If a Bolivian offers you any kind of gift, it’s pretty much compulsory to accept it. Politely denying the generosity of a local is considered extremely rude and could even be regarded as a personal insult. So no matter how crappy or unwanted your new present may be, just smile and say “gracias.”
While some areas of the country may claim to have potable tap water, it’s really better not to risk it. Bolivia’s water distribution network is miles behind the developed world, so expect parasites and other nasties to run rife through the system. However, in urbanized areas, small amounts can be safely ingested when brushing your teeth or eating washed vegetables, for example.
The biggest mistake a person can make when traveling overnight in Bolivia is forgetting to pack plenty of warm clothing. Outside, nighttime temperatures in the Andean highlands dip well below freezing, and there is almost never any onboard heating to rely on. So do as the locals do and wear as much clothing as possible when boarding an overnight bus.
Plenty of rowdy backpackers see getting pissed the night before this notoriously dangerous tour as a badge of honor. In reality, it’s downright stupid and incredibly dangerous. You’ll need your wits about you on this terrifying descent, so lay off the beers the night before if you want to survive the world’s most dangerous road.
English is not widely spoken at all in Bolivia, much like the rest of South America. Only the wealthy upper class and those working in tourism tend to speak the language, with most unable to understand anything at all. So brush up on your Spanish or be ready for some creative games of charades when traversing the country.
The downtown neighborhoods of any large Bolivian city are a chaotic mess of beeping taxis and snarling buses jostling for position. Thankfully, a team of friendly zebras hit the streets each day to bring some order to the madness. Follow their lead, and you’ll be fine. If not, expect to be publicly humiliated in front of a crowd of laughing locals.
Many indigenous Bolivians, who form the majority of the population, don’t really fancy having their picture taken, and this is especially true among the more traditional and elderly members of society who also happen to be the most photogenic. Always ask permission before snapping a pic, and don’t be surprised if you have to pay.
The Bolivian approach to punctuality could be described as casual, at best. It’s pretty much the norm for things to run late, be they buses, tours, meetings or social occasions (especially social occasions). Then there are things such as poor road conditions, strikes, and blockades with which to content. Take all this in your stride and remember that patience is a virtue in Bolivia.
Customer service is also very casual in Bolivia, with many waitstaff and shopkeepers coming across as rather apathetic by Western standards. Before getting angry and writing a scathing review on TripAdvisor, remember that many of these workers put in long hours for very little pay. There is also just not the same cultural importance on customer service as you would find in the developed world.
Despite Bolivia’s love affair with alcohol, public consumption is strictly illegal. The only exception is during the country’s many vibrant parades where viewers are pretty much expected to have a cerveza in hand.
These are the notorious fake police who want nothing than to lead you to a secluded area and relieve you of your belongings. The real police will only bother a tourist in the obvious event of a crime, so don’t believe these fraudsters no matter how convincing they seem. If they continue to insist, just make a scene and watch them disappear.
Cash is king in Bolivia, with only a few upscale shops, hotels, and restaurants that have the facilities to accept cards. ATMs are plentiful in the cities, however, so this shouldn’t be a big problem.
The real beauty of Bolivia lies in her incredible nature. From steamy Amazonian jungles to snow-capped Andean mountains, there’s no shortage of amazing natural scenery to be admired in this vast and diverse country. So get out of the city and explore some of Bolivia’s extraordinary national parks.