Five Things to Know Before Travelling to Bolivia

A few days ago, I left Bolivia for Peru. After fourteen weeks, nine cities, two volunteer projects and way too much stressing about an overstayed visa, the sense of relief at leaving is palpable.

Because while I’ve seriously enjoyed my time in Bolivia, there’s no doubt that over the last three months it’s also slowly been driving me crazy.

My internal self, at least, feels a bit like this guy

The reason for this? Well, Bolivia has a number of idiosyncrasies that have the ability to make or break a traveller’s experience here. Once you get off the well-trodden gringo trail of La Paz, Sucre, Potosí and the Uyuni salt flats, it turns out that Bolivia isn’t very set up for tourism. And while I relish the challenge of navigating a non-touristy country, there are a myriad of barriers to surmount – mainly in terms of transport, money, food, culture, and the country’s unique method of giving advice.

So I thought a round up of my experiences in Bolivia – and the ensuing lessons I’ve learned – was in order. Not to dissuade people from visiting, but more to provide an overview of what you can expect from a period of Bolivian travel.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

1. Bolivian transport can be tricky

The first thing most travellers will encounter in Bolivia is the transport system. Like most of South America, people get around the country via an extensive bus network – but experiences on these can be debatable.

…right.

The process of catching a Bolivian bus deserves a post all to itself, so for now I’ll mention the bare basics: over speeding drivers, bizarre departure and arrival times, a constant gamble as to the bus temperature… You get the idea.

In terms of the more short-term transport options in Bolivia, though, I spent most of my time in two: taxis and trufis.

Taking trufis and taxis in Bolivia

When I first arrived in La Paz, I was pretty nervous about catching the local buses. Known as trufis, these little minibuses throng the city’s streets and feature ticket sellers leaning out of the open doors shouting their destinations – information supported by a placard propped up in the windscreen.

The problem is that the drivers essentially make up their routes: if there’s a road block or too much traffic, they simply go another way. For a tourist, this is something of a difficulty when they barely know the name of the street their hostel is on.

The streets of La Paz look a lot more pleasant when you’re not squinting out of a trufi window

Luckily, by the time I conquered my fear and boarded a trufi, I’d walked around enough of the city to know which direction we were speed-driving in. And if I ever lost my bearings, I’d simply shout, “isquina por favor!” and jump out at the nearest corner. A rule I never would have learnt without experiencing it first – however worried I was about getting lost.

Bolivia is also the only country where I’ve been consistently required to know both the directions and eventual location of where I’m headed infinitely better than the taxi driver. There have been slews of drivers who look terrified when you flag them down – that is, if they stop at all. Numerous taxis have driven straight past me, or started their engines and speeded off as soon as they hear an address they’re not explicitly familiar with.

I stayed at an incredible hostel in Cochabamba which was marred solely by the fact that absolutely no taxis had any clue how to get there. My favourite journey back to Las Lilas hostel was with a driver who held an expression like a frightened rabbit for the entire ten minute ride. I had to continually coax him to take each new turning, and clambered out of the car exhausted.

Bolivian transport: the positives

There are a number of benefits to the way Bolivians travel, though. First off, Bolivian transport is cheap. Hence why I took taxis a lot of the time – something that’s never been a habit in other South American countries.

The scenery on the bus route is also pretty nice.

Secondly, the experience is usually pretty friendly. On every trufi ride, I realised that each passenger said “buen dia” or “buenas tardes” as they boarded, presumably to the rest of the bus – and I adopted the tactic very early on.

Third, and most appealing to me, is that being a taxi driver in Bolivia is often a full family operation. Many times I’ve caught taxis with the driver’s son or daughter, wife or girlfriend in the front seat – and once in Sucre, even met a new born baby, whose father clearly couldn’t bear to spend his days away from her. Despite the numerous strange drivers, there are also many who are really eager to chat away in Spanish about what you’re doing in Bolivia.

Sadly, though, these conversations were often tainted by a constant issue: paying the fare.

2. Dealing with money in Bolivia is stressful

Like many countries around the world, people in Bolivia have a problem with giving out their change. I understand why: one tourist pays with a big note, and suddenly all your spare coins disappear as a result.

But when the biggest Boliviano note in common circulation is 100Bs, equivalent to £10 or $14, it becomes rather frustrating to constantly argue with taxi drivers, tienda owners and restaurant waitresses, who consistently maintain that they don’t have change.

Hiding your cash in your shoe. No one will ever look there.

I often found myself pretending I didn’t have smaller denominations in these situations, just to be able to break a note. It’s not the nicest feeling, but sometimes ends up being totally necessary.

The pricing of products also carries its own set of difficulties; more often than not, I had the sneaking suspicion that sellers were simply making their prices up on the spot. Regardless of whether it’s due to obviously being a foreigner, things got problematic when I tried to barter with the clearly invented price, and was either bluntly shot down or laughed at.

Of course, the huge positive aspect to money in Bolivia is that pretty much everything is insanely cheap. Whether it’s a ten hour bus journey for £10, a three course meal with wine for £5 or an ensuite room in a hotel for £7, sometimes it’s necessary to put things into perspective a bit.

Ok, the service might not be the best, but you’re still saving a ton of cash in the process.

3. Eating in Bolivia is always an experience

Bolivians certainly know how they like their food. In a country that’s home to thousands of different varieties of potato, the locals supplement a starch-heavy diet with a nationwide obsession with sweet stuff: plastic cups of coloured gelatine topped with whipped cream are sold on every street corner, sugary empanadas are grasped in sticky hands, and Coca Cola is the drink of choice.

Luckily there’s also a ton of shopping opportunities in the local markets, so it’s not all about the sugar.

The weirder Bolivian food facts include drinking juice out of plastic bags (actually a rather sensible idea!) and most older Bolivians chewing on a ball of coca leaves to combat the effects of altitude – which results in a constant bulge in their cheek.

But by far the most incredible – and most typically Bolivian – foodie experience happened on my second visit to Isla del Sol, the night before I left the country entirely.

Tired out and starving from a full day of hiking around the island, we chose a small restaurant overlooking Lake Titicaca and ordered a pizza, topped with olives, peppers, and ham. A ten year old girl took our order, brought us two beers, and vanished into the kitchen. We were the only customers at this point.

Lake Titicaca looks calm and serene, sure – pity the same vibe didn’t extend to the restaurant.

After a forty minute wait and the disappearance of the sun below the horizon, we started to wonder where our food was. We looked to the ten year old, busy putting oven gloves on after opening the oven door, and she smiled and dipped her head at us. Another twenty minutes, and a pizza finally appeared – but missing the ham the description had stated we’d get. Obviously this really wasn’t an issue, but we asked anyway. “This was supposed to come with ham, right? Well, there isn’t any…”

We were halfway through the pizza when our ten year old waitress appeared at the table, bearing a small china plate with two square slices of prepackaged ham, clearly straight out of the fridge.

“Todo bien?” The girl said, clearly perplexed at why we were laughing. We’d been given the ham we’d wanted, after all – what else could be the matter?

Still hungry when the pizza had gone, we ordered a plate of spaghetti. By this point the restaurant was filled with people, and the pasta took another forty minutes to arrive. Yet when it did, the stuff was so crunchy and brittle that it clearly hadn’t met boiling water for longer than a few minutes. After two mouthfuls I took it back to the kitchen.

“No puedo comer eso – es demaciado fuerte.”

The teenage boy glanced at the poor ten year old. She took the plate away – and there was no more mention of pasta. Not even the question of whether I wanted a fresh plateful.

