Where Is Bolivia?

Bolivia is located in the heart of South America. It is one of two landlocked countries in South America. (The other is Paraguay). It shares borders with Brazil on the north and east; Paraguay in the southeast; Argentina in the south; Chile in the southwest and west and Peru in west and northwest.

How Big Is Bolivia?

Bolivia encompasses 1,098,000 sq. km. (680,760 sq. mi.). It is 1,500 km from north to south and 1,300 km at its’ widest point (930 and 806 miles respectively). It is roughly the size of Texas and California together or a little smaller than Alaska.

Is Bolivia Safe?

It is safe to say that Bolivia has been and is still one of the most peaceful, safe and hospitable countries in the Americas. We are fortunate that guerrillas are not part of this society and extreme crimes are not the rule but the exception. Thousands of tourists per year have been traveling to this unknown destination for decades and have experienced warm hospitality, charming people and a welcome hand. Bolivians in general can be said to be very polite and helpful and always welcome people from all over the world.

Do Many Tourists Visit Bolivia?

Actually, very few people visit Bolivia – mostly because no one hears about it much. In the year 1999 there were just over 300,000 visitors to Bolivia (as compared to 1.2 million to Peru). That’s the reason why Bolivia is still authentic in many ways – because our traditions and culture is still intact and the most remote areas are very rarely visited and life goes on as it has for centuries. Don’t make the mistake of passing it by as most people who visit it are extremely pleasantly surprised once they get there!

What Language Do They Speak In Bolivia?

There are over thirty Indigenous groups in Bolivia but the official and universal language is Spanish. The official indigenous languages are Aymara (northern highlands, Lake Titicaca and northern Altiplano) and Quechua (southern highlands, southern Altiplano and temperate valleys). Few people speak English in the country side, but in the cities there are better chances of finding someone who may speak english.

What Type Of Government Does Bolivia Have?

Bolivia is a democratic Republic with three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial. It has embraced democracy many years ago yet still struggles with the peculiar model of democracy that, like many countries around the world, has ups and downs as it develops and grows into a system that strives to represent every citizen in the country equally.

What Is The Size And Type Of The Population?

The population is approximately 11 million people with a mixture of races and cultures. Approximately 60% are of pure Indian bloodlines, 35% are mestizo (a mixture of Spanish-South American and South American-Indian). They are known as cholos or cholas (male/female) and this name refers to people with Indian bloodlines that have emigrated to the cities and who may still wear some form of their original ethnic dress or costume. These same people who live in the countryside are referred to as campesinos or campesinas. Approximately 1% are of African ancestry, mostly descendants of the slaves during the Spanish conquest and colonial times that were used in the mines of Potosi and other regions that live in the Yungas region. The remaining 4% are made up of mostly European descent mostly from the Spanish and some Germans as well as other groups like Chinese, Korean, Indian and many different religious groups from all over the world.

What Is The Environment Like?

Since Bolivia is an under-developed country it has left most of its lands as they have been before recorded history. But, within the last twenty years, due to a growing population and other economic factors, there has been a tide of emigration and development from the highlands to the tropical lowlands in search of land and a brighter future. This has created a lot of development in once virgin areas in the tropics and put pressure in other similar areas that used to be vast wilderness.

Within the last twenty years the evolution of an environmental consciousness has arisen and the cataloging and protection of biologically diverse regions has taken place. Scientists and environmental groups worldwide have recognized that Bolivia has some of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. Within it’s borders lie the Andes Mountains, the vast Altiplano plateau, Lake Titicaca, the Salar de Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat), virgin cloud forests in the Yungas, semi-tropical and tropical forests from the highland valleys to the eastern lowlands of the Amazon basin and the scrub forests and deserts of the Chaco in south-eastern Bolivia. All these regions have flora and fauna that live relatively undisturbed – and many that are not cataloged yet. There are about 30 national parks established in Bolivia.

What Is The Capital Of Bolivia?

