If you're going to call yourself "Island of the Sun", you had better be pretty awesome. Island of the Tick and Sock Isle, you guys can go ahead and suck: we're not expecting much from you. But an island named after the entity around which our world rotates, which provides warmth and life to everything on the planet? You had better be freaking amazing. And with some crazy Inca ruins, a central role in ancient mythology, and a gorgeous setting in the world's highest navigable lake, the Isla del Sol definitely delivers.
Pachamama plays a big part in the ancient Andean religions. The benevolent earth goddess is still worshiped throughout the highlands of Bolivia. She controls the harvest, and demands frequent rituals to be performed in her honor. For example, before drinking chicha, Bolivians spill a bit onto the ground. First drink goes to Pachamama. Llamas are also sacrificed and incense burnt in her honor.
Cochabamba lays in the middle of Bolivia, both in terms of latitude and altitude. The biggest city of the country's extensive valley range, it boasts Bolivia's best climate and is known as its "breadbasket". Surrounded by mountains and in easy reach of national parks and the jungle, there are plenty of things to see. All of which makes the lack of tourism in Cochabamba nothing less than astounding.
We went up for the Lucha Libre, and returned to experience the gigantic market which takes place every Thursday and Sunday. Anything you can imagine is on sale here. It might be easier to list the things you can't buy in El Alto's market: javelins, circus elephants, wine bottles filled with rat heads, and midget fetish porn. That's it, and actually, I'm not so sure on that last one.
If you're looking for a cheap and cool place to stay, here are three Bolivian hostels and hostals we can recommend in some of the country's coolest cities: La Paz, Potosí and Sucre.
Two-thirds of the way up the hill which eventually ends in El Alto, you can find the viewing point Andina Jach'a Kollo. Just don't trust your map or taxi driver to get you there.
About 40 minutes south of La Paz, a bizarre landscape of eroded rock and clay takes shape. Known as the Valle de la Luna, the jagged hills and crags seem to belong in a science fiction film, and not so near a major city. A small park allows visitors to explore the area from within.
We recently attended the famous Lucha Libre at a sports facility in El Alto. Bolivians are wild for wrestling. Posters of famous American wrestlers are everywhere, and you can't go a block in La Paz without seeing seeing it on a curbside television set. Bolivia doesn't have a professional league on the same level as the USA's WWE, but El Alto's Sunday afternoon Lucha Libre makes a solid substitute.
One of the more famous areas in La Paz is the Mercado de Hechecería, or The Witches' Market, found on Calle Santa Cruz and Linares, near the Iglesia de San Francisco. Here, shops and street vendors sell totems, trinkets and talismans, meant to appease the gods of sun and earth. The sheer number of shops speaks to the stubborn persistence of a religion the Catholics weren't able to uproot, despite their best, bloody efforts.
Basically, any spot in La Paz can be used a makeshift viewing point. Just raise your eyes off the ground and there's the massive Illimani Mountain towering over the southeast. Looking up towards the west provides a view of El Alto, Bolivia's fastest growing city, stretching haphazardly across the cliff. And if you drive into El Alto, the panorama of the city below is unmatched. Though La Paz itself can be grimy, polluted and uninspiring from an architectural standpoint, I doubt any other city in the world provides as many incredible picture-taking opportunities.