Backpacking Bolivia – My overview.
This page is my overview of backpacking Bolivia, covering the country, some tips, general things to know, transport and accommodation options, general costs and my experience of the country.
There is no sugar-coating how rugged and raw Bolivia is; it is by far the cheapest of all south American countries as it’s one of the poorest in the region. This is a country that will challenge you mentally and definitely will challenge your lung capacity in some areas.
The landscape and terrain are breathtaking but there will be long arduous 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 it; altitude can a weird experience and a stomach churner. And the WiFi? Well lets just say that first dial-up internet you had was quicker.
Have I put you off?
You see Bolivia is like a test to backpackers, if you can cope with the bare basics then you’re going to be in for a treat. Bolivia will treat you to its natural beauty, like Lake Titicaca in Copacabana and it will provide you the cheapest way into the Amazon rain-forest. Or for the adrenaline junkies of you out there, Bolivia has some amazing adventure activities, like white water rafting, climb some of the highest mountains in South America, mountain biking down the aptly names death road (there’s a reason it’s called that). And like Peru has Machu Picchu, Bolivia has the magical Uyuni salt flats.
A few tips:
- If you find yourself suffering from Altitude sickness chew cocoa leaves.
- 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 Rain forest.
- You can get to the Amazon Rain-forest from Rurrenabaque.
- However do check before hand 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 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 nestles withing 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.
- 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 are 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.
- This is a very poor country, although it’s generally safe as a tourist you do stick out so don’t flaunt personal belongings.
- 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.
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 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.
Things to know when budgeting for Bolivia:
backpacking Bolivia will be very cheap, in-fact it’s one of the cheapest in South America. Bolivia is great to balance out your budget, compared to other South American countries which you might find turn out to be more expensive than you expect.
With Bolivia being such a cheap country to travel through, transport, especially local transport is cheap but still a constant expenditure.
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.
Activities and tours.
Activities and tours will be the a cost that stands out, as they are generally priced in US dollars and obviously try to over charge 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.
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 locals roads are treacherous which makes long journeys extremely difficult especially when it’s been raining.
buses – Public transport is available but can be unreliable.
Trufis- Shorter buses that wait until they’re full and drive and around designated route.
Micros – Mini-vans that drive to 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 need to fly to get to rurrenabaque for the Amazon Rain-forest.
Popular tour companies:
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 – 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 backpacking Bolivia wasn’t a fair reflection of the country itself. If you have read my guide on Peru, you may know I was starting to get travel burn out from traveling around the world for 6 years continuously. My experience of Bolivia suffered because I was mentally drained of traveling. I rushed my through the country, I just wanted to get through it and go home to England; something I never thought I would ever think about let alone say!
I did enjoy doing nothing while I was in Copacabana and the only other time I genuinely had a smile on my face was when I experienced the Uyuni salt flats for my birthday.
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)
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 years.
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.
Check out these great tips and great guides to backpacking Bolivia.
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