Backpacking in Bolivia
Not for nothing is Bolivia, at least among the locals, known as the Tierra De Misterious – so to speak: Land of secrets, known. The country is relatively small by South American standards, but still three times the size of Germany, with only 10 million inhabitants, and is peppered with natural and cultural wonders. If you’re going to explore Bolivia with your backpack, be prepared for something because only a few countries can boast such a rich variety of species and cultures. Load your camera – you can be sure that you will get enough cultural and geographical motifs in front of your lens. If you want adventure, you can also be served with it.
What is the difference between Bolivia and other South American countries? There is no way that this question can be answered in a single sentence. But roughly speaking, it is the rich diversity of indigenous culture mixed with Criollo roots that has created a very special breed of people. Unfortunately, not everything is perfect in Bolivia, but where is it? The social divide between the poor indigenous Altiplano population and the rich Criollo community in the lowlands around Santa Cruz is too great for the two parties to always get along well. Efforts to achieve independence by the rich provinces have already led to a lot of bloodshed.
And also with the neighboring countries, here especially with Chile, there is always friction. No wonder. Since the lost saltpetre war, Bolivia no longer has direct access to the sea. Nevertheless, one should not be deterred by such socio-cultural conflicts. As a visitor to Bolivia you can feel very comfortable, because the hospitality of the Bolivians is proverbial – whether in the rich or poor region.
What makes travelling in Bolivia so exciting?
It’s not only the diverse range of travel options that makes travelling in Bolivia so exciting, it’s also the prices that you can take into account. In fact, you won’t find a country in all of South America where you can make it cheaper. If you stay in another country, say 10 Euro for a bed in an overcrowded 10 bed dorm, then you almost get a single room in Bolivia for it. What is valid for the overnight stay can of course also be applied to the transport. If you run out of money on your trip through South America, Bolivia is the right place to stay with little potential for a long time to come. But despite all the low prices, it is above all the varied travel and adventure possibilities that make a visit to the country worthwhile.
You can climb the Andean mountain world or beat your way through the bushes in the Amazon. Take a look around the Rio Yacuma Natural Park or take a tour of the historic old town of Potosí. Also a city tour through Tarija has its charms. From Bolivia you can bring cheap handicrafts in the form of textiles or jewellery. But you can also take part in the common life of the Indios, for example in the Comunidad Julo – Torotoro. Take a trekking tour to the Roca Barrio de Aranjuez – Sendero del Águila, or climb the Huayna Potosí. The offer has no limits. Unless you want to go to the Bolivian sea. That doesn’t exist yet. But Bolivia is persistently fighting for access.
Explore cultural diversity in Bolivia
On your trip through the country you will meet again and again the different indigenous peoples, who also have their own customs and rites. It is something very special to be invited to the Quechuas, Aymaras or Guaranís and to be allowed to take advantage of their hospitality. Fight your way through the country and encounter a strange mixture of Christian-Catholic customs and indigenous magic cults. Bolivia is a melting pot of old and young cultures, which are not only expressed by the different races of people, but are also shaped by the multi-faceted geographical ambience. What does that mean? The inhabitants of the Andes inevitably live differently than the natives of the Amazon. This can be seen above all in different dances, meals, markets with handicrafts and other traditions.
You will get to know the scissor dance or you will be able to have fun at the Bolivian Tinku. You haven’t seen anything like this before. The idiotic football Holligans could cut themselves a disc, because the blood flows in streams, when old and young, woman and man and even the youngest among the bawling of the spectators the heads smash. One of the old pre-Columbian customs is the worship of Pachamama – Mother Earth. If you are present at the annual main festival, you can also try the delicious traditional dishes made from coca leaves and corn flour.
Every city and every village has its own fiestas and cultural rites. For example, if you are in La Paz, you can visit the Fish Fair in August or take part in the Festival of Tradition in Chaco on August 5th. On the same day, the Ayllus Festival is also exciting and colourful. One day later the bullfights take place in the city. On August 8th you should not miss the festival and indigenous competition of the Ayullus in the municipality of Poopó. In spring, at the same time as in Europe, the Carnival takes place in Bolivia. Visit Concordia, Chicheño or Oruro and celebrate with us.
