Bolivia, with its 8.8 million people, is the most indigenous country on the continent with more than 50% of the population maintaining traditional values and beliefs. Of the population, 30% are Quechua Indian, 25% Mestizo, 30% Aymará Indian, and approximately 15% European (principally Spanish). Spanish is the official language, yet only 60 to 70% of the people actually speak it, and then often only as a second language. The remainder speak Quechua, the language of the Inca, or Aymara, the pre-Inca language of the Altiplano.
Roughly 95% of Bolivia's population professes to be Roman Catholic (Catholicism was introduced to Bolivia by the conquering Spaniards), but the absence of clergy in rural areas has led to a synthesis of Inca and Aymara beliefs with Christianity. The hybrid Christian/folk religion is an interesting conglomeration of doctrines, rites and superstitions. This has resulted in a belief that honors Pacha Mama (Mother Earth), along with Christ and the Virgin Mary. Most villages have patron saints who are regularly paid respect with celebrations that include drinking of chicha (corn beer) dancing and music. Dances are especially important in Aymara celebrations and vary from one place to the other. The devil is naturally important to miners who work in his turf and is known as Tio (Uncle). There isn’t the same feeling about the devil that prevails among Europeans. For the Indians, if you work on the devil’s turf, you pay him your respects.
The Quechua of Bolivia are descendents of the Incas who, by the 1500's, controlled most of western South America. Today, there are over 3.3 million Quechua scattered throughout Bolivia. The vast majority of the Bolivian Quechua population do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
Geographically, Bolivia is a land-locked country with an extreme mixture of landscapes. There are tropical jungles in the River Basin and deserts on the Altiplano. The Andes Mountains contain four of the world’s highest peaks.
One of the poorest countries on the continent, Bolivia has a mixture of wealth and of poverty. In La Paz, as in Santa Cruz (soon to be the country’s largest city), accommodations and restaurants can be luxurious or simple. All towns and cities have Internet cafés. On the other hand, because Bolivia is a developing nation, it does not have the advanced infrastructure common in North America or Europe. The roads, most of which are unpaved, can be deplorable, especially during rainy season. The buses are slow and crowded, often carrying freight or livestock in the aisles and under the seats. The trains are slow and purchasing a ticket can sometimes take longer than the trip itself.