Money and Costs
Budget: less than B$200
- Dorm/budget beds: B$40–70
- Bread for breakfast, set lunch, dinner supplies bought in local market: B$50
- Museum admission, limited tours: B$125
- 2nd-class transit: B$70–100
- Midrange hotel: B$160–400
- Hotel breakfast, lunch and dinner in a restaurant: B$200
- Extra cash for beers, guided trips, excursions: B$300
- 1st-class transit: B$150–200
Top end: more than B$650
- Top-end hotel: B$400
- Breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner at high-end restaurant: B$250
- Plenty of extra cash for guided trips: B$300–400
- 1st-class transit and air transfers: B$300–500
Cash is king, dollars are better than euros; watch for counterfeits. ATMs and credit cards accepted in cities and many towns.
- All sizeable towns have cajeros automáticos (ATMs) – usually Banco Nacional de Bolivia, Banco Fassil, Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz and Banco Unión.
- They dispense bolivianos in 50 and 100 notes (sometimes US dollars as well) on Visa, MasterCard, Plus and Cirrus cards.
- In smaller towns, the local bank Prodem is a good option for cash advances on Visa and MasterCard (3% to 6% commission charged) but the service is sometimes unreliable.
- Don’t rely on ATMs; always carry some cash with you, especially if venturing into rural areas.
- Counterfeit bolivianos and US dollars are less common than they used to be, but it still happens more often than you’d like.
- If a bill looks excessively tatty don’t accept it, because nobody else will.
- Torn notes are still legal tender, but unless both halves of a repaired banknote bear identical serial numbers, the note is worthless.
Credit Cards & Cash Advances
- Brand-name plastic – such as Visa, MasterCard and (less often) American Express – may be used in larger cities at the better hotels, restaurants and tour agencies.
- Bolivia uses the boliviano (B$), divided into 100 centavos.
- Most prices are pegged to the US dollar.
- Often called pesos (the currency was changed from pesos to bolivianos in 1987).
- Only crisp US dollar bills are accepted (they are the currency for savings).
- Boliviano notes: 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200.
- Coins: one, two and five bolivianos as well as 10, 20 and 50 centavos.
- Bolivianos are extremely difficult to unload outside the country. Change them before you leave.
- Currency may be exchanged at casas de cambio (exchange bureaux) and at some banks in larger cities. Occasionally travel agencies, hotels and sometimes tourist stores will change money, but at a price.
- Visitors fare best with US dollars; it's hard to change euros or British pounds, and rates are poor.
- Cambistas (street money changers) operate in most cities but only change cash dollars, paying roughly the same as casas de cambio. They’re convenient but beware of rip-offs and counterfeit notes.
- The rate for cash doesn’t vary much from place to place, and there is no black-market rate.
- Currencies of neighboring countries may be exchanged in border areas and at casas de cambio in La Paz.
To transfer money from abroad use the following.
- Western Union (www.westernunion.com).
- MoneyGram (www.moneygram.com).
- Your bank can also wire money to a cooperating Bolivian bank; it may take a couple of business days.
- PayPal (www.paypal.com) Increasingly used to make bank transfers to pay for hotels.
A Note About Prices
Though we give generally give prices in bolivianos, many higher-end hotels, travel agencies and tour operators will only quote prices in US dollars. Where this is the case the price is given as quoted. The currency is fairly stable.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Restaurants Service is not usually included in the bill; leave 10% to 15%.
- Tours Guides are grateful for tips (10% to 20% is the norm); remember that their wage is often much lower than the tour price.
- Taxis Tipping is not expected, though it's common to round up.
Gentle haggling is usually fine at markets, and some negotiation is common if arranging a service such as renting a taxi for a day. Use your judgement and decide if the price seems fair; attempts to bargain hard may become uncomfortable. Bear in mind that many Bolivians have very little money, and arguing over a dollar or two probably isn't worth it.