(Last Updated On: June 17, 2018)

Backpacking Bolivia guide/tips: Raw and rugged!

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...

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.

Some of my highlights:

Copacabana.

Lake Titicaca.

Sucre.

Uyuni.

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

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 of my dislikes:

La Paz.

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.

***

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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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. The place looks really interesting to explore. That white ground reminded me of the place Kutch in India. It also has the white sand. Also, great tips to keep in mind for the first time travellers. ?

  6. I simply love your guides. The ones from Cambodia were really helpful when I visited Cambodia recently. Backpacking in Bolivia sounds interesting, and at the same tie challenging as well. But if the transportation and accommodation rates are budget friendly, backpacking is going to be really awesome.
    Arnav Mathur recently posted…The Phnom Penh City GuideMy Profile

  7. Wow… thanks for such an extensive guide!
    Interest in Bolivia has been gradually increasing of late.
    I think the first time I saw Uyuni in that Bond movie a decade ago. Since then it has been on my list although things have not materialized. But whenever they do, I will remember it.

  8. I am going to Bolivia in January so your post is really interesting for me. You wrote that I should debate about the tour prices and shop around. How much is the cheapest normal price for a tour in the salt lakes? I would like to do the 3 days tour.
    I have had altitude sickness in Nepal before so I’ll be careful in Bolivia!
    Thanks for the article I’ll come back to it for my plannings!
    Anna recently posted…Five Things To Do In BaselMy Profile

  9. Very interesting article! I am not really into backpacking but always wanted to visit the Salt Flats in Bolivia. This will certainly help, thanks for sharing!

  10. While we are not backpackers, we like traveling in South America and looking for more cost effective ways to do so. Bolivia was on my list, and while this post did not scare me enough to take it off my list, I am now more informed and wary. So thanks!

  11. 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.

  12. I’ve been to Peru and enjoyed it a lot, but unfortunately didn’t have the time to make it to Bolivia. Your post is very animating, and I like it a lot how you sum up the information and essentials. Thanx for sharing this.

  13. This is such a helpful guide to Bolivia! I’ve been wanting to go for awhile to see the salt flats but I had no idea it’s the cheapest country in South America. I loved all your tips and I’ll definitely check back when I am planning a trip to Bolivia.

  14. Fantastic tips, especially things to be wary of. When travelling you need to be more aware of what is going on around you. I have not been to Bolivia yet, but after viewing your photos, would love to go and now I have a better understanding of the country!

  15. I was in Bolivia for 2.5 months in 2015, and boy, I really loved my time there! I agree with you, it is rugged and raw, but it is sooo BEAUTIFUL! I experienced AMS in Potosi; for days, I couldn’t eat, had headaches, and generally didn’t want to go around. I chewed coca leaves and took Sorojchi pills, but after that, everything was fine. I don’t agree with your statement though that backpacking Bolivia will test anyone. Maybe it’s because I took my time going around there?
    Aleah recently posted…Traveling Solo in Tallinn, EstoniaMy Profile

  16. I’d really like to check out those salt flats. And I learned something new! Had no idea cocoa leaves would help with altitude sickness. That’s just a gem of info that can be used in any place we travel with high altitude. Great tips on traveling in Bolivia! I appreciate it

  17. Excellent tips and tricks, I’m actually planning a trip to South America next year so have saved it for reading for when we start planning as I’m sure it will come in handy!

  18. Well done, a comprehensive write up. Bolivia sounds like an adventurous place, one of those destinations that will give a lot of life experience.

  19. This was a fantastic guide! I love how organized everything was but you still included your personality and experiences. Bolivia has always looked beautiful and I have seen a lot of pictures coming from the salt flats (that were AMAZING). It’s good to know that that area isn’t all touristy. I didn’t think about getting into the Amazon basing from Bolivia but it makes sense. That would be epic. I am all stoked to go now.
    Jenn and Ed Coleman recently posted…Why Hike Berry Creek Falls Loop at Big Basin Redwoods State ParkMy Profile

  20. What a helpful read! Bolivia is always one of those destinations that looks amazing, but it also seems challenging to plan. The salt flats and the Death Road bike ride would be at the top of my list. Did you visit Quito in Ecuador on your travels? Would you equate the likelihood of altitude sickness in La Paz similarly? Great tip, too, about the Amazon. It’s so easy to forget that Brazil isn’t the only country with access and far cheaper options exist.

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