Welcome to Bolivia
Bolivia. Mention the country and what springs to mind? Images of llamas? Women in traditional clothing with bowler hats and babies on their backs? Yes, in fact, Bolivia is perhaps the most traditional country in South America. The stereotypes are not entirely without justification. However, much of the country is tropical and the Amazon here is home to some of the best biodiversity on the continent.
Sadly, the guidebooks often do a good job scaring away potential visitors. Also, it is clear from some travellers’ blogs that not everyone enjoys their trip here. Excruciatingly slow internet connections and bone-shaking, ice-cold bus journeys mean that some will want to kiss the ground when they get back to the relative development of Peru or Chile. However, others will look beyond the discomfort and consider this the most authentic and fulfilling travel experience on the continent.
I am standing on the sidewalk. I turn to my left and there are two old ladies in traditional dress with bowler hats talking earnestly on the street corner. Meanwhile, the shop opposite me is blaring the 80s Cyndi Lauper classic ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’. I pinch myself as I realise that I am in Sucre, Bolivia. This is a land of syncretic culture where Catholicism coexists with traditional beliefs such as the Sun God and Pachamama, Mother Earth. Getting here was costly and painful (flights via Sao Paolo and Santa Cruz de la Sierra), but it was definitely worth all the extra cost and effort.
Bolivia is a country where you can see lofty snowcapped peaks and lush tropical valleys in a single day. Although the people may not always seem spontaneous, they open up once you get to know them, particularly if you make an effort with Spanish. Love it or hate it, Bolivia definitely deserves a visit. Read on to find where to go…
Make Sure to Visit in Bolivia…
- Scour the markets of La Paz for products ranging from llama foetuses to baby alpaca tops to keep you warm on a cold ‘altiplano’ night
- Sucre, otherwise known as the ‘White City of the Americas’, is a great place to hole up and learn Spanish
- Lake Titicaca– it feels like the lake on the roof of the world and it is the birthplace of the Inca civilisation
- The Bolivian Amazon– plan your jungle and pampas trips from Rurre or spend a sleepy day in San Buenaventura
- Test your nerves on The Death Road Bike Trip with Gravity Assisted
Getting There and Away
Many international flights arrive in Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Viru Viru). In most cases there is no need to stopover there because it is easy to connect to destinations such as La Paz and Sucre. If this is the case for you, you will clear customs and immigration in Viru Viru Airport. Be warned that the lines can be long. With this in mind, try to avoid tight connections when booking from overseas.
Due to altitude issues, travellers often choose not to go to La Paz on their first day in Bolivia. Should you arrive by plane, note that the airport is in El Alto, the sister city of La Paz. You will probably need to take a taxi to the centre.
Use an official taxi or arrange to be collected by your hotel. There have been stories of ‘Express Kidnappings’ on this route.
Getting to and from Chile, you can arrive on an Uyuni tour or on the international bus from Arica. Both trips showcase some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. For those coming from or going to Peru, Bolivia Hop and Peru Hop provide backpacker-friendly services.
Getting around in Bolivia is an experience. You will be promised the sun, moon and stars. However, the condition of the roads is often poor. As for the buses, dress warmly and keep extra clothes in your daypack- just in case!
Internal flights are rarely cheap in South America. Return flights to Rurrenabaque or Uyuni may cost as much as $200. On the other hand, there are some roads that you may wish to avoid altogether. For instance, the road from La Paz to Rurrenabaque is notorious. Travel agencies around the country will be able to give you accurate information. Hanaq Pacha in La Paz is one such agency and it is reliable.
Additionally, speaking of reliable information, keep an eye on the news and make sure you get local knowledge in Bolivia. Blockades, strikes and disruptions do occur. Why is there no Uyuni page on this website? Let’s just say that my plans ran into some difficulties…
It is quite easy to get a Bolivian sim card. Ask at your hotel where to find the nearest shop. As in most places, you will have to show passport identification.
Accommodation is of a reasonably good standard in general and you will get very good value for money. Hostal Ananay in La Paz is located in an old and historic street and it is recommended for its central location and helpful staff.
Overall, travel in Bolivia is not always easy. However, it is a stunning country that provides excellent value for independent travellers. Honestly, don’t miss Bolivia! It is many travellers’ favourite country in South America. From my heart, I can say that it was truly worth its hardships.
An Alternative To Travel…
Sucre, in particular, is a popular place to learn Spanish due to its good value schools, accommodation and relaxed atmosphere. Also, volunteering is quite popular here and can easily be arranged by local Spanish schools.
Find out more about studying Spanish in Sucre, Bolivia.
Find out more about how to get off the tourist trail and experience genuine contact with the local population.