Bolivia is located in the heart of South America. It is a land locked country with the Andes Mountains to the west and the Amazon Jungle to the east. The capital is Sucre, and the administrative capital is La Paz. The population of Bolivia is around nine million people. This population consists of Indigenous descendents, European descendents, and a mix between the two ethnicities called Mestizo. Bolivia has the largest indigenous population in all of South America, which is a huge reflection of its culture, customs, and politics. There are over twenty-three different spoken indigenous languages throughout the country. The main three are Aymara, Quechua, and Guaraní. However, the official languages of Bolivia are Spanish and Quechua.
Our program takes place in the city of Cochabamba or “Llajta” (its name in Quechua). Surrounded by the spectacular Andes Mountains, this city is Bolivia’s third largest next to Santa Cruz to the east and La Paz to the west. During the Inca Empire, Cochabamba was used strictly as farmland to feed the entire Inca Empire. Remains from this empire provide an excellent opportunity for students to study this ancient civilization. In Cochabamba as well as in the other nine departments of Bolivia, the indigenous groups still practice their traditional customs such as the winter solstice, “Andean cosmovision” (Andean view of the earth), “koa” (ritual to Pachamama, Mother Earth), language, food, “Urkupiña” (a celebration to the virgin), and a “Cholita,” (a traditionally dressed woman). However, due to the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1530s, these indigenous cultures have been mixed with Spanish cultures. For example, a “Cholita” is an indigenous woman whose style of dress was originally based upon their interpretation of the Spaniard’s colorful attire. The predominant religion in Bolivia is Roman Catholic. This religion was brought by the Spaniards and was forced upon the indigenous culture. In order for the indigenous culture to accept the faith, the Incas mixed their own religion with the Catholic faith such as in their view of the Virgin Mary and Pachamama (Mother Earth). In fact, the Roman Catholic Church in Italy does not accept all influences even though many of the Bolivian people still hold on to them.
Bolivia is a very diverse country reflected in its languages, indigenous practices, politics, ethnicities, and customs. This makes Bolivia an exotic and interesting country. The Bolivian people are very proud of their country’s journey throughout history and keep alive their traditions which all too many countries have already lost to the Western World. Bolivia is an adventure within itself making it an amazing place to learn and grow.