The sad fact is that Bolivia’s infrastructure is ill-equipped for travelers with disabilities. You will, however, see locals overcoming myriad obstacles and challenges while making their daily rounds. If you encounter difficulties yourself, you’ll likely find locals willing to go out of their way to lend a hand.
Dangers & Annoyances
Crime Crime against tourists is on the increase in Bolivia, especially in La Paz and, to a lesser extent, Cochabamba, Copacabana and Oruro. Scams are commonplace and fake police, false tourist police and ‘helpful’ locals are on the rise. Be aware, too, of circulating counterfeit banknotes.
Protests There is a strong tradition of social protest in Bolivia and demonstrations are a regular occurrence. While generally peaceful, they can turn threatening in nature at times: agitated protesters throw stones and rocks and police occasionally use force and tear gas to disperse crowds. Bloqueos (roadblocks) and strikes by transportation workers often lead to road closures and long delays. Be careful using taxis during transportation strikes – you may end up at the receiving end of a rock, which people pelt at those who are not in sympathy with them.
Wet season The rainy season means flooding, landslides and road washouts, which in turn means more delays. Getting stuck overnight behind a landslide can happen; you’ll be a happier camper with ample food, drink and warm clothes on hand.
Tour safety Note that the mine tours in Potosí, bike trips outside La Paz and the 4x4 excursions around Salar de Uyuni have become so hugely popular that some disreputable agencies are willing to forgo safety. Make sure you do your research before signing up for the tour.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (travel.gc.ca)
- US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)
There are plenty of great benefits to solo travel, being alone often opens up doors to meeting local people and other travelers. On the well-trodden gringo circuit, solo travelers should have little trouble meeting up with others and some hostels and hotels have noticeboards for those wanting to form groups to do activities. In places like Uyuni it’s relatively easy to meet other travelers around town to make up the numbers needed for excursions.
However traveling alone also comes with some precautionary considerations. Bear the following in mind:
- Safety is in numbers. Solo travelers should remain alert when traveling, especially at night.
- Hostel prices are often based on a per-person rate, although more upmarket hotels have separate prices for single and double, with the latter being more economical.
- The recent increase in tourism to Bolivia has meant that locals are becoming more accustomed to seeing Western travelers, including unaccompanied women. This has significantly reduced the incidence of sexual harassment and the concept of the ‘loose gringa,’ but in some places you may still face unwanted attention. Take no risks.
- If you are female traveling without a male companion and/or alone, it’s wise to avoid testosterone-filled domains such as bars, sports matches, mines and construction sites.
- It’s generally safe to catch a lift on a camión (flatbed truck) if you see lots of other people waiting; don’t get on board if anything seems fishy. Never hitchhike alone.
- Especially in urban areas and at night, women – even in groups – should be careful, and avoid isolation.
- Hiking alone is discouraged under any circumstances. It’s potentially dangerous not to have a partner who can raise the alarm in case of an accident.
Bribes are illegal in Bolivia, but common. With cops making just over US$115 a month, it’s easy enough to see why it would be so ubiquitous. People stopped for minor traffic violations or more serious infractions sometimes ask if they can ‘pay the fine now.’ Watch out for false police – authentic police officers will always wear a uniform and will never force you to show them your passport, insist you get in a taxi with them, or search you in public.
It’s likely you won’t be in La Paz long before you’ll hear about ‘tours’ to San Pedro prison. We strongly advise against participating in one of these unofficial – and, in fact, illegal – ‘tours’, which are organized by inmates, guards and dodgy operators. There are high risks associated with entering San Pedro prison. First, it’s illegal, and the Bolivian authorities are cracking down on unofficial visits. Secondly, inside the prison, there’s no guarantee of your safety and, well, you’re surrounded by criminals.
Bolivia offers plenty of opportunities to ‘Break Bad.’ With its status as a major cocaine-producing nation and a reputation for lax law enforcement, Bolivia is a popular destination for drug and sex tourism. Travelers who come to Bolivia to engage in these and other marginal activities can find themselves in trouble, however, as these activities have serious consequences and legal ramifications.
