Covid-Related Travel Update July 2022: Bolivia is now open to international travelers. Travelers to Bolivia must comply with the following requirements: present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate, or present a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test (for persons older than 5 years) taken no more than 72 hours prior to boarding, or present a negative COVID-19 nasal antigen test (for persons older than 5 years) no more than 48 hours prior to boarding. Find more information on travel regulations on the official website of Bolivia Tourism.
When I think of Bolivia, I remember stout, brick-red mountains. Women adorning traditional Bolivian clothes mending potatoes in fluorescent open fields. Bolivian men with wrinkled faces driving taxi up the steep streets and roads.
Potato and cheese empanadas being sold in kiosks on the streets in Bolivia. Bolivian soaps running on the television in local food courts.
People marching against the democratic government and Chile. Golden sunshine beaming in through the blue sky.
Enormous graffitis watching us from the walls of the big city of La Paz. The charismatic Uyuni salt flats and the blue lagoons sprinkled with pink flamingoes spread in the midst of the driest desert of the world. Tiny villages bustling with international tourists who went there looking for a simpler life from around the world.
The gorgeous high lake Titicaca where the indigenous Bolivian people first established themselves but now only a couple of thousand Bolivians live on the legendary islands on the lake. Sky trolleys flying people from their homes to run their chores in the administrative capital of La Paz. And the clingy high altitude that never leaves you oxygenated while you are traveling in Bolivia.
When I visited Bolivia from Peru, a year and a half ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Though I had been backpacking South America alone (Peru and Chile) by that time for around 7–8 months, I had understood that the continent was prepared to surprise me every day. I am sure that South America amazed the travelers from developed countries, such as the US, Canada, Europe, UK, and Australia, much more than it could ever surprise me; Not because I was half-Latino and half-Indian, though that would have been great but don’t tell my parents, but because I am used to the nuisances and problems of developing countries. And though the Bolivians have tried many governments, Bolivia has been one of the poorest and politically unstable states since its independence in 1825.
There was an undercurrent of a throttled economy that was too strong to ignore. The country’s finance runs mostly on agriculture, tourism, mining, oil, and gas. Bolivian people have to work hard to make a living which they mostly did by working in fields, cooking and selling foods in restaurants, running some part of the tourism industry, and the rest worked in mining industries, or with oil and gas corporations.
Due to the lack of jobs, you will see many Bolivians strolling around the central plaza or the square during the day and in the evenings. There was no London or New York or Mumbai like rush amongst Bolivians, except maybe in La Paz, and even there the speed of a Bolivian man or woman was one-tenth of a regular London worker speeding to the tube to get the earliest one and save 2–3 minutes.
I love the idea of a slow pace, but it would have been nicer if it wasn’t due to the lack of opportunities.
After traveling in Bolivia for about a month, I feel that this country is unique. I have mentioned some interesting facts about Bolivia above that make the country distinctive, but mainly I call Bolivia special as this country is an intriguing blend of raw nature, that is mostly undisturbed as not many people still visit Bolivia, and tough citizens who have made mountains their home and climb vertical streets as soon as they get out of the comfort of their places.
I loved my time in Bolivia. Let me take you through this Bolivia travel guide, and you will understand why, if I haven’t made it clear enough, yet.
Also Read: Best Experiences from my nine-months-long solo South-America Trip
What does this Bolivia travel guide contain?
- Where is Bolivia?
- How is the landscape and geography of Bolivia?
- How to handle the altitude in Bolivia? And how the altitude could be related to cocaine consumption and production?
- Is it safe to travel to Bolivia?
- History of Bolivia.
- What type of government does Bolivia have?
- What is the population of Bolivia?
- What language is spoken in Bolivia?
- How are the Bolivian people?
- What is the best time to visit Bolivia?
- What are the best places to visit in Bolivia?
- How to get a Bolivian tourist visa?
- How to travel to Bolivia?
- How to travel within Bolivia?
- Is Bolivia expensive on a traveler’s budget?
- How should you carry money on your Bolivia travel?
- What to pack for Bolivia? What to wear in Bolivia?
- Do you need a yellow fever vaccination for Bolivia?
- How is Bolivian food?
Where is Bolivia?
Bolivia is a landlocked country located in the center of the South-American continent where it shares borders with Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, and Chile, clockwise in that order. The country shares the Atacama desert with Chile and the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, with Peru.
How is the landscape and geography of Bolivia?
Bolivian geography ranges from the Atacama desert to the high altiplano or the highlands and hills of the Andes mountains to the Amazon basin, which the country shares with other South-American countries.
I found the Bolivian landscape to be pretty surreal. The capital La Paz, one of the three big cities in Bolivia, is situated on the top of the Altiplano Andes, and you can see the Mt. Illimani in the background when the weather is clear. One day I was in the capital staring at a graffiti while high rainbow-colored mountains surrounded me from all directions, and Bolivians went about their days in sky trolleys as if everything was normal. Then the next day, I was wandering in quaint villages banked by an azure lake where life was much slower, and island towns where hippies roamed around selling handmade silver jewelry and bead bracelets.
