Bolivia, like many South American countries, is divided into several geographical zones, each of which has its own distinct climate. There is the high-altitude Andes in the west, with a climate similar to the Andean region of Peru, the lush hot and humid rainforest in the north and the savanna region in the south and east, which is largely covered by the Gran Chaco and is predominantly semi-arid with little tree cover.
La Paz is broadly representative of the region as a whole, where December weather is actually none too bad. A fair bit of rain will fall, but nothing like what will descend during the next few months: expect around 3.5 inches/ 90mm. But if it is sometimes damp, it is also warm, with the temperature range of 37-57°F/ 3-14°C. You can anticipate about six hours of sunlight daily on average.
Cobija is broadly representative of this region. The wet season in the rainforest is generally reckoned to fall between November and March, but of this period, December is the driest month. In fact, there is also slightly less precipitation than in October or April (6.1 inches/155mm). Temperature variation, like last month, is at its smallest range of the year: it's always going to be between 70°F and 88°F (21°C and 31°C) here now.
Santa Cruz is generally representative of this region. It's as warm as it gets all year in the savanna, with maximum daily averages of 88°F/31°C. Rainfall is quite high, at 6.7 inches/ 170mm for a December average, but with seven daily hours of sunshine, this is weather that goes from one extreme to the other.
Crowds & Costs
This is low season in Bolivia, and crowds are way down on their July/August highs (the exception could be over Christmas itself, when there may be more visitors). It is a prime time to look for deals on hotels and tours, although Bolivia, it should be said, is already a very cheap country.
Where to Go
A visit to the Andes in December might see you mostly sticking indoors. Start with La Paz or Sucre, where there are stand-out restaurants, intriguing produce and handicrafts markets, and first-rate museums. La Paz also celebrates the summer solstice, when the southern hemisphere sun is at its strongest with traditional rituals.
Also bear in mind this month where the intriguing regional festivals are, as these destinations are surefire bets for a blaze of local color, such as Cochabamba. Out of the big cities, you could head northeast of La Paz to Coroico, nearby where there is good white water rafting at this time.
December is quite a wash-out in the rainforest, and this also affects the animals, with many hiding away out of sight in December. To be clear: a wildlife-watching trip to the rainforest (the main reason to visit this region) is not a wise idea at the moment. On the bright side, it is not quite as wet as other months in the wet season and so a boat trip out on one of the rivers near Trinidad or Rurrenabaque (both of which have good roads going to them and should be accessible) could still work.
In the seesaw weather in this region in December, you will see both lots of sun and a not insignificant quantity of rain, and so there is room for ample variety in your itinerary. There is chilled-out Samiapata, a popular traveler destination with a famous archaeological site and the knockout jungle paradise of Amboró National Park, where superb adventures on foot and by kayak or raft await. Tranquil Tarija is another solid travel option: not only does it host some vivid celebrations over the Christmas period but there is a wide choice of places to visit nearby, including the bucolic wine region of the Valle de la Concepción.
What to Do
This is wet season, which means that, from November when the heavy rain begins, rivers swell and water sports appeal to many visitors. On the Río Coroico near Coroico there is superb kayaking and white water rafting. Other outdoor activities may not be so enjoyable right now due to the frequent interruption of rains, but do not despair: on a cultural level, Bolivia has much to offer, especially throughout the Andean cities, and this is a good month to discover more.
Try visiting a museum or one of the famous markets in La Paz, for example. Several occasions also present themselves this month for trying the country's distinctive and varied cuisine, on offer as street food at festivals in the Cochabamba region as well as elsewhere.
Wet season is never going to be the optimum time of year for a visit here, unfortunately (in high rains, the wildlife that you have surely come to the rainforest to spot, tends to stay hidden). Roads, particularly in the jungle where many are unpaved, are muddy, crumbling or just plain flooded, so it's best to first head to one of this region's largest settlements, like Trinidad or Rurrenabaque. From here, even in the wet season, boat trips on surrounding rivers are possible.
This region keeps up its lively program of events (San Francisco Xavier, Tarija) in December so attending a festival if the chance arises is a must. The region sees plenty of sun as well as rain this month, which could work out perfectly for a spot of hiking in a place such as Amboró National Park. Bolivia boasts some rich history and archaeology too, including in the savanna region. Go and see one of the century-old Jesuit missions in Santa Cruz province, or the archaeological highlight of Fuerte de Samiapata, near the homonymous town, a monument representing three of the country's civilizations!
San Francisco Xavier December 3rd. Held in the city of the same name in Santa Cruz province. Dances performed by the locals are quite a spectacle and represent defenses that Jesuit Missionaries acted out against the Portuguese.
Fiesta de la Purisima December 8th. Day of the Purisima Concepcion with typical dances, food, and drinks, especially celebrated in Cochabamba.
Illapacha de los Andes December 21st. Celebrates the summer solstice of the southern hemisphere, when the sun is at its most intense, in places including La Paz.
Christmas December 24th. Each department has its own festive variations: most colorfully and notably in Chuquisaca, Santa Cruz province, San Ignacio de Moxos in Beni and Tarija. In such places, celebrations go on for a long time, often well into January!
Traveling to Bolivia in December? Check out these great itineraries
La Paz City Adventure - 5 Days See the highest capital city in the world from the still-higher cable car, explore mesmeric museums and check out archaeological sites near the city like Unesco-listed Tiwanaku on this brief but beautiful introduction to Bolivia.
Bolivian Landscapes, Cultures & Communities - 14 Days Gain rich cultural insights as you explore big Bolivian cities like La Paz and Sucre, the jungle paradise of Amboró National Park and the caverns and canyons of Torotoro National Park