Travelling in Bolivia can be a little tough. Here’s a few tips that might make your journey more enjoyable should you choose to visit this wonderful country..
1. Expect the worst. Don’t expect things to go your way, to have a hot shower, to have your reservation for a tour/bus/hostel to be correct, to eat a delicious meal or to be comfortable. That way if something actually does go your way, you will be pleasantly surprised 🙂
2. You are ALWAYS responsible for your own toilet paper no matter where you are. Dining in a nice restaurant and need to use bathroom? Yep you guessed it, no toilet paper. Don’t be caught without it, you never know when you may need it the most!
3. Health and sanitation isn’t one of Bolivia’s strongest points, so always carry hand sanitizer. Don’t put a single thing into your mouth with out using that’s precious sanitizer or you may have a date with your toilet bowl later.
4. Always carry more money on you than you need (safely in your fashionable (as if) money belt of course). Lots of small towns don’t have an ATM or they have one but it doesn’t always work. There also seems to a lot of unexpected departure/ arrival taxes and hidden entrance fees. You don’t want to end up washing the dishes out the back to try and pay for your last meal.
5. Be prepared for harsh climates. A lot of places in Bolivia are situated at high altitudes. Altitude sickness can effect anyone, it shows no discrimination against the young, the old, the fit and the unfit. Consult your doctor and come prepared with altitude sickness pills (Diamox), drink plenty of water, eat only a little, walk slowly and plan virtually nothing for at least your first two days of arriving at high altitude. Altitude sickness pills can also be purchased over the counter once your in South America if you came unprepared.
6. Go with the flow and be prepared to question your own safety at least once a day. Catching a bus to La Paz and suddenly you have to get off and get on a ferry? No problem. Going on a tour and you get a flat tire, your car breaks down or your driver decides suddenly he has to drive back to the petrol station we passed 15 minutes ago to fill up his car? Thats fine! Go to take a shower and realise its an electric powered shower head and the light switch is located actually in the shower cubicle itself? It’s ok, don’t worry, it’s Bolivia and they do as they please here. No point in getting upset or frustrated, it’s best to just let it happen and laugh about it later.
7. Always ask around for prices and do your research on lonely planet, trip advisor etc. Bolivians can smell a tourist a mile away and will try to sell you things at ridiculously expensive prices and tell you things will be included when they clearly aren’t. (ie. toilets and heating on night buses). You also have the right to barter in most circumstances.
8. Always bring your jacket. It may be sunny out but don’t be fooled. You are at high altitude and the weather can turn from blistering hot to bone chillingly cold in the space of an hour.
9. Always wear sunglasses and sunscreen on your face. Again, this high altitude is a killer. The sun up here is a lot stronger. 15 minutes in the sun is equivalent to 2 hours.
10. Some how there’s wifi virtually everywhere you go in bolivia (but no toilet paper? Good to see they have their priories right!) so don’t be afraid to bring a small iPad, tablet or smart phone to back up your photos and keep in contact with your family and friends. Obviously you have to be smart about it and not go flashing your electronics down the street, but if you keep it discrete you will be fine.
Bolivia really is an amazing country (what I’ve seen so far anyway). It’s landscapes, terrain and climate and so diverse and breathtakingly beautiful. This crazy country sure has challenged me the past few weeks, but it only makes me a stronger, smarter traveller.