Top events in Bolivia

March
18

Every year on the third Sunday of March, the community of Tarabuco celebrate perhaps one of the best known indigenous festivals in the country....

April
01

The Jesuit Mission Trail, East of Santa Cruz, offers beautiful churches for architecture aficionados which date back to the 18th century. The...

June
01

Similar to Carnaval, the Fiesta del Gran Poder is a colourful celebration of Aymaran traditions. It’s a dramatic religious celebration in homage...

Laguna Verde, Bolivia
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Laguna Verde, Bolivia

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Bolivia Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

1,100,000 sq km (424,164 sq miles).

Population

10.4 million (2012).

Population density

9.3per sq km.

Capital

La Paz.

Government

Democratic republic. Gained independence from Spain in 1825.

Head of state

President Evo Morales since January 2006.

Head of government

President Evo Morales since January 2006.

Electricity

Most of Bolivia is 220V/50Hz as well having 110V and 220V supplies. Plugs are two-pronged with round prongs (European) and flat-pronged pins (US).

Bolivia is a land of diverse clashes: from ice-capped peaks, coloured lagoons and flamingos, to rugged lowlands, Amazonian rainforest, beautiful valleys and colonial cities, the innate magic of this country will not fail to dazzle. Landlocked at the heart of Andean Latin America by Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay, Bolivia is dominated by its varied geography, the soaring Andes and its distinctive culture.

Throughout its three centuries of colonial history, Bolivia was known as ‘Upper Peru’, and lost almost half its territory (including its Pacific Coast to Chile), until Simón Bolívar led the country to independence in 1825, when it was named in his honour. Now, it could not be more different to its neighbours. Those who venture beyond the mass tourism of Peru and the European-like cities of Chile and Argentina will find a country offering a far more authentic take on Latin American culture. Indeed, Bolivia’s mysterious exoticism remains the main attraction for travellers who dare to go off the beaten track.

While upscale hotels and international-standard restaurants do exist, there are also plenty of long bus journeys along rugged mountain passes, rough-and-tumble jeep trips across empty landscapes and chilly nights at high altitude in low-frills hotels under llama wool blankets. Though rich in natural resources, Bolivia remains one of Latin America’s poorest countries. The infrastructure may need some work, but the country's inherent charm and unwavering spirit lives on despite its overwhelming poverty.

Its charm lies in its staggering breadth of contrasts. The de facto capital La Paz (the official capital is Sucre) mixes both traditional and modern culture in a frenzy of collisions. Weave your way through the maze of streets where European restaurants and lively bars mix with witch markets, peaceful protests and hectic minibuses. Similarly, La Paz’s Eastern counterpart Santa Cruz offers much of the same but in a tropical, low-lying metropolis. The colonial cities of Sucre and Potosí are a chronicle of Bolivia’s past – white wash houses and historic plazas – while Tupiza and Uyuni offer something different altogether: the somewhat tragic and isolated culture of Altiplano towns.

Bolivia’s endless geographical diversities cause it to feel almost otherworldly. From jungle greenery to vast white salt plains and a bustling capital city set in a mountain valley, the sweep of landscapes can be impenetrable: one day you can find yourself walking through a canyon of rock formations, the next volcanic geysers and endless stretches of white salt. It is this smorgasbord of remarkable features which keeps trips to Bolivia varied, alive and unforgettable.

With around two thirds of the population being of indigenous origin – the largest percentage in any Latin American country – the authentic culture has not been watered down, still breathing through its cities. Native religions, dialects, traditional dress, music, medicine and the sacred coca leaf all form part of the daily life on the street. While the Spanish influence is still evident in the colonial architecture and language, Bolivia remains close to its roots.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 26 February 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Crime

Be vigilant at all times while travelling around. There have been a number of reported crimes against foreign nationals.

When choosing your transport, use established companies and seek local advice.

Petty crime is common in central La Paz and other popular tourist destinations, on buses and in crowded areas. Don’t leave your bag or belongings unattended.
Always keep your passport, air ticket and other valuable items in a safe place.

There has been an increase in the number of robberies involving taxis in the city of Santa Cruz and La Paz. If you do use a taxi choose a ‘radio taxi’, which is identifiable by the telephone number and the name of the taxi company on the vehicle’s roof. If possible, request a taxi by phone, make a note of the taxi’s registration number and telephone number before you set off. This type of taxi should carry no other passengers.

