Bus travel is cheap and relatively safe in Bolivia, but can also be quite uncomfortable and nerve-wracking at times. Buses are the country's most popular type of transport, and come in various forms.
Types Long-distance bus services are called flotas, large buses are known as buses, three-quarter (usually older) ones are called micros, and minibuses are just that.
Terminals If looking for a bus terminal, ask for la terminal terrestre or la terminal de buses. Each terminal charges a small fee (a couple of bolivianos), which you pay to an agent upon boarding or when purchasing a ticket at the counter.
Theft There have been numerous reports of items disappearing from buses’ internal overhead compartments and luggage holds. Put any valuables into your day pack and keep them close to you in the bus. Try to watch as your luggage is loaded – there have been instances of bags becoming ‘lost’ or ‘disappearing.’ You will be given a baggage tag, which you must show when reclaiming your bag. A lock is a good idea: very occasionally belongings are stolen from within bags while they are in the hold.
Departures Except on the most popular runs, most companies’ buses depart at roughly the same time to the same destinations, regardless of how many companies are competing for the same business. Between any two cities, you should have no trouble finding at least one daily bus. On the most popular routes, you can choose between dozens of daily departures.
Safety It’s always a good idea to check the vehicles of several companies before purchasing your ticket. Some buses are ramshackle affairs with broken windows, cracked windshields and worn tires; it’s best to stay away from these and look for a better vehicle, even if it means paying a little more. Don’t try to save on safety.
The only choices you’ll have to make are on major, long-haul routes, where the better companies offer coche (or ‘bus’), semicama (half-sleeper, with seats that recline a long way and footrests) and cama (sleeper) services. The cost can be double for sleeper service, but is often worth it for the comfort. Tourist buses to major destinations such as Copacabana and Uyuni are twice the price of standard buses, but are safer and more comfortable.
The DVD player on the newest buses will be in better shape than the reclining seats (expect Van Damme all night), heaters may function, snacks may be served and toilets (yes, toilets) may work. Be prepared.
Prices vary according to the different standard of bus (from the more luxurious bus cama service to the ancient Bluebird-style buses) and the length of trip (whether overnight or short day hop).
To be certain, reserve bus tickets at least several hours in advance. Many buses depart in the afternoon or evening and arrive at their destination in the small hours of the morning. On most major routes there are also daytime departures.