Bolivian food: the positives

Luckily, Bolivia’s food offerings have kept me happy more often than not. I’ve waxed lyrical before about my love for the South American menu del dia, and Bolivia is no different. While daily helpings of soup, rice, meat and platano can sometimes get old, there’s no doubt that this simple meal is a quick, cheap fix for being hungry.

Outside of the typical Bolivian lunch, there’s a number of chances to happen upon amazing eateries if you just go looking. Potosi boasted incredible hot chocolate; we indulged in cheese fondue twice in Copacabana; and in Sucre, I ate the best steak of my entire life at a churrasqueria not even mentioned in Lonely Planet or on Trip Advisor.

SO MUCH PIG.

Most importantly, the attitude Bolivians have towards eating is ultimately communitarian, and it’s a lovely thing to see. When someone passes your table in a restaurant, you’ll usually hear ‘buen provecho’ – the Spanish equivalent of ‘bon appetite’. There’s also nothing odd about sharing your table with strangers: a trait that I think many other cultures would benefit hugely from.

4. Bolivian culture is absolutely fascinating

There’s no doubt in my mind that Bolivia’s cultural traits are one of the main reasons it stands out so much.

Indigenously dressed men and women are a common sight in all towns, villages and most big cities – many of whom shy away from photos because they think a camera will steal their souls. Young boys shine shoes in the middle of the street, their faces covered by balaclavas to conceal their identities. Llama foetuses hang above market stalls, inviting people to bury them under the foundations of their houses for good luck.

Building a new house? Go on, buy a llama!

These aspects of Bolivian life are things a foreigner simply can’t hope to understand. And Bolivians themselves have many behavioural eccentricities that often prove acutely stressful for a foreigner such as myself.

5. “Giving advice” actually means making things up

On Boxing Day in Copacabana, we wanted to hire a motorbike. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, zipping along the lake’s coastline to a few scenic spots, and we’d questioned the elderly gentlemen renting out bikes a few days before. He’d given a good price for four hours of rental on an automatic bike – “yes of course, we definitely have automatics” – and things seemed set.

Except when we arrived, he wheeled out a tired, battered and bruised bike, and proceeded to explain that there were only four gears we needed to use.

“…so it’s not automatic,” I ventured.

“Si, si, it is! There is no clutch, so it’s automatic,” he said, grinning.

I tried again.

“No… if it has gears, it isn’t automatic. We asked for an automatic because we don’t know how to drive with gears!”

His teenage accomplice attempted a different tactic.

“This road is straight, it’s flat. It’s an automatic road,” he said, unsuccessfully evading eye contact with me.

This kind of errant subterfuge occurred almost daily during my time in Bolivia. I constantly tried to get a handle on it – maybe people lied because they just really wanted to help? – but ultimately I fell short.

Time and time again, these things happened in Bolivia. A stranger would confidently point me in the wrong direction to an address I asked about; a shop owner would tell me they didn’t stock produce I could clearly see on the shelf.

Ever seen a real life zebra crossing?

But then again, some of Bolivia’s cultural crazinesses are what really makes the country special. Like real zebras helping you to cross the road.

A touch of my own advice

Talking to lots of travellers throughout Bolivia has matched my own opinions: this country is a challenge, certainly, but it’s also an utterly fascinating place.

So what’s my advice for travelling in Bolivia without encountering these stresses? Stick somewhere for longer than a few days. Find a homestay or an apartment. Take Spanish classes, shop at the local markets, and try to actually get under the skin of Bolivia.

Despite the stresses and the difficulties, there are so many positives – the awe inspiring landscapes and scenery, the budget-friendly prices, the fascinating culture, and the sense of adventure and possible challenge that comes with everything here.

Bolivia: it’s a struggle, but it’s worth it.

So thanks, Bolivia. Thanks for testing me to my limit, but simultaneously throwing me into the midst of an amazing array of totally unexpected experiences. South America would have been a lot less eventful if it wasn’t for you.

 

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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123 Responses to Five Things to Know Before Travelling to Bolivia

  1. Jennifer January 2, 2014 at 2:38 am #

    What a great idea to take that photo with the guidebook :)

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

      Thanks! I had a feeling it’d be a nice illustration of our Bolivian stresses :p

    • melody September 10, 2016 at 11:07 pm #

      MUST READ!!!
      This is so interesting. I was in a similar relationship problem when i got to Dr Akin who helped me bring back my boyfriend with a love spell. I’m so happy with my boyfriend now and we are getting married October. He left me for another woman who gave him a love potion. I was so frustrated until my friend Cara whom Dr Akin has helped 7 months back to get her husband back,told me about him. I got to him and he helped me with my love problems. Get to Him on bestlovedoctor01 @ gmail . com :)

  2. George January 2, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    No more Ayahuasca then? 😉

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

      Oh I don’t think I’d say that..!

  3. Emma @ GottaKeepMovin January 2, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    You’re right, taking a bus in Bolivia really does warrant a post in itself. Nice round-up Flora, I felt pretty much all of these point during my time in Bolivia, too!

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:19 pm #

      Glad to know other people felt the same as me in these kinds of situations!

    • Optimus Grimes June 10, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

      I like chesse

      • dennis May 22, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

        be careful with Bolivian cheese. After a 40 degree fever 104 degrees Celsius that I and a Peruvian friend from Lima got for a week plus countless stories of others I would say that fasting is the best way to survive a trip to Bolivia. I have permanent problems swallowing now, as I was coughing for over a week. Nice country to see in post cards or fly over. Good place to fast but don’t drink the water.
        I had real expectations of a fantastic stay there (I lived in Argentina over ten years but didn’t remember the adage that if you have no expectations you won’t be disappointed. Well, I expected a country but didn’t pay heed to a colleague whose husband is from La Paz and told me that ‘you’ll be entering the 18th century when you go there.’ As a gringo, not to worry, they hate you and will make it almost impossible to get in.

  4. Britany January 3, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    Wow I was nodding and laughing along to each of these. Taxi drivers NEVER knew how to get to where I needed to go, and I was at the added disadvantage of not knowing much Spanish (my own fault, of course). The worst part for me was when they would act like they did know where they were going, and then drive around in circles trying to find it. I had to argue with several drivers to just let me out when it became clear that they were only getting more and more lost.

    And the food. My favorite perplexing Bolivian experience with food was being served scrambled eggs on our tour of the Salt Flats. We asked our host for plates, and she simply smiled and shook her head. So we all took turns eating out of the one bowl of scrambled eggs, sharing the giant ladle used to serve it. A messy experience — but not something that would phase a Bolivian.

    I also loved Bolivia, both for its challenges and its fascinating culture. But these are all important things to keep in mind if you want to maintain your sanity while traveling there!

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:24 pm #

      …and when those lost taxi drivers finally admit defeat, they demand that you pay them extra for the fact that they had no clue where they were going. So infuriating!!

      Oh my god, I think we had the same situation with Salt Flat eggs!! Although there was no giant ladle and it was literally two scrambled eggs (or less) on one small plate between four people – so we waited a while to see if three more plates were coming, but of course they never did… We came to the conclusion that they all chewed so many coca leaves that they forgot non-coca obsessives actually feel hunger.

  5. Sally January 3, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

    You left after all! I loved these Bolivia posts, but I agree that it’s time for a change. :) Good luck in Peru!

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

      I did indeed leave – and even that was an unprecedented struggle! Ah, Bolivia…!

  6. Hayley (lovepuffin) January 4, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Great article, Flora! I had forgotten some of the quirks of Bolivia and what a delightful reminder this is! The drinking from plastic bags is one of my favourites for sure, and the way children seem to work everywhere :-) thanks for the memories x

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

      Even after a year I still don’t feel quite comfortable with being able to play with my drink! You’re more than welcome Hayley :)

    • dennis May 22, 2017 at 6:26 pm #

      yup. The plastic bags are great for the environment. And the bus drivers driving through the glorious altiplano dumping every piece of garbage on the spotless terrain. Passengers all did the same. Slugs.

