Bolivia Travel Guide – Everything you Need to Know
This is a complete Bolivia Travel Guide and includes lots of relevant information such as the best ATM’s, best things to do and places to visit, visa requirements, and much more. If you’re planning on traveling to Bolivia then reading this guide will be very helpful when planning your trip.
Bolivia Travel Guide
Bolivia is one of South Americas most unique and unforgettable countries to travel – whether it be for the right or wrong reasons! As one of South America’s poorest countries, Bolivia can shock, and slightly upset those who cherish their creature comforts (probably why it’s good to read a Bolivia Travel Guide before going!). However, for those who are willing to look past the terrible wifi and lack of toilet paper, Bolivia will reward you greatly!
Home to some of the most authentic Andean culture, Bolivia is seemingly stuck back in time. The traditional culture is real and unlike other places, there are no actors!
I was unsure of what I would find when I first crossed Bolivia’s border. But in the end, I found a beautiful country just waiting to be explored! That being said, there are a few things I wish I had known first! So, below is everything you need to know right here in my Bolivia Travel Guide!
Visa’s and entry requirements
The first thing (and most important) on our Bolivia Travel Guide is how to get into the country. When entering Bolivia every country falls into one of these four groups for tourism:
1. No Visa required
2. Visa required but can be acquired upon arrival at the border
3. A visa needs to be obtained prior to your arrival to Bolivia
4. USA citizens
If you are traveling on a UK, EU, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand (group 1) passport you do not require a visa and automatically get stamped for 30 days entry. This can be extended up to 90 days in 30-day increments. I have heard of people acquiring 90 days at the border just by asking, however, the lady I spoke to had possibly woken up on the wrong side of the bed and simply refused.
If you fall into group 2, then a visa is required however it can simply be obtained at any border consulate. This will give you 30 days from the time you enter and can be extended.
Group 3 means you will have to get a visa prior to arrival at a cost of $30 USD. The processing time on this is 3-5 weeks. The visa can also be extended.
If you’re from the United States then you are in your very own category! You don’t need to obtain your visa prior, however, you must have all the documents you require or you may be refused entry. The visa costs $160 USD and lasts for ten years. You can stay for a maximum time of 90 days per year. The specific documents required can be found at the link below.
Currency and ATM’s in Bolivia
Bolivia uses their own currency, the Boliviano or BOB. The US dollar is accepted at most places, usually at a less competitive rate than using local currency, at the time in writing this (April 2018), $1 USD was worth $7 bolivianos.
Banks in Bolivia are widespread throughout the big cities; however, they do become sparse in smaller towns. In some places you can choose to withdraw USD or BOB from ATM’s, however, I found this only in big cities.
Eftpos (debit/credit) is rare and if you’re traveling cheap you likely won’t use it. No markets or small shop take it. Some large hotels will, however, there was always a 5% charge! I found myself stocking up on cash so I didn’t get stuck with just my card.
ATM’s are widespread throughout the cities but can become harder to find in smaller towns. Even if you do find one in a small town the ATM could be empty or out of service. For this reason, it’s best to take what you need when you leave the city to head rural.
Banco Nacion Bolivia does not charge ATM fees and is a great choice. Other people from Europe have told me they withdrew from Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz for free with unlimited withdrawal, but for me, this bank was expensive using my Australian card.
Weather in Bolivia
Weather conditions in Bolivia vary significantly from region to region. This is largely due to Bolivia’s changes in elevation. With lower altitude, temperatures become more humid and hot. With higher altitudes, you can expect hot days but freezing nights. For this reason, I have put Bolivia’s weather into two categories: the lowlands and the highlands.
Lowlands (Santa Cruz, Trinidad, Amazon)
In the lowlands of Santa Cruz and Trinidad, you can expect hot humid temperatures and torrential downpours in the months of September to May. These months are Bolivia’s wet season. This region is also the wettest in Bolivia and annual rainfall can reach 4000mm. The average temperature in this region is 30 degrees Celsius.
Highlands (Potosi, Sucre, Uyuni, La Paz)
During the months of June- August, temperatures in the highlands reach their lowest. Temperatures in the Salt Flats push below zero and freezing winds chill you to the bone. However, this is also the driest time in these areas. From November to March you can expect heavy rainfall but warmer temperatures.
The best time to visit
During the rainy months of September to March, most of the tracks on the Salt Flats are flooded and inaccessible. Because of this, many travelers choose to visit in the dry season from May to September.
