Bolivia facts at a glance
Official Name: Republic of Bolivia
Country Population: 10,700,000
Capital City: Sucre (1.6 million)
Largest Cities: Santa Cruz, La Paz, Cochabamba, El Alto, Sucre
Languages: Spanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymará (official)
Latitude/Longitude: 17º S, 65º W
Official Currency: Boliviano
Major industries: Mining, gas, tin, textiles
Time zone: GMT-4
Electricity: 220 volts, 60Hz. Appliance plugs compatible with continental Europe & USA. TV is NTSC, not PAL.
Approximate internal flying times:
La Paz to Rurrenbaque = 30 mins
La Paz to Sucre = 45 mins
La Paz to Santa Cruz = 1 hour
Sucre to Santa Cruz = 30 mins
El Alto International Airport: http://www.sabsa.aero/
Bolivia travel guide
With its ice-capped Andean peaks, crystalline lagoons, rugged lowlands, Amazonian rainforest, terraced valleys and windswept altiplano, landlocked Bolivia is a virtual showcase of South America’s most dramatic landscapes.
Its iconic sights include Lake Titicaca, spiritual home of the Inca creation myth and highest navigable lake in the world; the Salar de Uyuni, highest and largest salt lake on earth; and La Paz, the world’s highest de facto capital. The panorama of the city’s ramshackle roofs sprawled across the basin beneath the mighty Mt Illampú is surely one of the most awesome views in the Americas.
The country’s greatest treasures are the Bolivians themselves. Nearly two thirds of the people are of indigenous origin, preserving the continent’s purest cultural roots, which, for visitors, means a dazzling array of colourful festivals, mysterious rituals, haunting folklore music, magical markets and dazzling costumed dances.
While bespoke tourism is emerging, there are also plenty of long bus journeys over precipitous mountain passes, rough-and-tumble jeep trips across empty landscapes and chilly nights at high altitude in budget hostels under llama wool blankets.
Bolivia’s cities encapsulate the country’s staggering contrasts. La Paz mixes both traditional and modern culture in a frenzy of collisions. Weave your way through the backstreets where cosmopolitan restaurants and lively bars compete with witch markets and speeding minibuses. By contrast, Santa Cruz has a younger vibe: famous for its spirited Carnival, it’s the booming hub of the tropical eastern lowlands. Colonial Sucre and Potosí are chronicles of Bolivia’s past – whitewashed mansions, gilt-lined churches, monumental plazas, and steep cobbled streets. While Tupiza and Uyuni offer something different altogether: the isolated culture of Altiplano towns.
From jungle greenery to vast white salt plains and wildlife-filled wetlands, the sweep of landscapes can be overwhelming: one day you can find yourself walking through a canyon of rock formations, the next volcanic geysers and endless stretches of white salt. It is this smorgasbord of remarkable features which keeps trips to Bolivia varied, alive and unforgettable.
Geography of Bolivia
On the south-western Altiplano are the Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest in the world. Here, the shimmering white salt pan and deep blue sky combine to create a truly magical spectacle.
The stunning Cordillera Real is a mountain range dominated by huge snow peaks, including Illimani and Illampu (6,380m). The Real divides the northern Altiplano from the tropical forests to the east. The Cordillera Real’s eastern slopes are characterized by the deep, sub-tropical Yungas gorges.
Further south, the tropical Chapare is the agricultural heart of Bolivia. East of this band of high forests and plantations lies Bolivia’s Oriente, a vast swathe of Amazonian jungle and savanna accounting for 2/3 of the country and featuring some of the last untouched wilderness on earth.
In the north-eastern Department of Beni, some 50% of the country’s mammals and birds reside. Below, and in no special order, we outline some of the top places to go and things to do.
Bolivia lies within the tropics, between latitudes 10º and 22º south. The climate, as varied as its geography, is affected by latitude and, especially, by altitude.
The best time to travel is the winter (dry season) between May and Oct when, typically, weather systems over the Andes are stable, and overall you can expect bright sunny days and cold clear nights. Most of the rain falls from Dec to March. Climate can be divided into these distinct zones:
The Andes and the Altiplano
The southeast Trade Winds lose most of their moisture by the time they cross the Cordillera Oriental (eastern Andes), while the winds crossing the Cordillera Occidental from the Pacific are very dry anyway due to the presence of the cold Humboldt Current. Consequently, year-round, there is relatively little precipitation on the Altiplano, especially in the dry season – most rainfall is from Dec to March. However, there is periodical, localized rain on high peaks and valleys all year round.
The further south and west you go on the Altiplano, the drier are the conditions; around Uyuni, semiarid conditions prevail.
Temperature-wise, the Andes and Altiplano experience significant fluctuations over a single day. At 4,000m, the pre-dawn temperature can drop to -15ºC, while noon temperatures at the same location can reach 20ºC.
Southerly cold winds mean the southern Altiplano is not only drier, but also noticeably colder and windier thanthe north (pre-dawn temperatures at Uyuni in July regularly drop to -20ºC).
On treks in the Cordillera Real in the dry season, expect a range of conditions within a single day: cold/freezingnights at camps above 4,000m (where pre-dawn temperatures sometimes reach -15ºC); warm, spring-like mornings and afternoons; and cold evenings. Conditions are generally dry, but note that mountain weather is fickle and localized, and precepitation is not unusual in the dry season.
