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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Popular tour companies:
- Kim Kim
- Nick’s Adventures Bolivia
- Banjo tours
- Cheaper option is to book tours in Bolivia. Do shop around and haggle for the best price.
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.
Some of my highlights:
Spending my birthday at the Uyuni salt flats.
Santa Cruz because it was my last stop.
Actually feeling excited to go home for a prolonged amount of time for the first time in 6 year
Some of my dislikes:
Being ill in La Paz.
Feeling drained from traveling and not being able to enjoy Bolivia as much as I could have.
Not wanting to be sociable.
Not being able to get to Rurrenabaque for amazon rain-forest trip.
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.
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