Bolivia Country Info – The Compact Bolivia Guide

Country info FAQ

What is Bolivia and where is Bolivia?

Bolivia is an inland state in South America. The state has a more or less triangular shape. Separating Bolivia from the Pacific Ocean to the west are Peru and Chile, to the northeast are Brazil, and to the southeast are Paraguay and Argentina.  

Bolivia was officially founded in 1825 with its independence from Spain. The name Bolivia even goes back to Simón Bolívar, the freedom fighter who achieved independence. In 2009, however, there was a re-establishment under a new constitution, but this was in large part also a political feint to extend President Morales’ term limits from 2 to 3 legislatures. The official name of Bolivia since then has been Plurinational State of Bolivia.

What language is spoken in Bolivia or what is the national language of Bolivia?

In Bolivia there are a staggering 36 official national languages. In addition to Spanish, which is spoken by almost 70% of the population, the indigenous languages Quechua, Aymara  and Guaraní  can also be found outside the large cities. Each department of Bolivia must use at least one language besides Spanish as an official language.

How much time difference does Bolivia have and what time is it now in Bolivia?

Bolivia does not have a time change between summer and winter time.

According to German winter time, Bolivia  has -5h time difference from Germany

According to German summer time, Bolivia has -6h time difference from Germany

This means when it is 18:00 in the evening in Germany, it is 13:00 in Bolivia (German winter time) or (German summer time) 12:00 at noon on the same day.

What is the capital of Bolivia?

The capital of Bolivia has been Sucre since the founding of the state in 1826. However, the seat of government of Bolivia is in La Paz. The government moved there at the beginning of the 20th century because Sucre is too remote. Similar to Germany with Berlin and Bonn, Bolivia thus has a kind of second capital. Bolivia’s Supreme Court continues to sit in Sucre, while the presidential palace, the congress and the electoral commission are in La Paz.

What is the currency of Bolivia?

The currency of Bolivia is called Boliviano (Bs or BOB). 

What do you call the people of Bolivia?

The inhabitants of Bolivia are called Bolivians (the Bolivian, the Bolivian)

The flag of Bolivia: The coat of arms is more commonly seen in an official context. Normally, the flag is used without the coat of arms. The war flag also has a laurel wreath around the coat of arms.

Security in Bolivia

How safe is Bolivia?

We personally expected Bolivia to be worse. Many houses are never properly completed, giving the communities an extremely poor andrun-down and impoverished look. However, a tax loophole is to blame for this, as one does not have to pay property tax until completion. Nevertheless, one must not forget that Bolivia is still considered the poorest country in South America. 

We definitely recommend following the usual safety precautions for tourists, avoiding very remote poor areas, exercising caution especially at night and leaving valuables in the hotel and not displaying them. 

Here you can find our compilation for tips on travel safety

The app Geosure rates Bolivia broadly with ascore of 50-60 (0 safe, 100 dead, Germany 34). This puts it in the same range as its neighbouring countries. However, individual neighbourhoods can also achieve scores of up to 80, and should therefore be avoided at all costs, as just mentioned. 

Compared to many other countries we have travelled tothe Bolivians are a rather closed people. It is therefore often a bit difficult to get into contact with them. If people approach you very openly and perhaps even a little pushily, this is definitely a reason to become suspicious and exercise increased caution.

Bolivia lies on the seismically active zone of the Circumpacific Fire Belt. Here there are geysers, active volcanoes and strong earthquakes can occur. The coastal regions are usually more affected by earthquakes than the high-Andean regions or the hinterland. Therefore, avoid quarters on steep mountain slopes, directly on the seashore or buildings that look unstable.

You can find out more about earthquake preparedness and the right thing to do here. 

Another point we want to strongly encourage you to make is not to underestimate height. Altitude sickness is not only terribly unpleasant but can also be dangerous. Acclimatise slowly from altitudes of around 2000 metres and avoid flying from low-lying areas to the high Andes. Also Lake Titicaca, La Paz and the Uyuni should not be approached directly if you are not used to the altitude.

Altitude sickness information

Topographic map of Bolivia (here you can see how high individual places are)

The Foreign Office has a list of warnings for Bolivia. These all seem very reasonable to us. Don’t let it drive you crazy, but take a look.

