America,  Bolivia,  Country Guides,  TDM,  Tips

Bolivia in 20 days: Review, itinerary, guide and advice

That’s it! We have just left Bolivia, a real “coup de coeur ” for us who did not expect much from this country (due to Antoine de Maximy’s report: I’ll sleep at your place).

Our itinerary is a little chaotic since we had to go very quickly to visit Machu Picchu to take advantage of the last sunny days before the rainy season. Enough chatting, let’s go to the content.

If we had to do it again, we would have visited Peru first and then go back down to Bolivia.


Some pictures




La Isla del Sol

La Paz



  • Lodging : Prices are proportional to the service. Thus, the accommodations we choose are between 124$B and 250$B for two, to be sure to have a rather hot shower and a minimum of cleanliness. This is very important because we are in high altitude (> 3500m most of the time) and even in summer, the night is freezing.
  • Food
    • At the central market (mercado central): 10$B-15$B/platform
    • Fast-food: between 15$B and 25$B/platform
    • High-end restaurants: 75$B/plat (but it’s worth it)
    • On the Isla del sol: about 35$B/flat/person
    • In Santa Cruz: prices are to be multiplied by two (30$B – 50$B/ plate in a local restaurant)
    • Fruits aren’t expensive. Fruit juices between 5$B and 10$B, 5$B a large piece of pre-cut ripe papaya. At the market, for 5$B you can buy a lot of fruit per kilo, remember to haggle a bit
    • Water: 5$B per 2L bottle
  • Transportation
    • Calama (Chile) – Uyuni : 18000$CH with Atacama 2000
    • Uyuni – Potosí : 30$B with 11 de Julio
    • Potosí – La Paz: 100$B (superior category cama, luxury) with Trans Copacabana SA
    • La Paz – Copacabana – Cuzco: 39$US (it’s a package, bought at Bolivia Hop)
    • Copacabana – La Paz : 30$B
    • La Paz – Sugar: 180$B (cama category) with El Dorado
    • Sugar – Santa Cruz by plane: 42€/person with BoA
    • Public buses: $1.5B/ride, to be paid either when entering or leaving the bus
    • Public minivans: 2$B/route
    • Cab: between 5$B/person and 10$B/person, it depends on the route and the city. Rates to ask the hostel receptionists. In La Paz, the fare isn’t per person but per trip (20$B to 25$B).
    • 50$B round trip by boat from Copacabana to Isla del Sol
  • Excursions
    • 1 day at Salar de Uyuni: 160$B/person, lunch included – with Salty Desert that I recommend
    • 3 – 4 days from Uyuni/Tupiza: between 700$B and 1200$B, + fees if you return to the starting point or if you get dropped off in Chile. Again, too low a price isn’t necessarily a good thing. See the specific guide to Uyuni here
    • 100$B/person for the visit of the mines in Potosí
  • Spanish lessons: 800$B for 20 hours of private lessons (more info)
  • Access to the gym: 30$B/day
  • Laundry: between 10$B and 15$B/kg. Beware, they tend to misplace a few T-shirts each time, it’s annoying
  • 0 ATM withdrawal fees (that’s nice!), we were able to withdraw 2000$B in one go without any problem

Health: mountain sickness, cold

  • If JB crosses the country without too many health worries, I am not a friend with altitude. In spite of the precautions (medication, coke), when it hits, it hits. The best remedy for me is to take a good hot tea with a lot of sugar; and sleep.
  • Don’t forget to reduce your pace. It’s not easy to climb steep streets every day, breathe the polluted air and endure the high altitude at the same time. Take your time with everything. No one will judge you. The locals also walk very slowly, the buses take forever to go 3km. Slow down!
  • Always bring a fleece or even a coat in the evening. Even if the hotels provide 3 layers of blanket, there is no heating. 10°C without heating (in the middle of summer), with humid air and a warm shower, it will be colder than you thought. Moreover, the locals always walk around in the street, even when the weather is nice, wearing a sweater. Those in traditional dress have I don’t know how many layers of clothing.


  • Credit card accepted nowhere except at ATMs. With a small exception for Santa Cruz where you can pay more often by card.
  • When something costs only 1 boliviano, people will tell you “boliviano” for short. But if it’s 5 bolivianos, 10… they will of course say “cinco bolivianos, diez bolivianos” etc.
  • Tickets of 100 are difficult to sell, except at the hotel. Don’t hesitate to change them for 50 banknotes at the bank and make a stock of coins to pay for fruit juices or local bus tickets.
  • U.S. dollars can be withdrawn at the National Bank (BNB). For this, you pay with a payment terminal and they give you money in cash. I don’t know the rates though. I advise you to do it before going to Chile or Argentina (see the guides of Chile and Argentina).
  • ATMs are available everywhere except on Isla del Sol. The best are Banco Union, Banco Mercatil Santa Cruz and BNB. If the ATM doesn’t let you withdraw much money, choose Spanish as your language.


  • From city to city: Ask the hotel about the best companies for this or that destination. It is best to take tourist buses. Drunk drivers are a problem in Bolivia, but so are unsavory passengers. Taking a tourist bus costs only 2-3€ more, but the chairs are reclining, there is room for your bags and it is more secure. I have marked, for each trip I made, at the Budget level, the name of the bus company I recommend

Attention, the company Cruz del Norte has been denounced on the travel forums recently, for the much too frequent flights inside their buses. Even when traveling with a bag under their feet, thieves manage to get under the seat and open it. Keep all your precious belongings with you, on your lap.

