Landlocked in the heart of South America, Bolivia’s extraordinary landscape incorporates icy mountains, highland plains, shimmering salt flats and steaming tropical lowlands. La Paz has one of the most dramatic natural settings of any capital city, 3500m above sea level and overshadowed by Mount Illimani. Bolivia has a rich indigenous culture - in the streets of La Paz you see many people in traditional Andean costume, and while Spanish is the official language, the markets still echo to the sound of Aymara and other Indian languages.
Capital: La Paz
Official Language: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, Tupi Guarani.
Religions: Roman Catholic with a Protestant minority.
Voltage: 220V. In La Paz it can be either 220V or 110V, sometimes in the same building. Sockets are two pronged with round pins, but US-style flat-pinned plugs can sometimes be found.
Most visitors do not require a visa, but check with your local embassy or consulate as the situation changes periodically. Tourist visas are valid for 30 days but can be extended to 90 days. Passports need to be valid for at least 6 months from date of entry. Officially you need to carry your passport at all times; in practice, carrying a photocopy is usually sufficient.
The monetary unit in Bolivia is the Boliviano.
1 USD = 7.30 Bolivianos
1 EUR = 11.33 Bolivianos
1 GBP = 14.51 Bolivianos
1 Boliviano = 100 centavos.
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
Banks in all large towns have ATM machines that will accept Visa or Mastercard using the Enlace network. You can withdraw either Bolivianos or US$. Traveller’s cheques can be changed in banks or casas de cambio in most towns. Only US$ cheques will be accepted, most popular being American Express. In rural areas you need cash. US$ can be changed into Bolivianos in most banks and by money-changers. Banking hours are 08h30-12h00 and 14h30-18h00, Monday to Friday. Some banks are open on Saturday mornings. There is a lack of small change and we recommend maintaining a supply of small denomination notes and coins.
Imtrav Tip - Bring a combination of US$ cash and cards. Notes should be blemish free.
Although bank cards are often the easiest way to go, there are times where they will not work for you even if your bank at home tells you it will. Do not rely on your card as your only source of money. Always have a few back-ups with you.
Do not bring US$ notes which are torn or marked even slightly. If your notes are at all damaged you may not be able to change them in Bolivia.
The Pre Departure Booklet contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tours in Bolivia.
Entrance fees for museums are usually between $1-2. If you have a student card you may be entitled to reduced entrance fees.
All of our itineraries include some free time, the amount of which usually depends on the style of tour you are travelling on (Adventurer trips generally have more than Traveller). If you wish to take optional excursions your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of the possibilities in each area.
Approximate costs (per person) for popular excursions are as follows:
Most restaurants offer a set lunch called almuerzo which consists of a soup, main course and salad, with the main course usually consisting of rice, potatoes and some kind of meat. Sometimes there will be a dessert included as well. These set meals cost between US$1-US$3 and generally represent good value. Set dinners are also offered called cena, usually costing a bit more, with an à la carte option in larger places. Tipping is not expected but is always appreciated.
You will find the meal plan for your tour clearly indicated in the brochure and on your Trip Dossier. Breakfast is provided each day on most tours, and many tours also include a number of dinners. Lunches are rarely included to give you more freedom. Approximate costs for meals and snacks not included are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in Bolivia see the Local Food and Drink section of this dossier.
Tea and Coffee are always provided with breakfast. All other drinks (i.e. bottled water, soft drinks) are at your own expense.
Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop in the street are shown below.
Note: Prices in hotels and restaurants are usually slightly higher.
Taxis are often the best way to get around in urban areas. Many private cars moonlight as taxis by sticking a sign in the window. There are also radiotaxis which cost slightly more. Fares are usually less than US$1, but it’s best to agree a fare beforehand. It is not unusual to share a taxi with strangers heading in the same direction. Micros are minibuses that ply regular routes in urban areas. They are quite frequent but can get crowded.
Most Bolivians travel by bus. Long distance routes between cities are served by modern coaches with reclining seats. Most buses, however, are old, slow and uncomfortable. Be alert to the possibility of pickpockets, especially in rush hour. The timetables are largely fictitious. There are also camions (lorries) and camionetas (pick-up trucks) which are even more uncomfortable, but which are sometimes the only option in remote areas.