Prostitution is legal for adults aged 18 and older, and is common throughout the country. While legal, There are few protections for sex workers or controls on the industry (raising the chances of contracting an STI). Child prostitution (the average sex worker starts at 16 years old) and human trafficking are also real issues, especially in the Chapare and major urban centers. Young children are sold into prostitution, especially from the tropical lowlands, and brought to large urban centers or sold overseas as slaves or prostitutes. Trafficking from Paraguay to Bolivia is on the rise for the ‘mega brothels’ being built near Santa Cruz. In Southern Bolivia, around 10 children every month are sold into prostitution or slavery, and across the globe some 1.2 million children are victims of human trafficking annually. It’s a US$12 billion annual industry, and many advocacy organizations say consumers will control its end. Jail sentences for sex with a minor are 20 to 25 years in Bolivia, and those found guilty will also likely face criminal charges in their home country. (Sources: UNICEF, 2008 US State Department Human Rights Report, UNHCR, EFE.)
Cocaine and Other Drugs
Drug tourism is on the rise in Bolivia. The cocaine is pure, it’s cheap, it’s easily attainable, and it remains illegal. The laws are a bit contradictory and ill-defined. Personal possession, while illegal, is not supposed to carry a jail sentence, but trafficking carries a minimum eight-year sentence, according to the Andean Information Network. The only problem: there’s no definition of personal possession. Your best bet is to not do it. If you get caught, your embassy will not help you. The only option for many travelers is to attempt to pay their way out of the situation, which is also risky since bribes are illegal, too. It’s also worth noting that the same criminal organizations producing cocaine are also responsible for human trafficking; don't go down dark alleys after midnight looking to score. Moreover, cocaine can be deadly, especially at Bolivia’s high altitudes.
Marijuana is also common here (and also illegal), while other high-end pharmaceuticals, like ecstasy, are hard to come by. Hallucinogenics, like the San Pedro cactus and ayahuasca, are becoming slightly more common and sit in a grey area of the law.
The International Student Travel Confederation is an international network of specialist student travel organizations. It’s also the body behind the International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which gives carriers discounts on a few services in Bolivia.
Electricity Most electricity currents are 220V AC, at 50Hz. Most plugs and sockets are the two-pin, round-prong variety, but a few anomalous American-style two-pin, parallel flat-pronged sockets exist.
Embassies & Consulates
Many of the embassies are located in the Avs Arce and 6 de Agosto area of Sopocachi in La Paz.
For a full list of foreign diplomatic representation in Bolivia, see www.embassiesabroad.com/embassies-in/Bolivia.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|International Access Code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
If you have your documents in order and are willing to answer a few questions about the aim of your visit, entering Bolivia should be a breeze. If crossing at a small border post, you may be asked to pay an ‘exit fee.’ In most cases, such fees are strictly unofficial, but its easier just to pay them anyway.
Note that more remote Bolivian border opening times can be unreliable at best and it is worth checking with a migración (immigration) office in the nearest major town. If you plan to cross the border outside the stated hours, or at a point where there is no border post, you can usually obtain an exit/entry stamp from the nearest migración office on departure or arrival.
- When entering Bolivia you can bring in most articles duty-free provided you can convince customs that they are for personal use.
- There’s also a loosely enforced duty-free allowance of 200 cigarettes and 1L of alcohol per person.
- Remember that costs in Bolivia for most things are cheaper than duty free anyway, so ask yourself whether you even need to bother!
Generally free for visits up to 90 days; may have to renew after 30. US citizens need to pay.
Border agents may or may not request a yellow-fever vaccination certificate, and there are occasional checkpoints heading into the lowlands, where you will need to produce a certificate. Some neighboring countries, including Brazil, require anyone entering from Bolivia to have proof of a yellow-fever vaccination. If necessary, a jab can often be administered at the border but it is preferable to take care of this at home.
