Backpacking Bolivia guide: Rugged and Raw!

Backpacking Bolivia guide: Rugged and Raw!

Backpacking Bolivia will be raw and rugged, it will test you mentally but if you can cope with it you'll be treated to its natural beauty like the Uyuni salt flats, the gateway to the Amazon basin, leave you breathless in La Paz. This guide will help you with tips, transport, budgeting, accommodation...(Last Updated On: January 8, 2020)

Backpacking Bolivia guide/tips: Raw and rugged!

This overview of backpacking Bolivia covers

General costs, things to know, tips, transport, accommodation options and my overall experience of the country.

There is no sugar-coating how rugged and raw Bolivia is!

Bolivia is one of cheapest South American countries due to it being one of the poorest in the region. So if you’re planning on traveling to Bolivia, It’s a country that will challenge you mentally and will definitely your lung capacity.

As with all Central and South American countries, the landscape and terrain are breathtaking but there will be long arduous and bumpy journeys to cope with along with the altitude. (Some roads are very dangerous). Altitude will slap you in the face and if you’re not used to it; altitude can be a weird experience and a stomach churner. And the WiFi? Well, let’s just say that first dial-up internet you had was quicker. You really will be going back to bare basics whilst traveling Bolivia.

Have I put you off?

Bolivia likes to test backpackers, it wants to know what you’re made of; because if you can cope with what it throws at you then Bolivia will open its arms and show you it’s natural beauty. Your reward for passing the test will be experiencing Lake Titicaca in Copacabana (Complete contrast to what you see from Peru). Bolivia will offer the cheapest way into the Amazon rain-forest, white water rafting, mountain biking down the worlds most dangerous road aptly named ‘death road’ (there’s a reason it’s called that). And, that’s not all, while Peru’s crown jewel is Machu Picchu, Bolivia offers a natural phenomenon – The Bolivian salt flats in Uyuni!

So, if you can put up with this countries raw and ruggedness, you are in for a treat.

A few tips for backpacking Bolivia

  • – If you find yourself suffering from Altitude sickness chew coca leaves. (Yes they are the leaves cocaine comes from but they will help)
  • – Copacabana is a great place to just chill out and recharge your batteries. (Especially if you’ve come in from Peru) 
  • – There are some great hikes and trails around Copacabana for amazing views of Lake Titicaca.
  • – Book tours as close to the destination of the activity for it to be cheaper. I.E don’t book a salt flats tour in La Paz, do it in Sucre or Uyuni.
  • – Be prepared for the Altitude to hit you in La Paz.
  • – Bolivian long distance buses don’t provide meals, bring your own snacks and plenty of water.
  • – Be prepared for bumpy arduous journeys.
  • – Always look locally for hostels and tour companies and haggle prices.
  • – You don’t want to miss out on the Uyuni Salt flats.
  • – Bolivia is the cheapest way to experience the Amazon Rainforest.
  • – You can get to the Amazon Rain-forest from Rurrenabaque.
  • – However do check beforehand when tours are running – There are two options to get there from La Paz, a back-breaking bus journey or a carrier flight (however there is only one plane, and only runs on certain times.)
  • – If you like your adrenaline jacked up, experience the thrill of Death road. The road is now closed to the public, it’s only used for tourists to mountain bike down. 
  • – The Uyuni salt flats are something special, especially if you’ve never seen salt flats before. 
  • – If you have time and looking to head to Chile do the three day trip from Uyuni through the Atacama desert into Chile.
  • – If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of La Paz, Sucre in a nice quaint town nestled within the Bolivian mountains.
  • – Backpacking Bolivia will test you.
Backpacking Bolivia will be raw and rugged, it will test you mentally but if you can cope with it you'll be treated to its natural beauty like the Uyuni salt flats, the gateway to the Amazon basin, leave you breathless in La Paz. This guide will help you with tips, transport, budgeting, accommodation...