A list of taxi companies registered with the Mayor’s office in La Paz is available in this news article. According to the Mayor’s office, registered taxis display a sticker on their windscreen or windows.

Criminals sometimes impersonate police officers and act in collusion with bogus taxis to target foreigners. False police ID cards, uniforms and even false police stations have been used to fool victims. The criminal pretends to be a friendly tourist. A bogus police officer then approaches and asks for passports and other information. The victim is then persuaded to get into a taxi where he/she is robbed or taken to cash points to withdraw money.

Be vigilant and call local authorities if you suspect that impostors are targeting you. You can’t be searched without a written order from a state prosecutor. The Tourist Police toll-free number is 800-14-0081.

Beware of individuals offering help at taxi points and at bus terminals where thieves work in teams to distract their victims.

There is a general risk of ‘express kidnappings’ - short-term, opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash. Victims are normally selected at random and held for up to several days while criminals use stolen bank or credit cards. Foreign visitors are particularly vulnerable when entering Bolivia at overland border points with Peru, Chile and Argentina. If you are travelling from Copacabana to La Paz, try to use direct buses. Take particular care on arrival, especially in the Cementerio General, area in La Paz where a number of incidents have been reported. There have also been reports of similar incidents in the Sopocachi area of La Paz.

Take care around transport in tourist sites such as Rurrenabaque. Attacks on lone travellers taking motorbike taxis have been reported.

Female travellers should be vigilant inside clubs and hostels. Rape and sexual assault incidents have been reported. Be cautious if you’re approached by strangers and if possible, lock your room when you return to your hotel/hostel.

Petty crime is common in central La Paz and other popular tourist destinations like Sagarnaga Street, on buses and in other crowded areas.

Always keep your passport, air ticket and other valuable items in a safe place.

Adventure Tourism

Bolivia offers a number of adventure activities, including mountain biking, salt flat tours and jungle expeditions. There are no official minimum standards for tour operators. Seek local advice and only use reputable companies. Check your travel insurance policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake.

For mountain biking on the so-called ‘Death Road’, from La Paz to Coroico through the Yungas Valley, make sure bicycles are in good condition and guides are fully equipped with safety equipment and first-aid kits.

Prison tours

Avoid prison tours. They are illegal and unsafe. There are no guarantees for your safety inside prison premises.

Road travel

You will need an International Driving Permit to hire a car. You must carry this with you at all times when driving.

Road travel can be dangerous due to poor road conditions, local driving techniques and the condition of vehicles on the road. There have been a number of recent accidents involving public transport, especially long distance buses, in which British nationals have been affected. Bus drivers drive for well over the time permitted in comparison with European laws.

Weather conditions can seriously affect your ability to travel. During the rainy season (November to March) there is risk of landslides and roads can be severely affected. Check with the Bolivian road authority website on the state of the roads and seek local advice before you set out.

There is little control of vehicle maintenance and serious accidents occur on the main tourist routes Some of Bolivia’s principal roads are paved, but of variable quality. Most roads are unpaved rough tracks. 4-wheel drive vehicles are often the best means of transport, especially during the rainy season. Broken-down vehicles with no warning lights are a frequent hazard on roads at night.

Many taxis and most of the bus companies don’t meet European standards and rarely have seat belts.

Road blockades

Groups often use road blockades as a form of protest, without warning. Don’t attempt to cross these blockades. The Bolivian road authority website gives up-to-date information on which roads are blocked.

Air Travel

A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.

The rainy season may affect air travel; flights may be delayed or cancelled at short notice. Contact your airline to confirm your flight schedule.

A civil airline accident in 2013 at Riberalta airport in the Beni department highlighted a lack of safety and rescue capability in many of Bolivia’s airports, with airports outside the departmental capitals less likely to possess fire and rescue equipment.

The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.

In 2008 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Bolivia.

River travel

Boat trips on Lake Titicaca are available, but the craft are often very basic. The same is true of boats used for river excursions in jungle areas.

Political situation

The political situation in Bolivia is unpredictable. There is a risk that demonstrations will turn violent at short notice. You should avoid large crowds. Border areas and other remote regions can also be subject to demonstrations.

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