Official name: Republic of Bolivia
Area: 1,098,580 square kilometers (424,164 square miles)
Highest point on mainland : Mount Sajama (6,542 meters / 21,464 feet)
Lowest point on land: Paraguá River (90 meters / 295 feet)
Hemispheres : Southern and Western
Time zone: 8 A.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) from east to west; 1,530 kilometers (950 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries : 6,743 kilometers (4,190 miles) total boundary length; Argentina, 832 kilometers (517 miles); Brazil, 3,400 kilometers (2,113 miles); Chile, 861 kilometers (535 miles); Paraguay, 750 kilometers (466 miles); Peru, 900 kilometers (559 miles)
Territorial sea limits: None
Home to the world's highest capital city and highest commercially navigable lake, Bolivia has been called the "rooftop of the world." This landlocked country in south-central South America is the continent's fifth-largest nation. With an area of 1,098,580 square kilometers (424,164 square miles), it is almost three times the size of Montana.
Bolivia has no territories or dependencies.
Although Bolivia is a tropical country, its climate varies widely with differences in elevation and terrain. The high peaks of the Cordillera Occidental to the west have a cool climate, and cold winds blow in the Altiplano (the high plains separating Bolivia's two mountain ranges). In the northern Altiplano, however, the climate is moderated by Lake Titicaca. The valleys of the lower Cordillera Oriental have a semiarid Mediterranean-like climate; but the climate becomes semitropical in the Yungas region on the eastern slopes of these mountains, and tropical in the eastern lowlands. The mean annual temperature in the capital city of La Paz, at the edge of the Altiplano, is about 8°C (46°F), compared with mean temperatures of 16° to 19°C (60° to 68°F) in the Yungas region, and 26°C (79°F) in the city of Trinidad, in the eastern plains. A strong wind originating in the nearby Argentine pampas, called the surazo, can bring fierce storms and plunging temperatures in the winter months (June through August).
Like climate conditions in general, rainfall in Bolivia varies greatly by region, ranging from 13 centimeters (5 inches) or less in the southwest to over 152 centimeters (60 inches) in the Amazon basin to the northeast. Rainfall in the Yungas region on the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Oriental averages 76 centimeters (30 inches) to 127 centimeters (50 inches) annually; it is heaviest between December and February but falls year-round.
The southern part of the country has a long summer dry season that can last from four to six months, while the dry season in the northern areas is shorter. Flooding often occurs in the northeast in March and April.
The Andean highlands of southwest Bolivia cover roughly one-third of the country. They include the mountain ranges of the Eastern and Western Cordilleras, separated by a high plateau called the Altiplano. The remaining two-thirds of Bolivia are part of the Oriente, the country's northern and eastern tropical lowland region, which consists of forestland, savannahs, and marshes. At the far southeastern corner of the country lies the Bolivian portion of the Gran Chaco, a thinly populated plain that continues southward into Paraguay and northern Argentina.
Bolivia is landlocked.
Lake Titicaca straddles the Peruvian border in the north. At 3,805 meters (12,484 feet) above sea level, it is both South America's largest inland lake and the world's highest navigable body of water. Lake Titicaca has a length of 222 kilometers (138 miles) and a width of 113 kilometers (70 miles), and contains depths of up to 213 meters (700 feet). There are twenty-five islands in the lake. Southeast of Lake Titicaca and connected to it by the Desaguadero River, Lake Poopó is a shallow, salty body of brackish water with depths of 3 meters (10 feet) or less, and an area of around 386 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) when its waters are low. Bolivia also has several other large lakes, including Lake Rogoguado. Shallow lakes in the region of the Paraguá River in the east include Cáceres, Mandioré, Gaiba, and Uberaba. The water of Colorado Lake (Laguna Colorado) has a deep reddish color, caused by bacteria which thrive in its warm, volcanic waters.
