Bolivia is a sadly underrated country in South America, although that is gradually changing. Less commercial then neighbouring Peru, and one of the cheapest countries in South America, backpacking Bolivia means you can pack a whole lot of incredible experiences into a small budget. Bolivia really is one of the best countries to backpack in South America, and I’ve put together this guide with all you need to know about backpacking in Bolivia.
Skip ahead to read articles on specific destinations in Bolivia
Vital Information for Bolivia:
Currency: Bolivianos (check the exchange rate here)
Capital City: Sucre, although the seat of government is in La Paz
Population: Estimated at over 11 million people, with an approximately 70% mestizo and 20% indigenous population
Language: Spanish, and a whopping 36 indigenous languages.
Where is Bolivia?
Bolivia is in western-central South America, and backpacking through South America you will find Bolivia in a perfect position to visit between Peru and Chile, Argentina and Peru, or Brazil and any of these countries! Bolivia also has a border with Paraguay, a ‘forgotten’ South American country that is often missed off South American backpacking itineraries. Bolivia is land-locked, having lost it’s coastal access to Chile during the War of the Pacific (1879–83), but Lake Titicaca can give you your water fix.
Entry Requirements for Bolivia
American citizens do need a visa to visit Bolivia, whereas Canadian, Australian and British nationals don’t. Be sure to check with the Bolivian consulate in your area for the exact requirements and processes to apply for a visa.
The length of stay permitted on entering Bolivia is 30 days, which can be extended for a further 60 days, at no extra charge, as long as you apply before the end of the 30 day period at one of the Department of Immigration offices throughout the country. There is a maximum stay of 90 days in a 12 month period. See also the vaccination requirements below.
Travel Advice for Bolivia
British travellers should use this website for up to date travel advice and entry restrictions when planning to backpack in Bolivia.
Apologies if your country isn’t listed here – a quick google search for “(country name) gov travel advice” should bring up the relevant information for your country.
If you need to arrange any visas, Embassy Pages has a list of all the embassies and consulates for countries around the world.
Vaccinations for Bolivia
A Yellow Fever certificate is required for the majority of travellers to Bolivia. Please see this website for further information, and consult with your doctor or health professional to check current recommendations. All travellers should ensure their routine vaccinations and boosters are up to date, including measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and the diphtheria-tetanus-polio vaccine. Hepititis A and tetanus are also recommended for most travellers, and other vaccinations such as hepititis B, rabies, TB, and typhoid are also recommended in some cases.
Altitude in Bolivia
La Paz is the highest capital city in the world, and you will find altitudes of over 4000 metres around La Paz, and in the Salar de Uyuni. Plan your trip carefully to increase altitude slowly, and give yourself time to adjust. To ease the symptoms, drink plenty of water, avoid smoking and alcohol, and eat light meals. Paracetamol will ease a headache, but if you feel dizzy, disorientated or like you’re going to be sick, seek medical help immediately. Altitude sickness can be extremely serious, and should not be taken lightly.
Is Bolivia Safe to Visit?
I didn’t have any issues in Bolivia during the 6 weeks or so I was there. I found Bolivian people to be friendly and kind, but there is no guarantee you won’t have any problems. Health and safety generally in Bolivia isn’t to the same high standard as it is in Europe or North America. Road safety is a concern, so use reputable bus companies when you can, and choose your tour for the Uyuni Salt Flats, Death Road, and any other tour company carefully. Always check the reviews, and remember that sometimes the cheapest option isn’t likely to be the best when it comes to safety. Do not take an illegal tour of San Pedro prison in La Paz, once you’re inside you have no control over what could happen, or how you can get out again! Petty crime is an issue in La Paz, so don’t wander around alone at night, take official taxis and be vigilant of your bags and belongings.
No matter where you travel, you should always get travel insurance to cover you in case something does happen. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries, and you can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. Get a quote now:
Why go Backpacking in Bolivia
Bolivia was one of my favourite countries in South America. The people were very friendly, and there is a high indigenous population so it is fascinating to discover the incredible scenery and nature in Bolivia. From rugged Andean mountains to dense jungle and immense salt flats, Bolivia is a country of contrasts, and stunning vistas. Don’t miss it!
Food in Bolivia
For my taste, food in Bolivia wasn’t the best. I did have some delicious dishes though, like when I had a cooking class at Colibri Camping near La Paz, but the food tends to be a little dull although it is very cheap. Fried chicken is extremely popular here, but you can also find soups, menus and local dishes for a couple of dollars which is great for cash-strapped backpackers.
