Bolivia boasts many amazing tourist attractions including the peaks of the Cordillera Real around Sorata, the salt flats of Uyuni, the jungles of the Amazon Basin and the abundant wildlife in the grasslands of the Southeast. There is also the rich culture and ancient civilizations found in the cities of Sucre and Potosi together with the natural wonders of lowlands in the south and the tropical east. Any traveller will be spoilt for choice for adventure and cultural experiences in this extraordinary country. With it’s staggering social and environmental contrasts this land cries out to be explored.
Where is Bolivia?
Bolivia lies in the heart of South America with Brazil to the northeast, Peru to the northwest, Chile to the southwest, and Argentina and Paraguay to the south. It is a beautiful country filled with diverse geography and a mix of cultures.
History of Bolivia
It became a democratic country in the 1980’s and today it still struggles with problems such as poverty, social unrest and illegal drug production. The country is aiming to attract foreign investment together with improving the educational system and implementing an anti-corruption campaign. After breaking away from Spanish rule in 1825 its subsequent history primarily consists of numerous coups and counter-coups. Today the country is a landscape of contrasts with a mix of indigenous and European cultures and an interesting and diverse geography. It offers no end of activities available to travellers.
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America. It is a rugged country that experiences a range of temperatures including warm, cold, windy and steamy and hosts a variety of landscapes ranging from very dry terrain to swamps.
Bolivia Visa Requirements
For entry into Bolivia visitors will need a passport valid for at least six months beyond the intended length of stay, show proof of sufficient funds for intended length of stay, have return or onward tickets and produce proof of hotel reservations or letter of invitation from friends or family in Bolivia. Citizens of some countries do not require a visa to enter Bolivia for tourism purposes for stays of up to 90 days including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and many EU countries. US citizens do need a visa to obtain entry.
Tourist visa are valid for 30 days and can be extended to 90 days depending on the nationality. Specific purpose visas (for business) are valid for 30 days and are able to be renewed for 60 or 90 days if needed. Student visas are valid for 60 days and transit visas are valid for 15 days. The maximum amount of time travellers are allowed to stay in Bolivia is 180 days each year.
Before a visa is issued ‘official permission’ from the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be required for nationals of many Communist, African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Travellers over one year of age arriving from a yellow-fever infected area will need a vaccination certificate to enter Bolivia.
Departure tax for Bolivia for travellers over 2 years of age is US$24 which is payable in US Dollars for all non-residents.
Bolivia Travel Health
Recommended vaccinations for travel to Bolivia are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Tetanus, Diphtheria and Measles Booster-Vaccines. Depending on the season and region being visited vaccinations for Tuberculosis, Yellow Fever and Malaria are also recommended. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from all travellers over one year of age arriving from infected areas.
Dengue Fever is prevalent in Eastern provinces such as Beni, Chuquisace, Cochabamba, La Paz, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija. Other infectious diseases including typhoid, malaria, hepatitis, tuberculosis, yellow fever and rabies are prevalent in various regions throughout the country.
La Paz, Potosi, Oruro and the Lake Titicaca region are high in altitude, so it is necessary to take adequate precautions against altitude sickness. Local pharmacies sell altitude sickness tablets however in severe cases of high altitude sickness travellers can seek treatment at the High Altitude Pathology Institute at Clinica. When visiting these areas of high altitude it is strongly advised to take a sun hat, sunglasses, and skin protection to protect against the sun’s strong rays.
Tap water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should be boiled and all meat, fish and vegetables should be well cooked and fruit peeled. Milk is pasteurized and therefore is safe for consumption.
Medical insurance is strongly recommended for all travel to Bolivia. La Paz has several reliable private clinics. Most major cities throughout the country have private hospitals with reasonable medical facilities available however they are expensive. Outside the cities medical facilities are limited.
Always use common sense and remain alert when travelling throughout Bolivia. Crime is on the increase against tourists particularly in La Paz, Cochabamba, Copacabana and Oruro. Scams involving fake police, false tourist police and ‘helpful’ tourists are common as well as circulation of counterfeit banknotes.
Be careful in the wet season from November to March as landslides, flooding and road washouts can occur.
The threat from terrorism is low in Bolivia however you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which may target foreigners especially in popular tourist destinations.
The political situation in the country is intense and it is advised for travellers to exercise caution. Monitor the media for information regarding civil unrest, including roadblocks, violent protests and strikes. Try to avoid demonstrations as they can become violent. Particular caution should be exerted in the coca growing areas of Chapare and the Yungas region northeast of La Paz due to situations involving anti-narcotics activities.
Only use well-known radio taxi companies as assaults and robberies are often reported in unmarked taxis. Always exercise caution when using any public transport as petty theft is common. You should never leave bags unattended.
Due to poorly maintained vehicles and hazardous roads driving in rural areas of the country can be dangerous. Lighting and signage is generally inadequate so take particular care when driving at night. Drug traffickers are a serious danger in the Bolivian/Brazilian border region.
What is Bolivia Local Currency?
The official currency for Bolivia is the boliviano. Notes are in denominations of Bs200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5 and coins are in denominations of Bs5, 2 and 1, and 50, 20 and 10 centavos.
US Dollar traveller’s cheques and Euro traveller’s cheques are often accepted in most larger towns and US Dollars are widely accepted in hotels and tourist shops for larger purchases. In small towns traveller’s cheques are almost never accepted. Currency can be exchanged in exchange bureaus and banks in larger cities.
ATMs are available in most larger towns and cities and major credit cards are accepted in most high end hotels and restaurants.
Banking hours are: Mon-Fri 0900-1800 with some banks also open on Sat 0900-1300.
What is Bolivia’s Weather?