The official capital is Sucre (seat of the Judicial branch) but the de-facto and more well known capital is La Paz (seat of the Executive & Legislative branches). It has an international airport, the embassies, many aid organizations and N.G.O.’s and is the headquarters for some of the largest businesses in the country.

What Are The Major Religions In Bolivia?

Approximately 97% of the population is Roman Catholic. However, there is a significant mixture of Catholic and pagan rituals, superstitions, and beliefs that are expressed by mostly the indigenous population (but certainly not limited to them) on a daily basis.

What Type Of Education Is Offered In Bolivia?

Compulsory school attendance from ages 7 to 16 is the norm. However, due to a lack of resources and teachers in rural areas, children may not reach their teenage years and graduate from high school. The literacy rate of Bolivia is approximately 78%.

What Are The Different Geographical Regions Of Bolivia?

Bolivia is made up of six geographic regions:

  1. The Andes
  2. The Altiplano
  3. The Yungas and Chapare
  4. The Highland Valleys
  5. The tropical lowlands of the Upper Amazon Basins
  6. The Gran Chaco.

When Is The Rainy Season?

The wet season countrywide is from late November to late March or early April, depending on where you are geographically. The quantity of rainfall varies from region to region, but the tropics get most of the rain by far. It can rain any day of the year in the Yungas and parts of the tropics as well. The highlands get very little rain in the winter except when it snows or hails, which are more frequent in the summer – the wet season.

What Is The Altitude In Bolivia?

The altitude in Bolivia varies greatly from the lowlands which has altitudes as low as 200 feet above sea level to the Andes, which has several peaks over 21,000 feet. La Paz averages an elevation of 11,500 feet so an acclimatization period of a day or two is usually necessary.

What Are The Average Temperatures?

This depends where you are in the country. During the dry season (winter) temperatures are generally colder and can be downright freezing in the highlands (and well below freezing in the extreme south) and it can be pleasant in the lowlands. The wet season (summer) brings hot temperatures and humid conditions to the tropics and cold and wet conditions to the highlands. In the middle altitudes (the valleys) temperatures do not change in extremes like the highlands and lowlands. Winter (dry season) has the most beautiful climate and temperatures in the middle valley regions.

Where Can I Find Maps Of Bolivia?

Good maps of Bolivia are hard to find but the Instituto Geografico Militar (La Paz) is the place to go for topographical maps of most of Bolivia (they restrict sale of sensitive or border areas). The IGM is located in La Paz and has branches in other major cities. There is a series of shaded relief maps that highlight the major tourist areas, as well as regular road, political, transportation and cultural maps in most bookshops (librerias). In the US try: Maplink in Santa Barbara, CA. and the National Technical Information Service (Springfield, VA). In Canada (Vancouver) try Travel Map Productions and in Great Britain (London) try Stanfords.

What Are The Visa Requirements?

Requirements for all countries change with frequency so you must contact the Bolivian Embassy in your country to get the latest details. Currently, American citizens DO NEED a visa to enter Bolivia.  Your passport should have validity for at least 30 days beyond your departure date from Bolivia. A minimum 30-day stay is allowed and can be extended to 90 days at the airport or at the Immigration department in La Paz or other major cities. Some countries require you to have visas to enter their country as well, so make sure you have the right visa before trying to enter them from Bolivia. You can obtain visas from the consulates of other countries in La Paz, Bolivia.

What Types Of Medications Will I Need?

You do not need any kind of special medications to enter Bolivia. For recommended and suggested vaccinations please see the Vaccinations Page on our web site. You may also call the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA for more information.

What Is The Currency Of Bolivia?

The currency in Bolivia is called a Boliviano. It is divided into 100 cents (centavos). The Boliviano comes in paper notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 Boliviano denominations. The coins are in centavos of 10, 20, 50, 1 Boliviano and 2 Bolivianos.

To change money one can go to Casas de Cambio (money exchange houses), or to the money changers on the street. Banks will do so as well but not all of them. Traveler’s checks can be changed at the Casas de Cambio, banks, hotels or travel agencies (with proof of identity) and possibly some retail businesses if you purchase something. Credit cards are more widely accepted today and most hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, rent-a-car agencies, airlines, and other businesses. ATM machines are quite abundant and ATM cards can be used if they are within the systems shared by most international banks.

