Backpacking Bolivia Travel tips

Your ultimate Guide to Backpacking in Bolivia – The most helpful Bolivia Travel Tips

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Bolivia is a country full of natural diversity, cuddly alpacas and breathtaking sights. And, therefore, it doesn’t have to hide from its more popular neighbors Peru and Brazil. You can see, it’s only understandable if you want to discover this unique country on a Bolivia backpacking trip.

Below you will find all the important Bolivia travel tips that I would have loved to know before going to Bolivia. Here you will find everything you need to know about backpacking in Bolivia, including helpful travel tips, Bolivia transport options and much more.

Bolivia Facts

  • Named after Simón Bolívar
  • The poorest country in South America
  • approximately 11,000,000 inhabitants
  • Independent of Spain since August 1825
  • Official languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, Guaraní
  • Capital: Sucre
  • Telephone code: +591

Backpacking in Bolivia travel tips

Where is Bolivia?

Where is Bolivia, map
Source: Google Maps

Bolivia is located in Central South America. It borders Peru in the northeast, Brazil in the north and east, Paraguay in the south-west, Argentina in the south and Chile in the south-west.

Best time to visit Bolivia

The best time to visit Bolivia is from May to October. During this time, you can travel during the dry season. Since Bolivia is located in the southern part of the hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to those in Europe (i.e. autumn is in May and spring in October).

The temperatures rise in the Bolivian summer, but this season is also the rainy season in the country. However, if you want to see the water mirror effect in the Salar de Uyuni, you should travel to the country during the summer months (e.g. mid-December or early January).

Holidays in Bolivia

01.01. New Year’s

1.22. Foundation of the Plurinational State

February/ March: Carnival

March/ April Good Friday

March/ April Easter

01.05. Labor Day

May/ June Corpus Christi

21.06 Aimara New Year’s Day

6.8. Independence Day

11.1. All Saints’ Day

25.12. Christmas

Language and Communication in Bolivia

Nature in Bolivia, Torotoro
Stunning Nature in Torotoro National Park

In general, there are 4 official languages in Bolivia: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, and Guaraní (and many other spoken languages). While the latter three differ depending on the region and age of the residents, Spanish is usually spoken throughout the whole country.

The arguably most used language in Bolivia is therefore Spanish. If like us, you learned Spanish in Spain (Castillian), you should note that the words used here are often a little bit different from those in Castillian (or more generally in Latin America). Fruit and vegetables in particular often have completely different names here than in Spain.

English in Bolivia

Since we speak fluent or native Spanish, we rarely came into contact with English on our trip through Bolivia.

Anyway, in tourist areas, such as La Paz, we saw more and more waiters who spoke English or English menu cards. In general, however, English does not appear to be very common in Bolivia. Many of the travelers we met along the way told us about their communication problems in the country.

It is, therefore, a great advantage to learn a few important words and sentences in Spanish before your trip so that you can make yourself understood on the spot (use the free language learning app Duolingo, for example). Another way to communicate better is to use a travel dictionary or a pointing dictionary with pictures that you can use anywhere in the world.

Important words in Bolivia

Hello – Hola

Bye – Adios

Thanks – Gracias

Excuse me – Permiso

How much does it cost? – ¿Cuanto cuesta?

Delicious – Rico

Rice – Arroz

Fried – Frito

Chicken – Pollo

Trout – Trucha

Where are the restrooms? – ¿Dónde está el baño?

Currency & Money in Bolivia

Valle de la Luna, La Paz
Day trip from La Paz: Valle de la Luna

Currency in Bolivia

The currency in Bolivia is the Bolivian Peso (BOB), called Boliviano. One euro corresponds to 7.8 BOB and one USD to 6.72 BOB. (As of March 2020)

Withdraw money in Bolivia

As a rule, ATMs are available everywhere to withdraw money. You are usually charged fees when withdrawing money. The amount of the fees not only differs from bank to bank but usually also from place to place.

Sometimes ATMs don’t accept foreign credit cards. However, there are usually different providers and one of the machines always worked for us.

Prices in Bolivia

Bolivia is considered the poorest country in South America. Of course, this is also reflected in its prices. Bolivia is far cheaper than its neighbors, even a little cheaper than Peru.

