Getting there & away
A landlocked country, Bolivia has numerous entry/exit points. Some are easier and more accessible than others; the more remote borders are recommended for intrepid travelers only – those with time and lust for unpredictable adventure.
Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
World aviation has never been so competitive, making air travel better value than ever. Research your options carefully to get yourself the best deal. Online ticket sales work well if you are doing a simple one-way or return trip on specified dates. However, whiz-bang online fare generators are no substitute for a knowledgeable travel agent.
If you’re time-rich and money-poor, try an air-ticket auction site such as Priceline.com (www.priceline.com) or Skyauction.com (www.skyauction.com), where you bid on your own fare. The restrictions are not crippling, but read the fine print.
Some of the better international online ticketing sites include:
Flights.com (www.eltexpress.com) A truly international site for flight-only tickets; cheap fares and an easy-to-search database.
STA Travel (www.sta.com) The leader in world student travel but you don’t necessarily have to be a student.
Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) This US site allows you to search fares (in US dollars) to/from practically anywhere.
Depending on which country you enter from, some agency-booked, intercountry buses might carry you for the complete route; at other times you’ll change into an associated bus company once you cross the border. If going with local buses, you’ll usually need to catch onward buses once you’ve made your border crossing.
You can enter Bolivia by road from any of the neighboring countries. The routes from Brazil and Chile are poor, and those from Paraguay should be considered only with a 4WD. The routes from Argentina and Peru pose no significant problems.
Foreigners entering Bolivia from another country need a hoja de ruta (circulation card), available from the Servicio Nacional de Tránsito at the frontier. This document must be presented and stamped at all police posts – variously known as trancas, tránsitos or controles – which are spaced along highways and just outside major cities. Peajes (tolls) are often charged at these checkpoints and vehicles may be searched for contraband.
If you have your documents in order and you are willing to answer a few questions about the aim of your visit, entry into Bolivia should be a breeze. If crossing at a smaller border post, you might be asked to pay an ‘exit fee.’ Unless otherwise noted in the text, these fees are strictly unofficial. Note that Bolivian border times can be unreliable at best; always check with a migración office in the nearest major town. Also, if you plan to cross outside these hours, or at points where there is no border post, you can usually do so by obtaining an exit/entry stamp from the nearest migración office on departure/arrival.
There are only a few airlines offering direct flights to Bolivia, so air fares are as high as the altitude. There are direct services to most major South American cities; the flights to/from Chile and Peru are the cheapest. Santa Cruz is an increasingly popular entry point from Western European hubs. Due to altitude-related costs, flying into La Paz is more expensive than into Santa Cruz. High season for most fares is from early June to early September, and mid-December to mid-January.
At the time of research, Bolivia’s national carrier, Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB; 2-237-1024; www.labairlines.com.bo), was having some financial turbulence and was unreliable at best. AeroSur (2-15-2431; www.aerosur.com), the nation’s other airline, is more reliable.
Airlines with international flights and offices in La Paz include the following:
AeroSur (airline code 5L; 2-231-1333; www.aerosur.com)
American Airlines (airline code AA; 2-235-1360; www.aa.com)
Aerolíneas Argentinas (airline code AR; 2-235-1711; www.aerolineas.com.ar)
Gol Airlines (airline code EH; 800-10-01-21; www.voegol.com.br)
Grupo Taca (airline code TA; 2-231-3132; www.taca.com)
Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB; airline code LB; 2-237-1024; www.labairlines.com.bo)
TAM Mercosur (airline code PZ; 2-244-3442; www.tam.com.py in Spanish)
Travel between Australasia and South America ain’t cheap, so it makes sense to think in terms of a RTW ticket, or a ticket via Buenos Aires or Santiago. Round-trip fares from Sydney to La Paz via Auckland and Santiago start at around A$2500/3000 in low/high season. Fares via the USA are considerably more expensive, starting at around A$3000 return in the low season. RTW tickets including La Paz start at about A$3100/3300. The most direct routes are from Sydney to Santiago on Qantas and its partners, or to Buenos Aires with Aerolineas Argentinas. The best RTW ticket is probably from the Oneworld alliance, which has two different options: one restricted by the number of continents you visit, the other restricted by mileage. Fares start at around A$3200. The Visit South America Airpass offered by LAN Airlines and its partners, is around US$85 per sector.