- Kissing Greet members of the opposite sex with a kiss on one cheek in the north, both cheeks in the south. An empty-grip handshake followed by a distant two-arm embrace and another hand-grab are standard with Quechua and Aymará people.
- Photographs Ask permission to take photographs of people, especially in rural areas.
- Greetings Do greet people with buenos días (good morning), buenas tardes (good afternoon) and buenas noches (good evening).
- Politics Do express your views politely, but make sure you are well-informed!
- Religion Be respectful of religious practices, however strange they may seem. Broaden your mind!
- Drugs Don’t!
A good travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical mishaps is important.
A wide variety of policies are available: shop around and scrutinize the fine print. Some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities,’ which can include skiing, motorcycling, mountain biking, and even trekking. Check that the policy covers ambulances and emergency airlift evacuations.
Potential insurance companies include:
- Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance) Worldwide travel insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
- ETA (www.eta.co.uk)
- Insure My Trip (www.insuremytrip.com)
- Travel Guard (www.travelguard.com)
- World Nomads (www.worldnomads.com)
Checking insurance quotes...
- Nearly every corner of Bolivia has a cyber cafe and wi-fi is now standard in most midrange and top-end hotels (and many cafes).
- Rates run from B$2 to B$6 per hour.
- In smaller towns, expect to pay more – check the local Entel offices and be ready for slow satellite connections.
- The 2009 constitution is one of the first in the world to expressly ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
- However homosexuality is still not widely accepted by the populace and gay marriage and same sex unions are illegal.
- Gay bars and venues are limited to the larger cities, especially Santa Cruz and La Paz, but these are still somewhat clandestine affairs. Sharing a room is no problem – but discretion is still in order.
- Gay rights lobby groups are active in La Paz (MGLP Libertad), Cochabamba (Dignidad) and most visibly in progressive Santa Cruz, which held Bolivia’s first Gay Pride march in 2001.
- La Paz is known for La Familia Galán, the capital’s most fabulous group of cross-dressing queens who aim to educate Bolivians around issues of sexuality and gender through theater performances.
- Mujeres Creando is a feminist activist group based in La Paz that promotes the rights of oppressed groups.
- The biggest legal problems affecting travelers include trafficking and possession of cocaine and other drugs, minor traffic violations and sex-related crimes.
- If you are arrested, contact your embassy immediately. Note, however, that they don’t have the power to resolve the legalities (or illegalities) if you break the law.
- Be aware that recently incidences of fake police have been on the rise.
Maps are available in La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz through Los Amigos del Libro and some bookstores. Government 1:50,000 topographical and specialty sheets are available from the Instituto Geográfico Militar (IGM), with offices in most major cities.
International sources for hard-to-find maps include:
- Deutscher Alpenverein (www.alpenverein.de) German publisher with its own series of climbing maps.
- Maplink (www.maplink.com) US-based.
- Omnimap (www.omnimap.com) US-based.
- Stanfords (www.stanfords.co.uk) UK-based.
Newspapers International periodicals are sold in bigger cities. The following are all popular reads: La Razón (www.la-razon.com), the nation’s biggest daily newspaper; El Correo del Sur (www.correodelsur.com) in Sucre; El Deber (www.eldeber.com.bo) in Santa Cruz.
Radio Still hugely popular. Try Bolivia Web Radio (www.boliviaweb.com/radio) for a 24/7 stream of Andean artists or Radio Panamericana (www.panamericana.bo), which is popular all around Bolivia..
Television A decent grasp of at least Spanish is required to watch the local TV. Cable TV with international stations is available in most upmarket hotels. Bolivia TV (www.boliviatv.bo) is government-run; ATB TV (www.atb.com.bo) is a private network and UNITEL (www.unitel.tv) is a channel opposing the Morales government that is broadcast out of Santa Cruz.
Cash is king, dollars are better than euros, watch for counterfeits. ATMs and credit cards accepted in big cities. Small towns have cash advances.
