Culture in Bolivia
Travel to Bolivia is well-known for stunning ecological diversity, a rich culture, and beautiful sights. You’ll have a chance to explore ancient ruins, deserts, mountains, jungles, and of course, the famous Uyuni Salt Flats.
Between your tours and glimpses of the natural wonders, there is more to be discovered. Many of the countries in South America have a unique history and culture. Bolivia is no different.
Culture in Bolivia is unique in that the people still hold on to many of their indigenous influences. However, there is always an inescapable undertone of colonial culture that comes from years of Spanish colonization. All of their historic periods starting in pre-colonial times, moving through Spanish colonialism, and then their independence represents a combination of ancient customs and Spanish influence.
The Bolivian people are a warm, welcoming community that is rich with tradition. Your Bolivian adventure would not be complete without a look into what the culture in Bolivia has to offer.
Traditional Bolivian Cuisine
One of the best ways to experience culture in any part of the world is traditional cuisine. Bolivian cuisine is unique and certain dishes may seem simple to some, while other delicacies will not be for the faint of heart.
All of their food follows their historical influence of the indigenous people’s staples such as potatoes, corn, quinoa, and beans. Mix that up with their Spanish influences to add in rice, chicken, beef, and wheat.
Although their Spanish immigrants had the most influence, other immigrant populations changed the food scene too. You can expect to notice some dishes that have a slight Italian, German, Polish, or even Croatian flair to them.
One of the most traditional dishes in Bolivia consists of a plate of rice and boiled potatoes topped with a flat cut of meat, chopped tomatoes, onions, cooked beets, parsley, and a fried egg. This traditional dish is commonly called Silpancho.
A few other food staples you can expect to see in Bolivia include Cuy (whole roasted guinea pig), pique a lo macho (grilled beef and sausage), and Lechón (suckling pig).
Religion, in many Spanish cultures, is a massive part of their culture. Over 90% of their population in Bolivia identifies themselves as being Christian, and the most widely practiced form of Christianity is Catholicism.
During the Spanish colonization of the area, the Catholic church had powerful ties to government and authority. The impact of this suppressed much of the indigenous people’s religious practices, however, a minority of the current population practice indigenous religion.
You will see Catholic influences in their architecture and other customs.
Quite a few of the most popular Bolivian festivals revolve around religion. One of the famous festivals is tied to the religion of indigenous groups. This festival is called Carnaval de Oruro and is held in February each year.
Dating back to pre-colonial times, the festival celebrates the people’s pilgrimage to the mountains of Oruro. When the Spanish took power, the Uru people were prohibited from practicing their religious celebrations. So, they added Catholic undertones to continue this age-old festival.
Now, the Caraval de Oruro draws hundreds of thousands of participants each year and is a celebration of not only the pilgrimage of the Uru but of art, religion, and tradition as well.
While Spanish is the official language of Bolivia, it is spoken only by about 70% of the population. The traditional languages of Quechua and Aymara are preferred by many Bolivians, especially in rural areas or while bartering at markets. Almost everyone knows Spanish, but you can expect it to be widely used as a second language.
With the advent of international travel and tourism in many cities, you can expect tour guides and hotel attendants to know English. Other indigenous languages are spoken as well.
When you’re wandering around the metro and urban areas of Bolivia, you will see most citizens wearing very western clothing styles. As you venture further into rural corners of the country, more traditional clothing will be apparent.
Women will often be seen wearing long, pleated skirts dyed naturally in many colors. These skirts are called pollera. Depending on the time of year, women will also wear layers of clothing like sweaters, a shall, and a hat.
Traditional clothing for men is much simpler and will involve ponchos and vests.
Bolivia has so much to offer! Any adventure enthusiast, history buff, or foodie will be able to find a tour that suits their interests. To learn more, check out all of our Bolivia tours here.