The advantages of a private vehicle include flexibility, access to remote areas and the chance to seize photo opportunities. Most major roads have now been paved but some (especially in the Amazon) are in varying stages of decay, making high-speed travel impossible and inadvisable.
Preparation The undaunted should prepare their expeditions carefully. Bear in mind that spare parts are a rare commodity outside cities. A high-clearance 4WD vehicle is essential for off-road travel. You’ll need tools, spare tires, a puncture repair kit, extra gas and fluids, and as many spare parts as possible. For emergencies, carry camping equipment and plenty of rations. You’ll also need to purchase a good travel insurance policy back home (check with your credit card to see if it covers rental insurance in Bolivia).
Fuel types Low-grade (85-octane) gasoline (nafta) and diesel fuel (gasoil) is available at surtidores (gas stations) in all cities and major towns, but in more remote areas these can sometimes run out. Before embarking on any long journeys make sure you know where you can get fuel and, if necessary, take it with you. Gasoline costs about B$8.68 per liter for foreigners (the price of fuel is subsidized for Bolivians, who pay about half the price) and more in remote areas.
Motorcycles In lowland areas where temperatures are hot and roads are scarce, motorbikes are popular for zipping around the plazas, as well as exploring areas not served by public transportation. They can be rented from about B$100 per day from moto-taxi stands. Note that many travel insurance policies will not cover you for injuries arising from motorbike accidents.
Most Bolivian car-rental agencies will accept your home driver’s license, but if you’re doing a lot of driving, it’s wise to back it up with an International Driver’s License.
Bolivia doesn’t require special motorcycle licenses, but neighboring countries do. All that is normally required for motorcycle and moped rentals is a passport.
Hiring a driver can be a more comfortable and efficient alternative to being squashed in a bus for long periods on bad roads. Alternatively, many people just want transportation to trailheads or base camps, rather than a tour.
Private 4WD service with a driver costs about B$250 to B$300 per hour for the entire car (four to six people). Private taxi service and/or driver service costs B$80 to B$150 per hour.
You can hire drivers through car-rental companies and tour operators. Private taxi drivers may also be hired.
Few travelers in Bolivia rent self-driven vehicles and with high-mountain passes and potholes, not to mention other drivers to contend with, driving in the country is challenging. Only the most reputable agencies service their vehicles regularly, and insurance purchased from rental agencies may cover only accidental damage – breakdowns may be considered the renter’s problem. Check ahead and make sure your credit card covers incidentals.
You must be aged over 25, have a driver’s license from your home country and provide a major credit card or cash deposit (typically around US$1000). You’ll be charged a daily rate and a per-kilometer rate (some agencies allow some free kilometers). They’ll also want you to leave a copy of your passport.
To save money, book online or through an aggregator. Weekly rentals will save you more. Daily rates are about US$50 for small cars, while 4WDs cost upwards of US$100 per day.
Traffic regulations are similar to those in North America or Europe. Speed limits are infrequently posted, but in most cases the state of the road would prevent you from exceeding them anyway. If stopped, you should show your driver’s license rather than your passport. If your passport is requested, only show a copy. Bribes are common here.
Bolivians keep to the right. When two cars approach an uncontrolled intersection from different directions, the driver who honks (or gets there first) tends to have the right of way if passing straight through – but this can be somewhat hit and miss. In La Paz, those going uphill have right of way at an intersection. When two vehicles meet on a narrow mountain road, the downhill vehicle must reverse until there’s room for the other to pass.