The best conditions for hiking the Andes in Bolivia are also from May to September.
Dangers and safety in Bolivia
Bolivia is not without its problems – poverty is common. As such, people can become desperate and pickpocketing and non-violent robberies are quite common. However, it is very easy to avoid with most incidents occurring late at night.
During my stay, I only ever heard of people getting robbed in La Paz. These incidents were during the early hours of the morning and all victims were intoxicated. With a small amount of awareness you can most definitely enjoy Bolivia without any problems – as I did!
One thing to mention is that it is illegal for undercover police to approach tourists in Bolivia unless you are in the act of committing a crime. This law was introduced to combat criminals impersonating police officers. If you are approached by “police”, not in uniform and have not committed a crime, do not comply and ask them to call your embassy. DO NOT HAND OVER YOUR PASSPORT!
What things cost in Bolivia
Bolivia is one of if not the cheapest country in South America. The prices mentioned below in my Bolivia travel guide are the averages I spent overall cities and towns.
A dorm bed in a hostel ranges from between $5-10 USD. Private rooms in Bolivia are not that much more expensive for two people than getting two dorms. Typically a budget private room will cost $15-25 USD.
Most places include free Wi-Fi that is normally terrible, and on a rare occasion, you can find a free breakfast. Seldom will you find a hostel with a kitchen in Bolivia and some hostels don’t even include toilet paper!
Street food such as hamburgers or hotdogs cost around $0.80 USD and a typical “meal of the day” at a local restaurant will only cost $1.50 USD. The meals consist of soup, meat, rice or potatoes, and a drink. During lunch, these typical meals are more expensive but you will receive a larger portion as Bolivians have their biggest meal at lunch.
At local markets, you can get fruit and vegetables extremely cheap! For example, I was paying $0.20 for an avocado in Sucre!
If you’re after western food then prices are significantly higher. A meal at Burger King or Subway will cost $3-$6 USD and at a restaurant around $7-$15 USD.
Buses are the cheapest option for transport in Bolivia rather than flying. A typical intercity bus costs around $10 USD (though cheaper these buses are long and on some occasions dangerous.) With steep cliffs and under-maintained roads, it can be hard to sleep on a night bus!
Tours are super cheap in Bolivia. If you wanted to do any tours then this is the place to do it! A 3-day 2-night Salt Flat tour only cost me $90 USD! That included transport in a 4wd, two nights in a private room with my partner Bailey, a guide, and all meals.
Daily budgets in Bolivia
$13-$18 USD per day – This means staying in budget dorms, eating local set meals or cooking, rarely going on organized tours, using the cheapest intercity buses, and of course not drinking a lot.
$18-30 USD per day – Once you extend your budget a little you can really get a lot more. This was our budget and we were able to do our Salt Flats tour, eat locally with the occasional pizza, drink a few beers, take average buses, and all-around travel without too much worry of going over our budget.
$35+ USD – With a budget of $35 USD a day you can do a lot in Bolivia. This budget is for those wanting to party, tour a lot, eat western food, and take the nicest buses. I still don’t think this budget would include taking many flights, however, if you adopted some of the low budget techniques it could!
Places to visit in Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world! Located at over 3,500m above sea level and covering 104 km2, the Salt Flats in Bolivia was by far the highlight of my trip in Bolivia.
The most classic way to see the Salt Flats is on a 3-day tour that explores the whole region including a desert at 5,000m above sea level!
During the months of March and April, it is possible to get the famous mirror reflection from the little water that still remains from the wet season. During sunset this is spectacular!
At first glance, La Paz can seem like just another overcrowded city. However, all it takes is you to have a good walk around the city and that all changes.
Not many cities around the world can beat La Paz’s extraordinary setting. Located at 3,650m above sea level, La Paz is essentially situated in a bowl that descends from a large flat plain.
Around the city, the markets breathe with life and are perfect for doing a little shopping. From great museums, the famous Witches Market, and pebble stone streets, La Paz is anything but normal!
If large cities aren’t your thing then Samaipata will be! Located only a few hours from the city of Santa Cruz, Samaipata is the perfect place to enjoy some peace and quiet. Known as Bolivia’s own “Little Switzerland” because of its beautiful location and stunning landscapes, this small sub-tropical town is amazing!
During the day you can explore the nearby waterfalls and in the evening enjoy a coffee in the main square. This town is perfect for those who love a little tranquility!