Transport in Bolivia
Backpacking in Bolivia and getting from place to place can sometimes take a lot longer than anticipated, as roadblocks are common. The quality of roads in Bolivia is also some of the worst in the continent, and although the world’s most dangerous road is no longer a main thoroughfare, some of the roads through the mountains are hair-raising to say the least. Buses, generally speaking, are not the most comfortable, so bring snacks, warm clothes (in case of freezing air conditioning), toilet paper and hand sanitizer for the bathroom stops. You will probably need to pay a boliviano or two to use bathrooms at rest stations. One of the best pieces of Bolivia travel advice I heard was to not take a bus anywhere if you have to be in a certain place at a certain time. Leave a couple of days leeway if you can, you never know what can happen on the roads in Bolivia.
There are some train routes in Bolivia, mainly in the South, although the train timetables are sporadic, and often delayed. You could consider going to Uyuni by train via Oruro, but when I researched train timetables for my backpacking trip, the times didn’t match up with when I wanted to travel.
Combis, truffis, collectivos are common for whizzing around towns and cities like La Paz and Santa Cruz, and for travelling between towns. These mini buses are relatively comfortable, but be prepared for driving at break-neck speed. There are also smaller shared taxis which run, although sometimes it is hard to tell where they are going!
Flying in Bolivia is a good option if you are short on time. Flights are generally inexpensive, and usually more reliable than buses. Of course, then you don’t see as much of the countryside in Bolivia, which is stunning, and worth braving if you have the flexibility to allow for roadblocks and delays. Backpacking Bolivia is definitely an adventure!
Accommodation in Bolivia
Hostels in Bolivia are common in the key cities like La Paz, Sucre, Uyuni and others, but in smaller, less touristic destinations you could stay in budget hotels, Airbnbs or even homestays. Read reviews and choose carefully, as you would do anywhere.
Or check the options on Airbnb. If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip! Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code or click below for your Airbnb coupon.
What to do in Bolivia
Don’t underestimate Bolivia. Many people just visit the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, and perhaps Lake Titicaca before continuing their journey to Chile or Peru. I actually started my South America backpacking adventure in Santa Cruz in Bolivia, and I was glad I saw more of the country than just these two places. In fact, the two weeks I spent in Bolivia were nowhere near enough, so I returned a few months later to spend another three weeks in Bolivia. I really enjoyed finding off the beaten places and things to do in Bolivia, and I highly recommend backpacking Bolivia to anyone!
Volunteering in Bolivia
If you are backpacking Bolivia slowly, you might want to take advantage of the volunteering opportunities available to allow you to travel in Bolivia without spending much money. You can find volunteering placements in Bolivia on work exchange sites like Workaway, HelpX and WorldPackers, where you pay a small fee to register on the site which allows you to browse available opportunities and contact the hosts.
Opportunities for volunteering in Bolivia vary from working on reception at a hostel to teaching in schools, helping to build eco-projects or helping a family to care for their kids. Volunteering in Bolivia like this is a great way to meet local people and become part of the community, and to save money. In exchange for part-time work, volunteers usually get lodging and some food included. Spanish is useful but not always essential for volunteering in Bolivia. When I stayed at Colobri Camping near La Paz, I volunteered with their organisation Up Close Bolivia which I loved.
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Where to Go in Bolivia
There are plenty of places to visit in Bolivia for backpackers and other travellers. The Salar de Uyuni salt ‘desert’ in Bolivia is a spectacular sight, and a multi-day tour across the largest salt flats in the world is the highlight of any South American trip, and one of the best places to visit in South America. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and a beautiful sea of blue in the landlocked country. Spend the night on a homestay on Isla del Sol on the lake, visit Inca ruins Sillustani, and the magnificent pre-Inca sites of Tiwanaku near La Paz, and El Fuerte in Samaipata. Nature lovers should venture into the Amazon at Rurrenbaque, or Amboro National Park.
Cities in Bolivia have a lot to offer too. Wander the pretty colonial streets of Sucre, and La Paz is a breathtaking city, for the altitude and bustling markets. Don’t be tempted by the illegal prison visits made famous by Marching Powder, and be careful in La Paz at night. Go to Cholita wrestling, buy a potion in the witches’ market, and try your luck biking down the world’s most dangerous road.
Read more about Backpacking Bolivia:
Highlights of Bolivia:
Other Destinations in Bolivia:
Activities and Places to Stay in Bolivia:
Do you have any questions about backpacking in Bolivia? Feel free to ask, and I will do my best to help! Prepare for your trip to Bolivia with these top picks from Amazon:
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