- All sizeable towns have cajeros automáticos (ATMs) – usually Banco Nacional de Bolivia, Banco Bisa, 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.
- Finding change for bills larger than B$10 is a national pastime, as change for larger notes is scarce outside big cities.
- When exchanging money or making big purchases, request the cambio (change) in small denominations.
- If you can stand the queues, most banks will break large bills.
- Counterfeit bolivianos and US dollars are less common than they used to be, but it still happens more often than you’d like.
- If a bill looks excessively tatty don’t accept it, because nobody else will!
- Torn notes are still legal tender, but unless both halves of a repaired banknote bear identical serial numbers, the note is worthless.
Credit Cards & Cash Advances
- Brand-name plastic – such as Visa, MasterCard and (less often) American Express – may be used in larger cities at the better hotels, restaurants and tour agencies.
- Bolivia uses the boliviano (B$), 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. Less often 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 both euros and sterling, and rates are poor. Note that US$100 bills of the CB-B2 series are not accepted anywhere, neither are US$50 bills of the AB-B2 series.
- Cambistas (street moneychangers) 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:
- Western Union (www.westernunion.com).
- Money Gram (www.moneygram.com) Has offices in all major cities – watch the hefty fees, though.
- 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 and where this is the case the price is given as quoted. The currency is fairly stable.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Banks 9am–4pm or 6pm Monday to Friday, 10am to noon or 5pm Saturday
- Restaurants 8am–10am, noon to 3pm and 6pm–10pm
- Shops 9am–noon and 2pm–5pm Monday to Saturday
- Some Bolivians are willing photo subjects, others may be superstitious about your camera and/or your motives. Ask permission to photograph if a candid shot can’t be made; if permission is denied, you should neither insist nor snap a picture. Be sensitive to the wishes of locals.
- Many children will ask for payment, often after you’ve taken their photo. A few Bolivianos will suffice.
- Avoid taking photographs of political rallies, military facilities or policemen – they are not noted for their sense of humor or understanding.
- La Paz is generally the best place to buy equipment and to look for repairs.
While some Bolivians are willing photo subjects, others may be superstitious about your camera, suspicious of your motives or interested in payment. Many children will ask for payment, often after you’ve taken their photo. It’s best to err on not taking such shots in the first place – be sensitive to the wishes of locals. Ask permission to photograph if a candid shot can’t be made; if permission is denied, you should neither insist nor snap a picture.
Even the smallest towns have post offices – some are signposted ‘Ecobol’ (Empresa Correos de Bolivia). Mail sent from bigger cities is more reliable than that sent from small towns. Expect delays!
- To mail an international parcel take it open to the post office so that the contents can be inspected. After inspection close it yourself (take what you need with you) before handing it over.
- You may be asked to fill in some official forms detailing the contents of the package. Avoid being too detailed, and don't explicitly mention items that might be attractive to thieves.
- The cost of sending the package depends on its weight. If you are offered the chance to 'register' the package for a small cost, then take it, it doesn't guarantee much, but at least it gives you some kind of leg to stand on if it subsequently disappears.
- Avoid sending anything valuable by standard mail, use an international courier. It's more expensive, but it will get to where you send it.
To mail an international parcel in La Paz, take it downstairs in the Central Post Office (the stairs are halfway along the ground floor and to the right). You may be charged a small fee to have the belongings wrapped or your box officially labeled. You’ll need two copies of your passport – one will be included in your package. Complete the necessary forms (at the time of research these included a customs declaration form and list of contents, known as a CN-23: Declaración de Aduana and CP-71 Boletín de Expedición). Take your parcel to the office marked ‘Encomiendas.’ If your package is less than 2kg it’s easier to send by regular mail. Pay the cost of postage and complete the CN-23. A 1kg parcel to the USA will cost about B$150 by air and B$238 by faster courier service.