It’s true! Bolivia is home to the famous Copacabana beach! Well, not quite but it is still pretty amazing! This beach town is actually located on Lake Titicaca near the border of Peru.
The town is really beautiful and is a great place to eat local fish! Overlooking the town is a giant hill that can be climbed. From the top the views of the beach and town are stunning! Although not the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, it is still worth a visit!
Sucre is likely the most beautiful city in Bolivia. From the main square, you can venture down the many side streets and be welcomed with beautiful white colonial buildings.
Sucre is famous for being both a cheap and a great place to learn Spanish. During my stay, I did two weeks of lessons and loved them!
Potosi is the highest town in the world at almost 4,000m above sea level! Just being in Potosi can have you out of breath, and if it doesn’t, then climbing one of the many steep hills will!
Other than visiting the highest town in the world, one draw card to Potosi is a chance to visit one of the surrounding mines. These mines are hundreds of years old and are a death sentence for those who work them. Be warned though, this tour is not for the faint-hearted!
Santa Cruz is located in the lowlands and is the closest city to Brazil. The city was most definitely not my favorite, but I did enjoy the warm weather. Just outside of the city is a great local skydive club so if you have ever thought of jumping, then this is a great opportunity.
Things to do in Bolivia
3-day Salt Flats tour
This tour is a must for any traveler going to Bolivia! The 3-day classic tour is awesome and takes you to some amazing places. The tour can be done from the San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and finish in Uyuni, vice versa, and from Uyuni back to Uyuni. I did the last option and loved it. There is a lot of driving but the views are amazing! Seriously, you must do this!
Hike the Cordillera Real
The Cordillera Real is a chain of mountains that are part of the greater Andes Range. This section of mountains near La Paz offers some breathtaking hikes not to be missed. I know this as I missed them! It is my biggest regret over my whole trip. Oh well, I guess I will have to go back now!
Mountain bike the Death Road
The Death Road is considered to be the most dangerous road in the world. Dug into a cliff, the road has claimed thousands of lives since its construction.
These days a new road has made the Death Road rather unused and instead it’s now a tourist attraction. Visitors can now try their luck and mountain bike down the road. Starting from a high point, not much riding is involved and instead, you must tackle the rock road and 1,000ft straight drops! If you’re worried about giving it a go, don’t! It’s not as crazy as it sounds and you can go at your own pace. I was racing a friend and had a few scary, close calls, but you don’t have too!
Visit the dinosaur footprints
Only a short bus ride from Sucre is the largest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world. Spread across a huge rock wall the footprints are from several different large dinosaurs including the Brachiosaurus (long-necked herbivore).
You can get right up and close to the footprints and see just how big they are! This is one of the most unique things to do in this Bolivia Travel Guide!
Explore the waterfalls of Samaipata
Only a 10-minute drive from Samaipata nestled in the beautiful forest is 3 beautiful waterfalls. These waterfalls are a great place to come and spend the day. The waterfalls are along a small trail that slowly leads upwards. Just before the last waterfall, you are welcomed with amazing views of the green valley! Just be ready for some icy cold water!
Visit “Crazy Dave” at the San Pedro prison
For those that are thinking “huh? Why would I visit a prison on holiday?” Well, this prison was made famous after the book titled Marching Powder was published. The book followed the life of an English man named Thomas McFadden locked up in Bolivia for drug smuggling. The prison he was locked up in was San Pedro prison in La Paz.
San Pedro is unlike any other prison in the world for many reasons. A few being that you must buy your cell, families live in there, the kids that live there attend a school over the road, and oh, they make drugs in the prison and sell them over the walls!
These days you can no longer enter the prison (you used to be able to do a tour). However, a man who goes by “Crazy Dave” still does tours from the outside. Crazy Dave is an American who was locked up with Thomas. The tour is in no way professional, however, it is interesting!
To finish off our Bolivia Travel Guide, I would like to say that Bolivia is a magnificent country that often gets missed by many travelers. The ones that do go, find out that Bolivia is a beautiful country, filled with rich culture and traditions. The people of Bolivia are modest and many live as they did many years ago. If you’re ever wondering what Bolivia has to offer while you’re there just look out the bus window at the amazing scenery or watch some locals go about their daily lives.
I hope you found this Bolivia Travel Guide helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments and we will get back to you!
June 2, 2019