I didn’t visit the Amazon in Bolivia, for I had already been to the Peruvian Amazon. But the landscape is flat there. Otherwise while traveling in Bolivia, you will find yourself struggling with its high altitude. So eat a lot and think of the roads as treadmills with an incline.
Suggested Read: Best things to do in Peru – With some of my secret places in Peru
How to handle the altitude in Bolivia? How the altitude could be related to cocaine consumption and production?
When I was researching the production of cocaine in Bolivia for this article, the first link that Google gave me was of an online seller of Bolivian cocaine.
Due to my non-existent curiosity in researching a country before I go there, I didn’t know that Bolivia would be so high (no pun intended). I have had a fair share of experience with the high altitude in Peru, but in Bolivia, even the densely inhabited cities could throw you out of your energy irrespective of the number of banana shakes you had with your breakfast. I felt I was trekking throughout, except when I was in the eastern part of Bolivia, that is Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Samaipata.
How do people deal with the altitude? Bolivians chew raw leaves of coca, a cash crop, and drink coca tea and ask you to do the same. For the Bolivian people, the coca leaves are so important to relieve fatigue and enhance physical stamina, that the president Evo Morales chewed the leaves at a UN meeting to get their domestic consumption legalized. He said how could I have eaten them if they were drugs, and the UN agreed.
The country is the third-largest grower of coca leaves after Peru and Colombia and sells a high amount of those coca leaves to Peru, who then processes them and sells them to Brazil for producing cocaine.
There is an illegal underground cocaine bar in La Paz, and many travelers I met had been there. I don’t feel comfortable visiting such places for I don’t have any interest in cocaine. As an observer and a writer, I would have liked to go, but then the risks were too many. You just ask a taxi, and the driver will bring you to the bar.
All harms aside, drinking coca tea and chewing coca leaves are part of the culture. So when you ask at your hotel or a tour guide while going dizzy, they will give you a bag of those leaves. You can also buy them in the local market.
For your information and use, just stick to coca leaves. And remember that cocaine is illegal in Bolivia, and up to 50 grams of cocaine is decriminalized but still illegal. In your first days in the altitude, take it easy, eat and sleep well, and let your body adjust to the height.
Now let me deal head-on with the question that all travelers ponder over when they think about going to Bolivia.
Is it safe to travel to Bolivia?
I felt pretty safe in Bolivia.
During the one month that I was backpacking Bolivia, I had no incident of pickpocketing or ATM kidnapping or anything that you might find on the internet. Neither did any of my travel friends faced any safety threat.
Of course, we followed the usual protocols that travelers always take care of in a foreign land. Don’t venture out late at night alone, keep your wallets and phone safely, don’t ask for directions from strangers who could have easily been part of mafia gangs, be vigilant if you go out to drink at night, and stay away from people who might cause trouble or try to sell drugs, which happen a lot in every country these days, even in India.
You know, common sense.
I heard pickpocketing stories about El Alto though. So if you go there, keep your hands in your pockets while moving around or use a money pouch/fanny pack. I bought one from San Pedro, Chile and used it a few times in Bolivia.
I also heard a lot of traveler traveling in Bolivia that La Paz taxi drivers were notorious for taking the tourist to an ATM at gunpoint and then asking her to withdraw cash. But while traveling Bolivia I didn’t worry about the taxi drivers, not because I am a Ninja fighter, but I hadn’t read that the drivers were nasty. I met some of the nicest taxi drivers who brought me where I was supposed to go after driving around the sinewy lanes for a dog year’s time and in spite of the directions that sometimes read straight out of Harry Potter books. Another time the driver helped me find the embassy of India which was hidden in a residential apartment without any sign on the front door. In yet another case, a driver called my hostel at five in the morning to have us two traveler girls get inside while we were freezing outside the hostel which was neither picking up the phone nor was opening their gate.
Having said that, I was recently watching news of Delhi where an Uber taxi driver stopped his car on an empty highway, called his friends who threatened the family he was driving to give their valuables at gunpoint, and ran away. So maybe I was lucky on my Bolivia trip, or on most of my travels.
Don’t take the chance and ask your hotel to call for a registered taxi which they trust and that can be tracked.
I only heard about one incident of fraud when my Dutch friend booked a ticket to Brazil from Santa Cruz, boarded the bus, but when he arrived at the border, the bus driver told him that he had to get down. My friend said that he had booked a ticket until Pantanal, but the driver said that he was only booked until the border, and they couldn’t help him. So he was at the Bolivia-Brazil border, with almost zero bolivianos, no phone, and no easy commute to any humanity closeby.
Long story short, he arrived at Pantanal forty-three hours later with hunger hitting his stomach hard and fatigue shutting down his eyes.
But we have to be careful with bus companies and tour bookings always. Regular buses are notorious in Bolivia for petty thefts and delayed runs, so many people would advise you to take tourist buses such as Todo Turismo. I didn’t know that the regular buses might be dangerous, so I just took whatever bus fit in my time and budget. Once I had to make a trip back from San Pedro, Chile, to Uyuni to La Paz back to back in buses, and then from La Paz to Chile again as fast as I could (due to a visa fiasco whose tragic story is too long for me to rant here), I just went on with the bus that was ready to take me.