Some things to be wary of

  • – Some Bolivian roads can be very dangerous, be careful of what transport type you chose.
  • – Local transport is less reliable than private transport (Both options are cheap in Bolivia)
  • – Bolivia is not dangerous but as in all countries don’t flaunt that you are a tourist or you will be targeted especially in touristy areas.
  • – However in saying that do be careful in bigger cities like La Paz.
  • – Only get into registered taxi’s – There is some unofficial taxi who will try to scam you.
  • – Don’t take pictures of voodoo shops in La Paz (Locals do not like this)
  • – Altitude can make you feel drowsy and sick.
  • – Temperatures can drop dramatically at night so prepared for that.
  • – Tour operators will try to over-charge you at first, play the game, haggle and shop around.
  • – All Forms of narcotics will be offered to you in bars and clubs.
  • – You will be thoroughly checked for drugs if you’re flying out – Don’t be stupid and think you can get away with it.
Backpacking Bolivia will be raw and rugged, it will test you mentally but if you can cope with it you'll be treated to its natural beauty like the Uyuni salt flats, the gateway to the Amazon basin, leave you breathless in La Paz. This guide will help you with tips, transport, budgeting, accommodation...

Things to know when budgeting for backpacking Bolivia

Basic things to know:

  • Language spoken: Spanish
  • Is English spoken: Very little.
  • Currency: Bolivian Boliviano
  • Cost of Backpacking Bolivia is – Very cheap
  • To check live rates click here XE.com

Visa options:

No visa needed for British tourists for a stay of up to 30 days but can be extended for a further 60 days. Check GOV.UK for more information.

Check if your nationality needs a visa for Bolivia here. 

Bolivia is one of those countries that will let your wallet breath, unlike in other countries where you need to watch every penny you spend, Bolivia is a great place to balance your budget if you’re traveling through other South American countries.

However in saying that, if you take your eye off the ball too much you might end up overspending, so still keep an eye on your budget but you can be more relaxed than in other countries. And, there are still the usual, constant expenses you will need to keep in mind.

Activities and tours.

Activities and tours will be the costs that stand out, as they are generally priced in US dollars and will try to overcharge tourists. You should always try to shop around and be confident to haggle and you will be surprised at how much the prices will drop. Travelers are often tempted to book tours and activities online or from bigger cities but you’re better off booking as locally as you can. I.E the Uyuni salt flat tours will be much cheaper booking from Sucre or Uyuni rather than from La Paz.

Backpacking Bolivia will be raw and rugged, it will test you mentally but if you can cope with it you'll be treated to its natural beauty like the Uyuni salt flats, the gateway to the Amazon basin, leave you breathless in La Paz. This guide will help you with tips, transport, budgeting, accommodation...

Food/drinks

Food and drinks are so cheap, while in certain countries you have to live off the basic of foods in Bolivia you can have a big meal for next to nothing.

As you might have noticed I haven’t gone into specific pricing, as prices always change and information becomes irrelevant. However, if you are looking to compare live prices here is a couple of good sites for live comparisons to help you: numbeo and expatisan

Getting Around

With Bolivia being one of the poorest countries in South America it shouldn’t surprise you to know transport options are not the greatest or most comfortable. Although most of the major highways are decent, the smaller and rural roads are treacherous which makes long journeys extremely difficult especially when it’s been raining. Do not be shocked to be riding along the edge of mountain cliffs, sometimes with traffic coming head-on at you.

Transport options

Locally:

  • buses – Public transport is available but can be unreliable.
  • Trufis- Shorter buses that wait until they’re full and drive and around the designated route.
  • Micros – Mini-vans that drive from designated routes (very cheap)
  • Taxis – Safest way to travel locally but more expensive.
Backpacking Bolivia will be raw and rugged, it will test you mentally but if you can cope with it you'll be treated to its natural beauty like the Uyuni salt flats, the gateway to the Amazon basin, leave you breathless in La Paz. This guide will help you with tips, transport, budgeting, accommodation...

Nationally:

  • Buses – Private buses with three options: Cama premium (include fully reclining seats) Cama – Mid-range, And semi-Cama, cheapest option.
  • Trains – The least popular mode of transport.
  • Flights – There are domestic flights available between certain cities, also you will need to fly to get to Rurrenabaque for the Amazon Rain-forest unless you are prepared for the ‘journey from hell’ bus ride.
Backpacking Bolivia will be raw and rugged, it will test you mentally but if you can cope with it you'll be treated to its natural beauty like the Uyuni salt flats, the gateway to the Amazon basin, leave you breathless in La Paz. This guide will help you with tips, transport, budgeting, accommodation...

Popular tour companies

Accommodation

Although Bolivia isn’t the most lavish of countries, it still attracts a fair amount of backpackers. There are a growing amount of hostels and accommodation options available especially in more touristy hotspots.

Hostels and accommodation, in general, will not make a dent in your budget, I was able to stay in a couple of hotels for the same price as a dorm room in other countries.

