|Capital||La Paz (seat of government); Sucre (legal capital and seat of judiciary)|
|Population||10,027,254 (official number 2012)|
Bolivia is a beautiful, geographically rich in diversity, and multiethnic country in the heart of South America. It is surrounded by Brazil to the northeast, Peru to the northwest, Paraguay to the southwest, Argentina and Chile to the south. It shares with Peru control of Lake Titicaca (Lago Titicaca), the world's highest navigable lake (elevation 3,821 m).
|Altiplano (La Paz, Oruro, Potosí)
|Sub-Andean Bolivia (Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, Tarija)
|Tropical Lowlands (Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando)
- La Paz — the administrative capital and seat of the government
- Cochabamba — the country's third-largest city, with a pleasant, moderate climate
- Oruro — famous for its carnival
- Potosí — once one of the wealthiest cities in the world due to its silver mines
- Santa Cruz — the second-largest and most affluent city of Bolivia
- Sucre — the constitutional capital and seat of judiciary
- Tarija— The Festival of Wine is held annually in Tarija
- Chacaltaya & Huayna Potosi — the world's highest ski resort and Bolivia's most popular mountain climb
- Isla del Sol — Located in the south part of Titicaca Lake. A remote island in the middle of the lake. Astonishing landscapes and very old ruins from Inca period make this location a good place to find peace.
- Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos — six remote towns of the Gran Chaco founded by the Jesuits in the 17th and 18th centuries. The region where towns are situated is called Chiquitania and is well worth a visit not just for the Missions, but for the beautiful nature as well.
- Madidi National Park — Located a few miles North of Apolo, is one of the world's most extensive biodiversity reserves. Its humid tropical climate has spawned one of Bolivia’s richest woodlands.
- Noel Kempff Mercado National Park — impossibly remote and even more impossibly beautiful Amazonian park, home to the stunning Cataratas Arcoiris waterfall
- Quime - Raunchy and friendly mountain village surrounded by high mountains of the Cordillera Quimsa Cruz, between La Paz & Cochabamba, with mines, waterfalls, native cloud forest and 31 Aimara indigenous communities. Exploration hiking. Most convenient of Bolivia's valley towns to get to.
- Sajama National Park — beautiful Andean landscapes and Bolivia's highest mountain, Nevada Sajama
- Salar de Uyuni — the spectacular landscapes along the largest salt flats in the world
- Sorata — Hikers' destination, also close to San Pedro caves, which host a nice lagoon
- Tiwanaku — Ancient ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Yungas region to be reached via bicycle on El Camino de Muerte, the World's Most Dangerous Road, leading through dramatic high altitude cliffside jungle terrain or by walking on El Choro Trek through the climate zones from La Paz to Coroico
Sometimes referred to as the Tibet of South America, Bolivia is one of the most "remote" countries in the Western Hemisphere; except for the navigable Paraguay River stretching to the distant Atlantic, Bolivia and Paraguay are the only two landlocked nations in the Americas. It is also the most indigenous country in the Americas, with 60% of its population being of pure Native American ancestry.
Bolivia, named after independence fighter Simón Bolívar, broke away from Spanish rule in 1825; much of its subsequent history has consisted of a series of nearly 200 coups and counter-coups. Comparatively democratic civilian rule was established in the 2000s, but leaders have faced difficult problems of deep-seated poverty, social unrest, and drug use. Current goals include attracting foreign investment, strengthening the hygiene system, and waging an anti-corruption campaign on poor citizens.
The current President is Evo Morales who won majority in a 2005 election and inaugurated at the historical Tiwanaku archeological sites. Morales and his party, the Movement for Socialism, were re-elected in 2009, with another majority. There are often large protests in Bolivia considering issues like environmental protection, logging, hydrocarbon extraction, auto imports, mining, construction of highways, as well as other issues. These protests often cause the shutdown of streets in La Paz, specifically the area surrounding the Plaza Murillo, and the creation of blockades along major inter-city travel routes. If traveling between cities by bus it can be common for the trip to be stalled by several hours due to these protests. Sometimes pickets of miners last several days between bigger cities and there are just no busses leaving in some directions.
