Bolivia’s mountain ranges and environments

At 1,098, 581 km2, Bolivia is over eight times the size of England, smaller than Peru, and half the size of Argentina. The Andes interject into the south west of Bolivia, with an average altitude of 3,750 metres (12,300 feet).

The Bolivian Andes are split in two mountain ranges: the western "Cordillera Occidental" is shared with Peru and Chile. The highest peaks are on the border with Chile where there is a chain of dormant volcanoes emitting sulphurous gases.

The eastern range "Cordillera Oriental" tends to be lower with fertile valleys that contain the cities of Cochabamba, Sucre and Tarija, at altitudes between 1,700- 3,000m. A northern section called the Royal Range ("Cordillera Real") features peaks above 6,000m, two of which overlook the city of La Paz. (Illimani - 6.439m and Illampu - 6,368m).

Between these two ranges lies the Altiplano, the most extensive area of high plateau on earth after Tibet. The Altiplano covers most of southwest Bolivia, hosting two important National Parks: Sajama and Eduardo Avaroa. In both you will be able to see the Andean flamingo, the puna or James's flamingo, and the Chilean flamingo.

Lake Titicaca, La Paz, Uyuni and the whole Altiplano are surrounded by the even higher central dry puna at an average altitude of 3,800-4,200m. This is where you find the famous Uyuni salt flats, one of Bolivia's most striking attractions - superb for scenery and stargazing.

Down from the eastern flank of the eastern range is the "tropical Andes". Here, between 3,500-4,500m, there are pockets of enchanting Polylepis woodland home to a host of endemic birds, mammals and flora and to the near-critically endangered royal cinclodes bird.

The eastern slopes of the eastern range drop very dramatically down through Yungas cloudforest to temperate woodland and low-lying rainforests and savannas. The word 'Yungas' comes from 'Yunka' in the local Quechua language and means "warm area on the slopes of the Andes". This is a tremendously biodiverse region and is probably the most rewarding area for birders to visit as it is home to many of Bolivia's endemics. The fabled cyclists' Death Road which runs from Coroico in the Cordillera Real to La Paz is found here (there is also a safe modern road linking these points).

Beyond the Yungas slopes, to the north and northwest, Bolivia offers a vast areas of low-land Amazonian rainforest, interspersed with patches of wetland called the Llanos de Mojos, these two regions represent 60% of Bolivia's land surface.

Heading southeast from Santa Cruz we reach the low, dry Chaco, characterised by scrub and cacti and in the border area with Paraguay. The extremely challenging environment of the Gran Chaco is bone dry for nine months of the year, flooding in the wet season.

Start planning your trip to Bolivia

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