Introduction to Bolivia
Bolivia may be one of the poorest countries in South America, but its cultural wealth, the vastly differing Amazonian and Andean landscapes and the remnants of mysterious ancient civilizations make it an incredibly rich and exciting destination for all adventure lovers.
The country’s greatest treasures are the Bolivians themselves. Nearly two thirds of the people are of indigenous origin, preserving the continent’s purest cultural roots, which means a dazzling array of colorful festivals, mysterious rituals, haunting folklore music and magical markets.
Tourism in Bolivia is still emerging and really for the adventurous among us; plenty of long bus journeys over precipitous mountain passes, rough-and-tumble jeep trips across empty landscapes and chilly nights at high altitude in budget hostels under llama wool blankets… Enjoy!
Explore the Highlights
Is the highest capital of the word, situated at just over 3,600m (2Mi). In La Paz the new customs of the Western world collide and coexist with the old customs of the Aymara and the Quechua. Hi-tech international banks and government offices rub shoulders with vibrant street markets that still play a central role in the lives of the indigenous.
The sacred and mystic Lake of the Inca is the highest navigable surface in the world. This magic territory harbors in its breast the archaeological complex of the oldest civilization on the continent.
The brightest spot on earth visible from space, the largest white desert in the world hosts many natural wonders: fascinating colored lagoons, exotic rock formations, a diversity of animals strolling in their own, intact natural environment, volcanic craters and fumaroles blowing steam reaching up to 100 meters in height… Prepare to be amazed.
Also known as the city of ‘white’, Sucre is Bolivia’s most beautiful and peaceful city. Set in a valley surrounded by low mountains Sucre boasts a wealth of beautiful and well-kept squares, cobblestone streets, white-chalked houses and museums.
During colonial times silver extraction in the Cerro Rico of Potosi transformed this then sleepy town into the biggest and wealthiest city in the Americas. Everything was about opulence and exquisite churches and elegant mansions were built. In the 1800’s the silver mines were depleted and the town dwindled. Nowadays the mines are still mainly in use for tin and make for an eerie visit into history.
When to travel in Bolivia
Best times to go
The weather in Bolivia can vary drastically from one climatic zone to another. The summer months in Bolivia are November through March, when the weather is typically warmer and wetter. The winter months (April-October) normally are colder and drier. In the highlands, the weather can be very cold and temperatures frequently go below zero during the night, especially on the Altiplano (highlands). Snow is common in Potosi during the winter months and sometimes also falls on La Paz and Oruro. In contrast, in Sucre, Cochabamba and Tarija on the Cordillera Real winter is a time of blue skies and comfortable temperatures.
Despite being among the poorest countries in the region, Bolivia has very low levels of theft and violent crime. That being said, you should always be careful: do not have your valuables out in the open and travel with some clear common sense. Despite being among the poorest countries in the region, Bolivia has very low levels of theft and violent crime. That being said, you should always be careful: do not have your valuables out in the open and travel with some clear common sense.
Some parts of Bolivia like La Paz (3650), Potosí (4010), Oruro (3950) and the Lake Titicaca region are situated at high altitudes, so adequate precautions against altitude sickness should be taken. Eat little, drink a lot; also sweets (sugar) help as well as coca leaves, which you can buy everywhere and are reputed to be useful against “soroche” (altitude sickness). Drinking bottled water and eating well-cooked food is strongly recommended. Bolivian drinking water -even in populated areas- often contains amoebae and parasites. In order to enter Bolivia, visitors must have previously received the international vaccine against Yellow Fever.
Nationals of the USA and the EU do not require a visa to enter Bolivia and are granted a 30 day travel visa upon arrival. Citizens of other countries may require a visa to enter Bolivia and it is generally advised that they contact the Bolivian embassy in their home country for information.The Wikipedia Visa Policy of Bolivia is a great starting point to begin exploring whether or not any particular nationality might need to obtain a tourist visa to visit Peru.
Money / Currency – ATM, Credit Cards
The official currency of Bolivia is the Boliviano (Bs). In the country there are coins of 10, 20 and 50 cents and also 1, 2 and 5 Bolivianos. The bills have the following values: 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200. In the main cities of the country, the traveler will be able to change foreign currency-mainly US dollars- without any inconvenience. In La Paz, Sucre, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz de la Sierra, there are many “Casas de Cambio” – that are safer and offer a better guarantee in the transaction – and street cambistas that are not completely reliable. Travelers Checks tend to receive much lower exchange rates than U.S. Dollars, meaning you lose money in the exchange. Travelers Checks are also not accepted in many places
Mayor credit cards are accepted in the most important hotels, restaurants and commercial centers, however the same thing doesn’t happen in the smallest establishments neither in the remote towns. In general, Mastercard, Diners, Visa and American Express are very well acceptable. XE Currency Converter to get current exchange rates.
The official language is Spanish, but the main-native languages of Bolivia are Aymara, Quechua and Guarani. Ameridians (mostly Aymaras and Quechuas) represent 52% of the population. The half-caste represent 27 % of the population and the wide population represent 21%. The “African Bolivian” population (mostly descendants of slaves brought to work in the mines of (Potosi) has a total of 20,000 people, most of whom live in the region of Yungas (Northern part of La Paz).
Bolivia runs on 220 volts AC, 60Hz cycles. Some 4 and 5 Star hotels may have 110 volt outlets but this is not always the case. Make sure the electrical appliance you are plugging in is compatible with Bolivian power. If not it is very easy to buy both transformers and adapters within stores across the country. .
Family Travel in Bolivia
Bolivia is a must-see destination for all nature lovers and those who are passionate about culture and adventure. It is not a destination that is in any way prepared for luxury seekers, and is best enjoyed by travelers in good physical condition, with minimum comfort expectations. As many Bolivians do not speak English, it is recommended to have a basic knowledge of Spanish at least. Traveling through the country with small children is not recommendable: climate conditions, altitude and food conditions make it a difficult country to travel through for families. Minimum age we recommend is 14 years.
Getting Around Bolivia
Getting around in Bolivia can be pretty challenging. Most of the roads are unpaved and public transport (although it will give you a true Bolivian experience) can be cumbersome to say the least. Flying is the most comfortable option and for sure our recommendation for longer distances. However between some cities your only option will be local transport (Uyuni – Potosi and Sucre – Potosi for instance). Wherever you can, book a tourist class bus (the more comfortable seats), which are not only a bit less Spartan, but will also save you several hours because they make less stops. Whichever way you travel, expect delays and long journeys, but it will be worth your while…
Sample Itinerary of Argentina
Days 1-3 La Paz
¡Hola, Bolivia! Your tour will start in La Paz, one of the highest capital cities in the world. La Paz offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and a great cultural experience.
Days 3-5 Sucre
Fly from La Paz to Sucre a beautiful colonial town and officially, Bolivia’s capital. The city is a beautiful ensemble of whitewashed buildings sheltering pretty patios, preserving its wealth of colonial architecture.
Days 5-7 Potosi
Travel overland to Potosi. Once upon a time Potosi was the richest city in South America when silver was found in the mines around Potosi. The wealthy history of Potosí is still reflected in the narrow streets, colonial mansions and the many churches, which makes the city a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Days 7-11 Uyuni
Travel overland from Potosi to Uyuni and embark on a 4 day adventure exploring the immense salt lake of Uyuni.