Bolivia's climate remains relatively similar from one climatic zone to another. It ranges from humid and tropical to slightly humid and tropical. In most parts of the country winters are dry and summers are somewhat wet. Despite its tropical latitude, the altitude of cities like La Paz keeps things cool, and warm clothing is advised during the months of April and May. The summer months in Bolivia are November through March. The weather is typically warmer and wetter during these months. April through October, the winter months, are typically colder and drier.
The following nationalities will not need a visa for short stays of less than 90 days as tourists: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany,Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Monaco, Norway, New Zealand, Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vatican City, and Venezuela.
As of July 30, 2014, Israelis must have visas for Bolivia as the Morales government has scrapped the visa agreement between the two countries.
Most people who do need tourist visas can obtain them on arrival, except for the following nationalities: Afghanistan, Angola, Bhutan, Cambodia, Chad, East Timor, Indonesia, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, United States, Yemen, and those from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, under urgent and special circumstances can foreigners in this group obtain visas at the port of entry. US citizens will normally receive a triple-entry visa valid for 3 entries per year over a 5-year period.
Note that all business travellers and persons wishing to stay longer than 90 days in a year must obtain a visa in advance.
Unless you are under the age of 1, you will need a yellow fever vaccination certificate to apply for a visa.
Arriving overland from Peru, US citizen tourist visas can be obtained at the border. Officially, they require a visa application form, a copy of the passport, a copy of yellow fever vaccination, a copy of an itinerary leaving Bolivia, evidence of economic solvency, a hotel reservation or written invitation, and a 4cm X 4cm or "passport sized" photo. A $135 fee is also required, payable in freshly minted cash. Any old or marked bills will not be accepted. There are photocopy machines at the border crossing.
Air travel is the obvious way to get to Bolivia, the main airports are located in La Paz to the western side of the country and in Santa Cruz to the east. The arrival plan must be based mostly in the purpose of your visit to the country; you have to remember that La Paz receives most of their visitors due to the immense culture and heritage from the Incas and other indigenous cultures from the Andean region, and therefore from La Paz it is easier to move to the Tiwanaku ruins, Oruro’s carnival, Potosí’s mines, Uyuni, Lake Titicaca, Los Yungas valley and the Andes Mountains; since La Paz is the seat of government all the embassies and foreign organizations have their headquarters in the city, which is useful in case of an emergency. On the other side, Santa Cruz with a warmer weather could become a good location for doing business visit other alternatives in tourism like the Misiones, the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park or visit the eastern cities. There are also some foreign consulates in Santa Cruz. But don’t forget that the cities in the south and central Bolivia, like Cochabamba, Tarija and Sucre also offer a very rich experience; there are several ways to get to these cities from La Paz or Santa Cruz.
Regular flights are booked from Madrid (Barajas) to Viru Viru in Santa Cruz service provided by companies like Boliviana de Aviación and Air Europa; the cost could go from 800-1200€ to other higher prices depending on the class and duration.
From Latin America
Other airlines that fly into Bolivia from other Latin American countries include LAN from Santiago via Iquique and from Lima. It is also now possible to fly between Cusco and La Paz with Amaszonas, making circular itineraries possible where you enter Bolivia from Peru across Lake Titicaca and then fly back into Peru. TAM Mercosur flies from São Paulo, Brazil and Buenos Aires via Asunción. Copa Airlines has begun to fly to Santa Cruz from Panama City. Gol Airlines and Aerolineas Argentinas also fly directly to Santa Cruz.
There are departures from Miami to La Paz and Santa Cruz on American Airlines. Once you have your international flight booked - it's far easier and cheaper to organize your internal flights from the point of departure.
As of June 2014, portions of the Bolivian rail network has been acquired by a Chilean company called La Empresa Ferroviaria Andina S.A. (FCA). Many discontinued passenger services appears to have been restarted. Check the FCA timetable for details.
- From Brazil, a train connects the Bolivian border town of Puerto Quijarro with Santa Cruz. The fast and slow train takes 13 hours and 17 hours respectively.
