General Money Entry Requirements Health & safety Weather Embassies Etiquette Public Holidays Attractions Map
Salar de Uyuni ©Judith Duk
Bolivia is known as the 'Tibet of the Americas', the highest and most remote of the countries in South America. It is a landlocked region with two Andean mountain ranges binding the Altiplano, or High Plain, between them. This plain has an altitude ranging from 9,000 to 13,000 feet (3,000 to 4,000m), and is where the majority of the population lives.
The history of the region dates back to the pre-Columbian times, from the ancient Aymará civilisation in 1500 BC who lived on Lake Titicaca, to the Tiahuanaco and the Inca Empire of the Altiplano, until the conquest of the Spanish in 1538. Traces of these civilisations are evident in the architecture of the colonial cities, and displayed in informative museums that can be visited at the sites of ancient ruins.
Bolivia is one of South America's most intriguing countries: it is known to be the nation with the most concentrated indigenous population on the continent, the majority of whom still maintain their traditional culture and beliefs. This living historical culture is one of the reasons that Bolivia is such an exciting and increasingly-popular tourist destination. The landscape is imbued with traditional houses and age-old methods of agriculture, and visitors will find remarkable traditions kept alive in the ancient techniques of weaving, handcrafts and food production. The sounds of this cultural legacy echo in the haunting melodies of the panpipes from the high Altiplano or in the lively tunes emanating from the warmer lowlands.
The dramatic geography affords many adventure opportunities: explorers can track wildlife in the Amazonian basin, drive across the surreal landscape of the Salar de Uyuni, take a boat trip on the world's highest navigable lake, Titicaca, scramble through muddy shafts in the silver mines of Potosi, or hike in the magnificent Andes mountains. There is enough diversity to satisfy many tastes.
A holiday in Bolivia is a juxtaposition of extraordinary altitudes and spectacular landscapes, fascinating remains of ancient civilisations, a rich indigenous culture and vast colonial treasures. Travel here may not always be easy, but it is deeply rewarding.
The international access code for Bolivia is +591. The outgoing code depends on what network is used (e.g. 0010 for Entel, or 0013 for Boliviatel), which is followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001044 for the United Kingdom). The area code for La Paz is 2, but the access code to make a call within the country from another area also depends on what network is used. Mobile phones operate on a GSM network. Internet cafes are widely available in La Paz and other major tourist areas.
Theoretically, 110 (police), 118 (fire department) and 119 (ambulance) are the emergency numbers, but these are not always reliable.
Spanish is an official language, but only 60 to 70 percent of the people actually speak it, and then often only as a second language. There are also many indigenous languages which are official, including Quechua and Aymar.
Travellers to Bolivia over the age of 18 years can bring the following items into the country without incurring customs duty: 100 cigarettes, 25 cigars and 200 grams of tobacco, 1 bottle of alcoholic beverage and a reasonable amount of perfume for personal use. Technology such as cameras, laptops and cellphones are limited to one per person for personal use. Newly purchased goods to the value of US$1,000 per person are also duty free. Travellers departing from the country should note that it is illegal to leave with the following items without prior written permission from the appropriate local authority: pre-Colombian artefacts, historical paintings, items of Spanish colonial architecture and history and native textiles.
220 volts, 50Hz. US flat two-pin plugs and one with round grounding pin are used.
Due to the altitude, Bolivia's climate is fairly temperate, with cold nights and warm days. Temperatures get down to freezing on winter nights (May to October). Rain is likely over the summer months (November to March). The climate of Bolivia varies drastically between regions, so weather should be checked for each destination.
The dry winter season, between May and October, is the high season for tourism, and generally the best time to visit Bolivia, but tourists should check the best time to visit for the particular region and activity they are planning as the country has many different climate zones.
All visitors travelling by air should also have return tickets and all required documents for next destination as well as sufficient funds to see them through their stay. All travellers arriving from yellow fever risk areas must show valid yellow fever vaccination certificates on entry to Bolivia. Those who qualify for visas on arrival need to carry all the required documentation and should confirm these requirements in advance - if you do not have the required photographs, fee and documents for a visa to be issued you will be denied entry.
Entry RequirementsCanadians require a valid passport, but a visa is not necessary for touristic stays of up to 90 days.
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US nationals must have a valid passport and a visa to enter Bolivia. A visa is obtainable on arrival (for a fee) for a stay of no more than 90 days.
UK Nationals holding valid passports do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
Australians need a valid passport, but do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 90 days.
South Africans require a valid passport and a visa to enter Bolivia. Visas can be issued on arrival (for a fee) for a maximum stay of 90 days.
Irish nationals need a valid passport, but do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 90 days.
New Zealanders need a valid passport, but do not require a visa for a touristic stay of up to 90 days.
Altitude sickness is the most common complaint in Bolivia, with much of the country lying above 10,000 feet (3,050m). This is particularly relevant to diabetics and those with heart complaints or chest problems, who should seek advice before travelling to Bolivia. Take Acetazolamide (Diamox) or drink coca tea to alleviate symptoms. A yellow fever vaccination is strongly advised, as outbreaks do occur, particularly after flooding, and it is a requirement for those entering from infected areas. Malaria is prevalent in some parts of the country, and dengue fever is on the increase. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, and a vaccination for typhoid should be considered if travelling to rural areas. Sanitation and hygiene are poor in some areas so be wary of what is eaten; avoid under-cooked meat and unpeeled fruit and vegetables, and only drink bottled water. Comprehensive medical insurance is strongly recommended as medical facilities are generally not of a high standard in Bolivia.
