Is Bolivia safe?
Despite being one of the poorest countries in South America, Bolivia has very low crime rates and is generally a very safe country. Petty crime is not unheard of in the larger cities, so travelers should be aware of their surroundings, should not wear flashy clothing or jewelry, and should be wary of using ATMs after dark. Theft of personal items from budget hostels, restaurants, Internet cafes, or busses is one of the most common traveler complaints. Travelers should also be careful to only use legitimate radio taxis and avoid unmarked taxis.
Most of the dangers that international travelers face have more to do with the country's geography than anything else. Altitude sickness and traveler's diarrhea are the most common ailments for visitors, but both are easily treated and more of an inconvenience than a real danger.
Bolivia is a country of extremes and of course there are unique risks associated with trekking in the Andes, on the altiplano, and in the rainforest. Many of the most popular places in Bolivia are very remote and medical facilities can be limited. Bolivian law requires that tour guides be certified in basic first aid. It is very important that visitors only travel with reputable tour companies that value safety and service.
What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness can result from the lower levels of oxygen in the air at elevations above 2,500 meters. Altitude sickness presents itself as a collection of symptoms not unlike a mild hangover. Symptoms can include drowsiness, nausea, headache, shortness of breath, upset stomach, lightheadedness or trouble sleeping.
In most cases, the body acclimates in 1-2 days and the symptoms disappear on their own. The best advice for travelers arriving at high elevation destinations is to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water, to avoid alcohol and to not overexert yourself. There are inexpensive over the counter medications available in drug stores that treat symptoms. Coca tea, or mate de coca, is commonly recommended by locals to treat or prevent altitude sickness. Serious cases can also be treated with oxygen.
In extreme cases, altitude sickness may require medical attention, with victims treated with steroids, medication, or hyperbolic chambers. Casual travelers are unlikely to reach elevations high enough to pose a serious danger in Bolivia.
When is the best time to go to Bolivia?
The best time to visit Bolivia is during the colder months of April through November. Although the temperature may dip in the highlands, it is sunny nearly every day during these months.
Visiting during the summer months, December through March, is certainly an option as well. Travelers should expect to encounter frequent rain as well as very warm temperatures in the northern lowlands. On the other hand, travelers will have an easier time booking hotel rooms or finding room on tours during the low season.
What are the visa requirements for Bolivia?
The entry requirements for Bolivia differ by country. There are essentially three groups of countries: those that do not need a visa to enter, those that can purchase a visa at the border or airport, and those that need to apply for a visa through a Bolivian consulate.
Citizens of the European Union, Canada, Israel, New Zealand and Australia do not currently need to apply for a visa to enter the country.
Citizens from the United States are required to purchase a visa for $135 in order to enter Bolivia. Officially, visitors are required to purchase the visa from a consulate in the US; however, most travelers are able to purchase a visa at the airport or border crossing with no problems at all.
All foreign nationals are allowed to remain in Bolivia for no more than 90 days per year without further documentation.
What vaccinations will I need?
Travelers heading to the rainforest in northern Bolivia are advised to receive a Yellow Fever vaccine. Travelers should also be immunized against Hepatitis A and B, Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, and Typhoid. Malaria may be present in some areas of Bolivia, although cases are rare.
Note that medical recommendations are subject to change. Check here (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/bolivia.htm) for the latest travel advisories.
Contact your general physician 6-8 weeks before your trip to make sure that your immunizations are up to date.
What is the currency in Bolivia?
Bolivia uses the Boliviano. Exchange rates vary, but generally hover around:
- 1 U.S. Dollar = 7.01 Boliviano
- 1 Euro= 9.11 Boliviano
- 1 British Pound = 10.57 Boliviano
- 1 Canadian dollar = 6.82 Boliviano
- 1 Australian dollar = 7.12 Boliviano
- 1 New Zealand dollar = 5.77 Boliviano
- 1 Peruvian Nuevo Sol = 2.7 Boliviano
- 1 Brazilian Real = 3.54 Boliviano
Some hotels may accept Euros or US Dollars, but travelers should expect to pay for most goods and services with the local currency. Note that credit and debit cards are not widely accepted, especially outside the major cities.