  7. Karen@Trans-Americas Journey January 4, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    Bolivia here I come (well, not so fast, my Trans-Americas Journey is only as far south a Ecuador at this point) armed with these indy traveler insider tips. Yes, I have been warned.

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

      Great stuff Karen – glad to hear my Bolivian stresses haven’t put you off!

  8. SnarkyNomad January 4, 2014 at 9:14 pm #

    I accidentally discovered that “I only have a $20 bill and some useless coins” is a great way to get free bus rides. They’d rather let it slide than deal with the hassle.

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:37 pm #

      Haha yeah I didn’t mention that technique – but it’s usually a failsafe method!

    • James March 24, 2015 at 9:10 pm #

      Sorry SnarkyNomad but as much as that might serve as a great “life hack” for a traveler, Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America and the small change that it costs to travel about on a bus is a lot to the people who live here in Bolivia.

      Flora mentioned that the people get irritated when you break out a 100bs or 200bs bill for a 2bs bus fare. That’s because it’s polite here in Bolivia to always carry loose change or worst a 20bs bill to pay for trufi’s and buses. There are thousands of kiosks dotted around every city which will sell you a candy or something for 50 cents so that you can break a larger bill for your bus ride.

      While I admire your life hack, think about if someone short changed you a proportionate amount…

  9. Laura January 6, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    A well written and interesting read. Thanks.

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:48 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed it Laura!

  10. Ben January 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    It’s been great to read about your Bolivia experiences. That’s a bit mad about the money, it’s something you never think about! Overall looks like a fantastic experience and like you say, a fascinating culture and country.

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

      Thanks for reading along Ben!

  11. Corinne January 10, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    Loved this post! A touch of humor goes a long way when dealing with some of the realities of travel. I haven’t been to Bolivia, yet….but you make it sound like my kind of place. Can’t wait to read your catching a bus post.

    • Flora January 18, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

      It’s a crazy country, but definitely worth a visit in my opinion! If only to challenge yourself to successfully handle all the stresses :p

    • dennis May 22, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

      I would love to read what you say when you leave the country . Do be careful of the ‘food’ and never drink the water. If you see white people vomiting, it’s part of the haute cuisine experience of a trip to that country.

      • Aaron Philips May 22, 2017 at 7:37 pm #

        Don’t drink the water… a rule for just about every Central and South American country (hell, even some places in the States). What in particular did you have trouble eating/digesting? Do you have a history of sensitive stomach or GI, in general or when traveling? Do you think that any of it was affected by high altitude?

        • dennis May 22, 2017 at 7:58 pm #

          Aaron , I left you a long reply (I live in Argentina) but don’t know if you got it. It was a piece of lettuce. I find Bolivia quite toxic in that regard; think they invented food poisoning, but you’ll understand if you got my first reply.

          be well,
          Dennis

        • dennis May 23, 2017 at 2:22 am #

          will write tomorrow about my survived experience in Bolivia. No time tonight but will let you know. Actually, I’ll takeo a few minutes now. I went from Puno, Peru to Copacabana. There were some Peruvians on the bus , one who crapped in his pants (the bus was small) but everyone just laughed. My friend and I found a hotel, decent but ignorant receptionist, in Copacabana. There was a festival – some virgin (they only come in statue forms these days there). In the hotel, I asked for a bank. I was told it was closed that day as it was Monday at 11 AM. I said banks are open on Monday to which the receptionist said ‘you’re right’ (I am fluent in Spanish and English) and then told by at least five people where the bank was, all in different places. Actually , there was no bank, but the rule in Bolivia is to lie rather than avoid embarrassment of not knowing. Shmart.
          Went to Isla del Sol like a good tourist but noticed a lot of 20 something and 30 something tourists (the bulk of foreign tourists except for defecating Peruvians and their friends) who were with their head in the lap, vomiting in the streets, holding their stomachs , and was warned not to eat anything uncooked which I would not anyway. I stupidly ate a piece of lettuce and about 20 hours later the fever came on and then the coughing. At that time I lived in the United States, haven’t lived there in about ten years but in Argentina, and was very ill. Went to a specialist as I had torn cartilage in my throat from coughing – to this day still bothers me. People who had been in Uyuni talked about the vegetarian pizza and how all got ill from it with the runs, etc. So when I refer to haute cuisine, I am talking about the typical reaction of a foreigner whose immune system is not ready for Bolivian delicacies. They build an auto-immune intolerance provided they don’t die as infants, but still my friend from Lima, Peru got sick as well. I have had food poisoning once in the states so it can happen , twice in Peru but in no other country and have traveled South America for over ten years. I brushed my teeth in Peru and accidentally swallowed the water (curiously, in recent years, my immune system has built a tolerance since I go there to teach so often). I speak to people who have been to Bolivia and most have been really sick from the food, be it rancid oil or cheese or lettuce washed in god knows-what water.
          Tourism is new in Bolivia and gringos are not welcome (check out necessary forms, visas, etc. Bolivia was recently awarded the most tourist unfriendly country in the world by a tourist magazine (I cannot remember the name). My point though, aside from the sarcasm about haute cuisine, is that the food is for people whose immune systems are used to it (my immune system is fine), and that most people from Europe or USA or Canada do get ill eating there unless they restrict themselves to stringent high quality restaurants (if such a thing exists there). My bitterness toward the country is that I nearly died from the food poisoning, my friend from Lima recovered in nine days, and curiously I moved to Argentina shortly thereafter. I had a slight problem about 10 years ago with some fish but other than that , nothing. One problem is Colombia with an unscrupulous watermelon seller – the watermelon had been in the sun for an entire day and I ate it; otherwise no problems in Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina. If you check out forums about Bolivia, you’ll read a lot about experiences with food there. An ex administrator of mine married a guy from La Paz and HE told me that when his wife first visited the family, he made sure she was given food thoroughly inspected but she herself told me before going ‘Dennis, when you land in El Alto you are entering the 18th century.’ I assume she was partially speaking about the hygiene, food, etc. Great country to fly over, though. Beautiful from the air. There are two Bolivias, the Andes and then Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, etc which I do not know but which are more like Argentina in terms of living standards which MAY include hygiene. Hope this clarified things but do read about food experiences and/or food poisoning in Bolivia. Tons of stuff on it.
          Dennis

          • Aaron Philips May 25, 2017 at 1:38 am #

            Dennis,

            Thank you for the info, very helpful. We got moderate food poisoning in Peru when we travelled there a couple of years back, but nothing like you’ve described, and certainly no torn cartilage in the throat. My stomach has a pretty tough time adjusting to foreign bacteria. My family has a place at the tip of the Baja peninsula and growing up we would visit there every year, usually for the months of November & December. And EVERY year until I was like 14, I got to look forward to at least one night of vomiting after just arriving. I guess my stomach finally adjusted, because that fortunately no longer happens (at least not every time…ate some bad mushrooms that were in my tacos once… never again). So, I suppose that we will just have to be extra careful when traveling to Bolivia, like you said. We will be bringing probiotics, as well as antibiotics and other good stuff for protecting our guts, but I realize that that will only do so much. I think that we will try to stick to mostly high quality restaurants whenever possible, like you suggested. We’ve also resolved to bringing a dedicated ‘food’ suitcase that we can fill up with non-perishables, which we will live off of when we can’t find those high quality restaurants. That sounds kind of lame the more that I think about it, but I figure that we can be adventurous in areas other than questionable food. That way we can enjoy ourselves and not be sick for extended periods of time. Fortunately, I am also fluent in Spanish in case there is an emergency… but my girlfriend isn’t. I had to write a note for her to take to the hotel staff when we were in Chivay after a day hike in the Colca Canyon, because I couldn’t get out of bed. Pretty comical, thinking about it now a couple of years later. Again, many thanks for the info. Cheers.