In some cities, you might have your parcels checked by customs at the post office; in cities without inhouse customs agents, you may have to trek across town to the aduana (customs office). A parcel’s chances of arriving at its destination are inversely proportional to its declared value, and to the number of ‘inspections’ to which it is subjected.
Airmail postales (postcards) or letters weighing up to 20g cost about B$7.50 to the USA, B$9 to Europe and B$10.50 to the rest of the world. Relatively reliable express-mail service is available for rates similar to those charged by private international couriers.
Reliable free lista de correos (poste restante) is available in larger cities. Mail should be addressed to you c/o Lista de Correos (Poste Restante), Correo Central, La Paz (or whatever city), Bolivia. Using only a first initial and capitalizing your entire last name will help avoid confusion. Mail is often sorted into foreign and Bolivian stacks, so those with Latin surnames should check the local stack as well as checking for your first name. La Paz holds poste restante for two months. You will need your passport to collect the mail.
Public holidays vary from province to province. The following is a list of the main national and provincial public holidays; for precise dates (which vary from year to year), check locally.
Nuevo Año (New Year’s Day) January 1
Semana Santa (Easter Week) March/April
Día del Trabajo (Labor Day) May 1
Corpus Christi May/June
Día de la Independencia (Independence Day) August 6
Día de Colón (Columbus Day) October 12
Día de los Muertos (All Souls’ Day) November 2
Navidad (Christmas) December 25
Not about to be outdone by their neighbors, each department has its own holiday.
Beni November 18
Chuquisaca May 25
Cochabamba September 14
La Paz July 16
Oruro February 10
Pando & Santa Cruz September 24
Potosí November 10
Tarija April 15
- Numerous carriers – such as Entel, Viva, Boliviatel, Cotel and Tigo – offer local and long-distance rates on both landlines and cellular phones. Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (Entel), is still the most prevalent in smaller towns but other companies are making an entrance.
- Puntos, run by all of the above companies, are small, privately run outposts offering similar services and are open late. Local calls cost just a few bolivianos from these offices. Alternatively, street kiosks are often equipped with telephones that charge B$1 for brief local calls.
- In some tiny villages you’ll find card-phone telephone boxes – phones take both magnetic and computer-chip varieties. Both card types (tarjetas) come in denominations of B$10, B$20, B$50 and B$100.
- Touts in fluorescent jackets with cellular phones chained to themselves offer local calls for around B$1 per minute.
- Cellular SIM cards are cheap, include credit and are available from larger carrier outlets as well as small private phone shops. If you buy from a private outlet, activate the number and check that the phone works before purchasing.
- Make sure your phone has tri-band network capabilities (similar to the US system). To top up your call amount, buy cards (ask for crédito, ie credit) from the numerous puntos in any city or town.
Dialing In To The Telephone Network
Even Bolivians struggle with their own telephone network. Here’s a quick kit to get you dialing.
Numbers Líneas fijas (landlines) have seven digits; cellular numbers have eight digits. Numerous telecommunications carriers include, among others, Entel, Cotel, Tigo, Boliviatel and Viva. Each carrier has an individual code between 010 and 021.
Area codes Each department (region) has its own single-digit area code which must be used when dialing from another region or to another city, regardless of whether it’s the same area code as the one you’re in. The department codes are:
|2||La Paz, Oruro, Potosí|
|3||Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando|
|4||Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, Tarija|
Public phones Dialing landlines from public phone booths is easy; ask the cashier for advice.
Placing calls To make a call to another landline within the same city, simply dial the seven-digit number. If you’re calling another region, dial 0 plus the single-digit area code followed by the seven-digit number, eg 02-123-4567. If calling a cell phone, ask the cashier for instructions; most puntos have different phones for calls to cellulars and landlines, so you may have to swap cabins if calling both.
International calls For international calls, you must first dial 00 followed by a country code, area code (without the first 0) and the telephone number.