What kind of electrical adaptor do I need for Bolivia?
Bolivia's electrical outlets carry both 115 volt and 220 volt charges. The electrical grid is not universal so travelers should be sure to check the electrical compatibility of their devices.
The ungrounded Type A electrical plug (which is common in North America) and Type C Europlug (which is common in Europe and South America) are the most widely used outlet types. Travelers would do well to purchase an inexpensive converter at the airport if they have devices that will require recharging.
What is coca tea?
Coca tea, or mate de coca, is an herbal tea that is made with raw coca leaves and served hot or chilled. It is a very popular drink in Bolivia. Coca tea has a mild stimulant effect, like a cup of coffee or black tea. It is said to help relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness and settle upset stomachs.
Coca is an important cash crop in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. Coca leaves are used in traditional medicine, cooking, and chewed raw. Travelers are sure to see coca tea, cookies, pastries, energy bars and other foodstuffs around Bolivia.
Note that unprocessed coca leaves are illegal in many countries, including the United States and most of Europe. Do not try to take coca tea or coca leaves with you when you leave.
How should I get around in Bolivia?
Several reputable bus lines connect Bolivia's major cities. Most travelers prefer tourist-grade busses, which feature reclining seats, televisions and restrooms. For longer trips, travelers may choose overnight bus rides, although travelers should try to plan their arrival for after sunup to avoid hanging around unfamiliar bus terminals after dark. When traveling by bus, be sure to bring a sweater, as busses in Bolivia are notoriously chilly. You would also do well to pack earplugs if you intend to get a good night's sleep.
Bolivia is also served by two domestic airlines, Amaszonas and TAM, which is a subsidiary of the Bolivian Air Force. Amaszonas offers reasonably priced daily flights to several Bolivian destinations, including La Paz, Rurrenabaque, Uyuni, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Be sure to check the latest flight schedules, as timetables are prone to change.
Cars to rent are rare in Bolivia and it is not common for travelers to hire a private car. Travelers should be very cautious about renting 4x4s to explore remote areas such as the Salar de Uyuni, as breakdowns may leave you stranded for significant amounts of time. Another challenge is procuring gasoline for private cars because shortages and fuel rations are common in Bolivia.
How much should I tip in Bolivia?
In full service restaurants and bars, you should tip at about 10% of the total bill. Servers will ask whether you would like to include the tip in the total amount by asking "con servicio?" when they bring the bill.
Taxi drivers are not generally tipped.
Will there be roadblocks?
Unfortunately, roadblocks, or bloqueos, caused by protesting workers are not uncommon along major roads in Bolivia. Travelers should check that routes to their preferred destination are open before purchasing bus tickets. Bloqueos are generally nonviolent events, but travelers should never approach protests or attempt to photograph protestors or police.
Is the water safe to drink in Bolivia?
The tap water in La Paz is very clean and officially safe to drink, however travelers should always drink bottled water. Bottled water is inexpensive and plentiful so there is no reason to drink from the tap.
How poor is Bolivia?
Bolivia remains one of the poorest countries in South America, in large part due to its landlocked geography, poor infrastructure, and small population. Much of Bolivia's economy relies on extractive industries such as mining and forestry, although tourism is a growing industry in the country.
Some travelers are hesitant to visit Bolivia due to its perceived poverty. This is a misguided attitude and travelers who skip the country miss one of the most diverse, incredible countries in South America. Bolivia's cities are quirky, unique and have deep historical significance. Its villages in the rainforest and on the altiplano retain rich cultural authenticity and continue to live very traditionally.
The country is also inexpensive for international visitors, with low food and lodging costs and transportation costs deflated by government fuel subsidies.