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Geography of Bolivia

Situated in South America just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, Bolivia has a total area of 1,098,580 sq km (424,164 sq mi), extending about 1,530 km (950 mi) north to south, and 1,450 km (900 mi) east to west. Comparatively, the area occupied by Bolivia is slightly less than three times the size of the state of Montana. Completely landlocked, Bolivia is bounded on the north and northeast by Brazil, on the southeast by Paraguay, on the south by Argentina, on the southwest by Chile, and on the west by Peru, with a total boundary length of 6,743 km (4,190 mi).

The administrative capital city of Bolivia, La Paz, is located in the west-central part of the country.

Bolivia has three geographic zones: the Andean highlands in the southwest, running north to south; the moist slopes and valleys on the eastern side of the Andes, called the Yungas and Valles; and the eastern tropical lowland plains, or Oriente.

In Bolivia, the Andes, divided into two chains, attain their greatest width, about 640 km (400 mi), and constitute about one-third of the country. Between the Cordillera Occidental, forming the border with Chile and cutting Bolivia off from the Pacific, and the complex knots of the Cordillera Oriental lies a broad sedimentary plateau about 4,000 m (13,000 ft) above sea level, called the Altiplano, which contains about 28% of Bolivia's land area and more than half of its population. In the north of this plateau, astride the border with Peru, lies Lake Titicaca, 222 km (138 mi) long and 113 km (70 mi) wide; with its surface at an altitude of 3,805 m (12,484 ft), it is the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake is drained to the south by the 322-km (200-mi) Desaguadero River, which empties into shallow, salty Lake Poopó. Farther south are arid salt flats. The Cordillera Oriental has high habitable basins and valleys collectively referred to as the Puna. Bolivia's most majestic mountains are in the northern part of the Cordillera Oriental around Lake Titicaca, where the mountain sector is capped with snow; the highest of these is Ancohuma (6,550 m/21,489 ft). Illimani and Illampu, both rising more than 6,400 m (21,000 ft), overlook the city of La Paz, which is protected from cold winds by its position in the spectacular gorge formed by the headwaters of the La Paz River. The three important valleys of this region, Cochabamba, Sucre and Tarija, are from 1,830 to 3,050 m (6,000 to 10,000 ft) in altitude.

Bolivia's important rivers descend across the Yungas and Valles into the low tropical plains of the Oriente, which comprises three-fifths of the land but has only about one-fifth of the population. The Guaporé, the Mamoré, the Beni, and the Madre de Dios rivers cross the often-flooded northern savanna and tropical forests, all converging in the northeast to form the Madeira, which flows into Brazil. The plains become drier in the southeast, forming Bolivia's scrub-covered Chaco. Crossing the Chaco to the southeast, the Pilcomayo River leaves Bolivia to form the border between Paraguay and Argentina.

Although Bolivia lies entirely in the tropics, extreme differences in altitude and rainfall give it a great variety in climate. The mean annual temperature of La Paz, at 3,697 m (12,130 ft), is about 8°C (46°F); that of Trinidad, in the eastern lowlands, is 26°C (79°F). In the western highlands, cold winds blow all year round; at night the temperature often drops below freezing, but the sun is intense and the air brilliant during the day. The rainy season lasts from December to February, but during most of the year the high Altiplano plateau is parched and inhospitable. Around Lake Titicaca, rainfall is adequate, but there is less than 13 cm (5 in) a year in the extreme southwest. The fertile valleys in the Cordillera Oriental have a warmer, semi-arid Mediterranean climate.

The Yungas and Valles have a semi-tropical, moist climate that gradually becomes hotter as one descends from the eastern slopes of the Andes to the tropical eastern lowlands. Rainfall is heavy in the northeast, and floods are common in March and April. The lowland plain becomes drier to the south, until it reaches drought conditions near the Argentine border.

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