Five Things First Time Travellers To Bolivia Should Know
- The main language spoken in Bolivia is Spanish. While English is widely used by tour guides and hotel staff, you might struggle to find someone who understands you outside these places. Come prepared by learning a few phrases and download a translation app for backup.
- You need proof of a yellow fever vaccination. Bolivia is one of the countries in South America that carries the disease. You won't be allowed into the country without proof of vaccination, and your document needs to be at least ten days old.
- Prepare yourself for altitude sickness. Due to La Paz being located at 3,650 metres above sea level, it's not uncommon to feel sick from the altitude. Bring some medicine to help with the symptoms or sip on cocoa tea.
- The tap water in Bolivia is not safe to drink. Stick to buying bottled water and avoid ice if you don't want to risk getting sick.
- Public toilets are not free. With entrance fees typically costing BOB 1 to BOB 5, it's a good idea to keep some change on you. Another important thing to remember is that most won't have any toilet paper. Pack some in your bag and make sure to dispose of it in the wastebaskets provided.
Best Time To Visit Bolivia
The best time to visit Bolivia is during the dry season. From May to October, the days are still warm, and the pleasant weather makes it easy to explore the country's top attractions. These colder months are ideal for hiking, climbing and any other outdoor activities.
June to August is the busiest time of year to visit Bolivia. Expect to find thick crowds at popular sites like the Salar de Uyuni and room rates at their highest. Many of Bolivia's top festivals take place during these months, making the influx of people a small price to pay to experience the best of Bolivia's culture.
The wet season lasts from November to March. The frequent rains can make transportation around the country almost impossible. If you're planning a road trip during these months, ask a local to look over your route, so you don't get stranded.
The upside to visiting in the wet season is that it's the best time to visit the salt flats. The thin sheet of water reflecting the sky creates the perfect conditions for those iconic Salar de Uyuni photographs.
The lack of visitors during this period means you'll scope up some great deals. Many of the hotels slash their rates, and cheap flights are easier to find.
Potosi is the highest city in the world. Located 4,100 metres above sea level, it was once the world's richest source of silver.
Over 200 years, more than 40,000 tons of the precious metal was mined out of the town. Potosi quickly became one of the wealthiest cities in the world, before its mines dried up and left the city in disrepair.
Today, Potosi is a treasure trove of colonial art and architecture earning it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Make sure you spend some time at the old silver mines to learn more about the city's fascinating history.
La Paz is the de facto capital of Bolivia surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Real. It's a melting pot of diversity and full of quirky markets, museums and delicious food stalls.
The city is also a haven for budget travellers. For under USD 10 you can eat to your heart's content, and dorm rooms cost less than USD 6.
Its most famous attractions are the Witches Market, the Presidential Palace, Mirador Killi Killi and the world's most dangerous road.
Sucre is the capital city of Bolivia that was founded by the Spanish in the 1500s. Today, its historic centre is an open-air museum, filled with beautiful Spanish mansions, monasteries and colonial architecture.
It's a great place to base yourself and is a day trip away from some of Bolivia's most famous sites. Be sure to check out the dinosaur footprints, the seven waterfalls and La Casa de la Libertad, one of the most important historical buildings in the city.
Top Attractions in Bolivia
Salar De Uyuni
Salar De Uyuni is the highest and largest salt flat in the world. Spanning across 12,000 square kilometres, it was formed when a prehistoric lake dried up and left behind ten billion tonnes of salt. Today, it's the top destination in Bolivia, attracting thousands of visitors each year.
Located in the Andes Mountains, the best way to see this natural wonder is to join a guided 4WD tour. If you can, plan your visit after a rainstorm, when the thin layer of water creates the Salar De Uyuni iconic reflections.
The salt flats are equally special in the evening and are the perfect location for incredible night sky photography shots.
Madidi National Park
Madidi National Park is one of the most bio-diverse places in the world. Its 7,000 square miles are home to the elusive jaguar, the endemic titi monkey and 11% of bird species in the world.
The best time to visit Madidi is during the dry season. From April to October, the park's wildlife will be easier to spot as they make their way to the various watering holes. There are also fewer mosquitos and less mud, making it easier to explore the lush terrain on foot.
If you are travelling during December and March, your itinerary will need to be flexible. Due to the heavy rains in these months, your flights or activities might be cancelled.
Tiwanaku is a must for anyone fascinated by the ancient South American civilisations. Founded around 700 AD, Tiwanaku is one of the world's oldest cities. The group that constructed Tiwanaku disappeared around 1200 AD, but their influence later spawned the Inca empire.
Today, the site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the top attractions in Bolivia. Only a small part has been excavated so far, and it boasts some of the greatest megalithic architectural pieces in the Americas.
Spend a few hours exploring the ruins and ponder the mysteries that surround this ancient city. It's an easy day trip from La Paz and well worth the effort.
Yungas Road holds the title of the "World's Most Dangerous Road". Starting in La Paz, it runs into the Amazon rainforest reaching heights of 15,000 feet before ending in the town of Coroico.
The road has become a popular activity for mountain bikers seeking an adrenaline rush. Its 40 mile stretch of downhill riding is exhilarating but terrifying at the same time. The winding road has a notoriously high death rate claiming 200-300 lives a year.
Due to the precarious conditions, special rules apply when travelling Yungas road. Vehicles have to drive on the left, and descending cars never have the right of way.
If you want to tackle the road yourself, several tour companies organise extreme cycling trips here throughout the year.
If you want to experience Bolivian culture at its finest, plan your trip around the Oruro Carnival. Each year, before Ash Wednesday the city of Oruro plays host to one of the biggest cultural events in South America.
The festival kicks off with the devil's dance, as 28,000 dancers make their way down the streets accompanied by 10,000 musicians. The event attracts over 400,000 people each year, and the celebrations continue into the early hours of the morning.
If you find yourself in Bolivia during this time, it's one fiesta you don't want to miss.
Major International Airports in Bolivia
- Viru Viru International Airport
- El Alto International Airport
- Jorge Wilstermann International Airport