100-year drought had ravaged the Titicaca area. The Tiwanaku people had long ago left the region in small groups and moved to different areas in the Altiplano or valleys.
Stop in at the museum before you visit the site. The Incas and the Spaniards destroyed the site while searching for gold and silver, and even the most respected archaeologists disagree on the meanings of the monoliths and the sun gate. But when you actually see these impressive structures firsthand, you can't help but stand in awe and wonderment of the amazing achievements of this pre-Columbian society. You gain a deep insight into the daily life and rituals of the people who inhabited this area for thousands of years. Highlights of the site include the Semi-Underground Temple, the Kalassaya, and the Akapana (pyramid). The museum and the archaeological site are open daily from 9am to 4:30pm. Admission is Bs15.
Getting There -- Tiwanaku is located 1 1/2 hours outside La Paz. I strongly recommend coming here on a guided tour. Diana Tours, Sagárnaga 326 (tel. 0102/2350-252), organizes English-speaking tours to Tiwanaku for only Bs70, not including the Bs15 site admission fee. Crillon Tours, Av. Camacho 1233 (tel. 0102/2337-533), also arranges tours to the area. If you prefer to visit on your own, Trans Tours Tiwanaku, Calle José Aliaga, operates buses that stop at Tiwanaku. The buses leave from the Cementerio District every half-hour from 8am to 4:30pm. The ride costs Bs8.
Madidi National Park
Ranging from 180 to 5,600m (590-18,368 ft.) and covering nearly 19,000 sq. km (7,410 sq. miles), Madidi National Park is one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. Connecting with the Tambopata National Reserve across the border in Peru, the park hosts approximately 900 species of birds, 156 species of mammals, 71 species of reptiles, and thousands of rare plants. There's a healthy jaguar population and the park is also home to the spectacled bear, numerous monkey species, and harpy eagles. The best accommodation is at Chalalan Ecolodge, 89 Sagarnaga St., Shopping Dorian, 2nd Floor, no. 22 in La Paz (tel. 0102/2311-451; www.chalalan.com), 5 hours up the Tuichi River. The lodge is completely owned and operated by the Quechua-Tacana indigenous group and in 2009 was called one of National Geographic Adventure's Top 50 eco-lodges. The 13 Tacana-style thatched cabins are rustic yet comfortable with private bathrooms, verandas with hammocks, and mosquito nets. A 4-day/3-night package, which includes 1 night in Ruurenabaque, transport to the lodge, activities, English-speaking guides, and all meals, runs $350 per person. It does not include transportation to Rurrenbaque. There's a Bs125 entrance fee to enter the national park.
Getting There -- Madidi is the most accessible of Bolivia's Amazon regions. Most trips start in the town of Rurrenabaque, accessible by either flight or road from La Paz. Amaszonas (tel. 0102/2222-0848; www.amaszonas.com) offers several daily flights from La Paz ($150 round-trip), though these are frequently delayed and canceled due to rain. You can go by bus or taxi from La Paz (10 hr.) and most tourist offices in La Paz can arrange the trip.
The Best of Los Yungas: Coroico
Coroico makes a popular side trip for visitors to La Paz, but you'll probably remember the journey better than the destination. The road to Coroico narrows to one unpaved lane twisting down through the mountains. To one side is the mountain, to the other, a sheer drop of often hundreds of feet to the lush valley below. There will be times when the passage is tight and your vehicle is only an inch or two from the edge; there will be other times when you round a blind curve and your driver, confronted by oncoming traffic, has to slam on the brakes.
When the ride is over and your heart rate has returned to normal, you may be surprised at the tranquillity of Coroico. The views of the surrounding hills are lovely, the nearby hiking trails are picturesque, the bars and restaurants in town are pleasant, and there are some worthwhile excursions; but there's really nothing here to take your breath away. Nonetheless, Coroico makes a wonderful contrast to La Paz. Here in this tropical town, you'll find fruit orchards, twittering birds, coca fields, endless greenery, oxygen-rich air, warm weather, and friendly locals. The climate here seems to put everyone in a better mood.
The town of Coroico itself isn't anything special, but it's a lot of fun to explore the lush, colorful surrounding area. You can take a half-day tour of Tocaña ★, a small Afro-Bolivian community about 7km (4 1/3 miles) downhill from Coroico. It feels as if not much has changed over the past few hundred years in this farming village, where the locals survive mainly by growing coca. Also nearby are the Vagante River Springs. Here you can swim under a waterfall and in beautiful pools of water. Vagantes Ecoaventuras, at the kiosk in the Coroico main plaza, provides guides (not always English speaking) and jeeps to Tocaña and Vagante River Springs. Note that the jeeps are open and the roads aren't paved, so you will get extremely dirty.
In the dry season, the rivers in the Coroico area become low and unsuitable for rafting. However, in January through March, the Coroico River runs wild. River levels range from Class III to Class V. Vagantes Ecoaventuras (at the kiosk in Coroico's main plaza, by Heroes del Chaco) organizes rafting and kayaking tours in the area.
Getting There -- Buses for Coroico leave La Paz on a frequent schedule from the Villa Fátima neighborhood, which is about 15 minutes by taxi from the center of La Paz (it costs about Bs9 for the cab ride to the station). Most of the bus companies are on Calle Yanacachi. One of the best is Yungueña (tel. 0102/2213-513; call ahead for the schedule); the ride costs Bs15 each way. I recommend leaving around 10am -- this way, you'll arrive in Coroico for lunch and then have the rest of the afternoon to walk around town or hang out by a pool. Buses depart less frequently in the afternoon (the last one leaves at about 4pm), but it's much nicer to travel during daylight and enjoy the view. Tip: Try to get a seat on the left side of the bus for the best views.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.