Fast Facts

La Paz (administrative); 1,477,000—Sucre (constitutional); 212,000
1,098,581 square kilometers (424,164 square miles)
Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
Roman Catholic
Life Expectancy:
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $2,500
Literacy Percent:
Flag: Bolivia
Map: Bolivia

Bolivia—named for Simon Bolívar, liberator of much of South America—is poor, mountainous, and landlocked. Over 60 percent of Bolivia's people are Indian, mostly Quechua or Aymara; the rest are European and mixed. Many are subsistence farmers on the Altiplano (pronounced ahl-tee-PLAH-noh). Here La Paz, with 1.5 million people, sprawls amid snowy peaks near Lake Titicaca. The waters of Lake Titicaca help warm the air, otherwise La Paz, the world's highest capital city at 3,600 meters (11,800 feet), would not be livable. Bolivia has a second capital at Sucre, named after its first president, where the supreme court resides.

In 1987 Bolivia made the world's first debt-for-nature swap with an international conservation organization for the 135,000-hectare Beni Biosphere Reserve—a portion of Bolivia's foreign debt was purchased to support the reserve. Bolivia continues to conserve its environment with the 1995 creation of the 1,895,750-hectare Madidi National Park. Madidi includes everything from Andean glaciers to rain forests; it helps Indians, like the local Quechua, develop ecotourism, which includes watching some 1,000 bird species, tracking tapirs, or white-water rafting.

Large natural gas deposits in the Santa Cruz area and expansion of soybean cultivation help the economy. But a historic boundary dispute with Chile and cocaine from the Cochabamba area plague the national government.


  • Industry: Mining, smelting, petroleum, food and beverages
  • Agriculture: Soybeans, coffee, coca, cotton; timber
  • Exports: Soybeans, natural gas, zinc, gold, wood

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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