In this book, when the given phone number is in another city or town (eg some rural hotels have La Paz reservation numbers), the single-digit telephone code is provided along with the number.
|Bolivia international dialling code||591|
|International access code||00|
- Calls from telephone offices are getting cheaper all the time, especially now that there’s competition between the carriers – they can vary between B$1.50 and B$8 per minute.
- In La Paz the cheapest of cheap calls can be made from international calling centers around Calle Sagárnaga for about B$2 per minute.
- Some Entel offices accept reverse-charge (collect) calls; others will give you the office’s number and let you be called back. For reverse-charge calls from a private line, ring your international operator from the table below (but beware that these calls can be bank-breakers!):
Most internet places have Skype installed, which you can use at no extra cost – you just have to pay for the time online. It can be frustrating if the connection is slow however!
Local SIM cards should work in cell phones that are not tied to a single network.
Bolivian time is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and an hour ahead of the US Eastern Standard Time. Some examples of global times are given in the table below:
|Sydney||2am (next day)|
|Auckland||4am (next day)|
- Toilet humor becomes the norm in Bolivia. First and foremost, you’ll have to learn to live with the fact that facilities are nonexistent on nearly all buses (except for a few of the luxury ones).
- Smelly, poorly maintained baños públicos (public toilets) abound and charge about B$1 in populated areas and B$5 in the wilderness, like around the Salar de Uyuni.
- Carry toilet paper with you wherever you go, at all times!
- Toilet paper isn’t flushed down any Bolivian toilet – use the wastebaskets provided.
- In an emergency, you can always follow the locals’ lead and drop your drawers whenever and wherever you feel the need. Some of the most popular spots seem to be below No Orinar (Don’t Urinate) signs threatening multas (fines) equal to the average Bolivian monthly wage.
- Use the facilities at your hotel before heading out.
- Bolivian tourism has really taken off in recent years, but the industry and its associated infrastructure is still in its formative stages.
- Flash new InfoTur (www.visitbolivia.org) offices, working in agreement with local government, have opened in most of the major tourist destinations. However the amount of printed material available and the level of attention from staff can vary from place to place, and from visit to visit. Don't expect a lengthy conversation if you go just before lunch for example!
- At the national level tourism comes under the auspices of the Ministerio de Culturas y Turismo (Ministry of Culture and Tourism) which concentrates more on statistics and bureaucratic spending than on promotion of the country’s attractions or imposing safety regulations.
- There are often tourist information offices covering the prefectura (department) and alcaldía (local municipality) of a particular city, but these are under local government control and often bereft of material. Typically you will need to speak Spanish to make much use of them, though they can be very informative.
- Note that the posted opening hours are not always followed.
- There are no tourist offices abroad.
- There is plenty of competition between tourist operators in the most popular destinations and this is often reflected in their website content, driving the urge to provide more information to make the company more attractive. This can be a useful research tool, provided you remember the context the information is provided in!
Travel with Children
Bolivians love children, it’s a one-of-a-kind cultural experience for them, and bringing your children will do wonders for breaking down cultural barriers.
There are however a few things to consider before bringing your children to Bolivia, including the following:
- Vaccines You’ll probably want them for visits to the lowlands, but many can be dangerous for children younger than two years and breastfeeding moms.
- Comfort Bumpy roads and long distances can make for unhappy campers.
- Altitude Potentially tough on tots.
- Bugs Bites can be problematic because of potential disease. Your best defense is not to get bitten.
- Climate Can be extreme.
- Food Diarrhea is common.
- Demonstrations Roadblocks and tear gas are not uncommon.
As a general rule civilian airlines charge 10% of adult ticket prices and/or airport taxes and fees for children under the age of two, who must sit on your lap.
On long-distance buses, those who occupy a seat will normally have to pay the full fare. Some hotels have family rooms with three or four beds. Restaurants rarely advertise children’s portions, but will often offer a child-sized serving at a lower price, or will allow two kids to share an adult meal.