The overnight notorious bus from Uyuni to La Paz and vice-versa turned out to be safe, and we had no incidents. The overnight buses rarely stop, giving you plenty of time to sleep and relax. Buy tickets for the “bus cama” or sleeping bed type of seat type of buses in which you can sleep. The cheaper options might not be that comfortable.
Also remember, if a bus company promises to take you where you have asked them to, always make sure that you have a ticket to the destination, and not to a place that comes before, take a photo of your ticket, also do keep some local currency for emergencies, and try to board buses that arrive during day time.
Don’t carry your valuables when you go out and take soft copies of your visa and passport and not the actual ones.
The internet says a lot of bad things about Bolivia, which is expected since Bolivia is a poor South-American country. But Bolivia is safe to travel if you take the regular precautions.
Also Read: The day I was mugged in Santiago, Chile
Now as we have moved on from the biggest concern of safety, let us talk about other things.
History of Bolivia
I wouldn’t have talked about Bolivian history if I didn’t find an excellent education website that explains the history in laymen’s terms.
Let us see if I will be able to make the most boring subject, mainly because of a monotonous teacher, into an interesting one.
After the fall of the mighty Tiwanaku empire who was located in the South of Lake Titicaca thousands of years ago, Incas invaded Bolivia in the 15th century and made it their home. But soon Spanish conquistadores, who overshadowed South America like an egoistic dark cloud who didn’t want to move, entered Bolivia and took control in 1525. Bolivians were ruled by the Spanish for around 300 years when under the guidance of Simon Bolivar, on whom the country is named after, overthrew the Spanish in 1809 to declare independence.
What type of government does Bolivia have?
Even travelers need to read about a country’s history and government for when you know a state’s political philosophy, you understand a lot more about the country, and your expectations are also in place.
So, on I go.
Bolivia has had an unstable political condition for almost two centuries now. After independence, Bolivia lost many wars with her neighbors, and one of the most significant ones was against Chile in which Bolivia lost the Pacific coast and became land-locked. Though the war happened more than a hundred years ago, Bolivian citizens hold a long march against Chile on March 23 every year, and I witnessed the 2017th one in La Paz.
But apart from the wars, the country has had internal government issues and irrespective of the regime the people believed in, whether democratic or military, the political situation and the economy haven’t improved. Currently, the country has a presidential-represented democratic republic headed by Evo Morales since 2006.
Due to the unstable politics, Bolivia is constantly hit by too many strikes.
Update 2020: Evo Morales was forced to step down as the president and is now exiled in Argentina. The country is temporarily under control of the right-wing Jeanine Anez and the military.
Update October 2020: Current political information about La Paz: Bolivia’s year-long interregnum has finally ended, and Luis Acre formed the government in October 2020. The political unrests and the street protests should have ended now.
What is the population of Bolivia?
Don’t you want to know how many Bolivians you can expect to be surrounded by while walking on a road?
In 2018, the population was almost eleven(11) mn. Though India is only three times the size of Bolivia, our population is 122 times that of the Bolivian population.
An emphasis on the population to size skewness is essential because Latinos asked me about India’s population almost a hundred times, and when they heard that we are more than a billion, as if they didn’t know it already, they were shocked beyond measures.
What language is spoken in Bolivia?
Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara are the three official languages of Bolivia. Not all the people can speak all the three, but about one-third of people speak Spanish. And most of the people who were born and brought up in Bolivia speak at least one of the native languages, which is Quechua and Aymara. Even though I spoke fluent Spanish by the time I was backpacking Bolivia, I understood neither a word of Quechua nor of Aymara. You are free to try your luck.
Bolivia is a favorite of travelers to learn Spanish. Many of my friends went to Sucre to learn in a Spanish school. They took one-on-one classes and felt happy about the pace of the course and the ability of their teachers.
How are the Bolivian people?
Many travelers who had visited Bolivia told me that the Bolivian people are rude. I disagree. Though Bolivians are not so forthcoming as some other Latin American people, I will not call them rude. Service was always with a straight face, and I blame that to the lack of hospitality training.
As compared to the Chileans and Peruvians, Bolivian people asked me fewer questions about India. Not only the Bolivians were less excited about the tourists, overall, I even felt a hint of resentment, on some incidents. Though Bolivian’s cold behavior made me conscious at that moment, I don’t blame them in hindsight. For a country with such dire financial and political problems, citizens become frustrated.
Bolivian families pray to nature gods, which is much like many other Latin American countries and India. Women wear fluffy skirts, braid their hair in long buns hastened at the end with ribbons, and put on a bowler hat. These traditionally-dressed women are known as Cholitas, and their dressing style is trending now. Of course, when the president would celebrate his win in traditional attire, then that dress code is bound to get more eyeballs.
Traditional Bolivian men wear cotton trousers, bright ponchos, and woolen caps called chullas.
Identifying Bolivians wasn’t easy as some of them had features that are peculiar to people who live in the mountains, such as the people from the Himalayan belt in India, but a lot of Bolivian men and women resembled Europeans, too. And why wouldn’t they? Europeans constitute twelve(12) percent of the Bolivian population, and thirty percent(30) of the Bolivians are of a mixed race. Many Dutch hostel owners who have married Bolivian men and women and have settled in Samaipata(a Bolivian village) told me that they traveled to Bolivia years ago and could never leave.