            Aaron

          • dennis May 25, 2017 at 3:06 am #

            I just wrote a page but don’t know if you’ll get it. If you’ve been to Arequipa , where I got very moderate food poisoning, then you know. Colca is pretty great. They throw in earthquakes for special effects, too. I was in one small one. I hope you get the page on Bolivia although I didn’t see a ‘post comment’ opportunity. Any questions, I’m around , here in Buenos Aires. I am going to Southern Colombia, a great country, to hike in the South and back to Medellin, a magnificent city. Then a week to teach acupuncture theory and then back to wintry Buenos Aires (all in July). Winter averages about 51 degrees here but is cloudy and damp.

          • Ken Switzer May 25, 2017 at 3:29 am #

            Hi Aaron,

            I’m a Canadian who’s been living here in Bolivia for over ten years now. I think you’ll be fine. I live in Santa Cruz (which is different for sure), but I’ve traveled to La Paz many times. I think you’ll find it a modern and interesting city. Certainly there is poverty and challenges there (the highland areas of Bolivia tend to be more politically unstable than the lowland areas), but if you have an open mind, you’ll enjoy your visit. It’s one of the more entertaining places I’ve visited. In terms of water and food….I would definitely drink bottled water and stay away from uncooked vegetables. You’ll find lots of good restaurants and grocery stores though, so food shouldn’t be a problem.

            Have a great time! If you get down to Santa Cruz, let me know! We even have a Starbucks now! =)

  12. vexorian January 13, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Pro tip: Bolivian Taxis actually know their city very well. They just noticed you are a tourist and want more money either by you offering it directly or by making the ride artifically longer.

    Also minibuses and trufis are two different things. Trufis are cars that behave as buses. “Minibuses” are vans that do the same.

    • vexorian January 13, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

      Also. We call motorcycles “motos” not “bicicletas automáticas”, actually I am pretty sure using the words “bike” and “automatic” in conjunction will confuse the heck out of local people. I think the guy wasn’t making things up but that instead he greatly misunderstood :/ Something to consider is that Bolivian Spanish is a different dialect than Spanish of other Latin American countries (and they vary too), many words are used in different ways.

      Good post though.

      • Flora January 19, 2014 at 12:13 am #

        Cheers for the opinions. I take it you’re Bolivian? I know the word is ‘moto’ but explaining the difference between an automatic and geared bike kind of required a bit more definition – and judging on the way the situation played out, I got the distinct impression he was making things up.

        I’m sure you’ve spent ample time in various Bolivian cities, but the places I lived in and travelled through definitely called minibuses trufis, and definitely had cab drivers with no idea of where they were going! But then again, that’s just my tourist opinion :)

    • Danuta/boliviainmyeyes June 1, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

      I also noticed this mistake; Trufi – taxis and micro-buses. I like the article but there was a bit too much generalisation about Bolivia. The truth is that you only visited the west part of the country, the Andean region (and the valleys), but there is so much more! Next time, come to the tropics and you will see that Bolivia has many different faces. Though, the trufis and micros rides look more less the same and service is usually lame too:)

      • Flora June 17, 2015 at 11:02 am #

        This trufi vs micro-taxi debate is really getting people up in arms! I was consistently told by the Bolivian locals I worked with that I was catching trufis. So clearly that’s what I called them…!

        • eton February 12, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

          bici: bicycle
          moto: anything from a scooter to a Harley
          taxi: pick you up anywhere and drop you off anywhere
          trufi-taxi: fixed route taxi (car), don’t know if they exist today
          trufi: fixed route minivan
          bus: fixed route innercity
          flota: intercity bus

          • Flora February 17, 2016 at 9:50 am #

            Thanks for the clarifications, Eton!

  13. Donny February 27, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    Nice write up. We didn’t get a chance to visit Bolivia last time we were in S America (not enough space in passport, uggg) but it’s definitely on the list. Thanks for the insights and safe travels!

    • Flora March 20, 2014 at 12:53 am #

      Hope you get there eventually Donny – it’s a struggle but definitely worth it.

  14. Brigid April 25, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    Oh how you speak the truth! One of our favourite sayings during our 5 month stay in Bolivia (coined by some lovely traveler friends) was “TIB my friend, TIB” (said while shrugging the shoulders)…TIB = This is Bolivia!

    One of the craziest transport experiences we had was being stuffed into a trufi with around 70 other people on a 3 hour journey to Sucre after 2 days of trekking through the Maragua Crater. We were one of the last to get on so got stuck standing up the whole journey. The goat escaping from the bus and an old man peeing in the middle of the road gave us something to laugh about! You’re right…the craziness is what made it special :)

    • Flora April 30, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

      TIB indeed! I think we had a similar statement – absolutely necessary for travelling in Bolivia I think.. particularly when you find yourself mid goat escape!

  15. Tony L June 5, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    As a pondered on how my future trip to Bolivia would be, I decided to do a google search and ran into this page. Granted, my friend in Bolivia had already gave the gist of what it would be like to be in Bolivia; more specifically in La Paz, I was still too curious of what others opined of Bolivia or what others had experience while visiting Bolivia. I found Flora’s exposition of her experiences in Bolivia informative and yet entertaining at the same time.

    For example, the experience where a Bolivain motorcycle enthusiast/or dealer (not sure which he was) lied to her because he wanted to help not out of self interest, made me laugh (literally) because I can picture a guy trying to be so helpful that he ends up making a fool out of himself and his son just to be hospitable. That experience gives a bit of a cultural insight. Pretty cool to know. Thanks for the post!

    • Flora June 8, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

      Great to hear the article helped you out with your Bolivia planning, Tony! Hope you have an incredible trip :)

  16. Adam June 10, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    You need to break through some of this and embrace these ‘difficulties’ more. You can’t get as much out of travelling if you see it as a battle, and in my experience, seeing these issues as negatives will only alienate you more from the people whose ideas and lives you’re trying to unravel and experience.

    For example ” ‘Giving advice actually means making things up’ is an attitude that is far too black and white and suggests a lack of respect for every person you come across. Take your experience with the motorbikes. Firstly, (it’s unclear in the way you describe the experience so maybe I’m jumping to a conclusion…) it sounds like that bike is indeed an automatic. Automatic vehicles aren’t gear-less. They have gears with automatic transmission between them (i.e. “no clutch”). Did you apply the rule to the exception you’ve written in your post? I’ve found that in welcoming developing countries, without (m)any tourists, ‘bad’ advice is part of the package and comes from a good place. I find ‘bad advice’ is provided because on the whole people are desperate to help you, delighted that you’ve chosen to visit, and are too proud to ever admit the words “i’m not sure”. So what! – people will actually show interest in your impressions of the country, invite you into their home after meeting you for 5 minutes, and are the key to a new worldview.

    The same food thing you mention was a nightmare when I went to Ghana. I created a notion (/ realisation) that in order for my food to come, I had to genuinely give up hope that it ever would. I would go through various stages of disbelief before an hr and 15/ 30 minutes later it would finally come. Being able to laugh it off in the end led me to conversations with people working at the shop and therefore led me to the realisation that oftentimes people working for subsistance have enough issues as it is. In the face of real problems, not getting my food in a ‘reasonable’ timeframe is hardly a struggle. If you give off the impression that it is, you show a lack of empathy and close yourself off. I don’t want to make you feel bad but I hate to imagine the stress you caused that little girl – why is she there, what other issues has she got to deal with, is she going to have any opportunity in her life….?

