What a great choice, fellow traveler! Without a doubt, Bolivia is a wonderful country, so you´ll never regret having chosen it for your vacation.
As you might know, this country in the very heart of South America is known for its wonderful landscapes, its friendly and hardworking people, its cultural richness, and all its aromas, tastes, sights and sounds – which will all turn your travel into an unforgettable experience.
Take it from us, you’ll surely want to share these features with your friends and relatives as soon as possible. That’s why we hope that this brief guide will help you prepare for the most amazing trip of your life, allowing you to return home with the greatest sense of satisfaction, knowing that Bolivia is a unique place where fantasy becomes real...
1 – TRIP PREPARATION
A)Passports and visas
When traveling to Bolivia, be sure your passport is valid for six months beyond the date of entry. Personal documents – your passport and visas – must be carried at all times, but it’s safer to carry photocopies rather than the originals.
Citizens of Australia, Canada, the EU, Great Britain, Japan, Mexico and several other countries may enter Bolivia without a visa for a period of up to 90 days annually (permitted length of stay is initially 30 days, then it can be extended free of charge
Citizens of the USA can obtain an entry visa for a stay of up to 90 days when they land at the airport in La Paz Cruz. This visa costs $135 USD per person, which you can receive after showing your hotel reservation, your passport and your yellow-fever vaccination card.
Chinese citizens also have special visa requirements.
You can also obtain your visa beforehand at a Bolivian consulate in your home country or when crossing the Bolivian border by land (however the requirements for this approach can change and be interpreted arbitrarily, as it has its own particular procedures).
To travel to Bolivia, like to most South American countries, the only vaccination required is the one for yellow-fever. Other recommended vaccinations for traveling to Bolivia include:
• Hepatitis A and B
• Malaria (if you are going to travel to areas in the Amazon)
In addition to vaccinations, we recommend that you be in good physical condition to withstand the high altitudes and climatic variations, as there are areas where the temperature drops to below freezing at night and you will probably have to often travel on steep, unpaved roads for extended periods of time.
Finally, we urge you to take special care with whatever food you eat (you should verify that it was well washed), and take precautions with the water you drink. In fact, there are several areas of the country that don’t have sanitary water supply systems at all. Therefore, drinking bottled water is actually a great idea.
Climate and When to Go
Weather conditions in Bolivia are very different depending on the destination you visit. For instance, La Paz, Potosi and almost all cities and towns located in the highlands (over two miles above sea level) have cool to cold climates, with variations according to the season (the rainy season extends from November to March, and the cooler dry season occurs during the rest of the year). Keep in mind that the cold is more extreme in this region from May to August. Therefore we highly recommend you to bring warm clothes, especially if you plan to visit the capital the other highland areas. During those months, temperatures drop to anywhere from 0° to -20° F.
Other zones in the country, such as Sucre, have from warm to hot weather, with maximum temperatures reaching up to 104° F (Sucre’s record high is 93° F).
A)General Flight and Baggage Information
- International Flights
On most international flights to/from the US, the baggage limit is two pieces of checked luggage, with a total weight limit of 50 pounds (22.68 kilograms). In addition, you are allowed one carry-on item that fits under the seat in front of you. Baggage restrictions are enforced, and excess charges can be costly. So, to avoid any kind of trouble and extra payments, we recommend that you travel light.
- Flights within Bolivia
For domestic flights within Bolivia, passengers are permitted only 20 kg (44 lbs.) of checked luggage and 5 kg (11 lbs.) of carry-on luggage; though this can vary depending on the airline and the route. Exceeding this limit can incur a charge of up to $20 USD per kg, depending on the same factors mentioned above. Flights in Bolivia usually don’t take more than one hour of traveling time to get from one city to another. However, in some cases flights do not go directly to your destination, in which case you can have to wait in a stopover city for up to two hours.
B)Customs and Immigration
When you arrive in Bolivia (you will land at the El Alto International Airport in La Paz), you will pass through Immigration and Customs control. Have your passport ready, as well as your immigration card in hand (which should be filled out on the plane before arrival). You will need to present these to the customs officer.
