Bolivia is the most underrated country in South America.
Whilst playing backseat to countries like Peru and Argentina in tourism for decades, some of the best things to do in the continent are rooted deeply in the extreme diversity, history, and affordability Bolivia has to offer.
And whilst Brazil might be famous for the amazon, Peru for the Inca Trail, and Chile for Patagonia, It is Bolivia that retains some of the most phenominal sights like it’s own portion of the Amazon, the most dangerous road in the world, the largest salt lake in the world, the Atacama desert, and some of the most unique scenery known to man.
If you are looking for an adventure that offers both extreme value-for-money and adventure you’ll never forget, Bolivia should be your next destination!
Please comment on this post if you have more advice to share about Bolivia, or if you’re looking to meet up with fellow travellers!!
There is an extremely wide variety of accommodation options in Bolivia, from your $500 a night rooms at the La Casono Hotel‘s or Hotel Europa‘s of the world all the way down to some pretty nifty $15 hostel options right in the middle of town.
I recommend you book your hotel in advance just to be sure you get the best available room in this country which is still trying to cater for the massive increase in tourism of late.
To find the best rates for hotels in La Paz, click here.
For hotels in Rurrenabaque, click here.
For Uyuni, click here.
For Potosi, click here.
- Taxi’s are cheap as chips – most rides around a city will cost between 10 and 20 Bolivianos (USD$1.5-3).
- Traffic is manic, everywhere – Unlike the Asian passive-aggressive methods or getting around, Bolivians like to express their distain with prolonged honking and a total lack of respect for lane markings or traffic lights.
- It’s generally warm to hot – don’t bother with anything more than a shirt and shorts, but do remember your sunscreen in the afternoon!
- Wifi is available, but sketchy – in your nicer hotels, the wifi is outstanding, but anywhere else you will struggle for consistent connection.
- The food is cheaper than ever – street dishes are insanely tasty and will cost you anywhere from USD$1-3. Even the nice restaurants max out at USD$7-8.
- The people are extremely friendly – Everyone is happy to help, but keep your belongings under close watch.
- ATMs are abundant – Check this article out to avoid fees!
- The local currency is called Bolivianos and is worth about USD$15 for every 100Bolivianos.
- Most countries dont need a visa. Although Americans do. Check this link for the details.
- The Ladies dressed traditionally wearing bowler hats are called Cholitas. They are a dying breed and should be treated with a great deal of respect.
- You can barter in this country. In fact, it’s expected.
- Leave a small tip at restaurants and for tour guides.
When you think of Bolivia, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Cocaine? Uyuni Salt Flats? The Amazon?
True, Bolivia is pretty well known for all of these things, but it’s largest city, La Paz, the highest altitude capital in the world, is actually one of the coolest places you can go in South America.
And although it actually only plays home to around 2 million people in total, you’d swear it was more populated than Rio or Mexico City simply but looking at it from one of the many observation points around town.
You see, La Paz is split into 2 sections:
There are those that live in the original city built at the bottom of the valley, and those who live on the plateau on the outer rim, El Alto.
But wherever you go, and contrary to so many dodgy tour guides, you’ll get a feeling of warmth, smiles, and general helpfulness from the locals.
1. You absolutely MUST take a tour down Death Road
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or you prefer to keep it safe, you MUST build up the courage to hop on a tour down Death Road.
Named so by The Inter-American Development Bank to reflect the hundreds of people who have died driving off the cliff over the decades, the road is now most commonly used by the number of tour companies who offer full-day experiences from the top to the bottom, winding around sheer cliffs at up to 60km/hour if you so dare.
There are a wide range of companies that offer this tour, but there are only a few that are trusted by the wider tourist community.
With prices varying from USD$25 up to USD$75 depending on the company and bike you go with, its highly recommended to err on the side of caution and book with a reputable company like Gravity Assist of Barracuda who have the best bikes and biggest workshops in South America to make sure you get home safe.
At the end of it, you’ll be presented with a ‘I survived Death Road shirt’, and you’ll march proudly back into La Paz having completed it’s coolest experience on offer.