- From Argentina, a train connects the Bolivian border town of Villazón (across from La Quiaca) to Uyuni (9-12hours). Tupiza is at the midpoint 4 hours from Villazón.
- From Chile, a train connects Calama with Uyuni (13 or 18 hours). Since this is a cargo train with passenger carriage attached, expect rough ride through exceptional scenery. (Calama - Antofagasta segment of the railway appears to not have passenger service) The other trans-national railway with Chile terminating at Arica also does not carry passengers.
It is common for tourists to travel through a land border at the north-east of Chile/ South-West of Bolivia.
Keep in mind that only about 5% of all the roads in Bolivia are paved. However, most major routes between major cities (e.g., Santa Cruz, La Paz, Cochabamba, Sucre) are paved. A 4x4 is strongly encouraged when traveling off the flatter altiplano. Be aware that in mountainous regions traffic sometimes switches sides of the road. This is to ensure the driver has a better view of the dangerous drops.
An international drivers license is required but * most* times EU or US drivers licenses will be accepted. There are frequent police controls on the road and tolls to be paid for road use.
There are many options for traveling from Argentina to Bolivia by bus. There are sites to check times online  but as always in Bolivia, it pays to check on the ground in advance as well. There is also a bus that runs from Juliaca and Puno in Peru to Copacabana.
Passenger ferries on Lake Titicaca no longer exist.
Transportation strikes (bloqueos) are a common occurrence in Bolivia, so try to keep tuned to local news. Strikes often affect local taxis as well as long-distance buses; airlines are generally unaffected. Do not try to go around or through blockades (usually of stones, burning tires, or lumber). Strikers may throw rocks at your vehicle if you try to pass the blockade. Violence has sometimes been reported. Many strikes only last a day or two. There is a government website with a live map showing which roads are closed or affected by landslides.
Bus transportation in Bolivia is a nice cheap way to get to see the beautiful scenery while traveling to your destination. Unfortunately the buses often travel solely at night. Keep in mind that roads are occasionally blocked due to protests, often for several days. So ask several companies at the terminal if you hear about blockades, unless you are willing to spend a few days sleeping on the bus. Bus travel is usually pretty cheap. Estimate that it will cost you about 1 USD for every hour of travel (it's easier to find travel times online than actual price quotes). Prices do change based on supply and demand. Sometimes you can get a deal by waiting until the last minute to buy. Hawkers are constantly crying out destinations in the bigger bus stations cajoling potential riders to take their bus line.
On average, bus companies are not-that-great to decent, but some are just really bad. It is recommended not to travel with Urus, as they drive less safely than others, and include many many stops which unnecessarily prolong the ride.
Flying within Bolivia is quick and fairly economical. BoA connects most major cities.
- Amaszonas, Av. Saavedra Nº 1649, Miraflores, La Paz, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Most famous for their La Paz to Rurrenabaque route but also fly to Uyuni, Trinidad, Guayaramerin, Riberalta, Cobija, San Borja, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Fares are listed under "tarifas" on their website, listed below. Their office in Santa Cruz is in El Trompillo airport.
- Boliviana de Aviación - BoA - the national airline of Bolivia. Provides economical travel between the main cities of Bolivia. You can book your tickets online or at BoA-offices in Santa Cruz, La Paz or Cochabamba. Main office in Cochabamba, Calle Jordán #202 esq. Nataniel Aguirre. email: email@example.com phone: +591 901 10 50 10 fax: +591 4 4116477
- TAM (Transporte Aéreo Marília), Montes n 738, La Paz, ☎ . This airline is one of the most well organized and reliable. Their office in Santa Cruz is in El Trompillo Airport, where all of their planes leave from. They fly between La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, and Sucre daily. Of the three internal airlines (AeroSur, BOA, and TAM) they are usually the cheapest. Weight restrictions are 15kg checked and 3kg carry on. They will take bags heavier than this for 5 Bs. per kilo over.
On some routes, the roads are in such a dire condition that the train becomes the alternative of choice. Trains are more comfortable than one would expect, having for example reclinable seats. The trip from Oruro to Uyuni is especially beautiful, with the train going literally through an Andean lake on the way. The train is especially good for trips to the Salar de Uyuni and the Pantanal.