Bolivia’s climate varies throughout the country depending on altitude, and ranges from semiarid and cold to tropical and humid. Winters tend to be dry and summers quite wet in most parts of the country. November to March is generally the wettest period when landslides and road blocks can occur. The mountainous areas in Bolivia can be extremely cold at night.
Winter is the most popular time for tourists, especially August, as the days are usually clear and dry. Puerto Suarez generally experiences extreme heat and Uyuni is generally extremely cold and windy. The lowlands in summer are muddy with high humidity, and the highland valleys usually have a fairly comfortable climate throughout the year. The Altiplano in winter has extremely hot days and freezing cold nights with temperatures below zero.
Culture of Bolivia
The people of Bolivia although sometimes a little shy are generally friendly and helpful. It is expected in restaurants to add a 10% to 15% gratuity to the bill. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip however it is common practice to tip hotel porters about Bs4 to Bs8 per bag.
Religion in Bolivia is primarily Roman Catholic with a Protestant minority as well as indigenous religions.
When referring to rural Bolivians you should call them campesinos instead of Indians, Indio or Cholo as these are considered insulting. You will find female campesinos still wearing their traditional dress.
Casual wear for travellers is suitable in most cases except for smart social occasions where a suit and tie for men and dress for women is appropriate. Unless otherwise indicated smoking is accepted in nearly all places. In general Bolivians’ time-keeping is poor so allow extra time for meetings and outings.
What Languages Are Spoken In Bolivia?
The official language for Bolivia is Spanish and the main indigenous languages spoken are Quechua, Aymara and Guarani. Some officials and businesspeople in commercial centers speak English.
The telephone country code for Bolivia is 591. Mobile phone coverage is only average and roaming agreements exist with only a small number of international mobile phone companies. The Internet is widely available in the larger cities with many Internet cafes also available.
Airmail to Europe usually takes three to four days.
Post office hours are: Mon-Fri 0800-2000, Sat 0900-1800.
Bolivia Transport Options
The International Airports for Bolivia are La Paz (LPB) (El Alto International) which is 14km southwest of La Paz and Santa Cruz (VVI) (Viru Viru International) which is 16km from the center of Santa Cruz and is the largest airport in the country. Internal flights are operated by AeroSur. Travelling by plane is definitely the fastest way to travel around the country however it is expensive and can be quite unreliable due to cancellations and delays.
There are two rail networks in Bolivia, the Eastern and Western. The Eastern operates routes from Santa Cruz to the Brazilian borders and the Western operates routes from Oruro via Uyuni and Tupiza to Villazon and Argentina. They are two separate and unconnected networks with the Eastern run by Ferroviaria Oriental and the Western run by Empresa Ferroviaria Andina. Tickets can be purchased from offices in either Santa Cruz or La Paz.
Bus services are available, however long bus trips in rural areas can be erratic although very cheap. All fares are regulated. Taxis have fixed prices and tipping is not required. It is common practice to share taxis however this not advised for solo female travellers.
Car hire is available in Santa Cruz and La Paz and an International Driving Permit is required. The national speed limit is 90kph and the use of seat belts is not enforced. Traffic drives on the right and most of the major roads are paved however roads in rural areas are generally gravel or dirt.
Transportation strikes affecting taxis, buses and airlines are common so stay tuned to local news. They generally last one or two days and there has been some violence reported in strikes in the past.
Bolivia Travel Tips
Penalties for drug offenses in Bolivia are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails. Homosexuality is not illegal however is not widely accepted in Bolivian society.
It is illegal to remove any item that is considered a national treasure, such as, artifacts, historical paintings, flora, fauna or fossils. Without written authorization the excavation or collection of fossils is also illegal.
It is recommended to seek permission from an adult before taking any photographs of people especially children.
Bolivia Local Food
The cuisine of Bolivia primarily consists of meat and potatoes with beef, chicken and llama being popular meat choices. Pork is very uncommon and guinea pigs and rabbits are often eaten in rural areas. The food is often slightly spicy and generally of good quality.
National specialities include: Pique a lo macho (grilled meat in a spicy sauce on potatoes); Silpancho (a thin beef patty with rice and potatoes); Anticucho (Beef hearts on a skewer with potatoes); Salchipapa (sausage fried with potatoes); Choripan (Chorizo sausage); Saltena (diced meat, chicken, chives, raisins, diced potatoes, hot sauce and pepper baked in dough); Lomo montado (fried tender loin steak with two fried eggs on top, rice and fried banana); Picante de pollo (fried chicken, fried potatoes, rice, tossed salad with hot peppers); Chuno (freeze-dried potato used in soup); Lechon al horno (roast suckling pig with sweet potato and fried plantains)
Bottled water is readily available and juice bars are popular at markets. National specialities include: Vitaminico (egg, beer and sugar concoction); Licuado (water or milk blended with a combination of fruit); Mocochinchi (brewed peaches and spices mixed with water); Api (a traditional corn based drink); Chicha (an alcoholic sour brew); Singani (a grape liquor that’s mixed with Sprite or ginger ale); Beer (Pacena or Huari brands are popular).
Legal drinking age in Bolivia is 18.
Bolivia Local Timezones
Bolivia Standard Time is 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-4).
Bolivia does not operate Daylight-Saving Time.
Electricity in Bolivia is 230 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second.
Outlets in Bolivia generally accept 2 types of plug: Flat blade plug and Two round pins.
Bolivia Dutyfree Limits
The following goods may be imported into Bolivia by persons over 18 years of age without incurring customs duty: 400 cigarettes and 50 cigars or 500g of tobacco; 3L of alcoholic beverages; new articles up to US$1,000.