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 this region as a whole. January is one very wet month hereabouts, with precipitation in La Paz far and away at its highest of any calendar month (4.7 inches/12 cm). Minimum temperatures in this rather chilly region are still high compared to other months (37°F/3°C). Temperature highs, though, are just 54°F (12°C), which is low compared to other months. Despite this, there is a fair bit of sunshine: six hours daily on average. In other parts of the Andes, Lake Titicaca and Salar de Uyuni are slightly warmer than La Paz at this time on average.
Cobija, in the far north near the Brazilian border, is broadly representative of this region as a whole. January is usually the wettest month here by some distance (expect 10.4 inches/26 cm of rain on average in the month), but it's never going to get too cold: minimum temperatures are still a warm 72°F (22°C) at this time. And despite the rain, there is still an average of six hours of sunshine each day.
Santa Cruz is broadly representative of this region as a whole. Temperatures in January are typically between 70°F (21°C) and 86°F (30°C): quite warm when compared to the Andes at this time. Rainfall is at its annual high: 12 on average rainy days and 7.9 inches (20 cm) of total precipitation on average. Temperatures and rainfall in other areas can deviate somewhat from the above because this is a very large region.
Crowds & Costs
Crowds are generally quite low in Bolivia at this time and there is far more chance that you may get deals on hotels and tours. Wet weather puts many people off coming as it makes many parts of the country, including the Uyuni salt flats and much of the rainforest, almost inaccessible.
Where to Go
Visiting at this wet time of year, sticking to indoor activities and cities with many wet weather options might be best. The vibrant Bolivian capital of La Paz is the world's highest, and a wonderful place to amuse yourself on a wet day. Try the fantastic new foodie scene, put on the map by Claus Meyer and famous high-end restaurant Gustu, or try a cooking class to make some Bolivian food yourself. Museums like Ethnography Museum and the Coca Museum, explaining all about Bolivia's most important crop, are well worth a visit.
Sucre is another great cosmopolitan destination in Bolivia's Andes, boasting the Casa de la Libertad where Bolivia's Declaration of Independence was signed besides several splendid colonial buildings.
Much of the rainforest is inaccessible at this time due to floods, and it's much better to leave a rainforest trip to the months of April through October when wildlife is more in evidence (wildlife often tends to stay under cover in the rain).
If you plan on visiting the savanna, it's going to be warm with frequent wet spells. But this is probably the most pleasant of any region in Bolivia right now: head to laid-back, balmy Tarija and the nearby Valle de la Concepción wine-growing region, where there is good hiking in the surrounding hills and superb waterfalls in full flow at the moment at Chorros de Jurina. Big regional city Santa Cruz, Bolivia's biggest and most cosmopolitan destination, is also a culturally fascinating destination at any time of year with well-maintained parks to relax in, watch the locals at play and get a feel for Bolivian life.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
What to Do
Spending time indoors (or close to where you can get indoors!) away from this month's chilly, wet weather is wise, and this means bigger cities like La Paz or Sucre, where there are stand-out restaurants, intriguing produce and handicrafts markets, and a compelling selection of museums and galleries. Out of the cities, the best thing to do in January in the Bolivian Andes is to go white water rafting, kayaking, or tubing on the Río Coroico near Coroico, where there are plenty of thrilling rapids to negotiate.
It's not really a good time of year to head to the rainforest, but if you do it might be a timely opportunity for a slow, languid boat trip on an Amazonian river. This is possible on the Río Beni (from Rurrenabaque, if floods do not make the road there impassable) or, better still, Trinidad, which has better road connections to elsewhere in Bolivia.
The wineries in the Valle de Concepción near tranquil Tarija make for a great visit or series of visits. Otherwise, January might be the time to get cosmopolitan in Bolivia's biggest city Santa Cruz, where you could relax and observe city life in one of the beautiful, amiable city parks or tour a museum, like Museo Etnofolklórico Municipal, which showcases artifacts from eastern Bolivia's various indigenous peoples and ethnic groups.
Then again, you could try a trip out to the extremely bio-diverse Parque Nacional Amboró, one of Bolivia's greatest national parks. There are lots of great thermal springs across Bolivia, but Aguas Calientes in the Chiquitania region is one of South America's largest.
Events in January
Anchcalla, La Paz. Celebrated in La Paz during the first week of January and features colorful parades and dances to celebrate the time when the potato crop, an important staple in Bolivia, begins to bloom. Oruro and other locations also have festivities.
Dia de Reyes (Three Kings' Day), nationwide. On January 6, this is celebrated as it is in many Catholic countries. Children are given sweet treats, and there is traditional folkloric dancing in many locations.
Fiesta de Alasitas, La Paz. Bolivia's Festival of Miniatures is essentially where vendors take to the streets to sell miniature versions of absolutely everything, with customers happy to buy in the hope that small dreams will be converted into life-size realities! La Paz's festival runs for several days of the month; other cities like Cochabamba also celebrate the tradition during the latter part of January.
Traveling to Bolivia in January? Check out these great itineraries
Explore the Farms and Markets of Bolivia's Andes - 12 Days. Visit Bolivia's renowned local markets, interact with farmers and their families and sample the traditional food which is finally starting to get the reputation internationally that it deserves on this cultural tour of profound local insights.
Lake Titicaca and La Paz - 5 Days. Spend time on the shores and islands of the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, experiencing its traditions and staying with local families, and top it off with two days in the world's highest capital city, La Paz.