    You seem to view these points as problems. And I find that these problems are erasable if you stick to places with a tourist flow. If Bolivia – like some places I’ve visited – is genuinely remote and not set-up for tourists, the first thing you might find are these issues, which from our viewpoint are unacceptable. I leave my London attitude at the door and really try if I want to discover something new.

    One thing that’s universal around the world is that tension, irritation and a sense of entitlement pisses people off. I promise you, you bring more of these difficulties on yourself if you’re constantly expecting the worst of people and jumping to the conclusion of classifying them as such. You need to be easy-going, more open and ironic about this stuff, rather than letting irritation bubble up. I’d like to make a distinction between being streetwise or vigilant and being closed off. Of course, you have to be street-wise and vigilant – there’s no point going to remoter travel destinations if you can’t be. But the opportunity could pass you by, and you could leave without having expanded your mind that much, if you can’t be open, positive and appreciative.

    • Flora July 11, 2014 at 12:28 am #

      Thanks for your lengthly analysis of my article, Adam. If you’d got an idea of the tone of my writing here (or read anything else on my site), you’d have understood that I was actually making a wry and lighthearted commentary of a handful of issues I faced in Bolivia – a country I spent more than three months travelling through and had a wealth of incredible experiences within, all of which are written about in other articles on this site.

      I also do not appreciate being told that I carry a sense of entitlement when I travel, and expect the worst in the people I meet. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    • jp November 26, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

      Adam – You should have “left your London attitude at the door” before you wrote your comment. It comes off as a self important and hypocritical.

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  18. Tamimi August 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    We had a somewhat different experience in Bolivia but maybe it’s because our host was set on taking us to 4/5 star restaurants and fancy locations. We also mostly stuck to the city so we never had any issues with the taxis. (My mother actually bartered with them before we went to a location so the trips would come out cheaper) I LOVED the “juice bags” and actually really miss them now. One of my favorite activities/foods was having afternoon tea. There are so many cute cafés in Cochabamba and all the tea time foods (both sweet and savory) were delicious! We also had special cabins with a gorgeous main house (a friend of the host was the owner) so our time in Chapare was magical. Definitely want to go back someday :)

    • Tamimi August 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

      Also, whenever we traveled by bus we’d aim for the larger bus companies with the deluxe size seats and get two sets each so we have room to stretch. This was a great choice for night traveling b/c we’d be able to sleep with plenty of room. And if you’re luckily enough to nab the first row, you get an AMAZING view (you can see the Milky Way in all it’s beautiful glory in some locations) and some decent privacy since the exit is between the first and second row. Even if you’re traveling on a budget buying out an entire row is loads cheaper than air fair.

      • Flora August 13, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

        …how did I spend 18 months in South America and NEVER hit on the idea of buying two seats?! Absolute genius, I salute you.

    • Flora August 13, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

      Sounds like you had a great time in Bolivia, Tamimi – I’d love to explore a bit more of Cochabamba as we really didn’t discover that many cute cafes on our visit..!

  19. Gringo in Bolivia August 24, 2014 at 2:04 am #

    Good article. It’s really only a small sample of the many frustrations a foreigner can come across in Bolivia. One must have a lot of patience and be very flexible.

    • Flora September 26, 2014 at 10:45 am #

      Flexibility is most definitely key..!!

  20. Georgie August 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    Hello

    I am planning a December trip to enter Bolivia from Chile spend about 2 weeks in Bolivia then exit into Argentina, we will be using public transport the whole trip.
    What advice can give can you give me?
    Is it worth it?
    What should we go and see with such a limited time span?
    Should we rather skip Bolivia for another trip and rather spend the time exploring Chile/Argentina?

    • Flora September 26, 2014 at 11:22 am #

      Hi Georgie, I think it’s definitely worth it to travel through Bolivia – as I’m sure you can see from all the articles I wrote about he place :) I actually never made it to Chile or Argentina so can’t give you recommendations for those countries, but I would say that travellers in Bolivia with a limited time frame usually visit La Paz, Sucre and the Salt Flats. I’d also make you aware that public transit in Bolivia can take a very long time so be aware of that when you’re deciding on how many places to visit. Hope you have a great time!

  21. Nina August 30, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    Hi there! Thanks for this article about Bolivia. I am planing a trip to Bolivia in the near future and there are lots of insights here that I find very useful. I do however agree with Adam’s long post about adapting to new cultures and being open-minded about all “the difficulties” we come across while traveling. One must try to forget our western habits and expectations and just go with the flow and let it be an adventure which opens our mind and heart. The so called stressful and weird habits of locals who pass our paths (or vice versa) are the ones that truly help us grow and stay with us forever. Love, Nina :*

    • Flora September 26, 2014 at 11:59 am #

      Hi Nina, thanks for your comment. While I do agree with parts of what Adam said, I’d still like to point out that there’s no getting around the stressful situations that you sometimes come up against while travelling! I spent three months in Bolivia and it remains one of the countries I loved the most in South America, but there’s no denying that things can be stressful there. That doesn’t change how much I enjoyed my time travelling around the country, but it’s worth mentioning some of these things so that other travellers can be aware that they can – and most definitely will – happen.

      That said, I look back on all these experiences fondly now, even if they did seriously frustrate me at the time :)

  22. vera November 1, 2014 at 12:32 am #

    This made me laugh and cry at the same time ..,All of these are certainly true for tourists ! I am from Bolivia and am currently living in the US . I miss Bolivia so so much ! but I almost never experienced these issues myself .., well simply because I know my way around this crazy place. I know it’s crazy ! but maybe I’m used to it. I know when the “caseritas” are bullshitting me for example XD.

    I would strongly recommend having a bolivian host, or someone that can give you some type of guidance and show you the best places to go or what cabs to take . I know it seems kind of hard, but bolivia isn’t really good in the tourist department , even though it has so much to offer. Or you can experience it like she did ! which will be a great adventure but also a frustrating one .

    • Flora November 16, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

      This was such a lovely comment to read, Vera – thanks so much for giving your insight! I’ve had a few people talk quite angrily about this article because they thought I was insulting Bolivia, when in fact I simply wanted to point out some of the idiosyncracies that make the country what it is. I still really love the country and can’t wait to explore more of it, particularly by spending more time with the locals. Hopefully I can go back when my Spanish is even better and I can communicate more :)

  23. Nicolas November 24, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    Bolivia was one of the most amazing countries I’ve ever visited. In comparison to its neighbours it hasn’t been spoilt so much by tourism and everything seems very genuine.

    I’ve heard complaints like yours before that Bolivians give you false information. It’s supposed to be because they don’t want to admit that they don’t know either what you’re asking or the answer to your question. This has never happened to me though…I found the Bolivians very friendly, a bit closed but certainly helpful.

    • Flora November 28, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

      On the whole I found Bolivians to be very friendly once they got past that initial barrier of nervousness, and I met some wonderful people there. This article isn’t supposed to be taken as a complaint against Bolivia – just highlighting some of the situations that I and many tourists found ourselves in.

  24. Benjamin January 10, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

    As a Bolivian I enjoyed reading the views on my country from a different perspective. I must say I am also happy to hear people like you stay long enough or take on the challenge of traveling here because it is very real and your account is very accurate. Two minor details I’d like to help you correct for the sake of others though:
    1. From your description you were talking about “minibuses” and definitely not trufis (I think they’re called that in Chile). Trufis in Bolivia are taxi-like shared vehicles with a set route though you can get off anywhere and they typically seat 4~6 persons just like a taxi since they are the same type of vehicle. The main advantage is that they are as fast as a taxi (because they are) but for a fraction of the cost, and they will only depart when full.