Coming from La Paz, you need to take a three hour bus ride to Oruro to catch the train. You best book your tickets a few days before your trip. In La Paz booking office is at Fernando Guachalla No. 494, at the corner with Sánchez Lima (between the Plaza del Estudiante and Plaza Abaroa). Main stops are Uyuni, Tupiza and Villazon, on the Argentine border. Travel times here. .
Between Santa Cruz and the Pantanal it is more straightfoward to organize a trip. Just go to the Terminal Bimodal in Santa Cruz (see the Santa Cruz page for details), or the train station on the border in Puerto Quijarro. The train is also convenient for trips to the Jesuit Missions. Check the website  for timetables.
For longer trips between towns and cities that aren't served by bus, shared taxis are common. Shared taxi is not safe for tourist, especially if you are solo female traveller.
Bolivia has 37 official languages -of which Spanish (often called Castellano), Quechua, and Aymara are the main ones. In rural areas, many people do not speak Spanish. Nevertheless, you should be able to get by with some basic Castellano. Bolivia is one of the best places in which to learn or practice your Spanish because of their very clean, deliberate accent. There are many options for studying Spanish in Bolivia, and they are usually very good (often, the program includes a very good homestay component).
Bolivia has six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In the eastern department of Santa Cruz there are the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, the Inca site El Fuerte in Samaipata and the Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos. Near the capital there is Tiwanaku, an archeological site with the remains of an pre-Incan city. Finally there are Sucre and Potosí, two cities founded by the Spanish in the 16th century.
- The Death Road:from La Cumbre to Coroico. A mountainbike tour of 64km where you'll be able to see the diversity of Bolivia. Leave from La Cumbre at 5000mts, in a cold and windy environment, and get to Coroico, in a wet and tropical environment.
- Explore the Provinces: Bolivia is a place to explore, it is mostly still untouched. The people are friendly in the countryside. There are hundreds of off the map, mostly out-of-the-guide places to go in Bolivia, and far more exciting than what the tour agencies and guide books offer. In the La Paz department for example you can easily catch transport to places like Pelechuco, the east side of Lake Titicaca, Achacachi, Isla del Sol, or Quime... not to mention scores of other villages and small towns. The free govt. tour agencies at the Plaza Estudiantes or Prado can help you find transport anywhere and tell you about it.
It can be difficult to change money other than euros and US dollars, even currency from neighboring countries! You might find more flexible exchange offices at airports, but be prepared for service fees and poor exchange rates. USD bills smaller than $100 can also be hard to break without accepting a lesser exchange rate.
The national currency is the Boliviano. As of January 2010, the exchange rate is generally Bs6.97/$USD or Bs10/EUR. Bills come in denominations of 200, 100, 50, 20, and 10; coins are in 5, 2, and 1 Bolivianos, and 50, 20, and you will find sometimes 10 centavos (1/10 of a Boliviano). Bills larger than Bs50 can be hard to break, but a quick phone call or internet session at an Internet Café (see Contact, below) will usually get you change.
Currency can be exchanged for US dollars and most South American currencies at Casa De Cambio agencies or street vendors. Expect to negotiate for a favorable exchange rate, as most vendors will try to make money off a tourist.
U.S. dollars are widely accepted in hotels, tourist shops, and for large purchases.
Banco de Credito is a good bank to take cash from. Banco Union should be avoided if possible as it charges a 5% surcharge (as of May 2012), although they do not make any mention of this.
Service charges are included with the bill. Still, a small tip, around 5% or so, is sometimes given, and is considered polite.
Coca has been part of Andean culture for centuries, and chewing is still very common (and perfectly legal) in Bolivia. You should be able to buy a big bag of dried leaves at the local market. Coca is a stimulant, and it also suppresses hunger. Chewing a wad of leaves for a few minutes should bring slight numbness to your lips and throat. Remember the slogan (printed on souvenir T-shirts): Coca no es Cocaina ("The coca leaf is not cocaine"). But cocaine most definitely is an illegal drug. Remember this, only chew the leaf; if you eat the coca leaf you will get a very sick stomach.