Street protests and strikes often affect La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz as well as regions of the Central Highlands (Altiplano) and the Yungus. Main tourist centres may be affected and visitors should keep informed about the political climate. Strikes also often disrupt transport to and from the international airport in La Paz and along other main roads. Travellers should avoid demonstrations and not attempt to pass through or go around roadblocks, and monitor the local media.
Although Bolivia is generally a safe country, visitors should still be vigilant at all times. Pick-pocketing on buses or in crowded areas is common and baggage theft occurs at stations. Many thieves work in teams to distract their victims. Female tourists should avoid taking jungle and pampas tours on their own and always avoid unlicensed guides. Express kidnappings are also on the increase and travellers should be vigilant at all times. Penalties for drug possession are extremely severe and visitors should be vigilant with luggage and any belongings. Criminals posing as police officers and taxi drivers are targeting foreign tourists; there have been increasing incidents of robberies of this nature and visitors are warned to be cautious at all times. Violent attacks have occurred recently in Copacabana, especially targeting those travelling overland between Peru and Bolivia. Months of heavy rainfall are usually responsible for flooding and mudslides throughout the country, which can severely affect transport; the rainy season is usually from November to March.
Emergency Phone Number
Theoretically, 110 (police), 118 (fire department) and 119 (ambulance) are the emergency numbers, but these are not always reliable.
* For current safety alerts, please visit Foreign travel advice - GOV.UK or Travel.State.Gov
The official currency is the Boliviano (BOB), which is divided into 100 centavos, and is tied to the US Dollar. Money can be exchanged at exchange bureaux called casio de cambios in the main centres, at banks and hotels. Banking facilities are good in the main cities and ATMs cater for Visa, Cirrus and MasterCard. Many hotels and other tourist-oriented institutions accept US Dollars. Major credit cards, including MasterCard, Diners, Visa and American Express, are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops. Travellers cheques can be exchanged in casio de cambios in the major cities and are best taken in US Dollars to avoid additional charges.
Exchange RateNot available.
Embassies of Bolivia
Bolivian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 (202) 483 4410.
Bolivian Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7235 4248.
Bolivian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 5730.
Bolivian Consulate, Sydney, Australia: +61 (0)2 9241 4235.
Honorary Consulate of Bolivia, Johannesburg, South Africa: +27 (0)11 646 1408.
Foreign Embassies in Bolivia
United States Embassy, La Paz: +591 (2) 216 8000.
British Embassy, La Paz: +591 (2) 243 3424.
Canadian Embassy, La Paz: +591 (2) 241 5141.
Australian Consulate, La Paz: +591 7061 0626
South African Embassy, Lima, Peru (also responsible for Bolivia): +51 (0)1 612 4848.
Consulate of Ireland, La Paz: +591 (2) 242 1408.
In conversation rural Bolivians should be referred to as campesinos (subsistence farmers) rather than Indians. 'Machismo' is very much alive and husband and wife roles within the family are very traditional. Homosexuality is frowned upon, particularly in the Altiplano.
Relationship building in Bolivia is important and getting down to business might take some time, so do not rush things. Negotiations are generally quite slow, and face-to-face communication is preferred over phone calls or written communications; therefore, be prepared to make many trips before a deal can be made. Punctuality is expected, even if the meeting doesn't start on time, and schedules are often just a guideline making meetings fairly unstructured; deadlines are not generally considered important. Business people are expected to wear suits. Meetings begin and end with handshakes, although one should wait for a woman to extend her hand first. It is important to include a person's professional title in the greeting if applicable, otherwise use Señor (Mr) or Señora (Mrs) with the surname. Business cards should also include any academic qualifications, and should have one side translated into Spanish; most business is conducted in Spanish and materials will need to be translated into Spanish. Women are generally considered subordinate in the workplace and visiting businesswomen should emphasise their qualifications and work experience. Office hours are generally 8:30am to 6:30pm Monday to Friday, with a long break over lunch.
A service charge is normally added to restaurant and hotel bills in Bolivia but it is customary to add a five to 10 percent tip for good service. Hotel porters also expect a small tip. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped unless they are hired for a full day, in which case an extra 10 percent is acceptable.
Public Holidays in Bolivia
High-up and remote, in many ways Bolivia feels like a time capsule, an ancient country determinedly maintaining its many indigenous cultures. This, combined with the biodiversity and natural beauty, explains the enduring allure of Bolivia.
Bolivia's top tourist attractions include the serene, high-altitude loveliness of Lake Titicaca and the nearby ancient ruins of Tiwanaku, a city pre-dating the Inca Empire; the breathtaking Salar de Uyuni, the largest expanse of salt flats in the world and a truly otherworldly destination; the charming colonial town of Sucre, founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and still bursting with historic buildings; the Reserva Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, full of harsh, weird landscapes found nowhere else on Earth; the terror-inducing Yungus Road, 'celebrated' as the most dangerous road in the world and a playground for brave mountain bikers; and the Bolivian share of the glorious Amazon jungle, best explored in the Madidi National Park, or accessed from the town of Rurrenabaque.
Travellers need to be aware that although Bolivia packs a sightseeing punch, the country can be difficult to get around and tourist infrastructure is not always of a good standard. Travel itineraries should be planned with this in mind: exploring one or two interesting regions leisurely is generally preferable to trying to explore the whole country in a rush.
Map of Bolivia
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