What Is The Exchange Rate?

The current exchange rate is always changing, but it can found at The XE.com Universal Currency Converter website.

What Are The Accommodations Like In Bolivia?

The range of accommodations throughout the country can be anything from a hammock under a thatched roof to rooms in private homes and residenciales, and from hostels to 1 to 5 star hotels in the major cities. In general, the more remote it is, the less chances of finding quality and comfortable accommodations. Most cities and towns offer hotels, hostels and residenciales of all levels. The more you pay the better the service, security and accommodations and the better the neighborhood as well.

Is It Safe To Drink The Water And Eat The Food?

Since Bolivia is still a developing country, travelers still need to develop a common sense approach to travel and diet while visiting Bolivia, especially in more remote areas. Be aware that your body and the organisms living in your digestive system are used to one type of diet and when you travel, your diet changes, so you may experience an upset stomach or worse. Some people traveling to more developed countries have run into the same problems as people going to Bolivia. In the larger cities and towns food and beverages served in reputable restaurants will generally be safe to eat and drink. If you are not sure, “boil it or peel it” is a safe course of action. In general, it is best to stay with bottled beverages or boiled drinks and maintain yourself hydrated as much as possible, especially in the highlands and the tropics. If you are not sure, either treat it chemically or physically with a quality water filter that kills and removes bacteria and viruses. But, by all means do not think that it is all going to make you ill. Psychologically you are not helping your body and system and for sure you will be missing out on a culinary spectacle that Bolivia is known for. Experiment and try everything; eat and drink and use common sense. The food and drink of this country are one of the things that what make it so special. Don’t miss out on some delicious local fare just because it looks strange!

Where Are The Hospitals Located?

All major cities and towns of any considerable size will have hospitals and clinics available to the public. The clinics tend to be better than hospitals in most cases as they are privately owned and operated. Thus their services and doctors are not dependent on the local governments for supplies, training and equipment.

What Are The Public Holidays In Bolivia?

Public Holidays Are:

  • New Year’s (January 1)
  • Carnaval (February or March)
  • Semana Santa (Easter Week – March or April)
  • Dia del Trabajo (Labor Day – May 1)
  • Corpus Christi (May)
  • Independence Day (August 6)
  • Dia de Colon (Columbus Day – October 12)
  • Dia de los Muertos (All Saint’s Day – November 2)
  • Navidad (Christmas – December 25)

All departments have their proper holiday as well:

  • Oruro (February 10)
  • Tarija (April 15)
  • Chuquisaca (May 25)
  • La Paz (July 16)
  • Cochabamba (September 14)
  • Santa Cruz (September 24)
  • Pando (September 24)
  • Beni (November 18)
  • Potosi (November 10)

What Time Is It In Bolivia?

Bolivia is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. For example: If it’s 12:00 noon in La Paz, it is 11:00 AM in Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York. It will be 10:00 AM in Chicago, 9:00 AM in Denver, and 8:00 AM in San Francisco.  Bolivia does not participate in Daylight Savings Time.

What Types Of Flora And Fauna Are In Bolivia?

The variety of flora and fauna is so huge that it would take volumes to showcase. Suffice it to say that there are over 1500 bird species in Bolivia, a great variety of mammals from mice to jaguars, reptiles of all sizes and shapes, insects that would take a lifetime to catalog and flora ranging from cactus to bromeliads and from palm tress to lichens. Bolivia has great biological diversity in all regions.

Can I Rent A Car In Bolivia?

There are plenty of car rental agencies in all major cities across the country. The prices tend to be steep because of the high cost of vehicles, service, spare parts and the unpredictable and rugged roads of the country. You will pay for the rental, accumulated kilometers and gasoline. You need a passport, international driver’s license or valid driver’s license, and a major credit card.  4WD drive vehicles like Toyota (Land Cruisers, Hi-lux), Nissan (Patrol, Pathfinder), Mitsubishi (Montero, Galloper) and Suziki (Vitara) are the vehicles of choice for any trip outside the cities that are not on paved roads.

