Country of west-central South America. Extending some 950 miles (1,500 km) north-south and 800 miles (1,300 km) east-west, Bolivia is bordered to the north and east by Brazil, to the southeast by Paraguay, to the south by Argentina, to the southwest and west by Chile, and to the northwest by Peru. Bolivia shares Lake Titicaca, the second largest lake in South America (after Lake Maracaibo), with Peru. The country has been landlocked since it lost its Pacific coast territory to Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879–84), but agreements with neighbouring countries have granted it indirect access to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The constitutional capital is the historic city of Sucre, where the Supreme Court is established, but the administrative capital is La Paz, where the executive and legislative branches of government function.

Bolivia is traditionally regarded as a highland country. Although only one-third of its territory lies in the Andes Mountains, most of the nation’s largest cities are located there, and for centuries the highlands have attracted the nation’s largest amount of mining, commercial, and business investment. In the late 20th century, however, the demographic and economic landscape began to change as the eastern lowlands—particularly the department of Santa Cruz—developed rapidly.

The country has a rich history. It was once the centre of the ancient Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) empire, and from the 15th to the early 16th century it was a part of the Inca empire. After the arrival of the conquistadores, Bolivia was subsumed within the Viceroyalty of Peru, and it provided Spain with immense wealth in silver. Land Relief Bolivia’s mountainous western region, which is one of the highest inhabited areas in the world, constitutes an important economic and political centre. There the Andes reach their greatest breadth and complexity. The system in Bolivia is dominated by two great parallel ranges. To the west along the border with Chile is the Cordillera Occidental, which contains numerous active volcanoes and the spectacular Uyuni Salt Flat; the cordillera is crowned by the republic’s highest peak, Mount Sajama, reaching an elevation of 21,463 feet (6,542 metres). To the east is the Cordillera Oriental, whose spectacular northern section near La Paz is called Cordillera Real (“Royal Range”). An impressive line of snowcapped peaks, some exceeding 20,000 feet (6,100 metres), characterize this northern section, which maintains an average elevation of more than 18,000 feet (5,500 metres) for more than 200 miles (320 km). Between these ranges lies the Altiplano (“High Plateau”), which extends from southern Peru through Bolivia to northern Argentina. The plateau is a relatively flat-floored depression about 500 miles (800 km) long and 80 miles (130 km) wide, lying at elevations between 12,000 and 12,500 feet (3,650 and 3,800 metres). To the north of the Cordillera Real is the Apolobamba range, bordered on the western slopes by lakes and protected areas where vicuñas, alpacas, and llamas thrive. Terraced fields built hundreds of years ago lie at the foothills of snow-covered peaks, which have been sacred to the Indians since ancient times.
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