15 Things to Know Before Going to Bolivia

| © TheBrandsmen/pixabay
Harry Stewart

Bolivia can be a challenging country to explore at times. Buses run on their own schedule, the climate is unforgiving, bureaucracy is rife and not many people speak English. However, with a little preparation and a positive attitude, these obstacles can be overcome. What’s more, any difficulties you face on the road will pale in comparison to the rewarding experiences this enchanting country has to offer. Read on for our list of things you need to know before coming to Bolivia.

It gets cold

A lot of Bolivia’s most popular tourist attractions are at extreme altitudes which means it gets pretty chilly, so pack appropriately. Heating only exists in the most plush hotels, but there are plenty of snug alpaca hats and jumpers on sale to ward off the cold.

Snow on the Huayna Potosí

It gets hot, too

Altitude can make you sick

Lots of people feel the effects of altitude sickness upon arriving in Bolivia’s altiplano (highland plains). There are plenty of ways to mitigate the effects such as avoiding alcohol, eating small meals, ascending slowly, avoiding strenuous exercise and drinking coca tea.

Highlands

It rains in summer

If traveling in the wet season between November and March, expect to get wet. There could be anything from a quick shower in the afternoon to a drenching that lasts for days on end. Keep a poncho or umbrella on hand and be especially mindful when hiking through the wilderness.

Long bus trips can be challenging

Bolivian buses can be testing at times. On board toilets are closed, delays are common, the heating doesn’t work and there’s always at least one person with their window open as outside temperatures drop below freezing. Bring warm clothing for overnight trips through the altiplano and don’t drink too much liquid as it could be hours before the next rest stop.

Things don’t always go to plan

Strikes and protests are extremely common, while wet weather can bring bus travel to a standstill. Leave a couple of days’ flexibility in your travel plans for when things don’t happen as expected.

Don’t get stuck here

Food preparation may not be hygienic

Due to poor regulation, control and a lack of education, food hygiene practices tend to be lower in Bolivia than the developed world. Those with a sensitive stomach should ensure to seek out places that cook their food on the spot and have a high customer turnover.

You might need a visa

American citizens require a visa to enter Bolivia, which can be obtained on arrival. Officially, this involves a return itinerary, hotel reservations, passport size photos, a letter of invitation, proof of a yellow fever vaccine, proof of sufficient funds (credit card or bank statement) and US$160 in cash. In reality, immigration officials usually just take your cash and passport photo then wave you on through.

Most European countries, Australia and New Zealand do not require a visa. Check with the Bolivian immigration website (Spanish) or your local embassy for more details.

Passport

Bureaucracy is a national sport

Anyone coming for anything other than tourism should be prepared to tackle a mountain of paperwork. Tourists who want to stay more than 30 days have to extend their visa at an immigration office, up to a maximum of 90 days. Bring two photocopies of the photo and entry stamp pages of your passport and ask for an ‘Extensión de visa de turista.’ Nobody really knows why this process exists.

How to access your money

In Bolivia, cash is king. Credit cards are only accepted in the swankiest hotels and restaurants, so get used to using ATMs. These are readily available in all reasonably sized towns but are unreliable (if they exist at all) in remote areas. Keep some extra cash and a debit card tucked away separately in your luggage in case of emergency.

Credit cards

There’s a language barrier

Most people working in the tourism industry speak passable English, although almost everyone else speaks little to none. Learn a few basic phrases in Spanish and get as much information as possible from the hotel receptionist. With a little patience and good humor, the language barrier shouldn’t cause too much trouble.

When to haggle

Haggling is only really acceptable at street markets, hotels and travel agencies. Unlike in Asia, haggling in Boivia is a relaxed verbal exchange which is only likely to end in a small discount. Also, remember that a few extra dollars means much more to them than it does to you.

Leave the tent at home

Outdoor equipment can be rented for cheap anywhere there is a demand. Quality can vary so be sure to check everything carefully. Aside from hiking boots and clothing, only those who plan on doing a lot of camping should consider bringing their own equipment.

Camping

Petty theft exists

Bolivia is actually a very safe country. Having said that, petty theft is a problem in any developing nation. The most common things to look out for are:

Bag snatches: keep fancy cameras and day packs wrapped around a limb at all times.

Fake police: don’t believe anyone claiming to be an undercover police officer. Just ignore them and walk away.

Theft by distraction: someone spilling sauce or dirt to distract you while an accomplice lifts your wallet is a common technique.

Patience is a virtue

Things often don’t go to plan in Bolivia so try to think of any inconvenience as being part of the travel experience and approach it in a positive way with a sense of humor. Get used to running on ‘Bolivian time’ for a much less stressful traveling experience.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article