Backpacking Bolivia

BACKPACKING BOLIVIA

Bolivia is a beautiful, landlocked country with geographical diversity spanning desert, mountain and rainforest. Rough around the edges, Bolivia has long been a favourite on the backpacker trail with low prices, extreme adventure sports and rich indigenous cultural heritage. From the insanity of La Paz and tranquility of Lake Titicaca in the north, down to the Martian-like landscape of the Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia is a country that will keep you on the edge of your seat every step of the way. Our guide to backpacking Bolivia will ensure you get the best out this mysterious nation.La Paz Bolivia

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS


UK citizens do not require a visa to visit Bolivia. So long as your passport is valid for 6 months you may stay for up to 90 days. In the first instance you will be granted an initial 30 days and you can apply to extend this by an additional 60 days at the immigration office in La Paz amongst other places. It is very important that you ensure you receive an entry stamp in your passport as you will face a fine as a minimum when you try to leave.

 

BORDER CROSSINGS


Entry fee: N/A

Exit fee: N/A

From Brazil (Corumba) - From the centre of Corumba take the number 102 bus (3.25 BRL) to the border about 20 mins away. On the Brazilian side there is a building on the left which is for motorists and there are 2 buildings on the right. The first building, which has a few rows of blue plastic chairs in front, is for people exiting Brazil and the one furthest away is for those entering from Bolivia. Once you have your exit stamp you then have to cross over the bridge and into Bolivia for your entry stamp. The building on the left side of the road is where you'll find the tiny processing office. You can read more about this crossing and how to get to Santa Cruz on the Death Train here

Border crossings in South America

From Argentina (La Quiaca) - The crossing point is a 10-15 minute walk away from the bus station. At the end of the bridge you simply enter Bolivia where your entry stamp into Bolivia doubles as proof of leaving Argentina. We have been told that on occasion an Argentine official may request to see you passport prior to leaving but this crossing is pretty well organised and the protocol (whatever it may be on that day) will be obvious.

To read more about other border crossings in South America and tips on how to cross like a pro click here

WHAT TO SEE & DO


Uyuni Salt Flats -

What was once a prehistoric lake is now the world’s largest salt flats. Covering an area of 11,000 sq km, this is one of the most unique landscapes on the planet.

Uyuni salt flats depth perception photos

La Paz -

The world’s highest administrative capital. This crazy city is somewhat of a Mecca for budget adventure travellers. These streets hold many secrets for you to discover.

La Paz witches market

Rurrenabaque -

A small town on the edge of civilisation and the gateway to the amazon and pampas. Very popular with backpackers.

Lake Titicaca -

Rumoured to be the birthplace of the Incas, Lake Titicaca is full of stunning beauty, Inca ruins and cultural history. Great place for a break from the madness of Bolivia.

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Yungas -

A region of forest covered mountain and sub-tropical valleys. This is a great area to explore and there are many coffee, fruit and cocoa crops here.

Cochabamba -

Bolivia’s richest agricultural region. Named the most welcoming city in the country this is the place to get a true taste of Bolivia.

Santa Cruz -

Bolivia’s commercial centre is a little behind the country’s West when it comes to catering for backpackers but there are some great national parks in the surrounding areas.

La Paz, Bolivia

Samiapata -

A popular yet peaceful town set in an idyllic valley surrounded by forest covered mountains.

Coroico -

Set in the hills this is ultimate chill out spot for travellers with lots of hostels and water sports.

Sucre -

Used as a base by many this central city has many good bars and markets.

El Choro Trek -

This 3 day excursion from La Paz takes you through forest, rivers, streams and mountains.

Mount Chacaltaya, La Paz

BUDGET & MONEY


Bolivia is a favourite for budget backpackers and it is very easy to make your money stretch a long way here. However, when you factor in the cost of tours and excursions and the fact that you'll encounter a very sociable and beer-thirsty crowd here, costs can very quickly add up. That being said, on average, for the 2 of us we were spending 440 BOB (£48.90) per day. That figure includes accommodation, transport, activities, food and, of course, beers. Bolivia's currency is the Boliviano (BOB) and its exchange rate to GBP is currently around £1=9.

A private double room in a hostel or cheap hotel will run you around  160 BOB (£17.80) and dorm beds from as little as 65 BOB (£7.20).

Food in Bolivia is also pretty cheap although lacking in variety. You can pick up meals from street vendors for as little as 10 BOB (£1.10) but beware that food poisoning is a very real threat and not just limited to street food. A set menu meal in a local restaurant will cost around 20 BOB (£2.20) and for a meal in a tourist-targeted restaurant you can expect to pay a minimum of 50 BOB (£5.50).

TRANSPORT


Whilst Bolivia isn’t massive, travel is very time consuming here. Poor infrastructure and a lack of any major highways makes overland transport slow and tedious. Luckily most buses are fairly decent so grab a book, make sure your Ipod is charged and settle in for the ride. And…don’t believe them if they tell you the bus has WiFi!

The average price per hour of bus travel in Bolivia is 7.70 BOB (£0.90).

Example journeys:

  • Santa Cruz to La Paz - 19 hours - 120 BOB (£13.30)
  • La Paz to Copacabana - 4 hours - 50 BOB (£5.60)
  • Copacabana to La Paz - 4 hours - 30 BOB (£3.30)
  • La Paz to Uyuni - 10 hours - 100 BOB (£11.10)
  • Uyuni to Villazon - 7 hours - 40 BOB (£4.40)

If you're going between Santa Cruz and Puerto Quijarro on the Brazilian border you can take The Death Train. The train takes 18 hours and costs only 70 BOB (£7.80) and is a bit of an attraction itself.

Top tip - Bus tickets tend to go on sale 24 hours before the departure time. You can purchase online but there will be a ridiculous premium for doing so. Always go to the bus station to buy your tickets and only deal with the reps in the bus company’s office. Don’t accept help from anyone from outside the station as fake tickets are a common problem. Do your research on which companies are good for backpackers as some buses that the locals use are very rundown.

 

Uyuni, Bolivia

SECURITY


Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and has more than its fair share of problems. Poverty and crime fuelled in no small part by the country's drug trade means that some parts of the country are simply off limits to foreigners.

Within the main tourist districts you will see a heavy police or military presence which is enough to deter most criminals. As we unfortunately found out ourselves, even the police aren't to be trusted in Bolivia so your best bet is to not make yourself a a target in the first place. Don't be flashy with cash, jewellery or electronics, avoid being out alone after dark and only use registered taxis which staff in most bars, clubs and restaurants will call for you.

As with any destination on the backpacker trail you need to keep a sharp eye on your belongings on buses and in and around stations, cities and major attractions as petty crime and bag theft is always a concern.

Final thing; make sure to have these numbers saved in your phone -

  • Police: 110
  • Ambulance/Fire: 169/119
  • Tourist Police: +591 800 14 0081
  • Your Embassy (UK): +591 2243 3424

Salt flats Bolivia