Travelling by air avoids protracted journeys by road and is not expensive. Most flights cost less than US$100. There are three main airlines, LAB, TAM and Aerosur. Flights are cancelled or delayed regularly, and in the Amazon they specialise in leaving early due to weather conditions. Baggage is restricted to 15kg.
There are hydrofoil and catamarans on Lake Titicaca, and passenger launches between Copacabana and Isla del Sol. Riverboats are still the main form of transport in the Amazon, and dugout canoes with outboard motors head up the streams and tributaries of the jungle river network.
The Pre-Departure Information Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. Please also check your Trip Dossier for any special requirements.
Imtrav Tip - Bring a backpack or easy to carry luggage and travel light. You will have to carry your own luggage frequently – don't let this be an ordeal.
As a general guideline, clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard-wearing and easily washed. In the hot summer months, cotton clothing is much more comfortable than man-made materials like nylon. Be prepared for cold nights – the temperature can plummet after dark, especially in highland areas. You will generally find it better to pack several thin layers rather than one thick layer. You can also buy woollen items quite cheaply should you need to. November to March is the wet season; in lowland areas it’s the very wet season. Note that if you are crossing the Uyuni salt flats to Chile it can be very cold, especially from May-October, and you should bring warm clothing and a 4 season sleeping bag. It is possible to hire a sleeping bag in Uyuni (US$15 for 3 days).
It is important to bring durable soft luggage or a back pack as this is a lot more practical to transport. Other essential items that we recommend you to bring can be found listed in the trip dossiers.
Whilst few of our tours can be described as physically demanding you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active.
Some trips have a few days where toilets are not available. When you do answer the call of nature please burn your toilet paper – do not bury it. If it is not possible to burn it, take it back to the camp where it can be placed in the rubbish bin and disposed of appropriately.
Whenever you use a western or squat style toilet please place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – DO NOT flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system. You may also want to carry your own toilet paper as not all toilets will supply it.
Imtrav Tip - You may find it useful to take along a supply of antiseptic gel (i.e. water free soap) and plastic bags to put your toilet paper in if it cannot be burnt/placed in a bin.
Throwing rubbish on the floor may be acceptable to some locals, but please hold on to your waste until you find a litterbin or somewhere appropriate to dispose of it.
Begging is not common in Bolivia but is not unknown. Ultimately donations are a traveller’s personal choice; however our recommendation is NOT to give money, pens, gifts or sweets as this encourages a begging mentality and is largely ineffectual. If you do want to help it is probably better to give to a recognised charity. If you choose not to give, simply say no with a smile and keep on walking. If you learn nothing else of the local language, try to learn to say ‘no thank you’.
Bolivia is known for the quality of jewellery – silver especially – and knitwear such as ponchos, jumpers, blankets and shawls made from alpaca and llama. Leather items are often good value, and in the Witches Market you can find all manner of outlandish souvenirs. Haggling is expected in Bolivia, but generally prices are very low to start with. Calle Sagarnaga in La Paz and the surrounding streets are a great place to shop for souvenirs.
Shops are open from 09h30 to 12h30 and 15h00 to 19h00, Monday to Friday, and from 10h00 to 15h00 on Saturday.
Please note that you should ask permission before taking pictures of the locals. This applies in particular to street vendors and fortune tellers in the Witches Market of La Paz, who are often not willing to be photographed.
Upon arrival, please look for our representative who will be holding an Imaginative Traveller sign. She/he should be waiting for you in the Arrivals Hall (i.e. after exiting the Immigration and Customs area).
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers.
Bolivia is one of the safest countries in South America with regard to crime, but as with everywhere that sees great disparities of wealth you should remain alert to the possibilities. There is some street crime, normally pickpocketing or occasional bag snatching. It is advisable not to wear expensive-looking watches or jewellery and don’t leave a wallet in your back pocket or carry loose hanging bags. Keep your camera concealed when not in use. Keep money hidden in a money belt, and a separate amount to pay for things so you do not have to keep opening the money belt. Be aware that if anyone approaches you claiming to be an undercover policeman you should insist on walking to the nearest police station to verify it.
Remember that most thieves don't use violence but rely on diversionary tactics which can take place at anytime of the day or night. Do not be paranoid, but just be aware of your surroundings. Always be vigilant and the chances are nothing will ever happen to you. It’s generally safer in cities to take a taxi rather than to walk, and at night try to stick to busy, well-lit streets. The safety of our passengers is our tour leaders’ number one concern and they will provide all necessary local information during the pre-departure meeting.