Aymara and Quechua, the indigenous people, constitutes about forty-seven percent of the population.
Also Read: 13 Chilean cultural conventions that will surprise you
Now let us answer your specific questions about traveling in Bolivia.
What is the best time to visit Bolivia?
I was traveling in Bolivia in March and April, which is when the summer ends as the Bolivian sun is the strongest from November to March. Though the country receives rainfall during summers, I don’t remember being thrashed by the rains even once. Now the scantiness of rain might mean that it was a dry summer or that I am getting more forgetful with age.
May to September are the coldest and driest months. And then comes along spring when it is not too cold, with a little rainfall, and more sunshine and this gay weather lasts until November.
Spring and early summer would be the best time to visit Bolivia for the pleasant climate, golden sunshine, and less rain.
What are the best places to visit in Bolivia?
During the one month that I traveled in Bolivia, I saw some gorgeous landscapes of Bolivia. Let me summarize those places here, for I have detailed posts coming up on most of them soon. Stay tuned.
1. El Salar de Uyuni, or Salt Flats Uyuni and Uyuni
The Salt Flats are the favorite of travelers and a quintessential place to experience when you travel to Bolivia. And why shouldn’t they be?
Uyuni salt flats are a vast, planar area that is covered with endless salt hexagons that fit together like a crossword puzzle. As per an Aymara legend, a love triangle between the surrounding mountains Kusina, Kusku, and Tunupa caused the formation of the salar. Kusku betrayed his wife Tunupa for the love of Kusina, and the sad Tunupa cried so much that she filled the area between the mountains with her tears.
And the scientific version narrates that the salt flats were formed when the growling Andean sun evaporated the water that had collected from the surrounding Andean peaks in the plane. Now the area which was a lake once holds ten(10) billion tonnes of salt that contains enormous lithium deposits underneath.
When it rains, the water collects to form natural reflective surface on the salt planes. Hence the salt flats are famous for reflection photographs, and also for trick photography as the salt is so ubiquitous that you can pretend anything to be anywhere.
A lot of travelers believe that they should book a tour to the salt flats before going to Uyuni. Though you might think that pre-booking the tour is essential, I suggest you go to the town of Uyuni and book the tour there. Most of the agencies always have availability, and they club the tourists together if they don’t have exactly 6 people, which is the average jeep size, so there is no point being particular about the company.
I arrived in Uyuni a night before the tour. In the morning, we went to many tour groups near the plaza and asked for the prices and availability. The company we traveled with had 4 Columbian women and were happy to add two of us to maximize the potential of the jeep and thus their profits. But the women resented us throughout the trip, and even smiling at us seem to have cost them a few flamingoes.
The town Uyuni doesn’t have much to see so you can either skip it or if you are forced to spend a day there get a hotel room, eat pizza, drink beer, and watch Netflix, which is what I did.
Where to stay — Many small hotels and hostels are located around the Uyuni plaza, and you can get a private or shared room for cheap. The accommodations are basic so don’t expect much. Or book a hotel with good ratings on booking.com which is what I do if I want to be sure. The tour provides you accommodation for three nights in the salt flats, and one of those nights you will stay at a hotel which is made out of salt, completely.
What to eat — All kinds of multi-cuisine restaurants sit on Uyuni’s main plaza or the central square. Hop onto any one of these places and try the versatile menu. I spent a day eating pizza and drinking juice at one of those eateries, and it even served hookah though I wasn’t in the mood to fill my lungs with flavored smoke. And if you walk away from the square, you will find small eating joints that serve local people. You will get delicious food on the tour, so for three days, you will be the king.
Also Read: My guide to the Salt Flats Tour in Uyuni, Bolivia
2. Copacabana and Isla del Sol
Copacabana is set on the shores of the pristine Lake Titicaca, which is one of the highest, largest, and deepest lakes in the world and looks like an ocean. Though the Bolivians are depressed about losing the war for the Pacific coast against Chile, this majestic water body should bring some peace to the Bolivians.
I went to Copacabana from Cusco with another friend and spent a few days there. The small town felt very cozy even though it was flooded with tourists who wanted to go to Isla del Sol, a popular island on the lake. Copacabana had the regular tourist vibe, a small market with souvenir shops and fruit stands, a lane of restaurants that runs like a red carpet to the bank of the lake, lakeside food stalls run by the cholitas who prepare fresh fish in many mouthwatering forms, multiple bus agencies, and a green countryside which is good for hiking. So while you are there pick a hill and go to the summit. I assure you brilliant views.
Isla del Sol is a quaint island on the Lake Titicaca. The Incas believed that the sun god was born on the lush island, which is surrounded by crystal clear water and is inhabited by indigenous people. We even saw beautiful hairy donkeys at the shore of the island, and I wouldn’t say that I didn’t fall in love, almost, with one of those solemn animals.
So go to the peaceful island, dive deep into the beliefs of Incas, hike around in nature, and watch the molten sun go down the gorgeous sapphire lake with a cup of mate in your hands.