    2. People shy away from photos not because they believe you steal their soul (I read that about people in Asia). In Bolivia there is no such belief. People are simply “shy” and my very own opinion is that most indigenous people have low self esteem which is why they don’t like the way they look on photos although no one will really admit it because I think not even they would be able to explain if you asked them (some assert that gringos who take their photos profit from selling them abroad but that’s just a wrong belief “?”), so while it is tricky to photograph people, it can be done if you earn their trust first.

    Again, just well-intended corrections. Great article!
    Source: I am a paceño tour guide for 8 years

    • Flora January 14, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Benjamin! I called them trufis because they were constantly referred to as such by my Bolivian friends while I lived in La Paz – maybe the name depends on what city you’re in? Also I completely agree with what you say about the photographing situation in Bolivia. I usually hate strangers taking my picture too, and I tried very hard not to take photos of people who clearly weren’t going to be happy with me doing so!

      • Ben(jamin) February 3, 2015 at 3:25 pm #

        Hi Flora, it is really good that you are understanding of the people who don’t seem happy to be photographed, that is being respectful of the people who live in the places you go to see. Regarding the trufis, it is strange since no paceño I know of would refer to a “mini” as a trufi, but that is just unimportant. I do try to help my foreign friends and customers understand the transport system in general, especially if they stay a few days because once you know it, your rarely ever need to use a taxi again :)

        • Flora February 11, 2015 at 10:50 am #

          I remember feeling such pride (and relief!) when I finally got the hang of catching the ‘minis’, even when they went down completely different roads to the ones written on the placard in front! Definitely an experience worth having :)

    • Maria February 2, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

      Actually, as an Aymara myself, some people do feel that at photography steals their soul. My grandmother for example. 😉

      And of course nobody likes to be photographed by unknown people. People who tourist in Europe don’t expect anyone on the street to model for them, I don’t understand why they think they should be entitled to it when it comes to indigenous or “exotic” looking people. (I’m not saying you did Flora, but some tourists get really annoyed when they’re not allowed to photograph cholitas for example).

      One thing that I think is the key to communicating with Bolivians, especially street vendors, is NOT to forget to talk in diminutive form, to sound nice. If you don’t, people will think you sound rude, and will refuse to sell to you. So – don’t forget to end with -ito och -ita. This will open many doors for you. Say “caserita”, “un juguito”, “cuantito?” etc etc. Try your best to sound sweet and polite, always call ladies “señora” etc etc :-)

      Good luck on your next trip :-)

      • Ben February 3, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

        Maria, everyone in my family is Aymara, including myself and I can assure you that if anyone feels this way about photography stealing their soul, is another of those “imported” beliefs that was probably brought from somewhere, and it is probably a 1% of people who adopted this belief. No indigenous culture knew of such a thing called photography as it is a relatively modern development in their world.

        Your advice about using diminutives couldn’t be more spot on. If anyone visiting Bolivia were able to understand it and follow it, it would do wonders with their relationship with local people. It is a good example of the intricacies of Bolivian culture that probably could, but is just too difficult to explain, such as the reason why most indigenous people hate to be photographed but it has not much to do with their soul but rather with specific personality types and the culture behind it.

        • James March 24, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

          Dear Ben and Maria,
          I am a British expat and have lived in Bolivia for almost 8 years. I agree with both of you in the way that Flora made some minor mistakes which obviously would have influenced her experience here. (No offence Flora)

          When I first arrived here, I also experienced some problems. But once you understand the culture a bit better, the people really open up and become much friendlier. When I wanted to take pictures of people, I usually struck up a conversation with them first (or bought something they were selling) and establishing a rapport before asking if I could take their picture. For almost a year I did not have enough confidence in my Spanish or navigational skills to ever take a trufi or minibus – I took taxi’s all the time. Now, I got everywhere in a trufi or minibus (whatever appears first) as it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get around!

          For my job here in La Paz, I travel all over Bolivia and experience many different cultures (some of them non Spanish speaking) and found that there are often universal things in common with each person I experience – football, beer etc. With a bit of Spanish, use of diminutives and a smile, almost everyone will welcome you with open arms.

          Flora – I would suggest you modify your page based on some of the comments posted so as not to confuse potential visitors to Bolivia with some of your advice. I think your advice is good and well written, however people who don’t take the time to read the comments section might be put off by some of the things you’ve written. Your experiences really ring a bell with me – I could tell you some hilarious stories from the last few years! However, one of the reasons I still live in this country is because Bolivia is not a challenge at all. Compared to the British way of life, it’s a breeze!

    • val fuchs November 6, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

      Hi Benjamin, (or anyone that may be able to answer the below question)

      I am heading to Bolivia in 2 weeks. I assumed I could get a visa upon entry at the El Alto airport but further research has me worried that I may be wrong and I don’t think I have time to get a visa prior to my trip. Do you know if I can obtain a visa upon arrival at the El Alto airport? I am coming from the U.S.
      Thank you so much for any information you can supply.
      Valerie

      • Flora November 27, 2016 at 9:05 pm #

        Hi Val, unfortunately I can’t help with your specific question (I’m a British passport holder)… I can tell you that I didn’t need to apply for a visa ahead of time, if that’s of any help!

  25. Ann-Marie January 11, 2015 at 10:10 pm #

    Oh, I loved this post! I spent 8 months living in Cochabamba and Tarija 15 years ago, and it sounds as if it hasn’t changed at all! I feel very lucky that I had some people to show me the way to haggle prices, and what prices were appropriate, how to handle cab drivers, how to keep from being pickpocketed in el mercado (La Cancha!), which actually happened to me anyway, but I learned my lesson! There are so many wonderful things about Bolivia, and Bolivians. I acutally miss it – even though it drove me crazy when I was there. I hear you on the lying issue. That was a major frustration. I just learned that Bolivians were so nonconfrontational, they would rather lie to your face than tell you no. But they were warm and welcoming, and when I came back to the States, it felt like such a cold place! No one kissed me in greeting, or went around the room greeting everyone in person when entering a gathering…
    The food can be blah or amazing; I miss milk and yogurt in a bag, hotdogs for breakfast, and the communal way they eat. Someday I want to take my family. There is no place quite like Bolivia.

    • Flora January 14, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

      I totally agree – there’s nowhere else quite like Bolivia, and despite the annoyances I felt while there, ultimately it really got under my skin. I’ll have to go back eventually, I think. Glad you felt the same, Ann-Marie!

  26. gringoinbolivia May 31, 2015 at 8:46 pm #

    A lot of truth in this article. Well written.

    • Flora June 17, 2015 at 10:49 am #

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it :)

  27. alex canedo June 2, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

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  28. Jeannette August 9, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    Yes people Bolivia is beautiful ❤️ Trust me I go all the time

    • Flora February 17, 2016 at 10:07 am #

      I totally agree, Jeanette!