Safety advice from the Foreign Office for Bolivia

Although the Foreign Office has a reputation among many travellers as an alarmist, we would advise you to read through the hints before you travel. Don’t let this put you off, because Bolivia is a diverse and exciting country to visit. Nevertheless, it is good to have in mind what can happen in order to be able to provide or react appropriately in case of doubt. 

Here we have also summarised the highlights of the Foreign Office for you: 

  • Hijacking in taxis: You are driven to remote places, forced to withdraw money or extorted your credit card and pin – use official radio taxis!
  • Fake police officers: Fake identity checks. They take valuables from you or take you to the “police station” to rob you in remote places. Similar to the taxi scam – police checks on the open road are unusual, therefore absolutely suspicious. Show your badge, call the police station and ask.

In Bolivia, by the way, ID is mandatory. Therefore, always have an identity card with you. In discos and bars, there are sometimes real controls and the police may also detain you until they have ascertained your personal details.

  • Trick thefts,pickpocketing or unofficial money changers who make off with money. Especially in tourist places (bus stations, squares, sights)
  • K.O. drops in bars and discos, robberies and rapes – Do not accept open food and drinks from strangers – Also in night buses!  
  • Poisoning at Ayahuasca ceremonies – In Bolivia avoid hallucinogenic plants – In neighbouring Peru there is some kind of official certification of suppliers. 
  • Abuse as drug mules: Do not take foreign luggage, beware of lure offers on the internet. Lock luggage. 
  • Malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever

Flights and travel to Bolivia

Bolivia has three international airports. The airport of El Alto, near La Paz (LPB), the smaller airport of  Cochabamba (CBB) and the airport of Santa Cruz (VVI). If you are not used to the altitude of 3500-4000 metres around El Alto / La Paz, you should prefer the lower situated airport of Santa Cruz (~430m). The airport of Cochabamba is at ~2500 metres in a just acceptable range. The largest airport in the country is accordingly the airport of Santa Cruz “Viru Viru Internacional”

Currently, no single airline offers direct flights to Bolivia. However, with a change of flight, for example in Madrid or neighbouring countries such as Peru, you can get to Bolivia with the airlines Iberia, Copa Airlines, Avianca, Air europa and LATAM Airlines.

The best flight to Bolivia in our test was a Cologne to Madrid flight and from there to Santa Cruz for 430€. The flight time to Bolivia is 16 hours and 35 minutes

In Bolivia, as in many other countries in Central and South America, travellers are occasionally abused as drug mules without their knowledge. Therefore, you should only take your own luggage, not that of other travellers, strangers or acquaintances you do not trust 100%. Do not leave your luggage unattended, lock it if possible and do not trust any dubious bait-and-switch offers that promise to finance your travels.

You can also enter Bolivia from most neighbouring countries without any problems overland to Bolivia. The biggest obstacles are the rather poor road network and the opening hours of the borders. As usual, it is important to check at the border that you have the exit stamp from the previous country and the entry stamp for Bolivia. You usually have to get the stamps at separate stations, which can be several kilometres apart (e.g. at the border crossing at San Pedro de Atacama from Chile). Especially when travelling by bus, it is important to make sure that the stamps are complete, as they have been waved through in rare cases. The stamp must have a date and a number of days written on it. This shows the length of your visa. If you are missing a stamp, number or date, point it out to the official or contact the nearest migration office immediately. 

Summary of entry requirements of Bolivia

For entry into Bolivia, a German passport is sufficient, but it must still be valid for at least six months at the time of entry. Normally, you will receive a visa of 30 days, which you can extend to up to 90 days per calendar year by extending orvisa hopping (leaving the country and re-entering directly). Onward travel tickets are not usually required for entry into Bolivia, but occasionally you will need to present your yellow fever vaccination. Those travelling alone with underage children sometimes need a power of attorney from the parent who is not travelling with them.

Climate & Weather in Bolivia

The rainy season in Bolivia runs from November to April. From May to October, on the other hand, it is dry. This is also important for visiting the most important tourist destination, the Salar de Uyuni, because only in the rainy season is there a huge mirror, but the Salar is only accessible to a limited extent.