Where to stay in Copacabana — We stayed at Casa del Sol which was a few lanes away from the center but offered spacious rooms with private bathrooms, a kitchen, an open sunlit courtyard, and the company of a furry dog. I highly recommend this place for its friendly owners and the comfortable stay.
Where to stay in Isla Del Sol — Take a boat from Copacabana to the South of the Isla del Sol. As you get off the boat, the locals will demand tourist tax to visit the island. Once you have paid them, you will meet a row of homestay owners who want to take you to their homes and rent you a room with a shared or private toilet at a budget price. We stayed at a small house with basic facilities near the shore. And when we took a boat from the Yumani in the South to go to Ch’allapampa in the North, we found a simple hotel in the hills by walking up the stairs.
What to eat — In Copacabana, I bought fresh vegetables and quinoa and cooked myriad meals which were a hit in the hostel. When I was feeling too fancy to cook or wanted to taste the local preparations, I walked to the lake and ate fish at one of the lady’s stall. In Isla del Sol, we ate at local restaurants, but I didn’t like much of the food that I ate there, and service was slower than the rest of Bolivia, which isn’t famous for fast service anyhow.
Important Note — The island is undergoing some conflict regarding revenue and free connectivity between the North and the South, and tourists can only go to the South for the boats are not allowed to go to the North. So visit the South but don’t be disappointed if you can’t hike to the North. And please let me know if you go there and find that the conflict has resolved.
If you plan to visit Copacabana, read my story of the town and the things to do in Copacabana Bolivia.
3. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is in eastern Bolivia and out of the typical backpacking route. Santa Cruz is by and for the rich of Bolivia, and a lot of industries are based out of there which explains the presence of riches.
Though I didn’t find the town as exciting as the other parts of Bolivia, I didn’t dislike it. It has three national parks in its vicinity, the center of South America is located here, the city is the gateway to Brazil, a botanical gardens with the options of seeing wildlife and the dunes of Parque Lomas de Arena are both an hour away, the central plaza adorns a cathedral which you can climb to the top of to get a good view and spot hawks atop antennas and great options for local and international food in restaurants and on streets.
I am also guilty of relaxing in the green park in front of my hostel, watching men play football, which is a craze in Bolivia, or sitting at the plaza and drinking coffee while the local life went on.
Even though the city is crowded with malls, which is unlike all the other Bolivian places we went to, it is an excellent place to slow down. And when I got bored of Santa Cruz, I went to Samaipata, a village which is a few hours away from Santa Cruz by bus.
Where to stay — I stayed at the comfortable Jodanga hostel and paid almost 80 bolivianos or 12 USD for a bed in an 8-bed mixed dormitory. The hostel is always busy with travelers. They have a big swimming pool, a pool table, a kitchen, a bar, a common room with television, multiple shared bathrooms, and is walkable from the central plaza. You will have a comfortable and fun stay here.
What to eat — when you go around the city, you will find a lot of street vendors and local markets to eat at. While walking back to the hostel one day, I stumbled into two brothers from the middle east who were selling delicious kebabs on the road. We chatted, and I ate a chicken kebab roll there.
Then another day we found a tiny restaurant that sold grilled black-pepper chicken which was so juicy that when I think of it, I curse myself for quitting non-vegetarian food. I even went all in and ate at the Indian restaurant called Taj Mahal ( the internet says it is closed now) which served a rich chicken curry and gulab jamun and fixed my cravings. The rest of the meals were at the tiny stalls, or in the hostel kitchen when I cooked quinoa with fresh vegetables.
If you are visiting Santa Cruz, my experiential guide about the city will help you. Read it here: The Best things to do in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
This tiny peaceful village is my favorite place in Bolivia. I will publish a complete article on Samaipata in a day, but for now, I can say that the more I stayed in the quaint village, the more I fell in love with it. It is a sort of place that slows you down while reminding you about the important things in life. If you are backpacking Bolivia, definitely visit this beauty for a few days.
While you are there, you can hike in the Parque Amboro, go to the Inca ruins of El Fuerte, visit a few gorgeous waterfalls, laze around in an animal rescue center with monkeys, eat empanadas and yuca sticks along with a mate, and relax and soak in the serene vibe.
Where to Stay — Go to Jaguar Azul, take a treehouse, and see how beautiful life could be. Though the place scores average on cleanliness and a great shower or clean toilet is a dream there, as soon as you climb up to the treehouse you would be feeling too good to care about any of those things. And if you want a cleaner and a comfortable place, go to hostel Serena. I know the Dutch owner Bert who invited us home when we befriended his father who drank coffee at the plaza every day. I guarantee you will have a great stay there. And do say hello from me.
Where to eat — Jaguar Azul didn’t give breakfast, so we usually walked to the nearby empanadas and yuca sticks stall. At the plaza, there are many cool places, and one of my favorite for coffee is cafe 1900. Then there was an upcoming place for falafel called La Chakana which was gaining popularity. The bar La Boheme which is right at the square is a fun place for some drinks and conversation.
We ate many meals at Isa’s roadside restaurant which was a few streets away from the plaza. She took our order by peaking out of her window. Then we waited for our food while watching the kites gliding in the sky and losing ourselves in the sweetness of the caramelizing onion wafting out of her window. Ask for Isa and wayfarers will tell you the way.