Cribs, diaper-changing facilities and child-care services are only available in the finest hotels in big cities. Breastfeeding in public is widespread. Formula milk is available in modern supermarkets in big cities, as are disposable diapers. If you plan on driving, bring your car seat from home.
There are fantastic children’s museums in La Paz and Sucre, plus a water park in Santa Cruz. Most Bolivians spend Sunday afternoons picnicking with the family in parks and zoos or strolling the traffic-free pedestrian walks of La Paz and Cochabamba.
For more information, advice and anecdotes, see Lonely Planet's Travel with Children.
Bolivia for Kids
- First aid kit including diarrhea tablets, rehydration salts, sunscreen, bug spray, Neosporin, Band-Aids, acetaminophen, thermometer
- Required vaccines, passports and visas, as kids need them, too
- Snacks and favorite foods from home
- Clothes for all weather and sun hat
- Parental permission note if traveling solo
- Baby carrier, as strollers are basically pointless
- Favorite toys
- There are hundreds of voluntary and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in Bolivia, making this a popular spot to volunteer.
- Many of the opportunities included here follow the pay-to-volunteer model, and often include room and board, costing anywhere from US$200 to US$1000 per month. Options to do free volunteer work are more limited.
- Research your placement carefully. Be aware that some profit organizations offer ‘internship’ or ‘volunteer’ opportunities, when in reality it’s unpaid work in exchange for free trips or activities.
- Government-sponsored organizations or NGOs offer longer-term programs (usually two years) for which you receive an allowance, pre-departure briefings and ongoing organizational support.
- Church-affiliated or religious organizations offer short-term opportunities, often on a group basis.
- Smaller volunteer organizations (sometimes profit-based) offer independent travelers the opportunity to work on community projects. These usually have a two- or four-week minimum for which you pay.
Bridge Abroad (www.bridgevolunteers.org)
Earthwatch Institute (www.earthwatch.org)
Global Crossroad (www.globalcrossroad.com)
Real Gap (www.realgap.co.uk)
Projects Abroad (www.projects-abroad.co.uk)
UN Volunteers (www.unv.org)
Wayna Hilaña Yanapaña (WHY; www.whybolivia.org)
World Volunteer Web (www.worldvolunteerweb.org)
- Women’s rights in Bolivia are nearing modern standards and cities are more liberal than country regions.
- Despite the importance of women in Bolivian society and the elevation of females in public life (including a female president and women mayors), the machismo mindset still exists. In the home, women rule, while external affairs are largely managed by men.
- As a female traveling alone, the mere fact that you appear to be unmarried and far from your home and family may cause you to appear suspiciously disreputable.
- Modesty is expected of women in much of Spanish-speaking Latin America. Conservative dress and confidence without arrogance are a must for gringas, more to be respectful than anything else. The best advice is to watch the standards of well-dressed Bolivian women in any particular area and follow their example.
- Men are generally more forward and flirtatious in the lowlands, where the Latino culture is more prevalent, than in the altiplano where indigenous cultures prevail. Local women who wear Western dress in the warmer and lower areas tend to show more flesh than elsewhere in the country. That said, as a foreigner, avoid testing the system alone in a bar in a miniskirt.
- As a safety measure for a woman traveler, try to avoid arriving at a place at night. If you need to take a taxi at night, it’s preferable to call for a radio taxi than to flag one down in the street.
- Note that during the period leading up to Carnaval and during the festivities, a woman traveling solo can be a popular target for water bombs, which can feel like quite a harassment or at least an annoyance, even when it is intended as harmless fun.
- Women should avoid hiking alone (as should everybody really!), and should never walk alone at night.
- Teachers can try for private school positions with the greatest demand in maths, science or social studies. New or unqualified teachers must forfeit two months’ salary in return for their training.
- Other travelers find work in gringo bars, hostels or with tour operators. Keep in mind that you are likely taking the job from a Bolivian by doing this.
Weights & Measures
Weights and measures Use the metric system, except when buying produce at street markets, where everything is sold in libras (pounds; 1lb = 0.45kg).