  29. jessica August 23, 2015 at 3:53 am #

    I think when traveling to other countries people need to be mindful of the fact that they are are the ones that don’t know how the place works- and should expect things to work differently – that is the beauty of traveling!!! I live in Cochabamba but am from the uk. I would like to just share with people some tips for the “difficulties” you raised. 1. Flotas or coaches – they leave pretty much on time but journey time depends on trafic/road trouble.they are usually overnight. Be sensible take a blanket and water prepare yourself for a long journey!!! 2.trufis micros – great, but tricky when you don’t know your way around (bit like anywhere really!) but passengers and drivers will tell you where to get off if you ask 3. Taxis if its not a really well known place you need to know the main road near by. In the UK taxi drivers use satnav i think its a bit much to expect drivers to know every obscure hostel!. Also agree the price before getting in
    3.money! Just like on an English bus you are expected to have change! You can always break notes in supermarkets! Its a bit like buying a bag of chips from a chip shop with a £50 note. 4. Food- the best food to eat is where the locals eat! Look for where’s busy and join in. 5.kids work be nice to them! Imagine serving in.a restaurant at 10! 5. Its not India people don’t haggle as such! Most items food etc people don’t charge extra. Tourist items come at a price you can say “cuanto ultimo caserita” to ask for their best price. 6. As you say the best thing is to be able to speak good Spanish it seems like quite a few of your troubles were down to the language barrier and being misunderstood. 7photos- you don’t walk down the street at home and take pics of whoever you feel like especially not children. Why should you expect to do this in another country 8.attitude – be humble – be kind – don’t expect anything like home – its not! That’s why you’re there after all!!!

    • Flora August 24, 2015 at 8:07 am #

      Thanks for your input, Jessica :) I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here, and I’ll just point out that this was a predominantly tongue-in-cheek article about issues that I personally dealt with while in Bolivia that riled me for my own reasons at the time, and I certainly wasn’t trying to pigeon hole the entire country into my grievances! I’m sure you’ve been occasionally annoyed by errant taxi drivers and bizarrely unique Bolivian customs while living in Cochabamba – that’s the beauty of living abroad :p

  30. Kenny September 11, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    I am in La Paz right now , 4 days so fat and loving it!
    I’ve done the takesi / choro trail, went to dinner to Gustu and Jardines de sur, rode the cool “teleferico” cable car.
    Will try to follow your advice. Good thing is my spanish is pretty decent.
    If you have the $ you can hire a taxi insted of taking the buses. Pretty inexpensive for a private serice, thats what I am doing with some friends(4+) and we save time from the hassle of the buses.
    Love your blog!

    • Flora October 5, 2015 at 10:42 pm #

      Glad you’re enjoying your time in Bolivia, Kenny!

  31. Erica kaka October 11, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

    I know nothing about photography but yet u saw many people taken funny photos at the salt de uyuni ,I was wondering did u guys get a professional tripod or mini ones will do? Also if u know.. Traveling in Bolivia in Nov will I be able to see the reflection?( or it has to be seen during the rainy season…?) when entering Bolivia, do u need / or does all the other travelers need to present their yellow vaccine certificate?is it necessary to get it, please tell me your thought thankssss :)

    • Flora February 17, 2016 at 10:09 am #

      I didn’t have a tripod, Erica – I was simply balancing it on the salt! Although now you mention it that would’ve probably been a very sensible idea.. Reflection wise, that’s only during the rainy season so most tourists won’t be able to capture it :(

      As far as I can remember, I never presented my yellow fever certificate in Bolivia (or anywhere else in South America!) but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the documentation as any official can theoretically ask to see it – and presumably chuck you out of the country if you don’t have it?!

  32. Walker Rowe December 28, 2015 at 3:08 am #

    Flora,

    I live in Chile and was looking for someplace to spend the Chilean winter (June-August) because I can’t stand the cold and cloudy weather. So I have settled on Cochabamba. That’s their dry season and its a warm 25C everyday. I was planning to taking the bus from La Paz as a connecting flight costs about 4 times as much. It only costs $300 to go from Santiago to La Paz. But the bus ride is 8 hours to Cochabamba. What’s the highway like? I am going to get car sick on windy mountain roads or do they have some kind of freeway. And do the bus companies have those big Mercedes comfortable buses with salon flat bed type sleeping (like they do here)?

    regards,

    Walker Rowe

    • Flora February 17, 2016 at 10:15 am #

      Hi Walker! Good questions there – although I’m afraid I don’t actually remember what the highway between La Paz and Cochabamba is like. The highways I rode on were in alright condition, but lots of the smaller roads were worse quality! I can also sadly tell you that most Bolivian bus companies are not the big, comfy, fully-reclining-seat ones… Although you’ll certainly find semi-cama in most of them.

  33. Andreas Moser December 30, 2015 at 10:47 pm #

    Thanks for the practical advice and your personal experience!

    I will move to Bolivia in two days and plan to stay there for a longer time: https://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/bolivia/

    I am really looking forward to a country which I find quite fascinating, interesting and what seems to be quite friendly. Since I announced my upcoming move on my blog, I have received many messages from Bolivians, offering to help me, to show me around, even to pick me up from the airport. Even before going there, I already have a very good feeling.

    • Flora January 1, 2016 at 11:08 pm #

      That’s fantastic news, Andreas! I’m sure you’ll have a great time in Bolivia – the people are so welcoming and friendly :) I look forward to hearing about your journey!

  34. scorched3arth January 30, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

    Hey Flora. I was quite fascinated by your article. Seems like Bolivia is a challenging country.

    I’m thinking of doing Bolivia in late July, i was wondering if you’d be able to help me with some doubts i have:

    I’ll be travelling solo, how safe did you find it?

    Is two, two 1/2 weeks long enough to get the general overview of the country? how long would you recomend?

    Thank for your input!

    • Flora February 17, 2016 at 10:33 am #

      Hi! I’ve actually written quite a few articles about my solo travelling exploits in South America if you have a look through the site – but Bolivia was pretty much fine for me. My Spanish was getting increasingly better while I was there which I think helped too :)

      Time wise I’d suggest longer than two weeks if you have it available – the transport is prone to delays and breakdowns so you won’t be able to visit more than a couple of locations in a fortnight. It also completely depends what you mean by ‘general overview’! :p

  35. Natalitis February 16, 2016 at 1:38 am #

    hey, cool post, I am bolivian, and many times the taxis do that sort of things like do not answer you and just run when you ask them to take you somewhere… there are two reasons for that, the first one is that is illegal to take your car to some sort of places one day at the week, that happens because we have too much traffic so is a way of disminuye this, the other reason is because the place you ask is kind of far and desolated so they just feel is a waste of time to drive until there, mostly taxi drivers are the ones that choose their passengers hahaha, they decide if they want to take you or not, and well… most of them feel lazy to tell you a “no”, they just drive, I have never taken a taxi that didnt know where I wanted to go, so u must have been living in a very difficult place to get in, thats exotic even to me, but it happens of course, specially to foreigners that like to do volunteer work.

    • Flora February 17, 2016 at 9:46 am #

      Aha, that’s so true that taxi drivers choose their passengers! Thanks for the insights into the world of Bolivian cabs, Natalitis :p

      • Phil February 22, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

        yeah the westen concept of a taxi taking you to where YOU want to go is unknown here – here taxi drivers only go where THEY want to go! Actually there is now a new law in La Paz that means if they refuse to take you they can be fined amongst many other things (like taxis picking up other passengers without you saying to, changing fares and buses being in bad conditon). The people of la paz are tired of the bad service and rude drivers of buses and taxis – the mayor Revilla is slowly but surely trying to improve things (he introduced the public buses service also) but it is always difficult to change anything in Bolivia , and especially with the drivers as they are very prone to protesting and blocking everything to get their own way. Several years ago there was a law to make things stricter against drink driving and they protested against that!

  36. J April 17, 2016 at 9:01 pm #

    Here now and not happy. Bolivian sense makes no sense. From the airport to our meal at a restaurant. No credit cards accepted. *American dollars (that a bank gave me) must in perfect condition or not accepted. Seemed like ….
    …Let me just stop myself because I have nothing nice to say.

    Hoping something makes this trip not a complete total waste of time and money.