In accordance with Bolivian law, you shouldn’t pay any taxes or duties for your luggage or for any articles you will use during your trip, including portable items such as photo and video cameras, laptops, radios and CD players. Notwithstanding, consider indicating on your immigration card if you are bringing more than $10,000 USD in cash into Bolivia.
The official currency in Bolivia is the “boliviano” (Bs.), with bills in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Bs., and coins minted in .10, .20, .50; 1, 2 and 5 Bs. One US dollar is currently equal to Bs. 6.90, though the exchange rate may vary depending on where you exchange your money (banks are certainly the most reliable places for exchanging funds).
Except at some restaurants, travel agencies and hotels, you will need Bs. in order to buy almost anything in the country. In most cases it’s better to pay in cash.
ATMs are commonplace in Bolivia’s cities and towns, and are compatible with international debit and credit cards. However, for traveling to some touristic destinations – like Moon Valley and others located inside protected areas – you will need to withdraw enough money from an ATM in the closest town to cover food, souvenirs, tips, etc.
Major credit cards are only accepted in some tourist areas. In the main cities, they are accepted at 3- to 5-star hotels, some restaurants, travel agencies, some souvenir shops and malls, but in rural destinations only a few places accept them. Some merchants add a 10-12% surcharge when you use a credit card to make a purchase.
Tipping should be treated as a personal matter, and a gratuity should only be given if you feel the service warrants it. Tips vary from trip to trip depending on group size, accommodations and the destination. Usually tips are not included in advance unless otherwise noted on the detailed itinerary or requested by the traveler (if so, they will be customized for each trip and will be included in the final price).
That said, tips usually don’t exceed $3 US per person (in Bolivian restaurants, for bell boys, etc.), except for full-day guides, drivers and tour conductors – who usually expect tips of $10 per person (in cases where there are 2-6 individual tourists) or $100 per group.
3 –SPEAKING OF BOLIVIA (useful facts for your journey)
The country’s cultural diversity and ethnic make-up are equally fascinating. Three centuries of colonial rule have left their mark on the nation’s language, religion and architecture, but this is essentially little more than a veneer overlying indigenous cultural traditions that stretch back to long before the arrival of the Spanish. Though superficially embracing the Catholic religion, many Bolivians are equally at home making offerings to the mountain gods or performing other seemingly strange rites, such as blessing vehicles with libations of alcohol. And although Spanish is the language of government and business, the streets buzz with the cadences of Aymara, Quechua and more than thirty other indigenous languages.
The majority of the population lives in urban areas, mainly in the cities of La Paz-El Alto and Santa Cruz (both with more than 2.5 million inhabitants).
Over half are “mestizo” (mixed European and Aymara-Quechua peoples). Another 10% of the population is composed of people of African ancestry and smaller indigenous groups. Ethnic Europeans make up less than 5% of the population but dominate Bolivia’s private economy.
While Spanish is the most widely spoken language in Bolivia, the government has officially declared all 36 indigenous languages as official. In Bolivia, many people speak Aymara or Quechua, especially in rural areas. English is used at major hotels, airlines and travel agencies, but is of little use elsewhere. Speaking at least a little Spanish will be very helpful.
The predominant religion in Bolivia is Christianity, with about 65% of the population practicing Roman Catholicism. Some indigenous belief systems are still practiced in rural parts of the country as well as in cities due to syncretism – especially during local holidays.
Bolivia has 22 National Protected Areas, so please be careful and always follow the instructions of your local guides while visiting the one of these sites.
Don’t forget that these places are national parks and are home to a number of endangered species, therefore these should be respected and enjoyed in a thoughtful manner.
It almost goes without saying that you should not collect or purchase any items made from endangered plants or animal species. This is not only illegal in Bolivia but probably in your home country, and it also provides financial incentives for poachers, hunters and traffickers to pillage these natural resources.