All companies provide all transfers, hot showers, protective gear, bikes, a free shirt, DVD, and food.
Just go with your gut when making your choice.
2. Cholita Wrestling is only fun when you add alcohol
If you read the lonely planet guide, you’ll be advised to book a ticket to Cholita Wrestling.
It looks like a whole bunch of fun, right? After all, who wouldn’t want to see a bunch of ladies beating each other up?
Unfortunately, the whole experience was a little tiresome to say the least.
Although it will only set you back about USD$12 for a ticket that includes transfers, snacks, and a souvenir, it’s the general quality of the product that will have you looking around at your mates wondering who’s turn it is to buy the beers.
The bus transfer is tediously slow, where if you’re unlucky enough to be the first on the bus, you’ll wait a good hour and a half while the driver picks the whole town up on the way.
And when you eventually arrive, you’ll realize that this traditional blood sport has been watered down to a very amateurish, local recreation center-hosted, D-grade WWE battle where the script is the same for each fight:
Fat, older lady initially has the upper hand against the younger agile lady, but then the underdog eventually gains her confidence and overcomes her hardships to win, whilst all along the referee was comically jumping out the way and waving his finger.
To be frank, I guess it’s something you need to do whilst in La Paz. But don’t come with high expectations and don’t forget the beers to lighten the mood a little.
3. For the best view of the city, take the cable car!
For a city that doesn’t seem to have had any public investment for decades, there is one piece of infrastructure that puts most of the rest of the world to shame:
The cable cars.
Connecting the city below with the upper plateau, these state-of-the-art cars and terminals are both super cheap (USD$0.20 a ride), super quiet, and extremely convenient when trying to beat the traffic, get the best view of the city, or simply get from one city to the next.
The yellow cable car will give you the best views, whilst the green will take you to a modern part of town you would swear was a suburb in the USA.
4. Street food here is top notch and super cheap
What you’ll quickly realize about La Paz is that every consumer good has its own street. There is a street full of stores for fruit, one for sewing equipment, one for wall plaster, one for car parts, fake football shirts, hairdressers, tour guides, alcohol, and so on.
But everywhere you will find street food vendors. You wont find a supermarket in this city, but you will find top notch snacks, fruit juices, and meat/rice dishes for less than it would cost to get on the bus.
5. The walking tour will be the best you’ve ever taken
The Red Cap tour, which starts outside the San Pedro Prison in the middle of the city (read the book ‘Marching Powder’) daily at 11am and 3pm, is an absolute must if you want an informed intro to this bustling, vibrant city.
You’ll learn of the history of the Prison, the culture of protests, the plight of Presidents, the best places to find food, the culture of the Cholita, and the history of the witch’s markets.
Before you know it, you’ll be considering buying yourself a Llama fetus for good luck.
If you’re in Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, or heck, even Peru, then I implore you to make sure the Uyuni Salt Flats in southern Bolivia is on your itinerary.
I know what you’re thinking, “Salt flats? Really? The place where all the clichéd photos of people fighting toy dinosaurs are taken?”
Well, my response to that is, “HELL YEA!”
It’s extremely tough to describe the breadth and otherworldliness of this place.
It’s impossible to imagine driving across a dried up 300km-wide lake for hours on end without seeing anything but mirage after mirage of distant mountains.
In the morning, you’ll be shuffled into one of many 1990s Landcruisers where your driver will first take you out to the local town that services the salt flats.
This town, Colchani, exists for two reasons:
- To harvest and package salt for Bolivian consumption; and
- To sell you hand-made clothes and las-minute photo props for your trip to the salt flats.
Whatever your penchant, it’s a nice little 30 minute stop to wake you up.
On the Salt Flats
Though at that point, you can sleep no longer.
To your left you’ll see a gang of motorcyclists scooting across the planes, and to your right will be another landcruiser charging ahead with you.
Eventually, Fish Island will approach to a scaleable point and you’ll start to get a level of context the huge ocean you just drove across.
Yes, this huge cactus-covered rock was once an island millions of years ago.