What Types Of Local Transportation Are Available In Bolivia?

Highway and Road System:

Inter departmental travel is relatively easy within Bolivia. Highways and roads connect most major cities and smaller towns and villages. Due to the fact that Bolivia’s roads are mostly dirt or gravel, some access to certain areas is dependent on the season. During the rainy season most remote towns and villages are cut off if the rains are too severe. Only major highways between cities are paved and of course within most major cities as well. Be prepared for rough and weather dependent road conditions that will affect departure and arrival of scheduled services.

Air: All departmental capitals, major cities and some smaller towns are serviced by national airlines, which provide daily service to most parts of Bolivia. Smaller private airplanes are also available for hire from private pilots in most major cities.

Land: Travel by private vehicle, bus, truck and taxi, are readily available in most cities and towns. Prices usually reflect the level of service, but not always. The most expensive being private vehicle and the cheapest being in the back of an open truck – exposed to the elements. Comfortable Pullman-type buses are abundant and one can travel in comfort.

Rail: The rail system in Bolivia is limited and concentrates travel in the highlands and valleys and in the eastern lowlands. One can travel by rail to Chile, Peru, Argentina and Brazil.

Water: The many rivers in the Upper Amazon basin provide the only means of travel to and from many points in the tropics due to a lack of roads and the impenetrable geography. Double decker motorized riverboats ply most major rivers and smaller boats can get you to most villages.

Can I Make International Calls From Bolivia?

The national telephone company, Entel, has national and international offices across the country. One can call internationally from all major cities and some smaller towns and villages. Faxes can also be sent easily. Prices vary depending on where you are. Cellular phones are quite popular and all major cities have the service from either Entel or other private phone companies. Cellular telephone service is available across the country and is quite modern and reliable. Phone cards are readily available and you can call anywhere in the world and solar-powered telephone booths can be found in the middle of nowhere. Little by little the Internet is making its way into remote areas and Internet Cafes are in all major and minor cities.  There is no lack of communication possibilities in Bolivia.

Is There A Postal Service Available?

There is a national postal system that serves the whole country. All capitals, major cities and towns have post offices that serve national and international destinations. There are also offices of the major courier companies (UPS, FedEx, and DHL) in all capitals.

Where Are The Embassies Located In Bolivia?

Embassies are located in La Paz and some may have consulates in the major capitals of the different departments. Check with the Bolivian Embassy of your country for specific information.

What Are Normal Business Hours?

In general business hours are from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon, break for two-hour lunch and resume from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Many businesses open earlier and stay open later. Banks in general open from 9:00 AM to 12:00 noon and from 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM and some have branches that open on Saturdays from 9:30 AM to 12:00 noon.

What Type Of Electricity Does Bolivia Use?

Bolivia, like most of the world, uses the standard 220 volts at 50 cycles. However, in certain areas like La Paz and a few other areas in Bolivia, 110 volts at 50 cycles is also used (like the US and Canada). Be sure to ask before you plug in. If in doubt assume its 220 and use a converter, but be sure that it is for the intended purpose and the for the correct electrical appliance.

What Types Of Clothing And Equipment Should I Bring?

Obviously this depends on your planned activity and where in Bolivia you will be travelling. One thing is for sure though: Travel light and be flexible with your possessions. If you are going to the highlands then your needs will differ than if you are going to be in the tropics. If you are of the adventurous kind a backpack or pack with a hidden harness system is best. If you will be travelling in the cities and from hotel to hotel then a regular hard case or duffel bag with a large and beefy zipper will be fine. A small daypack or shoulder bag is quite nice and very handy.