Maybe this gives you an idea: We spent around € 23/ $ 25.5 per day per person during our month in Bolivia. (We traveled on a backpacker budget, but always stayed in private double rooms instead of a dormitory. We spent two nights in much more expensive accommodation).

Tipping in Bolivia

Tips are generally not expected in Bolivia but are gladly accepted. For really good service, you can leave a few coins.

Sockets & Adapter in Bolivia

Type A and C sockets are used in Bolivia. 

We recommend using a world plug that can be used for all sockets worldwide.

View world adapter on Amazon

Food in Bolivia

Pique Macho in Bolivia
A popular dish in Cochabamba in Cochabamba: Pique Macho

Bolivia is not exactly known for its diverse cuisine. On the contrary, it is sometimes not so easy to find something that is not exactly chicken and rice, especially in smaller non-touristy places.

While we usually only focus on local delicacies when traveling, even we could occasionally be found in international restaurants during our month in Bolivia.

Vegetarian cuisine in Bolivia

Today I look back at my naivety before our trip to eat less meat and more fresh fruit and vegetables while traveling in Bolivia. Little did I know how wrong I was. In Bolivia, it’s not so easy to find dishes that don’t contain meat or fish.

The vegetarian option that was advertised during our 3-day Uyuni tour was ultimately just rice with a fried egg on top. Also, the vegetarian dishes that are offered in many restaurants are often exclusively salad.

However, if you only travel in the tourist areas (e.g. La Paz, Sucre, Copacabana, and Uyuni), with a little search you will most probably manage to find a vegetarian option that is not just plain rice.

Visa for Bolivia

EU citizens can usually enter for a 90-day without a visa. However, it can happen that you initially only get a 30-day stay and then have to extend your stay on-site if you want to stay longer in the country.

US citizens can also enter visa-free for either 30, 60 or 90 days (since December 2019).

Author’s note: Please note that this information is subject to change at any time. Make sure you check with an official source shortly before your trip. I am not responsible for any changes or exceptions.

Security in Bolivia – Is Bolivia dangerous?

Basically, Bolivia is no more dangerous than its neighbors in South America. We never felt like we were in danger of any kind. Of course, you should always keep an eye on your belongings and follow the recommendations of the locals.
It’s best to ask at your accommodation whether your neighborhood is safe or whether any specific safety instructions apply.

As in other countries in South America, it is best not to walk around (alone) at night. If you arrive at the airport/bus station after 8 p.m., you’d better call a taxi/ Uber than use public transport (depending on your travel destination).

We also recommend that you don’t carry any valuables with you and that you only take out your camera and smartphone in public as rarely as possible. Also, only carry as much cash with you as you need during the day. A theft-proof backpack can also be an advantage.

Infrastructure in Bolivia

The fact that Bolivia is the poorest country in South America can also be noted in its infrastructure. The streets are usually not in the best condition.

Transport

From city to city – Buses in Bolivia

For the transport between the various destinations in Bolivia, you will most probably use the bus. The buses are, in general, not of exceptional quality, but can usually be used without further worries. As a precaution, you should stow your hand luggage in front of your feet instead of in the overhead lockers, where you can keep an eye on it. Especially if you are traveling with cheap local providers.

The cars are often not the youngest and therefore it can happen that they break down halfway (we were “lucky” enough to stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere twice).

Short distances

As a rule, you can get around the towns by taxi, bus/micro or Colectivo. The so-called colectivos are shared taxis that follow certain routes.

In La Paz, you can also use the Teleférico (cable car), which now has stations all over the city as far as El Alto. Most of the time you are traveling much faster this way than in crowded traffic – and there is also a better view.

Flying in Bolivia

If it gets too rocky on Bolivia’s streets or it just takes too long, you can of course also take a flight. The country’s most popular tourist route is between La Paz and Uyuni. As always, book a few days in advance to save a few bucks.

The best flight deals for Bolivia can be found on Skyscanner here

The altitude in Bolivia – Are you going to suffer from altitude sickness?

The stone tree in Uyuni
The Árbol de Piedra in Uyuni at about 5000 meters

If you look at the Bolivia map, you will see that much of the country is located in the South American Andes. If you are not used to the altitude, you can quickly become a victim of the so-called altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness is manifested by dizziness, headache, digestive problems, nausea, shortness of breath, insomnia, and fatigue. The size and physical fitness of each individual have no influence on whether and how the altitude sickness appears. Some have no problems, others are not doing well at all during their first few days in the mountains.

