From the archaeological site at El Fuerte de Samaipata to the isolated train graveyard outside Uyuni, there’s a range of brilliant historical places in Bolivia to explore. Whether you want to visit museums such as the National Mint of Bolivia or make day trips to incredible ruins like those of Tiwanaku, these are the top historic sites in Bolivia.
Tiwanaku is an impressive archaeological site housing the capital of pre-Inca empire. Much about Tiwanaku remains a mystery and the subject of ongoing academic debate.
The people of Tiwanaku built a magnificent city spanning approximately 2.3 square kilometres with monuments, temples, homes and public buildings. It was still flourishing in 900 AD, however by the time it was discovered by the Incas in the mid-fifteenth century, it was entirely abandoned, probably having declined in the twelfth century.
That which remains is incredible and has resulted in much excited speculation over the years. For example, the many carved heads on the “Templete” or Small Semi-Subterranean Temple were probably meant to represent humans, but have been said to resemble aliens. This has led to some ‘alternative’ theories as to who – or what – built Tiwanaku.
Today, Tiwanaku is a popular tourist site and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitor can view its many monuments, gates – such as the well-known Gateway of the Sun – and statues, all of which attest to the importance of this once ceremonial city.
Just outside the town of Uyuni, in Bolivia, lies the train graveyard. Here lie the remains of dozens of steam engines, dumped when the railways in South America were dismantled. It is literally the end of the line.
The railway system was built in the middle of the 19th century by mainly European engineers, to join the east of of the continent to the west,a huge and ambitious task, having to cross the Andes to reach Chile, but the steam engines became obsolete and were discarded at Uyuni.
These beautiful old steam engines lie, unloved and rarely visited, preserved by the dry air of the cold desert. Uyuni is quite isolated, and it is advisable to go with someone who is familiar with the area. There is no charge for a visit.
San Vicente Museum, also known as the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Memorial Museum, lies in a small mining town in Bolivia which is believed to be the site of the last stand of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Although legends have grown up around this pair of bank robbers, it is almost certain that they met their end here on November 7th 1908, at this small and insignificant town about a four hour drive along a dirt track from Uyuni.
There are no paved roads in this part of Southern Bolivia. The landscape is bleak, and the altitude is high on this pilgrimage to the sad end of Butch and Sundance, (or not, if you believe the legends) so romantically played in the 1969 film by Paul Newman and Robert Redford. If you do make it to the end of the trail, you are rewarded by a small museum with some facts and photos of these outlaws.
El Fuerte de Samaipata is an archaeological site whose name translates to Fort Samaipata and includes the buildings of Chanè, Inca, and Spanish cultures. It was likely originally built by a pre-Inca people known as the Chanè around 300 AD.
As well as the remains of a Spanish settlement with buildings resonant of Arab Andalusian architecture, the site contains the remains of an Inca plaza as well as residences. These date from the 15th and 16th centuries. This makes the Inca site contemporary with the eastward expansion of the Inca empire from the Andes towards the foothills.
The National Mint of Bolivia, or Casa Nacional de la Moneda, is located in the city of Potosí and linked to the huge silver mine at Cerro Rico that was a major supply of silver for the Spanish Empire.
It was constructed between 1753 and 1773 and today is one of the most impressive museums in Bolivia and South America. Visitors to the National Mint are able to view a range of religious paintings from an artistic school originating in Potosí, as well as the machinery that turned silver into coins.