THE ULTIMATE BACKPACKING GUIDE TO 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.
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SALLAR DE UYUNI – 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.
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.
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.
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.
RURRENABAQUE – A small town on the edge of civilisation and the gateway to the amazon and pampas. Very popular with backpackers.
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.
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.
Wherever there are backpackers there is usually a variety of accommodation to choose from. Most opt for hostels and why not? It’s the perfect place to meet other travellers, make friends and have fun.
⇓Here is where we stayed and recommend⇓
⇒ Other recommended hostels made to us by travellers we met along the way
La Paz – Adventure Brew, Wild Rovers
Cochabamba – Running Chaski, Miski Maswi
Coroico – El Curichal, Hostal Pahuichi , Hostal El Lobo
Copacabana – Hostal Casa del Sol, Hostal Sonia
Sucre – 7, Patas, Kultur Berlin
⇒ Hostales, Alojamientos and Residenciales all offer cheap accommodation.
⇒ Cabanas are self-contained cabins and motels offer hourly rate rooms (probably best to avoid these and any area in which they are found).
⇒ Accommodation costs can amount to a considerable portion of your budget whilst travelling but there are ways to reduce these costs –
- Take the night bus – If your next destination is going to take you 8 or more hours on the bus, then you may want to consider the night bus. You’ll save on a nights accommodation and most buses are pretty comfortable. Just be aware that the air-con will be on the whole time so dress warm and bring a blanket.
- Airbnb – Whilst hostels are fun, sometimes you just need a little peace and quiet. You’ll be surprised at the price of some Airbnb listings, sometimes half the price of a hostel.
- Couchsurf – Couchsurfing is awesome! It’s free but, more importantly, you get to meet like-minded people who know the local area inside out. Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to save money and enrich your travelling experience.
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!
⇒ 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.
⇒ Local buses and taxis – Local buses cost between 2 BOB depending on where you are. Uber is also becoming more available in major cities across Bolivia and is cheaper and safer than taxis. If you do use taxis make sure you agree a price upfront as none of the meters work.
⇒ Hitchhiking – You must always take extra care when attempting to hitchhike anywhere. It is not recommended to hitchhike in Bolivia but if you are considering hitchhiking here then read this first http://hitchwiki.org/en/Bolivia
⇓Here is a summary of our main transport costs in Bolivia⇓
BOA, AMASZONAS, TRANSPORTE AEREOS MILITARES
⇒ In summary, travel in Bolivia costs
⇒ Days in country – 19
⇒ Total spend – 8,316 BOB £924
⇒ Average daily spend– 437.70 BOB £48.60
⇒ Average Accommodation per night – 153 BOB £17
⇒ Average transport cost per hour – 6.60 BOB £0.75
⇒ Biggest expense – Uyunu Salt Flats 3 day tour 1,400 BOB £155.60
**The numbers above are our spend in Bolivia for two people!**
Food is very cheap here but outside of big cities you’ll struggle to find supermarkets, or even mini markets for that matter. Most groceries and produce can be sourced from street sellers but it’s 50/50 wether or not your hostel will have a kitchen for you to use. Be very careful when eating street food as we lost count of the amount of people we met here who had been struck down as a result of something they ate.
⇒ BREAKFAST – There are a plethora of fresh juice stands where you can have a delicious and nutritious juice (jugos naturales) made from whatever fruits you choose. The most you should pay for a juice with 3 fruits is 10 BOB. Much like in neighbouring Brazil you’ll always find freshly baked bread rolls in the morning and empanadas filled with cheese or meat for around 5-8 BOB.
⇒ LUNCH – Lunch is the main meal of the day for most Bolivians. You’ll find most locals take advantage of the “menu” deals offered at most establishments. This will usually consist of a soup to start, usually Sopa de mani (peanut soup) or Chairo paceno (like a vegetable stew). The following main will include either beef, lamb, llama or alpaca and be accompanied by mountains of carbs such as rice, potatoes, fries and beans. A 2 course lunch will usually run you about 12-15 BOB and you can add a desert for a few extra.
⇒ DINNER – Variety isn’t really a strength of the Bolivian gastro scene so dinner tends to shape up the same as lunch. Lots of stews and soups. Trucha (trout) is common in most places and is delicious. One that really stood out for me though was Pique Macho. This looks like something you would normally order at 4 a.m after a beer or 9 but is actually quite nice and frequently served for groups to share. A mountain of fries covered with fried onion gravy, chunks of beef and chorizo and topped with fried eggs and more sauces than you knew existed. Definitely worth a go.
⇒ DRINKS – Local beers are Pacena, Huari and Potosina
⇒ FAKE POLICE – There are people in Bolivia that dress up as police and target tourists and scare them into bribes. If you do have a run in with the police, demand to see their ID before agreeing to anything, especially getting into a car with them. If they are real police this might annoy them a little but it’s worth it for your safety!
⇒CARRY YOUR ID AND IMMIGRATION PAPERS- By law it is illegal to be out with no papers in Bolivia. Although there is no fine for this, the police will use it as an excuse to get some money from you and it can be a stressful experience.
⇒ BUSES – Theft is common on buses and a lot of the time the driver will be in on the deal letting locals on to the bus at random places who can swipe your belongings from under your nose. Take your valuables on the bus with you and do not put them in cargo. Keep them close to you at all times, especially on a night bus consider sleeping with your backpack on your lap.
⇒ COOK FOR YOURSELF – Take advantage of hostels with a kitchen. The money you save can get you a few extra beers in the evening.
⇒ PLAN AHEAD – If you know you’re going to be out and about all day prepare a lunch and take a few snacks. Simple cheese and tomato sandwiches and packs of peanuts and fruit are a good way to watch your expenses and maintain a fairly healthy diet.
⇒ TO TOUR OR NOT TO TOUR? – Think twice before booking a tour as these can often work out poor value for money. Free lunches and transport may make it seem like a bargain but with a little research, you can more often than not see what you want to see at a fraction of the cost.
⇒ LOCAL BEER – Most locals drink either Potosina or Huari which are cheaper than international beers.
⇒ SAFETY – As always, wherever you are, keep a close eye on your belongings and be weary of any over-friendly individuals offering unsolicited assistance. Keep your wits about you at all times as pickpocketing and scams towards tourists can occur. If you ever feel unsafe make your way to a crowded area or into a shop/restaurant as quick as you can. If in immediate danger, make as much noise and draw as much attention as you can. We have never had a bad experience here but you always need to be aware. Good practice for any country you’re in is to have the phone numbers for the emergency services, tourist police and your nation’s embassy stored in your phone.
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