As South America’s cheapest country, sticking to a budget in Bolivia must be pretty easy, right? Not necessarily. While bargains abound at every turn, those who aren’t in the know will find themselves paying too much, too often. But don’t despair, our budget traveler’s guide to Bolivia will help keep the bank balance in check while exploring this intriguing country.
Local digs usually work out cheaper than gringo orientated hostels, especially when traveling in a group. As an added bonus, there’s no need to share a room with random backpackers. Keep a look out for signs saying alojamiento, residencial or hostal. These cheap local options offer great bang for your buck. A word of warning though, examine the room and bathroom before paying because some of the cheapest places can get seriously nasty.
Travelers spending more than a couple of months in South America can actually save money by investing in Spanish classes. A decent grasp of the language means negotiating hotel rates, jumping on public buses, and finding the cheapest tours all becomes a breeze. Best of all, speaking a second language is a life-long skill that looks awesome on the resumé. Sucre offers the most cost-effective Spanish courses on the continent and is a wonderful place to be based for a couple of weeks.
Traditional Bolivian food is much cheaper than anything international. Keep an eye out for almuerzo (set lunch) which includes soup, a main course and dessert for as little as BOB10 (less than USD$1.50). Street stalls are ubiquitous and offer breakfast and dinner options for next to nothing. Self-catering is not really worth the time as it ends up just as expensive once everything is factored in, so get out there and enjoy the local flavors.
Can the place you want to visit be reached on local transport? If so, that’s going to be cheaper than taking a tour. Sometimes, in places like the Salar de Uyuni for example, tours are unavoidable, so it’s logical to join up with a group. But, more often than not, it’s quite possible to go it alone. Bear in mind that a decent grasp of Spanish is useful when solo-navigating complex public transportation systems.
It’s quite normal for vendors in Bolivia to adjust their prices depending on what they think the customer can afford. This practice, known as mira de cara (looking at the face), even happens among Bolivians. It’s a logical assumption that a foreign tourist is reasonably wealthy, so it doesn’t hurt to politely ask for a discount in places like hotels, markets and travel agencies. But don’t get carried away. The bargaining culture in Bolivia isn’t as intense as in India, for example.
Traveling overnight is an age-old backpackers’ trick to save on a night’s accommodation. There are plenty of overnight buses crisscrossing throughout the country, so this option is certainly valid in Bolivia. Be absolutely certain to bring warm clothes if traveling through the highlands, though, because nighttime temperatures drop well below freezing.