Bolivia is one of only two landlocked countries in South America, bordered by Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile. Home to the world famous Salar de Uyuni and with access to the Atacama Desert, lake Titicaca and Amazon basin, Bolivia has so much to offer. It’s terrain is diverse and with the highest percentage of indigenous communities across all of South America, it offers a valuable insight into local cultures and traditions. Bolivia is also incredibly budget friendly, making it a top pick for backpackers exploring South America.
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Climate in Bolivia
Bolivia's climate is dependent on region and altitude. However, the dry season tends to be from May to October.
Areas such as Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Gran Chaco, Cobija, Trinidad and Rurrenabaque have distinct wet and dry seasons. Wet season: from September to May. Hottest months of the year: December and January. Average temperature: 30℃ (86℉)
Includes Copacabana, lake Titicaca, La Paz, Cochabamba, Sucre, Potosi and Uyuni. Rainy season runs from December to March. Average temperatures between 15-27 ℃ (60-80 ℉), but in La Paz (the highest capital in the world), it is between 5-9 ℃ (41-48 ℉) all year round.
Areas such as Chulumani, Coroico and Sorata experience hot and humid weather all year round, with little variation in the temperature, 24 ℃ (75℉). At the higher elevations, it is cooler. Rainy seasons runs from November to March with a short dry season of June to August which is the best time to visit this area.
Technically the rainy season runs from November to April and if you are looking to do outdoor sports, hiking or fly to the Amazon, I would avoid visiting at this time due to the potential of landslides, river swells and disruptions to transportation. The best time to visit is during May-October, and specifically June to August, which offer clear blue skies, but temperatures drop significantly in the evenings, so pack warm clothes.
If you are visiting specifically to see the Salar de Uyuni, it depends on what experience you are after. Between March and April, you will experience the ‘largest mirror on earth’ but due to the rainy season, you will potentially miss other sites on the tour. If you are looking for clear skies and sunshine, visit between June and October.
Currency in Bolivia
The official currency of Bolivia is the Bolivian boliviano (B$). For higher price transactions, US dollars are accepted. You can change your money at the borders, at casas de cambios (exchange bureaux) or at the larger banks in the towns/cities. At the time of writing the exchange rates were as follows:
€1 = B$8
$1 = B$7
You will find ATMs in most of the major cities and towns of Bolivia (not all of them), but outside of those and in the more rural areas, cash is king with minimal or no access to ATMs. You will usually find ATMs around the main squares (Plaza de Armas), in the airports or close to the main banks. Most ATMs in Bolivia will change you a transaction fee. Most Bolivian ATMs have a maximum transaction withdrawal limit of B$2000 (€260 / $300).
Banks to look out for are:
Banco Nacional de Bolivia
Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz
I used the Monzo card when I was travelling which allowed me to withdraw £250 free of charge per month and no charge incurred when I paid for purchases using my card, although this may change so please check their policy information. Another option (if you are from the UK) is the Starling Card. This card has minimal/no foreign transaction fees which means masses of savings! I would suggest taking two bank cards with you and store them separately, so if you lose one, you always have back up.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Always let you bank know that you are travelling abroad. This will prevent them from freezing your card. Also, carry cash as much as you can as the ATMs don’t always work. Most dispense notes in 50 and 100, so before you get in a taxi, make sure you find smaller change.
Getting Around Bolivia
Unlike other South American countries, Bolivia is not particularly easy to get around. Most of the roads are unpaved or in poor condition, the varied terrain can make it challenging and the lack of infrastructure can make the shortest of journey's, long and incredibly arduous! But, Bolivia offers breathtaking scenery with huge geographical diversity, making the journeys enjoyable and all part of the experience.
The main mode of transport used by most backpackers is bus. These buses are known as flotas and are run by a variety of private companies. Bus travel is insanely cheap in Bolivia. You will find bus terminals in the major towns and cities called ‘Terminales terrestres’ which also have information desks about onward journeys and departing times. Please note that unlike Peru, the buses in Bolivia are not luxurious or very well maintained and often, they do not run to consistent timetables nor do they have online schedules.
On arrival to the terminal, head to the information desks if you need help with planning your route - most Bolivians do not speak English so if you cannot speak Spanish, Google Translate is super helpful. Please be aware that in Bolivia you will need to pay a ‘departure tax’ for use of the terminal. This is around B$2 (€0.25 / $0.30). You can pay this fee at the terminal, look for the ‘boletas’ sign. For longer journeys, I would suggest getting a night bus (bus-camas). These buses offer reclining seats and extra leg room. Whilst tickets are more expensive, you will save money on accommodation for the night and they are better maintained. Buses that run during the day experience frequent breakdowns, so come prepared with a book, Netflix films, a pillow, blanket, headphones, warm clothes, food and drink. I felt the best bus companies were: Todo Turismo, El Dorado, Trans Copacabana and Bollivar
There is no need to book ahead with the buses in Bolivia, you can just go to the bus terminal and book at the counter. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this or it is a particularly busy time to travel from one place to another, head to the bus station a day earlier to buy your tickets. There is no option to book buses online in Bolivia.