Recommended Read: My fun travel guide to Samaipata, Bolivia
5. La Paz
I have never seen another capital like this one. While the mornings brought the crowd to the streets, by the evening, they were going back to their homes in those sky trolleys I have already mentioned a few times in this post, or my mind at least. Though the capital is of the busiest cities in Bolivia, it has maintained, if not promoted, the Bolivian culture; and almost no other cosmopolitan cities or capitals can claim that they secured their country’s culture.
I hung out in La Paz for a week, on two trips, and visited local markets such as Mercado 16 de Julio, flew in teleféricos, ate stomach full of salteñas and baked chocolate eclairs, went to the witches market which I found to be overhyped and had nothing much to do with witches, visited the Chile consulate to and fro (more on this in a separate article about fighting for Chile visa), and wondered if I should bike down the death road, which I didn’t. You can also climb to the top of Hyuna Potosi if you are a close friend of adrenaline.
Where to Stay —
I stayed at Hostel House Wonderful which had both dorms and private rooms. The breakfast was minimal, but the stay was comfortable and the hostel staff attended carefully.
Hotel House Wonderful is permanently closed now. Browse hotels and hostels in La Paz below on Booking.
Where to eat — You have a lot of options from fine-dining restaurants to food courts to malls to streetside tiny stalls and kiosks to local markets.
I flew to this white city from Santa Cruz to see a friend and am glad that I went there to meet her.
Sucre has become a hub for travelers who aspire to learn Spanish as many Spanish schools have sprung up in the city over the past few years. I didn’t take a Spanish course for I could speak Spanish by then and instead spent my time on the streets, visited the white-washed cathedrals, shopped from the Tarabuco market, basked in sunshine at the plaza, clicked pictures of the white colonial buildings with red-tiled rooftops and wooden balconies, and ate chocolates, for there are some great places for coffee and chocolate.
Where to stay — I stayed at the hostel Wasi Masi, but I wouldn’t recommend it to you. For even though my friend stayed there for two weeks, and because of her a few other travelers, including me, boarded in the hostel, they fought with her the day we checked out. My friend had informed the reception that we would check out late for we were packing and saying goodbye to our friends. But for a pre-informed delay of two hours, Wasi Masi made us pay for the full day. When I refused to pay and said that they were being unprofessional, the lady at the reception told me she would inform the police, the immigration, and then followed us out of the hostel until we paid. Update October 2020 – Wasi Masi seem to have shut down.
Where to eat — Great coffee places all around the plaza and the city. The cafe Condor at the square has empanadas as big as the size of a sheep, crisp coffee, internet, and you can sit there for hours. Local food shops offer a set menu and are plenty. You can also indulge yourselves in sinful wine bars. Doesn’t the town sound like a dream?
7. Parque Nacional Toro-toro
I didn’t go here but my friends who visited told me that the park has billion-year-old footprints of dinosaurs and surreal landscapes. You can go to the Torotoro canyon, wander through the limestone caves of Umajallanta, and fill-in the dinosaur footprints that bring thousands of tourists to this part of Bolivia. You can go to Torotoro from Cochabamba via bus which usually takes about six hours.
Where to stay — Stay in the Torotoro village which has a basic market, a few restaurants, and limited accommodations.
Where to eat — Don’t expect much but there are ample local options to choose from.
How to get a Bolivian tourist visa?
Though Bolivia gives a paid visa on arrival to most western countries (excluding the USA), other South-American countries, and India, I got a visa for Bolivia in Cusco, Peru. You only get the visa on arrival if you land at the La Paz and Santa Cruz airports, and I was crossing into Bolivia via land. Also, I have heard from some people who tried getting a visa on arrival that the authorities at Santa Cruz weren’t the best to deal with, and they took hours to issue a visa. So confirm before you go.
The visa application process at the Bolivian consulate in Cusco was smooth, and I got a 30-day validity visa in an hour. I could enter and exit Bolivia only once on that visa. My guide to Bolivia Visa for Indians which also includes the visa extension Process in Bolivia will tell you all.
How to travel to Bolivia?
You can cross into Bolivia from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, and from Peru. But if you are flying to Bolivia, you can take a direct flight to Santa Cruz, Sucre, or La Paz, the main cities in Bolivia.
I don’t miss any chance of overland travel, so how could Bolivia be any different? I boarded a bus from Cusco to Copacabana, the nearest Bolivian town. At the Peru-Bolivia border, all us travelers got down in Peru, got our passports stamped, and then walked through the border. Then we showed our passports to the immigration officer of Bolivia, who sealed it and let us in.
The bus driver was supposed to pick us up on the Bolivian border side, but he strolled to us and said that he was only supposed to bring us to the border.
As all the passengers of the bus had bought bus tickets to Copacabana, a group of Chilean travelers fought with the Peruvian bus driver until he paid us for our journey to Copacabana, for we didn’t have any bolivianos on us, and also, for the principle involved. Unhappy with the three bolivianos he had given us for a journey that cost four, we narrated our story to the Peru immigration officer, who then asked the driver to pay us or the driver’s license was to be banned. Giving up in front of our setting-things-right attitude, the furious driver drove us to Copacabana, but only after we had crossed the border multiple times in the process.