The cuisine of Bolivia might be called the original "meat and potatoes" -- the latter (locally called papas from the Quechua) were first cultivated by the Inca before spreading throughout the world. The most common meat is beef, though chicken and llama are also easily found. Pork is relatively common. Deep frying (chicharron) is a common method of cooking all sorts of meat, and fried chicken is a very popular quick dish; at times the smell permeates the streets of Bolivian cities. Guinea pigs (cuy) and rabbits (conejo) are eaten in rural areas, though you can sometimes find them in urban restaurants as well. A common condiment served with Bolivian meals is ll'ajwa, a spicy sauce similar to Mexican salsa.
Some notable Bolivian dishes:
- Pique a lo macho - grilled chunks of meat in a slightly spicy sauce with tomatoes and onion, on potatoes
- Silpancho or Milanesa - beef pounded to a thin, plate-sized patty, served on a bed of rice and potatoes, with a fried egg on top (Similar to wiener schnitzel).
- Picante de Pollo
- Fritanga (Bolivian style fried pork)
Street food and snacks:
- Anticucho - Beef hearts grilled on a skewer, served with potatoes and a spicy peanut sauce
- Salchipapa - Thinly sliced sausage fried with potatoes
- Choripan - Chorizo (spicy sausage) sandwich, served with grilled onions and lots of sauce
Mid-Morning snacks typically consists of any of several of meat-filled buns:
- Salteña - A baked bun filled with meat and potatoes in a slightly sweet or spicy sauce. Be careful when you take a bite, as the sauce will drip all over!
- Tucumana - Like a salteña but fried
- Empanada - Similar to a saltena, often filled with cheese as well as meat
- Cuñape - A small roll filled with cheese, similar to Brazilian pão de queijo. The bread is made from cassava flour.
Many people also start off the day with some concoction involving fruit:
- Ensalada de frutas - Many different fruits chopped in a bowl of yogurt. Very filling. Some stalls may have honey, nuts or gelatin on top, if you like.
Vegetarians will find decent to very good options in Gringo-places around the country. But also at market places, there are good vegeratian options on offer (usually potatoes, rice, fried egg and salad for about 7Bs.) In bigger cities, there are some (decent to good) fully vegetarian restaurants.
Juice bars appear at most markets. Shakes (either with water or milk) are 2-3Bs. Locals can be seen to drink Vitaminico an egg, beer and sugar concoction or "Vitima" which includes coca leaves.
- Licuado - Water or milk blended with your favorite fruit combination. A big spoonful of sugar will be added unless you specifically ask them not to. Try the milk and papaya licuado. You should probably ask whether the water added is from botella (bottle) or from the tap (not recommended).
- Vitaminico - Don't ask what's in here. Many fruits, milk, sugar, a shot of beer, and, if you wish, a whole egg (with shell).
- Mocochinchi - A drink made by brewing peaches and spices together in water. Very good but some people are turned off by the shriveled peach which is typically served with each glass.
- Api - A traditional corn-based drink usually found in the open-air markets. If you didn't know it was corn you'd never guess it though because this stuff is good.
Bolivia's traditional alcoholic drink is chicha, a whitish, sour brew made from fermented corn and drunk from a hemispherical bowl fashioned from a hollowed gourd (round-bottomed so you can't put it down). It's customary to spill a bit of chicha on the ground before and after drinking it as an offering to Pachamama, the Inca earth goddess.
- Singani is a grape liquor that's mixed with Sprite or ginger ale with lime garnish to make a cocktail called chuflay.
- There are a number of local beers, the largest being Paceña and its high-end brand Huari. El Inca is a very sweet low-alcohol beer. Orange Cocktails are a popular drink too!
Tarija is located at 1924 meters above sea level, and is known for it's wine-making, vast vineyards, and award-winning wines. Hence you can visit and taste wine at its beautiful wineries, such as: Campos De Solana, Kohlberg, Casa Vieja, Valle De Concepción, and Casa Real, where the famous Singani is made.
