GETTING TO BOLIVIA
By Air: Bolivia has three international airports in the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Most major airlines have daily flights into either La Paz or Santa Cruz from most major cities in the Americas and some flights from Europe as well. Connections via Lima, Peru and Sao Paolo, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina are common. Aerosur and American Airlines have direct flights to La Paz out of Miami. The most common gateway city from the US is Miami, Florida.
By Land: Bolivia has a few international overland entry points. The most important are:
- Copacabana or Desaguadero (La Paz) – coming from Puno, Peru.
- Tambo Quemado (La Paz) – coming from Arica, Chile.
- Bermejo (Tarija) – coming from San Ramon de la Nueva Oran, Argentina.
- Puerto Suarez (Santa Cruz) – coming from Corumba, Brazil
- Guayaramerin (Beni) – coming from Guajara-Merin, Brazil.
- Cobija (Pando) – coming from Brasileia, Brazil.
Highway and Road System: Inter-departamental travel is relatively easy within Bolivia. Highways and roads connect most major cities and smaller towns and villages. Due to the fact that Bolivia’s roads are mostly dirt or gravel, some access to certain areas is dependent on the season. During the rainy season most remote towns and villages can be cut off for days or even weeks if the rains are to severe. The major highways between the largest cities are paved, most secondary cities have paved roads linking larger cities and all major cities have plenty of paved roads throughout them as well. There are new roads being built every year so little by little there are paved roads to most of the regions that are of any economic significance. Be prepared for rough and weather-dependent road conditions that will affect departure and arrival of scheduled services.
Air: All departamental capitals, major cities and many smaller towns are serviced by national airlines and small private airlines which provide daily service to most parts of Bolivia. Smaller private airplanes are also available for hire from private pilots in most major cities. Best bet is to check with your travel agent especially if there are any last minute deals or if in Bolivia, head to the airport or deal with a local travel agency.
Land: Travel by private vehicle, bus, truck, motorcycle and taxi are readily available from most cities and towns. Prices usually reflect the level of service, but not always. The most expensive being private vehicle and the cheapest being in the back of an open truck-exposed to the elements. Comfortable Pullman-type buses are abundant and one can travel in comfort to most destinations in Bolivia.
Rail: The rail system in Bolivia is limited and concentrates travel in the highlands and valleys and in the eastern lowlands. One can travel by rail to Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.
Water: The many rivers in the Upper Amazon basin provide the only means of travel to and from many points in the tropics due to a lack of roads and the impenetrable geography. Double decker river boats ply most major rivers and smaller boats with outboard motors can get you to most villages.
Safety and Security: It is safe to say that Bolivia has been and is still one of the most peaceful, safe and hospitable countries in the Americas. We are fortunate that guerrilas are not part of this society and extreme crimes are not the rule but the exception. Hundreds of thousands of tourists per year have been travelling to Bolivia for decades and have experienced warm hospitality, charming people and a welcome hand. Bolivians in general can be said to be very polite and helpful and always welcome people from all over the world.
Police: There is the national police which wears a green uniform and has various departments like the Transit, Radio Patrol and others divisions. They are often mistaken for the army because of the green-colored uniform. They are helpful with most travelers’ needs across the country. There is a division called the Tourism Police that help and protect the many tourists that visit Bolivia.
Food and Water: Since Bolivia is still a developing country, travelers still need to develop a common sense approach to travel and diet while visiting Bolivia, especially in more remote areas. Be aware that your body and the organisms living in your stomach and intestines are used to one type of diet and when you travel that diet changes and so stomach upsets or worse may be a result. Some people travelling to more developed countries have run into the same problems as people coming here. In the larger cities and towns food and beverages served in reputable restaurants will generally be safe to eat and drink. If you are not sure, “boil it or peel it” is a safe course of action. In general, it’s best to stay with bottled beverages or boiled drinks and maintain yourself hydrated as much as possible, especially in the highlands and the tropics. If you are not sure, either treat it chemically or physically with a quality water filter that kills and removes bacterias and some viruses. But, by all means do not think that it’s all going to make you ill. Psycologically you’re not helping your body and system and for sure you will be missing out on a culinary spectacle that Bolivia is well-known for. Experiment and try everything; eat and drink and use common sense. The food and drink of this country is quite varied, unique and delicious and is part of what makes Bolivia so special.