  • -Hostels – There are plenty of options available for shared dorms and private rooms (not the best standard of hostels in the world but this is Bolivia)
  • -Budget hotels – Cheap and not so cheerful rooms available.
  • -Hospedajes – Smaller and much more basic than hostels.
  • -Volunteering – live and work with a family or local community to get another perspective of life in Bolivia.
  • -Air BnB – Becoming popular in cities like La Paz and Sucre
  • -Hotels – This is a country you can treat yourself to a hotel; some hotels even cost the same amount as a private room in a hostel.

My overview of backpacking Bolivia

My experience of Bolivia really suffered, not because of it testing me but because I was burnt out from 6 years of continuous travel. I had reached a point traveling through South America where finally I just wanted to go home; Something I never thought I would say.

The country itself tried to show me it’s beauty, it did offer me some highlights but It’s a shame I was so mentally drained that I just couldn’t really appreciate it. I had months left on my trip, other countries to go through but I cut my trip short and rushed through the country and did the bare minimum I could.

I won’t lie, I did enjoy doing absolutely nothing while Copacabana, I spent my days by the lakeside and it was bliss, it wasn’t enough to recharge my batteries but it did get through the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience the Amazon rain-forest, (which I was actually looking forward to) because of some local circumstances in Rurrenabaque but I did force myself to get to Uyuni for the salt flats, which I’m glad I did.

The Uyuni salt flats were breathtaking, well worth it and it wasn’t an over-hyped tourist attraction is was really a natural phenomenon. (I will be writing a separate post on the Uyuni salt flats)

Given the chance would I go back to Bolivia? Yes, in a heartbeat. I would like to go back and be able to fully appreciate what this raw and rugged country has to offer.

My route backpacking Bolivia

My trip around South America concluded in Bolivia, and with that came what is the most relaxed border crossing I’ve ever had. From the border came a short trip to Copacabana and my trip ended in Santa Cruz.

***

Did you find this backpacking Bolivia guide helpful? Let me know in the comments below if there is anything else you would like to know.

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Backpacking Bolivia will be raw and rugged, it will test you mentally but if you can cope with it you'll be treated to its natural beauty like the Uyuni salt flats, the gateway to the Amazon basin, leave you breathless in La Paz. This guide will help you with tips, transport, budgeting, accommodation...
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30 Responses

  1. Melanie says:

    Bolivia definitely seems like a challenge! I didn’t know chewing on cocoa leaves helped with altitude sickness. That’s very cool. So far, I haven’t found anything that helps my altitude sickness.
    Melanie recently posted…Native Culture for Kids in AlbuquerqueMy Profile

  2. Ritika says:

    i absolutely luv Bolivia…we did this 4 days trip across salt lake..i never knew we can do do Amazon rainforest hike from bolivia and that too on budget…looking at your blog looks like we missed a lot …will have to plan another trip..always luv reading ur blog,..u give so much detail that u dnt have to look for any other info
    Ritika recently posted…Devil’s Pool Travel Guide – All You Need To KnowMy Profile

  3. hi
    first time i read abt bolivia and i can see tht it is a first hand authentic account , glad for the article

    rgds

    sumit
    sumit walia recently posted…“When i wandered on mystical shores in Ladakh” – Memories of Tso & TaalMy Profile

  4. I love the idea of heading to Bolivia and checking out the sights in one go. I always get jealous when I see the creative pics people take at the salt flats or them cycling down the scary roads. It will deffo be on my ravel list for the next couple of years. Thanks for sharing the overview.

  5. Patti says:

    What a helpful guide! Visiting the Uyuni salt flats is at the top of my travel bucket list so I am hoping to plan a trip to Bolivia soon.
    Patti recently posted…5 Attractions Not to Miss in Florence, ItalyMy Profile

  6. This is a great help! I’m saving this link!

  7. Rahat Arora says:

    Backpacking in Bolivia sounds interesting, and at the same time challenging and thats what travel can do.

    As a quote says: travel leaves us speechless or makes us educated.

    Anyways nice tips shared.

  8. brittany says:

    This was so helpful! I travel to South America often and desire to see Bolivia, but haven’t because of that $160 reciprocity fee and the yellow fever shot. It’s still on my list. I need to see those salt flats for sure. I will reference your post again as Im putting together my itinerary in the future.

  9. carla says:

    Bookmarked! Your details seem to valuable for any backpacker especially how to book the tour. I am planning to make 2018 my Peru/Bolivia year, (crossing fingers) You said Bolivia will test me, I do hope I pass! But really thankful for your tips.

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