Touring Bolivia in one tour borders almost on madness. Better you divide the country into different parts, which you then depart one after the other. You can do this for the Andes, the lowlands and the Amazon. If you only want to see the most important of the country, do the classic tour. You can check off Bolivia like so many others in one week and only visit the most important points. But you better take your time and explore the country extensively.
To the classical Bolivia visit belong
- 2-3 days exploring La Paz
- 2-3 days Sucre
- 1 day Yunga landscape near Coroico
- 2-3 days Salar de Uyuni
- 2 days Lake Titicaca
The extended backpacker route leads at least over
- 2-3 days exploring La Paz
- 2-3 days Sucre
- 1 day Yunga landscape near Coroico
- 2-3 days Salar de Uyuni
- 2 days Lake Titicaca with overnight stay on the Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca
- 1 day visit of the Mercado Minero and the silver mines in Potosí
- 1 overnight stay in a salt hotel in Colchani
- 2-3 days Nacionalpark Sajama
- 2 days Trópico de Cochabamba
- 1 day Jesuit Mission in San Xavier, Concepción
- 3 days Lago Bay at the Reserva Nacional de Vida Silvestre Amazonica Manuripi
Travel time in Bolivia
The best time to travel in Bolivia depends on what you want to do. The Amazon jungle has a different climate than the Andes at 3,000 or 4,000 meters above sea level. And those who think that it is always warm in Bolivia, despite the proximity to the equator, are mistaken. You can take bathing clothes as well as winter equipment with you.
The rainy season in the whole country is the months from November to April. It is most pleasant on average in the months from May to October with long dry periods. At the very top of the Andes there is a year-round high mountain climate with precipitation that falls as snow. Also in the Yungas it rains often and violently due to the frequent uphill rains. You should be tough when you are on the Altiplano, or you have thick clothes with you. This is valid for the whole year. The jungle has a tropical climate. T-shirt will do.
Travel and transport costs in Bolivia are minimal. If you have to look at your wallet when travelling in South America, Bolivia is the right place for you. Here you can save money and still live well. If you calculate tightly, then you get by with a budget of about 10 – 15 euros per day.
If you have about 20 – 30 Euro per day at your disposal, then you live like a prince with the budget. What do you have to calculate? The basic costs in Bolivia are very reasonable. It is still disputed whether it is the cheapest country in South America, but it can be deceiving also if one undertakes a lot.
- Meal cheap restaurant 1,5 Euro
- Three course menu middle class restaurant 11 Euro
- Combo Meal at McDonalds 3,8 Euro
- Water (1.5 liter) 0.4 Euro
- One-way ticket (local transport) almost for free
- Taxi 1km (normal rate) 0,7 Euro
How much do bus tickets cost in Bolivia?
Here is a page that helps you to get an overview of the routes and prices. Unfortunately this is not easy. English and other languages are not widespread in Bolivia so you have to improvise. But as a backpacker that shouldn’t be a problem.
Domestic flight in Bolivia – the prices
Only very few people will book a domestic flight, but you can consider this alternative with a clear conscience, because you save a lot of time and effort. Take a look at what domestic flights in Bolivia cost. You will be surprised by the prices.
- Cochabamba – Santa Cruz 67.2 USD
- Cochabamba – La Paz 50.66 USD
- Cochabamba – Trinidad 60.5 USD
- La Paz – Santa Cruz 90.7 USD
- La Paz – Cochabamba 56.20 USD
- La Paz – Trinidad 72.50 USD
- La Paz – Rurrenabaque 83.81 USD
Train travel in Bolivia
You can also travel by train in Bolivia at a very reasonable price. But you should order some train tickets in advance. The train is often used. But you could also say that there are too few trains, so the wagons are always full. In contrast to Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, where you will find European prices, you will be able to save a lot of money on your Bolivia trip. To put it more precisely: No country is cheaper than Bolivia in South America.