The most important factor in Bolivia’s climate and weather is its slope. Large parts of the country lie in the high Andes at over 1500 metres and higher. The altiplano, a high plateau between 3000 and 4000 metres, is particularly densely populated. The climate there is temperately fresh. Temperatures vary more between day and night than between summer and winter. Those who want to visit the Altiplano should expect autumn temperatures and pack warm clothes. A thick jacket and a hat are essential here. 

In Salar Uyuni and this region, temperatures can also drop well below freezing at night and it is usually anything but warm during the day as well. 

In the northeast of the country there are no mountains, however. Here the climate is all year round tropical hot with temperatures above thirty degrees and lots of rain. Here you should definitely bring light clothing and mosquito repellent. 

Sights in Bolivia

Cities in Bolivia

  • La Paz: Seat of government in valley basin with cable cars 
  • El Alto: Former district of La Paz, highest metropolis in the world
  • Sucre: < Colonial city of the 16th century Spaniards, capital of Bolivia, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Famous for white houses and chocolate.
  • Santa Cruz de la Sierra: largest city of Bolivia, economic centre (rather little touristy)
  • Cochabamba: Famous for the Marian festival in August the  Fiesta de la Virgen de Urkupiña
  • Oruro: Famous carnival in February, three days until Rose Monday. Indigenous carnival on Maundy Thursday. Hotels and buses often booked out well in advance.  
  • Potosí: Mining town with silver mines  from the 17th and 18th centuries. World-famous city centre, one of the most magnificent and best-preserved colonial cities in the world…;
  • Tarija: Beautiful landscape, old buildings, culture, palaeontology and astronomy
  • Copacabana: small town on Lake Titicaca
  • Coroico and Chulumani: villages near Death Road, nice to get to know rural Bolivia

Nature & National Parks in Bolivia

Cultural Sites and Ruins in Bolivia

  • El Fuerte: Inca towns near Samaipata. First Pre-Inca settlement from ca. 1500 BC
  • Tiwanaku (also Tiahuanaco): Pre-Inca archaeological site from ca. 1500 BC
  • Jesuit Mission of the Chiquitos: the six sites were founded as ideal cities. 

Transportation in Bolivia

Rental cars in Bolivia

Traffic, especially in the cities in Bolivia is chaotic and most road users do not obey traffic rules one bit. Outside towns, the roads are often poorly constructed and full of holes.Many stretches are only passable with an off-road vehicle

Filling stations are few and far between in some areas. You should therefore refuel whenever possible.

If you want to do the Salar de Uyuni Tour with your own vehicle, do it in a group with at least one driver who knows the route. The route is not signposted, partly without roads and there is a risk that the car will sink in the salt desert. In addition, you should definitely have off-road experience. 

In Bolivia you need the international driving licence, which is only valid in conjunction with the national driving licence. 

Taxi in Bolivia

Taxis in Bolivia are very cheap compared to taxis in Germany. As a tourist, however, you usually pay a little more than as a local. Especially women travelling alone should make sure to take only official radio taxis and not travel alone overland by taxi. Make sure that taxis in cities are visibly marked as taxis and that the company name is clearly recognisable. If you want to take a taxi at night, have your hotel or restaurants call one for you. Besides taxis, there are also driving service providers such as UBER in Bolivia. However, depending on the region, there are only a few drivers, if any, so the system doesn’t really work well and only with a lot of cancellations and long waiting times. 

Buses and public transport in Bolivia

Bolivia has a well-functioning and affordable bus system. Bus providers are required by law to stick to their timetables, so they are very reliable. There are different types of buses in Bolivia. Depending on the destination, there may only be minibuses. Buses are usually cheaper if you don’t book them in advance. This is usually not necessary. If you’re on a budget, arrive an hour before departure (the tighter the cheaper) and don’t let the gentlemen walking around talk to you, as they’re usually more expensive. However, if you want to be comfortable, the gentlemen are also not that much more expensive and usually very helpful. 