Protective helmets of a reliable standard are not always available locally. If you intend to take part in activities such as bike or horse rides, you should consider bringing a suitable helmet from home. If you have any safety concerns you should mention these to your tour leader immediately.
Your Tour Leader’s role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our local agents and a locally based manager. We also use the services of specialist guides in some locations such as in the jungle.
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our main criterion for choosing hotels is cleanliness. On Adventurer tours hotels are simple, but comfortable. On tours which travel through the more remote regions, rooms may sometimes be multishare or have shared bathroom facilities. Please bear in mind that hotels can sometimes suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex. If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
Laundry usually costs around US$1 per kilo.
One of the most popular snacks in Bolivia is Empanada salteña, a mixture of diced meat, chicken, chives, raisins, diced potatoes, hot sauce and pepper, all baked in dough. In the Altiplano – the plateau where most of the population live – traditional Aymara cuisine is based around the potato, and it’s not unusual to have them served together with rice, and sometimes quinoa, a kind of grain that is rich in protein. Meat is usually mutton or llama, sometimes dried like jerky or biltong, which is called charque.
The valley region of Sucre and Cochabamba has a cuisine distinct to that of the Altiplano, based around maize. Thick soups called laguas are popular, and there is a wider range of fruit and vegetables than further to the west. Food tends to be spicier, and often comes with llajua, chilli sauce which is found throughout the country. Pork is used more frequently.
In the tropical lowlands, rice is more common than the potato, and plantain and yucca are used. There is more beef in the lowlands, usually barbecued as steak or served as kebabs. Another typical dish is Picante de pollo, southern fried chicken with fried potatoes, rice, salad and hot peppers.
In almost any market in the country you’ll find a juice stall where you can order a combination of fruits which will be blended with milk or boiled water. Processed fruit juice in bottles is called “Jugos del Valle”, and other standard fizzy drinks are widely available. Mineral water is available in large plastic bottles, and “Naturagua” is purified water. Tea and coffee are generally served quite weak; Bolivians prefer herbal tea like mate, and mate de coca, made from coca leaves, is good for altitude sickness. Hot chocolate is usually excellent.
Beer is usually light lager-style of around 5% in strength. Bolivia also produces some wines which are fairly mediocre – you are more likely to encounter Argentinean or Chilean wine. One notorious drink is singani, white grape brandy, a ferociously strong concoction that is best consumed with Sprite or lemonade.
If you are a strict vegetarian you may experience a distinct lack of variety in the food available, especially in small towns. There are usually good salads available, but you might find that you are eating a lot of fried eggs, omelettes and other egg dishes. In La Paz and the larger towns there are some good vegetarian restaurants, and there are pizzerias which offer an alternative. Our tour leaders will do their best to organise interesting vegetarian alternatives for included meals, but your patience and understanding is requested.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
There has been a huge growth in internet use in recent years, with many internet cafés springing up. Most charge about US0.50 an hour, although in remote areas the price will be higher and the connection speed slower. Some internet cafés also offer a phone service where you can make international calls over the internet, which is a much cheaper way than using an Entel office.
The Bolivian phone system has been modernised in recent years and is fairly efficient. The national phone company is Entel which has offices in most towns from which local and international phone calls can be made; the offices are usually open between 8am to 8pm. Local calls are quite cheap but international calls can cost from between US$1.50 to US2 a minute. Phone calls can be made either from a booth in an Entel office where you pay at the end of the call, or at a public phone box using a phonecard. There are two kinds of phonecard, which can be bought from street stalls and Entel offices.
The postal service is fairly reliable and takes 1-2 weeks for a letter to reach the US or Europe, which will cost about US$1.
The climate of Bolivia is dictated predominantly by altitude. There are great variations between daytime and night time temperatures, and in the highlands nights can be very cold. Some visitors find the thin air takes time to get used to in La Paz, and it is not unusual to experience mild altitude sickness, which can be alleviated by coca tea.
Winter is between May and October, and is basically the dry season. Nights are cold in the highlands, and pleasantly cool in the lowlands – although at lower altitudes it can rain at any time of year.
Summer is from November to March, and is the wettest time of year. In the Amazon regions large tracts of land are flooded and roads become impassable. It gets very hot and humid in lowland areas. In the Altiplano and higher altitudes there is less rain but it can often be cloudy.
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