In Bolivia you will find every kind of accommodation. You can rent a simple or luxurious apartment in the city or stay in a 3 or 4 or 5 star hotel depending on your budget. However, you will be the top. Accommodation in only a few cities. Otherwise, you will usually have to do without first-class comfort. All hotels, guesthouses and other accommodations on offer are very inexpensive. Even in the top locations, the prices are affordable for star-studded accommodation.
The further away you are from the cities, the more you have to do without luxury. But this also means that prices will fall even more. Contrary to comfort, you will get a courteous hospitality as well as a delicious meal. The latter is also very cheap. In the well-known hostel sites you will find a bed in a dorm for around 5 dollars. Sometimes also for 7 or 8 US dollars. On the Hostelworld site the average prices for a bed in the different cities are indicated as follows.
- 7 Euro La Paz
- 7 Euro Sucre
- 8 Euro Uyuni
- 6-7 Euro Potosi
- 5 Euro Copacabana
Camping is less known in Bolivia, which does not mean that it is not possible to camp. For a small fee, you can pitch your tent in any garden or plot of land. If you have a bit more budget available, then you’ll also find a few Eco-Resorts & Spa in La Paz, for example, where you can get a double room for a fabulous 65 dollars. For a double room in a middle class hotel you pay around 30 to 60 dollars. So it’s worth it to put in a well-groomed hotel bed with two men. In the Reserva Municipal del Río Yacuma, a national park, for example, you can camp for little money or rent a fully equipped cabaña depending on your wallet. The 60 dollars you have to pay can easily be divided by several.
In addition to white palm-fringed beaches, Bolivia has a geographical diversity that will get you off your feet. From snow-capped 6000s in the Andes to deepest green impenetrable jungle, there’s plenty to choose from. Fight your way through the Andes from Illimani Peak in the southeast to Illampu in the northwest.
An incomparable diversity of species awaits you in the national parks of the Amazon Basin. Have you ever seen pink dolphins? If not, in Bolivia they live in the rivers. Waterfalls, the highest navigable lake on earth, deep gorges and steepest mountain slopes are only a part of Bolivia’s extensive natural repertoire.
The Top 10 of Bolivia
In an internal survey on a website, readers were asked about the 10 best travel destinations in Bolivia. Here are the answers. Of course, these also match the top spots in Bolivia. You can assume that you will find them in every Bolivia travel guide.
- Salar de Uyuni
- Lago Titicaca
- Parque Nacional Madidi
- Parque Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado
- Los Yungas
- Toro Toro
- Villa Tunari
- El Chaco Tarijeno
- Misiones Jesuitas
Mysterious and unknown destinations in Bolivia
Nevertheless Bolivia has a lot more to offer than just a Top 10, which is probably used by many backpackers. Some of them are now available here…
The witch market in La Paz
Ok, after you have touched the main spots once, Bolivia also offers some exciting and less known insider highlights. These include the Mercado de las Brujas in the capital La Paz. You will find the extraordinary market in the quarter between the street blocks Jimenez and Linarez and Sagarnaga and Santa Cruz. Everything that has to do with shamans, witches and necromancy, you will discover in the narrow alleys on the market worth seeing.
In the footsteps of the dinosaurs
And this is meant literally, because in Cal Orcko you can expect well preserved footprints of more than 300 dinosaur species that have inhabited the region from the end of the Cretaceous to the beginning of the Tertiary.
The highest ski resort in the world
Yes, you shouldn’t believe it, but you can also ski in Bolivia. And this on the highest skiing area of the world on the Chacaltaya. The area is located in the Departamento de La Paz at an altitude of 5,421 metres. It is only 30 kilometres to La Paz. There are even public means of transport.
The forgotten Amboro National Park
Most of them are drawn to the Madidi National Park, and Amboro National Park is left on the far left. However, you’ll encounter the huge condors there or perhaps one of the 200 kilogram spectacled bears in the wild. In an area of 630,000 ha, or 6,300 square kilometres, you can hit yourself in the bushes. Jaguars and anteaters included.
