Bolivia travel advice

Tips on travelling in La Paz

Kat Dougal, from our supplier Andean Adventures, shares her Bolivia travel advice for those visiting La Paz:
ďThe Witchesí Market is overrated. Itís interesting enough but most of it has now moved inside shops, which most people donít realise. They think itís a mystical street market Ė which it was Ė but itís just people selling bits and bobs and medicines in shops, and people have a completely different idea of what they will actually see.
What I did enjoy was taking a city tour that took you through lesser-visited parts of La Paz. You hear about how the indigenous communities live in La Paz, and everyday life, rather than just looking at monuments. So that was a really, really nice thing to do. Iíd prefer that over any standard city tour.Ē

Tips on expecting the unexpected

Kat Dougal, from our supplier Andean Adventures, explains why Bolivia is one of her favourite South American destinations:
ďYou have that sense of adventure, you canít expect to go to Bolivia and find that everything works perfectly fine. You do have to go there thinking that you are going to a place that isnít as developed as some other countries Ė and thatís the beauty of it, in my opinion. Itís more of an adventure, but the reward is quite high, as you feel that youíre going somewhere that others arenít.Ē

Advice on avoiding street protests

Bibiana Tellez-Garside, owner of our supplier High Lives:
ďThere is social unrest and thatís important to point out. Itís how people are used to trying to get the government to listen to them before 2003 is when things were very bad. Itís important to understand that there will be social protests that are not harmful, and to follow local news and be wise where to travel. Itís harder for independent travellers, but itís different when people are travelling with a tour operator like us. We and our team in Bolivia will make a tour a bit shorter, or fly people from one point to another. We call our customers and they understand as theyíve seen the news.Ē

Health & safety in Bolivia

HEALTH

Visit your GP six to eight weeks before travelling to Bolivia to arrange any necessary vaccines and medication. Malaria is present in some parts of the Amazon, and is more prevalent in the rainy season. A yellow fever vaccination is also required. Hospitals in major cities have good facilities, but if travelling to rural areas bring a basic medical kit, including first aid and treatments such as rehydration sachets and painkillers. Altitude is the number one danger in Bolivia; it’s very, very high. La Paz’s El Alto airport is one of the highest in the world, so it’s recommended to descend as soon as you arrive, and work your way back up slowly, especially if planning a tour of the Altiplano or Salt Flats, which may take you up to 5,000m. Be especially cautious if planning to hike at altitude. If you do feel unwell, descending even a few hundred metres will help greatly. Dehydration worsens altitude sickness, so keep well hydrated. Coca tea is also rumoured to help. Alcohol makes the symptoms much, much worse, while the altitude speeds up the effects of alcohol and worsens hangovers, even after just a couple of drinks. So be careful. Although much of Bolivia may be chilly – or even downright freezing – the altitude and proximity to the equator are a dangerous combination; the sun is especially fierce but you won’t feel it. Very high factor sunscreens are required, and, again, more water, especially because of the dry desert air. Be particularly careful with children. Bolivian food is certainly improving in terms of safety as well as variety, though tap water is not safe to drink and you should be careful with ice cubes and uncooked vegetables. In this meat-loving country, vegetarians may have a hard time; even 'vegetarian' soups may have meat broth, and salads may contain small pieces of meat. Wear long sleeves and trousers in the jungle, this will help prevent malaria as well as other illnesses such as dengue fever, which has no vaccine. In an emergency, call 118.

SAFETY

In general, Bolivia is a safe country to travel in. Exercise the usual precautions, particularly in cities, busy tourist areas and on public transport; keep passports, credit cards and cash in a concealed money belt, and don’t keep valuables on display. Carry photocopies of your passport as ID when walking around; leave the original in a safe place. If using a taxi, book one through your hotel or choose a radio taxi which has the company name and number on the roof, not an unmarked minicab. Buy comprehensive health insurance before departure which covers any activities you may be planning to do in Bolivia. Protests, roadblocks and demonstrations are just a way of life in Bolivia – the way that everyone from farmers and miners to milk producers and ethnic minorities express their demands to the government. These are unlikely to be of danger to tourists, and your tour company should be following the news in order to keep you away, but if you do come across any protests it’s advisable to keep a distance. The biggest issue is with disrupted travel; blocking roads, burning piles of tyres and withholding fuel can all cause chaos. Again, any reputable tour company working in Bolivia should be prepared for this and able to organise alternative transportation if necessary. Prison tours are illegal and dangerous, despite what you may be told by would-be guides. The ‘Death Road’ historically refers to the high number of lethal accidents involving buses, rather than bicycles. However, cycling accidents do still happen here, and may be caused due to poorly maintained bikes; check everything is in working order before you set off. A hairpin bend on an Andean road is not the time to find out your brakes are dodgy. Slippery trails can also be hazardous; avoid this tour after rain. If travelling by boat on Lake Titicaca or in the Amazon region, be sure to wear a lifejacket. Boats may not be well maintained. Cocaine is the third biggest producer of cocaine in the world. The drug may be easily available, but it is still illegal, with harsh prison sentences for possession. Check the FCO website for safety and travel updates.

Our top Bolivia Holiday

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Bolivia tour, tailor made

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Bolivia travel advice

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Bolivia travel advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.
Guides' recommendations for restaurants tended to be higher-end, but the food was excellent
- Chris Fleckney
"We had a mixture of private tours with our own guide and driver, and small group tours (Uyuni and pampas) – this worked really well for us. Local hotels are often converted colonial houses, which have a charm of their own. Guides' recommendations for restaurants tended to be higher-end, but the food was excellent and there was no problem at all with food hygiene (we even ate the salads)." - Chris Fleckney

"Be prepared for early mornings, the possibility of altitude sickness... The more in shape you are, the more you will get out of the trip as well!" - Rachel Carbonell

"Be careful with public transport! We got stuck in a roadblock protest and the bus couldn`t go any further. The protesters themselves advised us to cross and find a taxi on the other side. Definitely worth doing. Got to our destination in time... Had we stayed with the bus, who knows when we would have got there." - Janet Balling
Make sure you book at least 3 nights there [Chalalan Ecolodge]; you then don't have to hurry your stay and can appreciate everything there is to see
- Harriet Holloway
"If going to the Eco Lodge [in Madidi National Park], take a head torch, a padlock and crocs. Also be prepared to be bitten very badly by mosquitoes." - Jane Wright

"Be prepared to live out of a suitcase and enjoy travelling. Not for people who just like to sit on a beach all day. If you like exploring and want to learn about different countries then this holiday gives you more than you can imagine." - Ann Hammersley

"Make sure you book at least 3 nights there [Chalalan Ecolodge]; you then don't have to hurry your stay and can appreciate everything there is to see at a slower pace and you have time to relax in the surroundings of the jungle!" - Harriet Holloway
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Ali Martin] [La Paz skyline: EEJCC] [Health and safety: Mark Taylor] [Chris Fleckney Quote: Michael Hermann] [Harriet Holloway: Rodrigo Mariaca]
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