Travel in the Highlands

Travel in the Highlands:

A system of layering is best where you can add or subtract a layer of clothing as needed. This system is divided into the underwear (next to your skin), the insulating layer (worn on top of your underwear layer) and the foul-weather layer (protects you from the elements). The underwear you buy should be light, warm and comfortable and synthetic. Stay away from cotton because it does not dry quickly (due to perspiration) and holds onto water (your perspiration), unlike the synthetics that dry quickly and maintain their insulating value. The middle or insulating layer can be any piece of clothing that helps you maintain your heat next to your body, like a thick shirt, sweat shirt, sweater or synthetic pile jacket (as well as pants). A shell or jacket (and pants) that is windproof and waterproof (yet breathable) is a good outer shell that will protect you from the cold winds, rain, hail or snow you might experience in the highlands. A removable or stow-away hood is great. Some light synthetic gloves, a wool/synthetic hat and wool socks round it off. As you become colder or warmer you add or subtract a layer as needed.

Travel in the Lowlands:

In the tropics your biggest problem will be the heat and humidity and depending on the season and location, the insects as well. Take two sets of clothing; one for the trail and one for the camp, that way you can maintain yourself clean and comfortable when your trail clothing is drying. Also take a lightweight pair of shoes that you will keep dry for camp. Lightweight materials of synthetic or cotton blend for pants and shirts (with long sleeves) at allow for the flow of air are best. They breathe well and vent your body from the heat. A pair of shorts and cotton t-shirts are quite good as well. Lightweight hiking boots or trail shoes are comfortable and rugged and sandals are also necessary if you are in the water often. A good hat with a wide brim all the way around are better than baseball caps because they will protect your ears and neck from the intense tropical sun. A good pair of sunglasses and a bandana are also needed. Do not forget an insulating layer, like a synthetic jacket for the evening, as the nights can sometimes be cold because of the extreme temperature change from day to night. A windbreaker that is waterproof will keep the rain at bay and the heat in as well. Synthetics are almost always better than cotton because they dry quickly, do not rot, and are in most instances more rugged.

The Essentials:

Personal medication and prescriptions, basic first-aid kit, travel alarm clock, small headlamp with extra bulbs and batteries, multi-purpose knife/plyer tool, spare set of contacts or prescription glasses, high quality sunglasses, 30 feet or parachute cord (many uses), a bandana or two, sewing kit, personal hygiene kit, precision tweezers, small synthetic towel, water bottle that won’t leak (Nalgene), water purification tablets or purifier, contraceptives, tampons, lightweight sandals or surf shoes, Spanish-English dictionary (pocket-size), waterproof sunscreen (minimum SPF 25), strong insect repellent (for the tropics), patience and a good sense of humor.

What Type Of Camera Should I Bring?

It would be a shame to miss out on the fantastic photographic opportunities that Bolivia offers, so whatever you do make sure you have a camera or a video camera with you. The best choice is an SLR with a variety of interchangeable lenses from wide to telephoto and a rugged camera bag to protect your equipment. A small sturdy tripod is also good as well as a dedicated flash unit and extra batteries. You can buy major brands in Bolivia for reasonable prices that cover the low to middle level of capability. Pro cameras are not readily available.

How Much Film Should I Bring?

Bring plenty of film or compact flash cards – more than you think you will need and some sort of elctronic image bank if you plan on shooting a lot. The quality of light is wonderful in the highlands and will make for spectacular photos. A polarizing filter may help but learn its’ pros and cons before using it indiscriminately. Film (slide and negative) is readily available and so is developing. Fuji, Agfa and Kodak are the films of choice.

Should I Buy Travel Insurance?

We highly recommend that you purchase insurance for the following: trip cancellation, lost/stolen baggage, extended medical and evacuation costs. An unforeseen illness or unexpected event may require you to cancel your trip. In order to protect yourself, your baggage and/or personal property, a short-term traveler’s insurance package may be purchased through your travel or insurance agent who can advise you as to what is available and their costs. SOUTH TREKS will not be responsible for any costs incurred by passengers for such occurrences and circumstances

Are There Tourist Offices Located In Bolivia?

There are some offices in the major cities but for the most part have very little useful information. Usually local operators and travel agencies are much better prepared to help with information about where to go and what to do. Shop around wisely as not all offer reliable services or quality guides. Remember, you get what you pay for.