The Laguna colorada
It belongs simply to the absolute South America highlights for nature lovers. We are talking about the Laguna colorada, which lies in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa. Certain algae are responsible for the incredible colour spectrum that the laguna reflects. And they fit especially well to the thousands of flamingos that have settled here.
Valle de las Animas
In Ovejuyo, about 4 km from Cota Cota, you can visit the legendary rock formations of the Valle de las Animas. A bus line 48 from Palca will take you there. Don’t miss out on this. There is also a gorge very close by. The Cañon de Palca, more than 200 metres high, runs through the area for more than 8 kilometres.
Rafting in the Carrasco National Park
The adventurers among you will certainly feel at home in the Parque Nacional de Carrasco. The park is located in the Amanzonas region of the Chapare department. Besides the flora and fauna, you can book cheap rafting tours. Paragliding and exploring gorges is also possible. Pure adventure, as I said.
In Bolivia you can indulge your palate with exotic dishes, which otherwise you will probably never be offered again. The absolute gastronomic centre is Cochabamba. In the region you will experience the Bolivian cuisine in its great biodiversity. Try leek cake, las salteñas, los chorizos (sausages), la chank’a de pollo (hot chicken), las lawas, el pique macho, el chicharrón, el charque (dried beef) and much more. But also the other regions in Bolivia have a lot on their menu that demands your taste buds.
In any case, dare to try a fricasé paceño, which is often taken with a coffee and crispy bread. In the region around Oruro, people like to barbecue. For a ridiculously low price, you can hit the jackpot all over Bolivia. If you have a strong stomach, you can satisfy your hunger in the partly not quite clean eating stalls at the streets or markets. But be careful! Often there is the thin whistle included. Better you put a few Sol on it and take your meal in a somewhat more cultivated ambience.
For a few more sol, you’ll also get hygienically flawless dishes – usually. However, you should know that although there are also the well-known pizzerias and fast food restaurants of American style in Bolivia, you will only meet the upper class of Bolivian society there. Reason: the high prices. You’d better dine in the simple restaurants where Otto Normalo also goes.
There you’ll also quickly get in touch with the locals. Roughly speaking, the higher the region, the spicier the food. Above all, the dips and sauces provided are very tasty. You’ll discover dishes like Chairo or Chinanchalona, which take some getting used to, but resemble a stew of nuts. A fricasé paceño also offers an interesting flavour.
Almost all dishes, like Huatía or Pampaco, are prepared with meat. There are also potatoes and various vegetables. Also delicious is the picante de pollo (chicken with paprika vegetables and rice) and pique macho, which is prepared from pieces of beef, sausages, vegetables and chips and whatever else the kitchen has to offer.
According to the Federal Foreign Office, German citizens may enter the country with the following documents:
- Passport: Yes
- Provisional passport: Yes
- Identity card: No
- Temporary identity card: No
- Children’s passport: Yes
- Still valid child ID card according to old model (the child ID card is no longer issued since 1 January 2006): No
Travel documents must still be valid for six months upon entry. Children’s entries in a parent’s passport are no longer valid as of 26.06.2012. Each child needs his or her own ID document.
Backpacker visa for Bolivia
German citizens do not require a visa for a tourist stay. On arrival at the international airports in La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, a residence permit for a period of 90 days is usually entered in the passport. If you enter Cochabamba by land, it can happen that only a residence permit for the duration of 30 days is entered in the passport, which can then be extended twice for a further 30 days at the migration authorities. At least that’s what it says on paper.
Important: German tourists can stay a maximum of 90 days in Bolivia within one year, whereby multiple entry and exit is permitted.
Vaccinations and medical advice
All travellers who are older than 12 months and intend to travel to yellow fever endangered areas of Bolivia must be able to show a yellow fever vaccination certificate upon request when entering the country. It is advisable to carry a vaccination certificate with you at all times, even if you are not visiting areas at risk of yellow fever, as the legal situation and administrative practice are not always the same. The vaccination must take place at least 10 days before the entry.