Hospitals and Clinics: All major cities and towns of any reasonable size will have hospitals and clinics available to the public. The clinics tend to be better than hospitals in most cases as they are privately owned and operated. Thus their services and doctors are not dependent on the local governments for funding, supplies, training, personnel and equipment.
Film and Photography: Bolivia is a photographer’s shangri-la. It offers everything from the high Andes with it’s glaciers and rugged summits to magical Lake Titicaca and the vast undulating Altiplano. From the many temperate valleys to the deserts it has variety and an incredible array of geographic spectacles. In the tropics are the jungles, savannahs, rivers and wildlife that will leave you breathless. And within all these regions live a great variety of people whose customs, religions and way of life are open to countless photographic opportunities. Be sensitive to their privacy and wishes if they don’t wan’t to be photographed. Please ask first, and if they do not want you to take a picture or film them, don’t. And by all means do not pay for photos as you are creating a bad example and negative precedent for the next photographer after you. Bring plenty of film or compact flash cards (more than you think you’ll need), electronic storage device, extra batteries, a variety of lenses from wide-angle to telephoto and a rugged camera bag to protect your equipment. A small sturdy tripod is also good as well as a dedicated flash unit. The quality of light is wonderful in the highlands and Amazon and everywhere in between and will make for spectacular photos. A polarizing filter may help but learn its pros and cons before using it indiscrimenately. Film (slide and negative) is readily available in the major cities and fairly priced as well as compact flash cards and digital cameras. Most consumer and prosumer photo equipment is available but make sure you get some proper documents with it with a guarantee before you buy. Batteries that fit most photo cameras are available as well.
Embassies: Are located in the city of La Paz and some may have consulates in the major cities of Cochabamba or Santa Cruz. Check with the Bolivian Embassy of your country for specific information.
Visas: Requirements for all countries change with frequency so you must contact the Bolivian Embassy in your country to get the latest details. Currently American citizens DO NEED a visa to enter Bolivia. Your passport should have validity for at least 6 months beyond your entrance date to Bolivia. A minimum 30-day stay is allowed when you arrive in Bolivia and the Immigration officer will stamp your passport and give you a green stub of the Immigration document you are supposed to fill out upon entry. This 30-day period can be extended to 90 days at the Immigration Department in downtown La Paz and other major cities. Some countries require you have visas to enter their country as well, so make sure you have their required visas before trying to enter from Bolivia. You can obtain visas in the Embassies or consulates within Bolivia for other countries.
Documents: In order to enter or leave Bolivia you must have your documents in order. Legally, anyone entering Bolivia should have proof of onward passage and/or sufficient funds for their estimated length of stay in Bolivia. It is recommended that you make photocopies of all your important documents and travel with those copies as well as your originals – in separate areas of your luggage just in case.
Money: The currency in Bolivia is called a Boliviano. It is divided into 100 cents (centavos). The Boliviano comes in paper notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 Bolivianos. The coins are in centavos of 10, 20, 50, 1 Boliviano and 2 Bolivianos. To change money one can go to Casas de Cambio (money exchange houses), or to the money changers on the street. Banks will change money for you even if you don’t have a bank account. Traveler’s checks can be changed at the Casas de Cambio, banks, hotels or travel agencies (with proof of identity – usually a passport) and possibly some retail businessess if you purchase something. Credit cards are widely accepted today and most hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, rent-a-car agencies, airlines, and other businesses will accept them but they all will add a small percentage for the credit card fee they are charged by credit card companies. If you don’t want to pay that small fee you will likely not get to use your card, so check beforehand. Money machines (ATM’s) are quite abundant and credit cards, money/check cards can be used if they are within the systems shared by most international banks.
(the current exchange rate is always changing):
But you can find it at The XE.com Universal Currency Converter.
Business Hours: In general business hours are from 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon, break for two hour lunch and resume from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Many businesses open earlier and stay open later. Banks in general open from 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon and from 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM and some have branches that open on Saturdays from 9:30 AM to 12:00 Noon.