An alternative bus system is the 'Bolivia Hop’. A private company with English speaking guides and border assistance if you are traveling between countries. They offer a service where you pay a set price and you can ‘hop on’ and ‘hop off’ at any point along the route until you reach your desired destination. This option is a little bit more expensive but maximum safety and border assistance, so it is a great choice for first time / solo travelers.
Internal flights are inexpensive with most flights costing between B$400-700 (€50-90 / $60-100). The main carriers are Boliviana de Aviacon, Transportes Aereo Millitar (TAM) and Amaszonas, with flights operating out of La Paz, Sucre, Sants Cruz and Cochabamba. Try and book your tickets in advance for cheaper fares and ALWAYS reconfirm with them 3 or 4 days before you fly. Please try and use land transport where you can to reduce your carbon footprint :)
Other options for transport include boat / lorry or renting a car. Check out Rough Guides for more information.
Travel Insurance for Bolivia
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries and it is the only travel insurance we will ever use! It is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
WorldNomads.com is backed by a suite of strong and specialist travel insurers who provide you with great cover, 24 hour emergency assistance and the highest levels of support. The WorldNomads.com prices are some of the most competitive online and if you need to change plans, you can buy more cover or claim online while you are still away. You can even buy a World Nomads policy if you're already travelling. They also offer travel safety advice and tips online through the World Nomads Travel Safety Hub and WorldNomads.com members can learn the local lingo through a series of iPod & iPhone Language Guides and can stay in touch with family and friends with an online travel journal. You can find out more about why travel insurance is important for your trip. If you have any questions about your travel insurance or travel safety in general, please contact WorldNomads.com directly.
Medical Considerations for Bolivia
When you know where you want to go in Bolivia, go to your doctor surgery and ask to see the nurse to discuss travel vaccinations. They will go through your travel plans and suggest the appropriate vaccinations. In the UK, some of the vaccinations will be free of charge through your doctor’s, and some will cost. To keep the cost down, you can always visit a travel centre instead, where the injections are slightly cheaper. When thinking about vaccinations for your trip, the following website can be really helpful: Fit for Travel. It is likely that you will need:
- Hepatitis A and B, tetanus
- Diphtheria, rabies, typhoid
- Yellow Fever - this is an absolute must. You will need to show your certification for some places.
- Malaria Tablets (location dependent)
What to Pack for Bolivia
- Warm clothes for the evenings including hat, scarf and gloves
- Long sleeved tops and long trousers if you are hiking or you are going into the Amazon.
- Dresses / shorts / light clothes for the coastal region
- Quick dry towel
- Good walking shoes / walking boots / trainers / sandals
- Waterproof clothing / rain jacket / poncho
- Altitude sickness tablets - you can buy these at any pharmacy, ask for ‘Sorojchi tablets’.
- Packing cubes. Get a different colours to separate your dirty and clean clothes!
- First aid kit
- Battery pack / electronics
- Zip lock bags – perfect for carrying food that has been opened or protecting liquids from spilling
- Money belt
- Padlocks x3
- Ipod / music for the long bus journeys
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- Biodegradable soap (especially when hiking in nature)
- Travel pillow
- Water purification tablets
- Zip lock bags for traveling with left over food items / prevent liquid items from spilling
Safety Advice for Bolivia
I explored Bolivia solo in 2018 and I never felt unsafe, but being aware of your surroundings and taking precautions is always important.
- Always keep your valuables hidden or locked away.
- Always keep your valuables in your small backpack and wear it on your front.
- Always choose an ATM inside of a bank rather than on a street. Put your cash in your money belt, under your top straight away. If you feel nervous about withdrawing money, go with someone else.
- If you are travelling on buses, do not store your backpack overhead or in the back of the bus, keep it on you at all times. For extra security: put your passport, money and phone in a money belt around your waist, under your clothes.
- When travelling on buses, always padlock your big bag and put your rain/protective cover over it.
- Do not walk around at night on your own, always take a taxi, even if it is a short distance.
- Always ask your hostel about the area and for safety advice.
- Bring two different bank cards (Visa / Credit) with you.
- Keep your bank cards separate, so if anything happens, you have a second source of money.
- Always have a photocopy of your passport so if you lose it, you have backup.
- Bring another form of identification with you (driver’s license).
- Never leave your drinks unattended when out in the evening.
Budget for Bolivia
Bolivia is much cheaper than Colombia, Ecuador and other South American countries, but it depends on what you want to do and see. Bolivia is home to the Salar de Uyuni, Death Road, Lake Titicaca and the Atacama desert which all make a dent in your budget. Despite this, food, transport (unless you are taking flights) and accommodation are inexpensive and very budget friendly. A backpacker could easily survive on B$200 (€25 / $30) per day.
Don't forget to buy your Travel Insurance...