Tips against altitude sickness

  • Drinking a lot and staying hydrated is essential
  • Eat easily digestible foods
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Try to get enough sleep
  • Avoid physical exercise
  • Coca in all its forms: chew the leaves, drink the tea, try the sweets – the locals swear by it
  • Travel by bus if possible (this will make it easier for your body to adjust to the altitude than on a flight)

If the symptoms persist for more than 3 days or if you have severe headaches/breathing difficulties or similar, you should definitely consult a doctor.

Places to visit in Bolivia

Bolivia is full of wonderful places. Below, you will find a small overview of the most important and most visited places in the country.

La Paz

La Paz Cable car
The Cable Car (Teleférico) in La Paz

The most famous city in Bolivia is arguably La Paz. Although it is the country’s seat of government, it is not the country’s capital, like many people believe. Between the stops of the ultra-modern cable car, you will find traditional sights such as the city’s witch market. Here you will find “magic” and medicinal herbs for all problems of life.

Uyuni

Perspectives in Uyuni
You will have a lot of fun taking pictures in the Salt flats

The Uyuni salt flats and the highlands between Bolivia and Chile became our absolute highlands in Bolivia. This impressive spectacle of nature is truly unique worldwide and a visit here is highly recommended. The largest salt desert in the world brings many travelers to the country and is one of the most touristic places in Bolivia.

Sucre

Sucre Bolivien Cathedral

Of course, during a trip through Bolivia, you should also stop in the capital. We spent Christmas in Sucre and loved it. Sucre is much smaller than La Paz and therefore less chaotic and noisy. It is worth strolling through the streets of the city and admiring the architecture of the colonial buildings.

Copacabana

Cerro Calvario in Copacabana
Copacabana at Lake Titicaca

If you are traveling between Peru and Bolivia, you should definitely plan a few days in Copacabana. Located directly on Lake Titicaca, this small town in northern Bolivia offers an amazing experience. Even though Bolivia itself has no access to the sea, Copacabana feels a bit like a beach vacation. You should also not miss a trip to the Isla del Sol from here.

Potosí

Cathedral of Potosi
The magnificent cathedral of Potosi

The highest city in the world is located between Sucre and Uyuni: Potosí. The small town in the Andes is famous for one thing in particular: its silver mine. Hundreds of miners are still working day and night in the active mine. The mine is considered one of the most famous landmarks in the country and yet we do not recommend visiting the mine (most of the miners die before they are 40 years old and many of the workers are not even 18 years old).

But even without a visit to the mine, a visit here is worthwhile. Look at the city e.g. from the cathedral tower and enjoy the view.

Torotoro National Park

Waterfall in Torotoro
This stunning waterfall can only be fount in Toro Toro National Park

One of our Bolivia highlights and a real insider tip: The Torotoro National Park. Even if the journey is (still) long and shaky, a visit here is worthwhile. Beautiful landscapes invite you to hikes and tours. Here you can adventurously climb through impressive caves and discover breathtaking nature.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz de la Sierra is one of the few tourist places in Bolivia that is not in the Andes. Accordingly, the temperatures here are usually much warmer than in the rest of the country. Santa Cruz is a typical South American city with many Spanish colonial buildings. Especially the brick cathedral of Santa Cruz in the center of the city stands out.

Oruro

With its location between La Paz and Uyuni, Oruro is a popular stopover for tourists in transit. Similar to Potosí, Oruro is also known in the country for its mining. A visit to the Bolivian city is particularly worthwhile during the carnival season. Visitors from all over the country visit Oruro during this time since it is famous for its unique parades.

Cochabamba

Bolivia’s fourth-largest city, Cochabamba, is best known for its local food scene. Of course, also we couldn’t miss the chance to try the famous Pique Macho here. You will also find beautiful colonial buildings, parks and the popular Christ statue in the city, to which you can either hike up or take the cable car.

Rurrenabaque

If you want to visit the Amazon rainforest on your trip to Bolivia, you should definitely include Rurrenabaque to your itinerary. The small town in the north of the country is the gateway to Madidi National Park. In addition to incredible nature, you will find breathtaking wildlife here. Rurrenabaque also is known to be the cheapest way to visit the South American Amazon.