Time: Bolivia is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. For example: If it’s 12:00 noon in La Paz, it’s 11:00 AM in Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York. It will be 10:00 AM in Chicago, 9:00 AM in Denver, and 8:00 AM in San Francisco. Bolivia does NOT participate in the Daylite Savings Time
Electricity: Bolivia uses the world standard of 220 volts at 50 cycles. But in certain areas like La Paz and a few other areas in Bolivia, 110 volts at 50 cycles (like the US and Canada) is also used. Be sure to ask before you plug in. If in doubt assume its 220 and use a converter, but be sure that it is for the intented purpose and for the correct electrical appliance.
Holidays: Public Holidays are:
- New Year’s (January 1)
- Carnaval (February or March)
- Semana Santa (Easter Week – March or April)
- Dia del Trabajo (Labor Day – May 1)
- Corpus Christi (May)
- Independence Day (August 6)
- Dia de Colon (Columbus Day – October 12)
- Dia de los Muertos (All Saint’s Day – November 2)
- Navidad (Christmas – December 25)
All departments have their proper holiday as well
- Oruro (February 10)
- Tarija (April 15)
- Chuquisaca (May 25)
- La Paz (July 16)
- Cochabamba (September 14)
- Santa Cruz (September 24)
- Pando (September 24)
- Beni (November 18)
- Potosi (November 10)
Tourism Offices: The National Secretariat of Tourism (SENATUR) (the acronyms change often…) has offices and kiosks in most major cities and towns including airports, bus and railway stations that have some information for tourists regarding destinations and general information. But, the better bet is to contact independent travel agencies and tour operators – either in-country or outside of Bolivia – for specific information. Guide books for the country (by independent publishers) are also a great source of information – usually done by travellers for travelers. The Embassies and consulates in foreign countries also have tourist information about Bolivia.
Guide Books: Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) there are many guide books that have been written about Boliva by non-Bolivians. This has caused the problem of reporting and publishing of information that is not often accurate. The other problem is that most people who write guide books have their own “personal points of view” that may or may have much to do with Bolivian reality. Another problem is that many guide books push the “accepted norm” that Bolivia is “cheap” and that is just not the case. Some things may be cheap (compared to what?) and others are not. This causes problems for the locals because many travelers use the guide books as “travel bibles” and often demand ridiculously low prices for certain products or services. This is not only unfair for the locals but often creates problems with the tour operators that have to “compete by lowering prices” as opposed to competing with better services. For international travelers it is likely that their money goes a long way but for Bolivians that is not reality. We feel most guide books are helpful, have generally good info, but we do not condone the “marketing” of Bolivia as a “cheap destination”. Please use the guidebooks as a tool for information – not to take advantage of the locals.
Maps: Good maps of Bolivia are hard to find but the Instituto Geografico Militar (I.G.M.) is the place to go for topographical maps of most of Bolivia (they restrict sale of sensitive or border areas). The I.G.M. have various locations in La Paz and other major cities. There is a series of shaded relief maps that highlight the major tourist areas, as well as regular road, political, transportation and cultural maps in most book shops (librerias). In the US try: Maplink in Santa Barbara, CA. and the National Technical Information Service (Springfield, VA). In Canada (Vancouver) try Travel Map Productions and in Great Brittain (London) try Stanfords. Searching the web will yield many more options.
Car Rental: There are plenty of car rental agencies in all major cities across the country. The prices tend to be steep because of the high cost of vehicles, service, spare parts, gas and the unpredictable and rugged roads of the country. 4WD drive vehicles like Toyota (Land Cruisers, Hi-lux), Nissan (Patrol), Mitsubishi (Montero, Galloper), Land Rover (Range Rover, Discovery, Santana) and Suzuki (Vitara) are the vehicles of choice for any trip outside the cities that is not on a paved road. You need a passport, international drivers licence or valid driver’s licence, and a major credit card for a deposit.
Accomodations: The range of accomodations throughout the country can be anything from a hammock under a thatched roof in the tropics to rooms in private homes and residenciales, and from basic hostals to 1 to 5 star hotels in the major cities. In general, the more remote it is, the less chances of finding quality and comfortable accomodations. Most cities and towns offer hotels, hostals and residenciales of all levels.
Weights and Measures: Like the rest world (with some exceptions), Bolivia uses the Metric System. But, in the markets they also use the Imperial system of pounds as well as the metric system. But, in general the metric system is the standard.