Offering a favorable exchange for Western tourists, lodging can be found at very reasonable prices throughout the country, from hostels to luxury hotels. During a 3 week trip in 2003 I stayed in hostals and the going rate per night was never more than the equivalent of US $ 3.50. Most basic are Alojamientos (at 20/25Bs per night).
Apply common sense and take precautions that apply elsewhere. All tourists should be careful when selecting a travel guide and never accept medication from unverifiable sources. Women tourists should be cautious when traveling alone. At night try to use "radio taxis" as fake cabs are common and robbings and even rapes do occur. It is a good idea to register with the consulate of your country of residence upon entry into the country. And it is also helpful learn at least basic Spanish to keep yourself a little safe.
When taking an interdepartmental bus (say from La Paz to Cochabamba), do not accept snacks or drinks from nearby passengers. Even though most likely they may just want to be nice, there have been instances that passengers being drugged and robbed during nighttime trips. Say "no, gracias".
Some parts of Bolivia like La Paz (3650), Potosí (4010), Oruro (3950) and the Lake Titicaca region are high altitude, so adequate precautions against "sorojchi" altitude sickness should be taken.
At local pharmacies they sell sorojchi pills, that are supposed to help with altitude problems. It has painkillers as well as natural herbs to help cope with the symptoms of "sorojchi". In many parts of the Altiplano you can purchase coca leaves, which are reputed to be useful against soroche. Coca tea ("mate de coca") is available in tea bags in many markets.
However, severe cases of high altitude disease can be treated at the High Altitude Pathology Institute at Clinica IPPA. This Clinic has the most advanced technology including a hyperoxic/hypoxic adaptation chamber. In addition, the sun's ultraviolet rays are much stronger -- up to 20 times -- than at sea level. A sun hat, sunglasses, and skin protection (sunblock or long sleeves) are advised.
- Yellow fever vaccination is recommended for those who plan on spending time in the Bolivian Amazon. It must be taken 10 days prior to the person’s arrival into the country if the visitor plans to visit rural areas.
- Malaria prophylaxis is recommended if the visitor plans to visit tropical-rural areas.
- As a preventive measure, taking the following vaccines is recommended: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Tetanus, Diphtheria and Measles Booster-Vaccines.
Do not use the word "indio" in Bolivia to describe indigenous people. It is considered offensive. The term they use is "campesino" which translates to peasant or "indígena". "Cholo" is a campesino who moved to the city, and though originally derogatory, has become more of a symbol of indigenous power. Nevertheless, some locals still use the word cholo as a derogative term.
Also, keep in mind the stark cultural and racial differences between the "cambas" of the Llanos in the east, who are white and mestizo and the "collas" of the Andes in the west who are Native American. They tend to not be on good terms and have been even more fiercely divided in recent years since the election of Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous president. The two peoples tend to be very defensive about their side of Bolivia, so discussing your travel to the other cultural region of the country may be seen as insulting. In Santa Cruz, where society is much more Westernized, associating with indigenous culture is frowned upon, whereas in La Paz and elsewhere, it is quite the contrary.
It is also good to keep in mind that the Bolivian culture is very warm and friendly. That being said, it is very rude not to say Buen Día or Buenos Días to passersby in the streets. It also customary to give up your seat on a city bus for someone older than you, or a woman. In turn, others will give their seats up for you if you look a little bit older than they are.
Bolivia has three cellphone companies, Entel, Tigo, and Viva. All three have outlets on practically every block in major cities. There are internet cafés practically everywhere, they typically cost about 3Bs/hour, or about $0.50 per hour.
While traditional payphones still exist, you can also make local calls for 1Bs ($0.15) from cellular phones at kiosks.
If you are staying for a while, consider buying SIM cards for your cellphones. They are quite cheap and you get good network coverage in all main cities and towns. Entel sells good-priced international call possibilities for their SIMs - i.e. you can buy 10 mins for Bs20 (to be used in one day, disconnects automatically after expiration). You will need to register the SIM card at a local office of the telecom. You will need a photocopy of your passport and the mobile phone that you will use.