Expect temperatures to swing between sun and shade, sheltered and exposed ground and with altitude gain and loss. A quick-setting sun means temperatures drop fast.
The city of La Paz (3,630m) is relatively sheltered. Average high/low temperatures range from 17ºC/1ºC in June and July (coldest months) to 19ºC/6ºC in Nov and Dec (warmest months). In June and July, it rarely rains more than 1 or 2 days per month, while in January there are on average 15 wet days.
The Andean sun’s rays are very strong.
The tropical lowlands & yunga
Year-round, weather conditions in the Amazon basin are hot and humid, although the lowland rainforests lie far enough south of the equator to provide a ‘cooler’, drier winter season between May and October.
During this ‘dry season’, the average daytime high temperature is between 25°C and 31°C and the average nighttime low is between 16°C and 22°C. In the dry season, heavy downpours typically occur every few days. Note that around 80% of annual average rainfall – approx 2,000 mm in Bolivia’s northern lowlands – occurs in the wet season (Nov to April).
On rare occasions, between May and September, cold fronts from Argentina - surazos - can sweep into southwest Amazonia and push temperatures down to 9°C. (Surazos usually last between 1 and 3 days).
The Yungas shares the same dry/wet months but varies from quite wet to very wet depending on whether it isthe 'dry' or rainy season. Average temperature is 24°C.
It is a condition of booking any of our holidays that you have comprehensive travel insurance to cover you for trip cancellation (by you), activities involved and destination.
This cover should include repatriation costs, air ambulance and helicopter rescue.
We work with Travel Nomads, who offer insurance solutions to people in more than 140 countries across the world.
Should you decide not to purchase this insurance, you must provide us with details of your alternative insurance with or before your final payment.
Andean Trails can book all your international and domestic flights for this trip and for UK passengers, we have full ATOL bonding and can book flights with most airlines.
International flight prices are variable and usually can only be guaranteed at the time of booking. If you would like to upgrade to business or first class, or even arrive at an earlier date/depart at a later date we can also arrange this for you.
International flights will arrive into La Paz, but sometimes stop or connect with Santa Cruz or Sucre. We usually recommend overnighting in your arrival city before travelling onward, in case of delays.
Please contact us for flight advice especially if you do want to make a connection on the same day. It is important to purchase a through ticket and not separate tickets for connections, so that you are covered for any delays.
Passengers with separate tickets who are delayed run the risk of having to buy an entirely new ticket to continue their journeys.
All airline schedules are subject to change and are out of our control.
Currency & Money Exchange
Bolivia’s monetary unit is the "boliviano" (Bs) – often referred to as peso. Notes are in 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 2 (rare) boliviano denominations. Coins are in 2, 1, 0.50, 0.20 and 0.10 and 0.50 (rare) boliviano denominations. There are 100 centavos to one boliviano.
Travellers are advised to carry funds in US dollars, bringing mostly cash, in medium to high denomination bank notes. Note that dollar bills must be unmarked and undamaged, otherwise they may well not be accepted.
We also recommend you carry an ATM cash card, as ATM (‘hole-in-the-wall’) machines are available in most Bolivian cities.
US dollar travellers cheques can be changed in La Paz (commission usually payable), but are not so easy to change elsewhere.
La Paz shops and restaurants often accept the major international credit cards, though their use sometimes incurs a fee. Note that it is difficult to buy US$ with bolivianos at points of exit.
Bank hours are generally 09.00-18.00 weekdays, and increasingly Saturday morning from 09.00-13.00.
Tipping is a normal part of life in Latin America. The norm in restaurants is approx 10%. Local staff, e.g. on trekking, biking, jungle and rafting expeditions, often look to group members for recognition of their services.
The tip will depend on satisfaction with service provided and length of time spent with staff. It should be remembered, however, that over-generosity is counterproductive.
A range of US$5-10 per day for the guide is usual plus further tipping for drivers, assistants cooks etc…Tips are best paid in US$ or small denominations of Bolivianos.
International and national calls can be made from public pay phones. Country and city codes are normally shownin phone booths.
For international calls, dial: 00 + country code + city code minus ‘0’ + telephone number. For city to city calls, dial: 0 + city code + telephone number.
Public phones take coins or cards. These are sold in stands and supermarkets. Make sure card corresponds to the phone company whose phone you want to use. Collect calls not possible from pay phones.
The main towns and cities have public Internet offices, and their number is increasing. Average cost per hour = US$ 1.30.
There are lots of official taxis in La Paz. Haggle a price before getting in. Taxis normally carry 4 people max.
Bolivia is generally safe, but crime is not unknown and travellers should take the precautions they would anywhere else, especially:
Leave paper valuables in hotel safe (caja fuerte), taking only what you need for the day. Carry a copy of passport (leave original in safe). N.B. When travelling, carry paper valuables in a money belt under clothing, not in a ‘bum-bag’.
We suggest you do not exchange money on the street. Use either a casa de cambio (bureau de change) or bank.
Care is needed in La Paz and other cities. Only carry a daypack if you’re in a group. We suggest you carry this on your chest. Carry camera in bag, replacing after use. Always take special care around markets, bus terminals and busy streets. Never carry a bag or valuables in these areas, as bag-slashers and pickpockets sometimes operate.
Beware of distraction techniques.
At night, avoid quiet streets or streets with poor lighting, especially if alone; it’s best to use taxis atnight, wherever you are.
NEVER leave your bag(s) unattended, especially in airports, bus terminals and hotel lobbies.