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palacio click on the image to enlarge
In pre-Columbian times, craft and artisanship were focused on architectural achievement, gold and silver ornaments, ceramics, and intricate weavings. The Incas introduced new systems of roads and aqueducts, hanging bridges, surgical and medical practices and songs and rituals. After the conquest, the Spanish brought their own traditions, art and ideas, which the locals developed into a distinctive style of architecture, painting, and sculpture known as "Mestizo Baroque." The era produced some skilled painters, sculptors, stonecutters, woodcarvers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths and is characterized by churches, religious paintings, sculptures, woodcarving and embroidery.

Bolivia’s regional folk music is distinctive and varied. In 1952, a return to traditional music followed nationalistic reforms granting increased social, cultural and political awareness for the Aymara and Quechua natives, and a folklore department in the Ministry of Education was founded. Today Bolivia is rich with traditional music and instruments, which include the siku (Andean pan pipes), quena (Andean flute), skin drums, copper bells, bronze gongs, and the charango, which resembles a small guitar and was originally made from the shells of armadillos. The national
oruro click on the image to enlarge
dance is the Cueca, which originated from the Chilean version of the dance. Cueca consists of couples moving in three-quarter time while waving handkerchiefs. The Cueca dance of Bolivia is most commonly seen during festivals. Also, the devil dances at the annual carnivals of Oruro and Tarabuco are one of the great folkloric events of South America.

pacha mama click on the image to enlarge
About 95 percent of the population is Roman Catholic with a much smaller percentage actually participating in religious activities. Women are traditionally known to be more religious, attend church regularly and practice their customs. However, much of the Catholic observance is blended with pre-Colombian ritual. An example is the near synonymous association of Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and the Virgin Mary. Also, on religious feast days, pagan pre-Columbian rites are still practiced, and the Indians express themselves through dances and songs that blend the two cultures. In such
Morenada click on the image to enlarge
festivities, some symbolic dress presents the Indian interpretation of European attitudes: the dance of the palla-palla or loco palla-palla caricatures the European invaders, the dance of the waka-tokoris satirizes bullfights, and the morenada mocks white men, who are represented leading imported African slaves.

Silpancho click on the image to enlarge
Bolivia has a diversity of geographical zones with varied climate, culture and food. Bolivian cuisine has great variety of dishes mainly meat, fish and poultry blended with herbs and spices. The diet also consists of fresh fruit and vegetables. Some traditional dishes include Majao which is a rice dish with eggs, beef and fried banana,
saltenas click on the image to enlarge
‘Silpancho’ meat served with rice and potatoes, Pacumutu is a rice dish with grilled beef, fried yucca and cheese, ‘Saltenas’ and ‘Empanadas’ which are meat or vegetable pies, ‘Locro’ is a soup made with rice, chicken and banana and ‘Chicharron de Pacu’ made with the local Pacu fish, rice and yucca.

Alcoholic beverages include beer and wine along with local specialties like 'Singanis' a kind of pisco and Chicha (fermented maize). Non-alcoholic beverages include 'Api' and 'Zomo', (sweetened flour of maize boiled in water with cinnamon), as well as a host of tropical fruit juice drinks. The larger cities have excellent restaurants serving a variety of international cuisines.

Gaston Suarez click on the image to enlarge
Bolivian literature has a unique and distinguished history which features such writers as Gastón Suárez, Alcides Arguedas, Jaime Saenz, Pedro Shimose, and Franz Tamayo.

The daily dress of highland Indian women in both the urban and rural regions remains traditional: very full skirts (polleras) and colourful shawls. The latter are usually stuffed with goods being taken to market for sale, as well as with fresh purchases, extra clothing, and a baby, all in a carefully balanced bundle on the back, leaving both hands free. Hats always complete the outfit, their shapes varying with the different regions of Bolivia.

mujeres con polleras click on the image to enlarge
In dress, language, architecture, and lifestyle, the large Native American population follows the ways of its ancestors with a mixture of modified Spanish traditions. Clothing is colorful and suited to life in high altitudes. For example, many Bolivian women wear brightly colored Native American clothing and stovepipe or derby hats. Holidays and religious festivals are celebrated by dancing and festivities. The Spanish-speaking population, which is largely European in ancestry, has adopted some of the Native American customs but generally follows Western traditions.

The official languages of Bolivia are Quechua, Aymara, and Spanish. Over half of Bolivia’s population is of pure Indian heritage, and only 60-70% of the population speaks Spanish, and then often as a second language. The indigenous languages of Quechua and Aymara are the preferred languages. When bargaining in rural markets, a Quechua word or two will go a long way. There are at least 30 other indigenous languages spoken by smaller groups. English is usually understood only in the best hotels, airline offices, and travel agencies.

For the first time, thousands of indigenous children in Bolivia are learning to read and write in their native languages--Aymara and Quechua--as well as in Spanish. An innovative bilingual education program began in 1990 that features texts depicting rural traditional life and dress.
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