Bolivia Complete Guide
Here you will find all the info about backpacking in Bolivia based on the experiences of my trip from Lake Titicaca down to the Salar de Uyuni as well as conversations with other Bolivia backpackers.
Bolivia was the second country of my big South America backpacking tour and a bit of a challenge both organizationally and culturally. Use this navigation to navigate to the section you are interested in
1) Why Bolivia?
When it comes to classic backpacking countries, Bolivia ranks at the top of the world due to its price level – but besides the outrageously low prices, there are also great landscapes to admire and so some adventures to experience.
In addition, Bolivia is well suited as a side trip from the more expensive neighboring countries and can thus be ideally combined with backpacking in Chile, Argentina or backpacking in Peru!
The absolute highlight is certainly the tour in Uyuni – the salt desert is simply unique, just like the volcanoes, rock formations and lagoons that you get to see on the multi-day tour!
2) Language & Getting by
As in the other South American countries, the following applies: in hostels and with tour operators you can get by in English in many cases, otherwise it becomes quite difficult – in Bolivia even more difficult than in the neighboring countries.
I recommend that you acquire some basic Spanish.
Compared to Argentines, Chileans and Peruvians, Bolivians are usually a bit more reserved towards strangers, but if you are then in conversation, Bolivians are usually very patient – much can be clarified with gestures.
3) Prices & Finances
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries on the continent and therefore extremely cheap for the western tourist in terms of local costs.
For orientation: a night in a dorm costs between 5-8€, in a private 8-12€ – a meal in a restaurant is 1-5€, a long distance bus ride costs around 25€ (La Paz-Uyuni). In the bigger cities the prices are higher, especially for accommodation.
I recommend the Visa card, as I have been using it myself for 3 years and have benefited in South America in particular from the security mechanisms and fast support.
4) Food & Drink
When backpacking in Bolivia, the variety of food is by far not as great as in neighboring countries – the dishes are usually rather simple. However, fresh fruits and soups are recommended. Sensitive stomachs have it here rather difficult, especially in restaurants in which rather locals are guests, caution is advised (especially with salads, because these are usually washed off with tap water) – almost every Bolivia traveler I know who was longer in the country has a food poisoning behind him.
The most common dishes: Rice with meat (usually chicken, often beef or lamb), milanesa with rice (cutlets), empanadas, stews and local fast food restaurants – if you want to play it safe I recommend going for more expensive “gringo” restaurants.
As for drinks, I recommend the juice bars in the markets, where you can choose what goes in the blender or simply order a “Vitaminico” – but here you should avoid the raw egg as an ingredient. Otherwise, beer is the drink of choice when it comes to evening get-togethers, the most popular brand being “Pacena” – a solid beer.
5) Safety, Health & Insurance
In Bolivia, especially in big cities, caution is advised, especially at night you should prefer to travel in a group and choose the cab. Note the general safety tips for South America and read my assessment!
Before your trip to Bolivia you should check your vaccinations, some vaccinations are even a requirement for entry. Get a doctor’s consultation 6 months before your departure (consultations usually cost 30€, vaccinations are often even paid by your health insurance). Especially if you plan to travel to the Amazon region, you should get more intensive advice!
South America, the insurance coverage of your health insurance does not apply. Therefore you have to get travel health insurance.
6) Transportation & Luggage
The mode of transportation par excellence is the bus. The intercity buses in Bolivia are by far not as comfortable as in other South American countries, but for popular tourist routes there are often special tour buses – they cost more, but are also more comfortable and safer.
When it comes to bus companies I recommend you to ask other travelers for recommendations and also get info in the hostel – one bus company I can recommend for the route La Paz – Uyuni is “Todo Tourismo” (more comfortable night bus).
As for the luggage: try to pack sparingly, a 44-65L backpack is usually enough. I was traveling with a Kaikkialla backpack from Globetrotter: the front access, the good organization by means of pockets and the carrying comfort are super – an absolute recommendation!
7) Lake Titicaca: Copacabana & Isla del Sol
The Bolivian part of Lake Titicaca is much cheaper than the Peruvian and also more beautiful, Copacabana is a small village and very clear compared to Puno on the Peruvian side.
In Copacabana you can book a tour to Isla del Sol and to the small Isla de la Luna (in combination). Isla del Sol is really scenic and worth it, you should think about maybe staying longer and staying in one of the rooms on site!
8) La Paz & Death Road
Often the secret capital & seat of government La Paz is the starting point for their backpacking in Bolivia. Besides the sights of the metropolis, especially the Death Road is waiting for you!
9) Salar de Uyuni & Highlands
If there is only one reason to visit Bolivia, it is definitely the Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt desert turns into the world’s largest natural mirror during the rainy season. As already mentioned above, I recommend the multi-day tour through the highlands – an experience you will never forget!
10) Potosi & Sucre
Unfortunately I didn’t manage to visit this region during my time in Bolivia – so I can only refer to other resources here.
Potosi – the highest big city in the world is famous especially for its colonial style and the nearby mines. Especially popular are the excursions to the mines of Cerro Rico which are offered locally.
Sucre – the capital of Bolivia is often called the “white city”, especially the old town is worth seeing and not without reason since 1991 part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage. A good insight offers the SWR documentary Treasures of the World, which you can watch online!
Questions about backpacking in Bolivia?
I created this guide for you based on my time on the ground – if something is unclear or you have more questions comment below the post. If you find the guide helpful feel free to share it with your friends on your networks.