On Bolivian buses, the usual precautions apply. Do not leave your luggage unattended, place hand luggage under your legs, not on the overhead rack. Also, as described above, do not accept open drinks or food from fellow travellers, as there have been isolated cases of robbery by means of knockout drops here.

Flights within Bolivia

Flights within Bolivia tend to be relatively cheap and easier than bus journeys on long-haul routes. The main airlines within Bolivia are Amaszonas, Boliviana de Aviación – BoA and Ecojet 

Trains within Bolivia

There are four train routes in Bolivia. The main routes are Uyuni – Oruro and Puerto Quijarro – Santa Cruz. These routes can also be booked online. The routes run from Villazón on the Argentinian border via Tupiza and Uyuni to Oruro or from the Brazilian border to Santa Cruz and from there south to Yacuiba. Another small route leads from Sucre to Potosi. 

The train rides have a reputation for being beautiful thanks to the scenery outside the windows, but sometimes time-consuming and nerve-wracking. 

Hotels in Bolivia

Like most homes and restaurants in Bolivia, many hotels seem not quite finished or a bit run down. Really nice hotels are rather rare and tend to be found in the upper price segment. When choosing a hotel in Bolivia, it is important to make sure that there is hot water and heating. Both are not a matter of course. Since single glazing is common in Bolivia, rooms cool down very easily at night.

If you plan to cross the Salar de Uyuni, pack warm clothes, as some of the hotels here get really cold at night. Your own sleeping bag, hot water bottles and pocket warmers can also save you through the nights here. 

On tours with group rooms, we often hear that valuables have gone missing. Therefore, if possible, shoot your bags.

Refreshing towels can replace a shower for a few days if necessary. 

Generally, it is also common in Colombia to have towels and toilet paper in hotels. However, especially in cheap accommodation, we would not rely completely on this and carry some ourselves. Even in public toilets there is not always toilet paper, so it is better to always have some in your jacket pocket. 

Many hotels in Bolivia do not have WIFI. Available WIFI is usually very slow. 

Eating in Bolivia

Most classic dishes in Bolivia consist of potato, rice, vegetables and meat. Quinoa soup with vegetables is also a common dish. In general, Bolivian cuisine tends to be very mildly spiced, so tourists like to reach for the salt shaker. However, caution is advised with sauces, which tend to be spicy. 

Bolivia is considered the birthplace of the potato. No wonder, then, that the tuber seems to be ubiquitous. Bolivians also like to eat meat. Beef is very common, as is chicken. But pork and lama can also be found on many menus. In rural areas, rabbits and guinea pigs can also be found.

Lunch (almuerzo) in Bolivia classically consists of a soup, a main course and a dessert. Sometimes there is also an appetiser beforehand. The whole thing is offered as a menu in many places from about 15 Bs.  

In cities, local cuisine is also dominated bystreet food stalls. Here you can buy empanadas, grilled fish and stews. In some communities, street food stalls even need special hygiene licences. We would approach the stalls with a critical eye but definitely give them a chance. What we can recommend is the giant popcorn sold at the street stalls, especially in the area around Lake Titicaca. 

Conclusion: is a trip to Bolivia worth it?

Bolivia is a superbly scenically diverse country whose natural beauty still receives far too little international attention. Due to the extremealtitude of often over 4000 metres, however, it is not suitable as a holiday destination for Europeans. The time periods that one has to allow foracclimatisation are too long. Moreover, Bolivia is a country that still has a lot of catching up to do economically. This starts with the infrastructure, but also concerns health care and, last but not least, the tourism infrastructure. There is a tourist infrastructure, but the standards are so much lower than in many other countries (also due to the climate and the altitude) that it is overall a very tiring country to travel to. The risk of malaria and other tropical diseasesis also a factor that should not be underestimated, making travel to flatter areas unattractive. 

On the other hand, we would like to take up a lance for Bolivia. As happy as we were to return to flatter and more westerly regions in Chile, we also enjoyed our time in the highlands. The impressions we gained during this time were indescribable. Nevertheless, Bolivia is not a tourist country to spend your one or two weeks annual holiday.But as a travel destination for longer stays in South America and especially the Andean region, we would absolutely recommend it to you. 

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