When in South America, make sure the driver takes you to the destination you have paid for. Keep the ticket safe, click its photo, and speak up when you think the drivers or guides are ditching you at a no man’s land because you are a tourist and can’t speak their language.
Also Read: My journey of learning Spanish in Chile
How to travel within Bolivia?
Bolivia is enormous, and journeys are long. So consider flying even though you don’t do that usually, like me. While traveling in Bolivia, I took two flights; one was from Santa Cruz to Sucre, and the second one with Boliviana de Aviacion was from La Paz to Santa Cruz for 523 bolivianos or 75 USD. I took this flight a day before I had to fly and was surprised to find that it wasn’t liquidating my assets.
Leave that overlanding pride and go on a flight for they aren’t that expensive. You might also save your ass hours of jumping on a rough seat of a promising bus, while its blocked toilets tease your bladder that we are there, but you can’t go. And these beautiful memories bring me to the option of traveling by bus.
I have written a lot about the Bolivian buses in the “Is it safe to travel in Bolivia?” section. But to summarize my day-long journeys in rickety Bolivian buses, I can say that I never had a theft nor did I feel unsafe, unlike the general opinion on the internet.
Also, I was stuck at Uyuni and La Paz, for a day each, as the buses to another destination, which was eight or more hours away, only ran at night. So irrespective of how urgently you have to leave, which I guess wouldn’t be your case as you are a travel junkie, you cannot go until the evening dawns upon you.
Just walk to a bus terminal or take a taxi to one, ask for the prices and the timings, and then buy a ticket. If you have a smirk on your face right now and you think that I will book online, let me tell you that the online booking system in Bolivia was much worse than Indian government websites which at least work sometimes. Now wipe off that smirk and get to work, my friend.
Is Bolivia expensive on a traveler’s budget?
I never felt that Bolivia was expensive. And I will tell you why.
For accommodation — In a comfortable hostel of a prosperous city, a single bed in a mixed dorm cost me 80 bolivianos or 12 USD which felt expensive at that time for I was used to paying much less. A shared room with a private bathroom in Copacabana costs 10 USD per head in a good homestay.
While traveling in Bolivia, on average, I didn’t pay more than 10 USD per night for the month, which included private rooms, beds in a mixed dorm, and treehouses. Only once I remember spending a bit more when I took a single room in La Paz when I was exhausted, sick, and a visa emergency had decided to surprise me. Prices are affordable if you aren’t going for anything fancy.
For food — Depends on you. I ate a full meal or a set menu that includes a soup and a main course for 4–5 bolivianos sometimes, while at other times I even paid 30 bolivianos for a meal. The difference was mostly if the place was a shabby stall on a dusty road or if it was a cozy restaurant with a proud chandelier in the center.
If the hotel wasn’t benevolent enough to provide breakfast, I gorged on roadside empanadas and salteñas while walking on the streets and asked the vendors to fill my bottle with manzanilla(chamomile) mate. You can even buy groceries and cook for Bolivia has a lavish spread of organic vegetables and fruits. I went wild, almost, while shopping from the local markets which felt as if a Color God had brightened the carrots, tomatoes, and eggplants to lure you into buying them.
For commute — Buses, flights, and taxis were cheap. The purchasing and spending power of Bolivia is low, so you cannot expect soar prices. That being said, the standard rules apply, like if you are taking a flight the next day, expect to pay a bit more than you thought.
For shopping — I never shop much. But if food, transport, and stay aren’t expensive then why would shopping be? Buy yourself some local weavings from the Tarabuco market in Sucre; they say that this market got the two best weavings of South America.
How should you carry money on your Bolivia travel?
While traveling around South America, I withdrew money with my atm debit card. Take out enough cash for a week so that you don’t have to pay the taxes every time you withdraw with your international card. Of course, these taxes work differently for each country.
Never carry all the cash when you go out in Bolivia. Just carry double of what you think you need so that if you lose it, you don’t end up missing much. As most of the places in Bolivia didn’t accept a card, I didn’t even carry it except for the times I ran out of cash. So any taxi mafia could not even ask me to withdraw all my money at an ATM.
The rest is easy.
What to pack for Bolivia? What to wear in Bolivia?
Bolivia is a cold and windy country for most of the year. The summers go up to a maximum of thirty degrees on average. So make sure you have enough warm jackets, full-length leggings, jeans, robust walking shoes, rain jacket, sunblock, and altitude sickness pills.
I never saw any Bolivians in short clothing, which could be due to the culture or because of the strong winds. Only in the rich town of Santa Cruz and the hippie Samaipata, I found people with shorter clothes most of which were of cotton. And why not? The sun was shining brightly upon our heads when I went to those two towns at the end of March.
Here are some of the essential things that you should bring to Bolivia.
- A couple of dresses for women – Some long and short dresses can be worn anywhere in Bolivia.
- Short for women and shorts for men – For everyday travel.
- A good pair of jeans – Even though I am not a big fan of wearing jeans and love many other more comfortable bottoms, sturdy jeans will keep you warm in Bolivian Andes and the surrounding countries. I wore mine frequently.
- Swimwear for women and swimwear for men – If not anywhere else, you would need them in the hot geysers of your Uyuni tour.