  • Inside the city: Public bus. It is easily recognizable. It pollutes a lot, has a number (or a letter) written on the windshield; with the stops it serves. If you have any doubts, don’t hesitate to stop a bus and ask if it goes to this or that place. In general, the main square (Plaza qq thing) and the Bus Terminal are always indicated in the list of destinations, if the bus serves them.
  • Cab: I didn’t take a cab from the airport to downtown so I don’t know how much it costs. When I need a cab, I ask the hotel to call me one. When the cab arrives, it will honk its horn. It is always necessary to agree on the price (in bolivianos, for two people, with luggage) before getting into the cab. In La Paz,when night falls, it is imperative to call a cab and not to hail one in the street.
  • In Bolivia, the quality is proportional to the price. Given the very low fares here, don’t save 1 or 2€, your safety may depend on it.
  • For night bus trips, choose if possible buses offering the category “cama” i.e. super reclining and wide chair. It costs only 3-4€ more than the semi-cama, but the Bolivian roads aren’t the best in South America, traveling in cama will guarantee you a very good night.
  • You will see, in the bus, everybody travels with their bag on their knees, even locals. And especially at night. Do the same thing (for your handbag, the big backpack will of course remain in the hold)
  • The Bolivia Hop (bus hop-on hop-off) company provides the connection to Peru from La Paz or Copacabana. It allows you to cross the border with Peru in the safest possible way, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. An English-speaking guide accompanies everyone and makes sure that everyone has their Peruvian stamp before getting on the bus. We chose to cross this border the first time with Bolivia Hop to have a first experience and then cross it the other way without assistance, because the crossing Peru -> Bolivia is easier (for the French anyway).
  • We didn’t have this kind of problems but the Thrifty Nomads bloggers had to stay 1 week in La Paz the day after the carnival because all the drivers were too drunk to drive.
  • Floods and blockades are quite frequent so plan wide for your trips in Bolivia during the rainy season (End of January – February). We had to wait 2 hours for the rain to stop in Santa Cruz before we could fly from Sucre to Santa Cruz.

Learn Spanish

After inquiring about Spanish course fees, it turns out that the cheapest rates in South America can be found in Sucre, a very nice and pleasant student city. Private classes start at US$6/hour. Moreover, Bolivians have a nice accent and speak slowly, which creates good conditions for learning a new language. I loved my 20 hours of classes in Sucre at The Bolivian Spanish School, in the Colors Hostal (at 40 bolivianos/hour).


The list is long, but these are basic safety tips for South America. Without being paranoid, put all the chances on your side to make your trip go smoothly.

We didn’t have any feeling of insecurity in Bolivia (except in La Paz because of its chaotic side), but we did see the poverty in the streets.

  • As everywhere in South America, we avoid showing outward signs of wealth. For your information, the Bolivian monthly salary is around US$185
  • You have to be even more vigilant in big cities. However, it is fairly easy to spot suspicious people. Bolivians rarely stare at tourists, except for those who have/will have something to reproach themselves for.
  • During the day, between a cab found in the street and a public bus, prefer the public bus
  • Always keep your bag on your lap, anywhere (restaurant, bus, cab, bus terminal) with the strap around your thigh
  • Take tourist buses for long distances
  • Try to learn and speak a little Spanish so that you don’t pass yourself off as a penny-pinching American
  • Don’t withdraw too much money at a time, there are 0 withdrawal fees here, just withdraw just enough: about $300B-500B each time.
  • As soon as someone distracts you, put your hand on your pouch.
  • Each person in the group should have 2 places to hide money. One easily accessible (to pay for daily purchases; and to give to thieves if needed), and the other close to the body (pouch close to the body). A belt with a secret pocket is also recommended.
  • Don’t trust the lockers at the inns (even if you use your own padlock). If you have your belongings stored at Copacabana to go to Isla del Sol, don’t leave any valuables behind; and read the TripAdvisor’s advice before entrusting your suitcase to any hostel
  • Keep your passport with you at all times (this is the time to buy or make your own scarf with secret pocket)
  • Make a photocopy of the passport with entry stamp + the paper that goes with it. In case of a police check (even by the real police), give the photocopy.

Other information available on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

If a police officer wants to carry out an identity check (…) It is advisable to systematically refuse to get into a vehicle with police officers or to follow them to isolated places and to ask to contact the embassy immediately. This is especially true near bus stations and tourist centers where cheap hotels are located.
You should always use a radio cab and never get into a cab found on the street (“fake cab”), especially near bus stations. These fake cabs take their victims to a remote location where accomplices (sometimes fake police officers) wait and rob travelers of their valuables and travel documents.

Other tips

  • Do not take pictures of the premises without permission. Some people are afraid of the camera, others may ask you to pay for the picture (llamas with pretty pompoms on their heads, and in the city, no it’s not at all natural)
  • The water isn’t drinkable in Bolivia, it is very loaded with metals. It is even advised to brush your teeth with mineral water.
  • The hot shower works with electricity. You have to choose between pressure and heat. Pay attention to the electric wires that are lying around in the bathroom, DIY (do it yourself) seems to be the trend in Bolivia. I find that this little note sums up well the functioning of Bolivian showers

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