Death Road

For all the adrenaline junkies among you, Death Road is an experience that you will not soon forget. Awarded as the most dangerous road in the world, this route is really not for the faint of heart. You can book your tour from La Paz. The tour operator equips you with a bike, helmet and everything you need and then you can whiz down this crazy street.

Bolivia’s Locals

At first glance, they might look a little moody from time to time. Anyone who has been to countries like Thailand, the land of smile, before can be intimidated by it. But don’t let it spoil your curiosity – they don’t mean it in a bad way. If you get to know the locals better, you will quickly find that they laugh as much as we do, you just have to get to know them better first.

In most cases, you will need at least a small chunk of Spanish. So if you have some time before your trip, I strongly recommend that you learn a few important sentences in order to make yourself understood and maybe even have a little small talk with locals.

Always bring toilet paper with you

One of the most important Bolivia tips: Always have a roll of toilet paper or tissues in your pocket when you are on the go. Many (public) toilets in the country do not offer any. Even if you pay entry to the toilets, toilet paper is not guaranteed.

Talking about toilet paper – Did you know that you shouldn’t throw your used toilet paper into the toilet and flush it? It could actually plug the toilet and lead to embarrassing situations. Better use the provided bins next to the toilet to get rid of your toilet paper.

And talking about Bolivian toilets, there isn’t always soap either. You might want to carry a little hand disinfection gel with you as well.

Internet and Sim Card in Bolivia

The internet connection is going up and down just like the country’s streets do. In some places, I was really surprised at the speed and quality of the internet, in other places it just made me want to cry.

You can buy a local SIM card very cheaply at almost every corner. However, we needed help with the registration as I could not register online with my foreign passport. So it’s best to get help from an employee of an official shop. The connection could definitely have been better but was usually sufficient to check emails and use Google Maps. However, I usually had no connection outside the towns when traveling by bus.

The largest providers of sim cards are Entel, Viva & Tigo. While Entel has the best connection in the Andes, Viva offers the cheapest prices. We personally used a Tigo Sim card and we cannot really recommend it to be honest. But I am honestly not sure whether the other providers work better.

Child labor in Bolivia

A topic that broke my heart during our time in Bolivia. You see children working everywhere throughout the country. Whether it’s in hotels, in the fields, in restaurants, you are always served by children and see them working as if they were adults.

At our first hostel in Bolivia in Copacabana, I still thought it was cute when a little boy (I don’t think he was older than 8 years old) checked us in and then led us to our room. However, when I watched the boy changing bed sheets and cleaning hotel rooms early the next day, I became suddenly aware that the checking-in of guests the day before was probably no exception.

Upon closer investigation, I found that child labor in Bolivia has been completely legal since 2010. The only thing you have to do is make sure that the children still go to school next to work. (During our time in Bolivia it was summer vacation time). How exactly the Bolivian state is checking upon this, is not explained. Unfortunately, nobody seems to ensure that the children are not actually allowed to work in mines or do dangerous work. Many of Potosí’s miners are not yet 14 years old…

Accommodation in Bolivia

Bolivia is a backpacking country. Therefore, it’s usually quite easy to find accommodation. Especially, if you are looking for something easy, like a backpacker dorm, you usually don’t have to look for a long time.

Should I book my accommodation in advance?

Usually, there is no need to book your accommodation in advance as there are many options to choose from. However, it normally doesn’t make a big difference in price if you look for a place on-site or if you book in advance. Therefore, it’s often less stressful and saves you a lot of time to book something online before you arrive.

We usually use Booking.com or Airbnb to find our accommodation. Both platforms let you compare the best places for different budgets and offer independent traveler reviews.

Click here to look for your accommodation on Booking.com

Travel Insurance for Bolivia

Even though Bolivia is a relatively safe country, you should never leave without travel insurance. World Nomads insurance is known as one of the most popular travel insurance policies worldwide. Click here for more information on World Nomads travel insurance.

Where are you going?

Make sure to check out all of our Bolivia guides so you can plan your trip perfectly.

about-the-author

About the AuthorVicki

Hi, we are Vicki & Eduardo, an international travel couple on a mission to help you save money for priceless travel experience. Follow us through the miracles of this world and you will be rewarded with a bunch of practical travel tips.

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