- good hiking shoes for women and good hiking shoes for men – A must-have in South America.
- a rain jacket – Always carry one in the Latin-American countries for you never know when it might rain.
- warm jackets for men and for women – You might even need these on a rainy day in the summer.
- warm and waterproof gloves – essential for hiking and the outdoors.
- woolen socks for women and for men – For hiking and to survive the chilly winds of Bolivia.
- a woolen sweater – You can also buy gorgeous and warm woolen jumpers in Bolivia at affordable prices. But I like Peruvians’ sweaters better.
- a scarf for women and for men.
- a pair of warm leggings or thermals for women and for men (I wore them under my dresses to stay warm.)
- yoga pants for women and for men – suitable for long buses, which you will take many in Bolivia.
- A fanny pack to carry your passports and money.
- Also, bring a strong backpack as you would travel in weird weather and on rough routes – I have been using a North Face backpack for about four years now and have no complaints.
- A travel towel – Carry a light travel towel like this one for it will save you a lot of space.
- Lifestraw water bottle – Comes with an inbuilt filter, and you can fill it anywhere. A filter water bottle is essential for you cannot drink tap water everywhere in Bolivia.
- Memory foam travel pillow for a good sleep while traveling
- A good camera – Nikon D3400 is a very good choice for the price. I use Nikon for all my photography now (the pictures in the article though have been clicked with my phone for I have been using Nikon only for the past nine months). This camera comes with two lenses, and the one with the higher resolution is perfect for bird photography if you are interested.
- A first-aid kit – Always carry one while traveling. Carry essential medicines as in the remote islands of Titicaca and while hiking in the Andes, you would not find any medicine shops.
- Strong sunscreen – Andean mountains can be pretty sunny, and you would burn in a minute
- Mosquito repellant – Much needed for Bolivian Amazon and other national parks.
- Altitude sickness pills – remember most of the Peruvian places are above sea level and sometimes as high as 4000 to 5000 meters.
This is my list of basic things to bring to Bolivia.
Needless to say, you should carry a printout of my list of important Spanish travel phrases that will save you in South America (printable link in the guide).
Do you need a yellow fever vaccination for Bolivia?
The internet says that if you are traveling to Bolivia from a country with a risk of yellow fever you need a yellow fever vaccination. You would be at a yellow fever risk if you are coming from the Amazon near Iquitos, the dense and more-humid jungle of Peru, or some other yellow-fever prone area and going into the Amazon in Bolivia, the tropical, yellow-fever prone part. But as I hadn’t been to Iquitos and wasn’t going to the Amazon of Bolivia, the consul of Bolivia didn’t request a yellow-fever card while issuing my travel visa.
There are mixed reviews about the need of a yellow-fever vaccination while entering Iquitos. Some of the posts I read and the people I met told me that the vaccination wasn’t mandatory and many survived without getting one. A few got the shots in a precautionary manner. But if you are going to the Bolivian Amazon, I would suggest you get vaccinated. Also, remember that you need to get the shots ten days before your Bolivia trip for that is how long it takes for the medicines to work against the mosquitoes. And when you get vaccinated, you get terrible side effects such as dizziness, fever, and more. So don’t get vaccinated while traveling Bolivia even though getting the shots there might be cheaper.
I speak with some authority on the mosquito issue as I have had dengue twice — take those shots if there is even a chance of getting the disease.
I have kept the best for the last.
How is Bolivian food?
I won’t delve on this much as I have already written a lot about Bolivian food, but I will say that don’t worry about food if you are going to Bolivia and you can eat animals. If you are a vegetarian then you might have a difficult time as I found that almost all the courses of a meal had at least one type of meat in them.
And don’t ever forget to ask that which dish has meat, for even if you tell Bolivians that you don’t eat meat ( or in my case beef) they will serve you soup which will have floating pieces of a dead cow that might kill your appetite at the first glance. I don’t hold them accountable for the country don’t have much of a vegetarian crowd. I passed the soup with carne(meat) to my friends who eat animals casually and never say no to a full bowl of hearty soup. And then I had the main course for I was a non-vegetarian then who ate chicken and fish and goat.
On your lucky day, you might find quinoa soups to start your meal with. But in the traditional Bolivian food, the main course is generally fish or chicken or beef. So what do you do then?
Taste the vegetarian dishes, and then tell your heart to compromise and buy groceries and cook your own food for a majority of the hotels and hostels and homestays came with a fully-functional kitchen. Also, remember or write down the words for animals and meat and vegetarian and non-vegetarian on a piece of paper and show them to the waiter who serves you.
Do eat at chifa restaurants. They serve a fusion of Chinese and Bolivian, and I am drooling here thinking about the many meals that I relished in the Bolivian chifas. Let me end this article and cook now for the hunger pangs are hitting hard.
Also Read: My ultimate Guide to Travel in Chile
I hope I have done justice to this Bolivia travel guide and to my month-long adventures in a country I never imagined I would visit. But if you have any more questions about Bolivia, please leave a comment. Hope this beautiful country can intrigue you as much as it impressed me.
Have you traveled to Bolivia or are you planning to visit? Let me know what helped you or what could I have told you better.
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