05 Jun What do I need to know before traveling to Bolivia
by Raquel Lopez Rosa from Brazil
Bolívia has some amazing places
Although it is a developing country, you can find cities with a frenetic and urban vibe, such as Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Sucre, La Paz. You can also enjoy places with extraordinary nature, such as Copacabana in front of Lake Titicaca and its amazing island (the most famous is Isla Del Sol), Salar de Uyuni, the Cactus Island, the lagoons near Salar de Uyuni, Mount Chacaltaya, Valley of the Moon, the ruins of Tiwuanaco, the Great Train Graveyard or the famous Death Road.
You can plan your route according to the things you like doing.
It’s a great destination for backpackers
Bolivia is located in the mid-west of Latin America and it borders many countries, like Brazil to the north and east, Argentina and Chile to the south, and Chile and Peru to the west. So if your intention is to make a super tour and visit many countries at a time, Bolivia can be a great choice, since it’s on the way to many countries.
I went to Bolivia in the summer and still needed to wear my heaviest coat. Because of the country’s altitude variations, it’s important that you have light clothes to endure a 40ºC (104ºF) weather in Santa Cruz, as well as a heavy coat for snow in Chacaltava or a night at Salar de Uyuni. And also practical clothes, because at the Salar, for example, you’ll feel extremely hot during the day and nearly freeze at night.
Sunblock and Moisturizer are a must!
If you forget these two very important accessories, you’re screwed. There are cities where you’ll need one more than the other, but most of the time you’ll really need both. In places with higher altitude, the sun is more intense and even when it’s cold, you can still get a tan (or a sunburn), and if you go to Salar de Uyuni Isla Del Sol: USE BOTH heavily and frequently.
Beware of the food
Taking as reference the Brazilian habits and higene, it’s important to be very careful with what you eat in Bolivia. I saw people selling yogurts in the sun with no regrigeration, a woman serving juice while putting both the cup and her hand into the bowl, sweat dropping on top of food to be served, and forget about wearing gloves or tying up hair before cooking. People say that Bolivia’s welcome gift is food poisoning. And since nobody wants to get sick during the trip, you’d better pay attention to what you eat. It’s been a week since I came home and I’m still getting over a bad sandwich I had on the trip.
Everything has a price and the more you look like a foreigner the more expensive things are
I confess that this was part that most annoyed me during the trip. Since many things are sold on the streets, there are very few places with labelled prices, which on one hand is good because you can try to negotiate, but normally they’ll charge you based on how you look.
When I was in La Paz, at Calle de Las Brujas, I heard a saleswoman saying “it’s not expensive because you are Brazilian, we charge a lot more from Europeans”. Another example is when I was in Copacabana and I met two Argentinians, we were looking for a hostel and a man offered me a card, when I asked for the price he said it was $40BOB, so I showed the card to the boys, who asked the man for the price and he said it was $20BOB.
So pay attention, negotiate, and try to get information about prices beforehand. And for the trips, get prices from different agencies (if you need one, because there are many things you can do without going through a travel agency) because they love to pull one over tourists.
Lastly, everything you need you have to pay for, including the use of bathrooms, I used to joke with my friends: “don’t fart or we’ll have to pay $2BOB”.
The Mercosul treaty allows South-Americans to travel to Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela showing only your ID, but even with this “free access”, when you enter Bolivia you receive a green piece of paper called “Permiso” and it’s important that you keep it safe, because without it you’re considered illegal and subject to fine.
It may be the best trip of your life
During the trip you’re likely to meet many backpackers and travellers, and most of the people I’ve talked to, from many different nationalities, described the trip to Bolivia and its neighbouring countries as the best trip of their lives. It certainly was for me too.
Although Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, it has a very rich culture. Officially known as “Plurinational State of Bolivia”, its own constitution tries to recognize and protect the diversity of peoples living in Bolivia. And as mentioned in the previous topics (1 and 2), it’s a beautiful country, that even with its poverty and difficulties, has extraordinary places that are, from my experience, filled with the most amazing travellers.
Wipe towels can be very useful due to the possibility of you being unable to shower, either because there are no showers or it’s too cold and you won’t have the guts to take a shower, or because the water won’t heat, or you don’t have money to pay for the shower or simply because a bathroom option doesn’t exist.
P.s.: Some landscapes are worth the lack of shower.