Bolivia is drained by three different river systems. Flowing down from the Yungas area of the Cordillera Real, the Beni and Mamoré Rivers and the Mamoré's tributaries, including the Chaparé, Ichilo, and Grande, form part of the Amazon River system. These Amazon head-waters flow north to join the Madeira River beyond the border with Brazil. At Bolivia's western border, the Desaguadero River, the only major waterway on the surface of the Altiplano, flows southward from Lake Titicaca into Lake Poopó. Lake Poopó, in turn, drains into the Lacajahuira River. Farther south, the Pilcomayo River rises in the heart of the Yungas and flows southward to the border with Argentina and Paraguay to join the Paraguay River in Paraguay.
The region known as Gran Chaco that lies along the Paraguayan and Argentine borders is hot and dry.
Savannah grasslands cover much of the lowland Oriente region, which encompasses the eastern and northern two-thirds of Bolivia, or all the land east of the Eastern and Western Cordilleras. The region slopes from elevations of 610 to 762 meters (2,000 to 2,500 feet) at the foot of the Andes in the west to just 91 meters (300 feet) along parts of the Brazilian border.
The Andes Mountains reach both their greatest average elevations and their greatest width in Bolivia. The Bolivian Andes Mountains contain two mountain ranges separated by the high plateau called the Altiplano, which is the country's heartland.
On the west, the Cordillera Occidental (Western Cordillera), which forms the border with Chile, rises above 5,800 meters (19,000 feet), and includes Mount Sajama, Bolivia's highest peak. The chain also contains a number of both active and inactive volcanoes.
The Salar de Uyuni in southwest Bolivia is one of the world's largest (12,000 square kilometers/ 4,600 square miles in area) salt "lakes." During the dry season, vehicles can drive on its surface, which is firmer than sand. During the rainy season, the lake can still be traversed by four-wheel drive vehicles, since the water reaches depths of just 15 to 38 centimeters (6 to 15 inches). In the center of the salt plain lies a hotel, built of salt blocks with a thatched roof.
The layers of salt deposits are up to six meters (20 feet) thick. Villagers from Colchani harvest almost 90,000 kilograms (20,000 tons) of salt by chopping it up and shoveling it into piles. The salt is trucked into the village, where it is sifted and prepared for shipment by train to refiners, where it will be prepared for international sale.
The eastern arm of the Bolivian Andes is called either the Cordillera Oriental or Cordillera Real. The name Cordillera Real is often used to describe only that section of the range that extends northward from the environs of Cochabamba and Oruro. This part of the Andes, where the capital city of La Paz is located, includes the country's most dramatic peaks, with average heights of over 5,486 meters (18,000 feet) for more than 322 kilometers (200 miles). The best known of these summits are Illampu (6,553 meters/21,500 feet) and the triple crown of Illimani, which rises to 6,492 meters (21,300 feet) behind the city of La Paz. The eastern slopes of the northern Cordillera Oriental, called the Yungas, are rugged, steep, and densely forested; they descend swiftly to the eastern plains. South of the Yungas is an area of valleys and mountain basins called the Valles.
There are no notable canyons or caves in Bolivia.
The barren and forbidding landscape of the Altiplano extends southward for a distance of 804 kilometers (500 miles), with an average width of 50 kilometers (80 miles), and altitudes varying from 3,657 meters to 4,267 meters (12,000 to 14,000 feet). The Altiplano tilts upward from the center toward both the Eastern and Western Cordillera, and it descends gradually from north to south. The plateau floor is made up of sedimentary debris washed down from the adjacent mountains.
The Incan and pre-Incan ruins near Lake Titicaca on Bolivia's Altiplano are among the oldest in South America.
Bradt, Hilary. Peru and Bolivia: Backpacking and Trekking . Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1999.
Murphy, Alan. Bolivia Handbook . Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1997.
Swaney, Deanna. Bolivia: A Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit. 3 rd ed. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet Publications, 1996.