For discount fares check STA Travel (1300-733 035; www.statravel.com.au) or Flight Centre (1300-133 133; www.flightcentre.com.au). For online bookings try www.travel.com.au or www.goholidays.com.nz. Destination Holidays (03-9725-4655, 800-337 050; www.south-america.com.au) and South American Travel Centre (03-9642 5353; www.satc.com.au) specialize in Latin American travel. Also check the ads in Saturday editions of newspapers, such as the Age or the Sydney Morning Herald.
The best places in Europe for cheap airfares are student travel agencies (you don’t have to be a student to use them). If airfares are expensive where you live, try contacting a London agent. The cheapest flights from Europe are typically charters, usually with fixed outward and return flight dates.
Some fares include a stopover in the USA. Note that passengers through New York (JFK) or Miami must pass through US immigration procedures, even if they won’t be visiting the USA. That means you’ll either need a US visa or be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, which is open to Australians, New Zealanders and most Western Europeans, unless they’re traveling on a nonaccredited airline (which includes most Latin American airlines).
There are bucket shops by the dozen in Western European capitals. Many travel agents in Europe have ties with STA Travel, where you’ll find cheap tickets that may be altered once without charge. Other discount outlets in major transportation hubs include:
LAB connects La Paz to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Lima, Santiago, Arica and Iquique several times a week. Aerolíneas Argentinas flies daily between Santa Cruz and Buenos Aires and Gol Airlines flies between Santa Cruz and Rio de Janeiro (amongst other destinations). AeroSur has a new weekly flight between La Paz and Miami.
LanChile connects La Paz with Iquique and Santiago. Passengers departing Chile are subject to a departure tax of US$30, and Australians, Canadians and US citizens landing in Santiago must pay an ‘entry tax’ of US$30 to US$60 per person according to their nationality.
Discount air travel is big business in London. Advertisements for many agencies appear in the travel pages of the weekend broadsheet newspapers, in Time Out, the Evening Standard and in the free magazine TNT.
There are no direct flights to La Paz from Europe. From London, all flights go via the US or other South American countries. Expect to pay from around £400. RTW tickets from London that take in South America (Santiago and Rio de Janeiro) start from around £1400.
London-based South American specialists include Journey Latin America (JLA; 020-8747 3108; www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk); South American Experience (020-7976 5511; www.southamericanexperience.co.uk); and Austral Tours (020-7233 5384; www.latinamerica.co.uk).
Recommended travel agencies include:
ebookers.com (0800 082 3000; www.ebookers.com)
Flight Centre (0870 499 0040; flightcentre.co.uk)
North-South Travel (01245 608 291; www.northsouthtravel.co.uk) Donates profits to projects in the developing world.
Quest Travel (0871 423 0135; www.questtravel.com)
STA Travel (0871 630 026; www.statravel.co.uk)
Trailfinders (Long-haul line 0845 058 5858; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
Travel Bag (0800 082 0500; www.travelbag.co.uk)
Inexpensive tickets from North American gateways (Miami is cheapest) usually have restrictions. Often there’s a two-week advance-purchase requirement, and usually you must stay at least one week and no more than three months (prices often double for longer periods). For an idea of what’s available, peruse the Sunday travel sections of major newspapers and free alternative weeklies.
The following are recommended internet-only consolidators:
American Express Travel (www.itn.net)
Most flights from Canada involve connecting via a US gateway such as Miami or Los Angeles. Canada’s national student travel agency, Travel CUTS (Canada & USA 800-667-2887; www.travelcuts.com), offers great deals for students and those under 26. There are good fares for the general public as well. It has offices in several US cities. Owned by Travel Cuts, the Adventure Travel Company (Canada & USA 1-888-238-2887; www.atcadventure.com) deals with the general public as much as it does with students, and offers some excellent prices.