    • Ben April 18, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

      With all due respect, sounds like you did not do your homework before coming to Bolivia. No credit cards accepted? That big of a deal really? Bolivia is NOT known to be a destination for those looking for an easy, caribbean vacation, so if your credit card is not accepted, bring or withdraw cash. American dollars not accepted? FYI, Bolivia´s currency is Bolivianos so you can simply exchange your dollars into local Bs. and they will be accepted everywhere even if broken. In conclusion, carry cash, exchange into local currency and enjoy your vacation with a positive attitude. I don´t think it is too difficult.

      • J April 19, 2016 at 3:44 am #

        Your right, I didn’t do enough home work. Our first experience getting off the plane we didn’t know we each had to pay $160 for a visitors visa and the customs agents did not accept credit cards nor the slightest blemish of our American cash. The agents were not corporative. Didn’t offer a solution or an option. After an hour they finally let one of us go through to go to an ATM. And if your credit card has the chip and doesn’t have the raised numbers, you will run in to issues at other places. As we did.

        After those obstacles our airbnb apartment was pretty nice and enjoyable and at a good price.

        Today I had the best experience that made my trip. Since we rented a SUV at the airport, we drove to Tiwanaku (our main objective) WOW. Puma Punku and Kalasasaya sites were incredible. We took our time and walked around to all the structures. I even saw some local excavators digging. So I walked up to them and asked if I could look at what they were doing. Let me tell you. These were the nicest people I ever met. They even let me jump in the hole and help them dig. (Today is my birthday, best present I could ask for) They freely told us a bunch of info and answered all of our questions about the history. All the locals were so nice. Huge difference from the locals in La Paz.

        Tomorrow we fly to Cusco Peru to visit more ancient sites. Super stoked.

        • Flora April 19, 2016 at 7:49 am #

          Hi J, that’s such a fantastic and unique way to spend your birthday and I’m really glad Bolivia’s turned around for you!! As Ben said above, there’s a fair amount of research to be done before travelling in Bolivia – but hopefully the difficulties are now behind you and you’ll be able to enjoy your trip through South America from here on out :) Have a wonderful time in Peru!

  37. devsprout April 20, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

    Great post flora. Can I ask where you stayed in la paz and whether you travelled alone?

    • Flora April 21, 2016 at 9:14 am #

      Glad you enjoyed it! I stayed in a few places in La Paz on various visits – a hotel in the centre for a couple of weeks, a homestay further out in the surburban areas, and another hostel. All of them were fine! And yep, I was travelling in Bolivia by myself for much of my time there (although when in Sucre, Potosi & the Salt Flats I was with my ex)

  38. Maribel May 8, 2016 at 9:31 pm #

    Hello! This is Maribel I’m from Cochabamba-Bolivia but I could say that the most of the time I lived in La Paz. Currently I live in U.S.A for almost nine months. I’m not according with you about the food we don’t usually eat switie things the fruit we ate has natural sugar we have a lot fruit even you could see some people on the streets seeling fruit There are few restaurants they have the kind of food the American people like as the hamburguers, pizza, spaghetti that kind of food even is more expensive. Bolivia is a wonderful place to visit we have a lot of mountains you could get sorprised. The people is really charity I really miss my Country. I hope you can enjoy being there.

  39. Valerie June 23, 2016 at 10:03 pm #

    Hello Flora! A very interesting post :) just discovered it today. I was wondering if you traveled alone in Bolivia? I’m currently considering it, but I’m a little nervous as I’ve never traveled internationally by myself and I’m afraid that being a single woman will attract too much attention…do you have any advice for other solo female travelers? Am I worrying for no reason?

    • Flora July 1, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

      Hi Valerie – thanks so much for reading! Yes, I travelled through Bolivia for around three months and during most of that time I was by myself. It’s totally normal to be a little nervous of travelling solo but I can assure you that I’ve never had any significant problems when doing so. If you check out an article I wrote called ‘Happy, Safe & Solo: Travelling in India by Yourself’ then lots of the advice written there should give you a bit of reassurance :)

  40. Sylvia August 10, 2016 at 8:47 pm #

    Hi, Flora. My friends and I are traveling to Peru and Brazil in a small tour group. We however decided to spend 10 extra days to stay extra days in Cusco, Peru and visit Bolivia.

    My question is, if I were to decide on where to spend an extra day, where would you suggest I stay a day longer? Cusco or La Paz? Our Peru tour end in Cusco on Nov 10 while our Bolivia tour starts Nov 13 in La Paz but we’ll do Uyuni from Nov 14-16. please recommend.

    Thanks!

  41. seyum September 10, 2016 at 10:45 am #

    hi Flora i am from Eritrea and have Eritrean passport and i planning to travel Bolivia .can you assist me where i to spend my time and there is no conciliate or embassy in eritrea so can i get Bolivian visa on arrival. Thankful.

    • Flora September 10, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

      Hi Seyum, I’m afraid I don’t know the rules surrounding Eritrean passport holders visiting Bolivia – sorry! However, I’ve done a bit of research and I found a link which said:

      “Citizens of Eritrea residing in Eritrea must apply for a visa to Bolivia in person at the nearest consulate of Bolivia in Eritrea. Please note, application procedures and fees may vary by location. If there is no consulate of Bolivia in Eritrea there may be a consulate of Bolivia in a neighboring country that covers the jurisdiction of Eritrea.”

      Maybe there’s a Bolivian embassy across the border from Eritrea?

      • melody September 10, 2016 at 11:09 pm #

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  42. Ken January 5, 2017 at 10:37 pm #

    Oh man….I really enjoyed this. Every point made me smile even more. I lived in Coch for a year and now I’ve been in Santa Cruz for over ten years (I’m a Canadian) and I have to say…you definitely caught the essence of the culture…certainly La Paz and pretty good for Bolivia in general. Number 5 was my favourite. Bolivia is such a save face culture and in their desire to help and not be rude and say they don’t have any idea where Calle San Juan is….they’ll just completely make something up just so they can be “helpful”. After all…it might be true. And I’ve long ago learned that what I think I’m ordering may or may not be what actually arrives on my plate.

    Well done! It’s an amazing country and every day is a bit of an adventure….

  43. James Limo January 12, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    Amazing tips, This 5 tips are going to help me a lot as I am always first searching for the tips that are going to help than I visit the place, I appreciate you for sharing & Keep up the good work :)

  44. leslysandra January 15, 2017 at 1:13 am #

    hey! nice insight! I am from Bolivia, currently living in Europe.
    I have to sadly admit that many of the mentioned bad things are quite true :( but ! I know Bolivia is a great place to see! it has interesting landscape and the culture is also different from the east and west and even the center.
    I was born and raised in Sucre! such a lovely and colonial city. Later I moved to Cochabamba which is also charming.

  45. annie6688 January 27, 2017 at 1:43 pm #

    Flora, I was wondering if you had any advice as to how to rent an apartment for a month in Bolivia and/or Ecuador? In America, we use sites like craigslist or airbnb, what do people use in South America?

  46. john February 25, 2017 at 2:58 am #

    Thank you for this. Best read on bolivia I have come across. Going in a year after a stop in peru. Most helpful and realistic (assuming based on past travels) guide I have found.

    • Flora March 9, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

      Thanks so much, John! And yes, this article was definitely written based on past travels – about four months worth :) I hope you enjoy your time in Bolivia!

  47. Aaron May 2, 2017 at 3:07 pm #

    I really love that photo of the girl looking out on Lake Titicaca from the Island of the Sun during sunset. What a great photo! Heading to Bolivia for three weeks in June/July :)

  48. Donna Miller June 21, 2017 at 10:27 pm #

    I’m headed to Bolivia and was asked to bring some items as gifts to our local hosts. Men, women & little children. I traveling from the US and hoped to bring something that would truly be enjoyed. Do you have a suggestion?

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