Bolivia is, and probably always will be, one of the most diverse, colorful and simply amazing places, I have ever visited. I felt in love with the landscape, people and atmosphere as soon as I crossed the border on the desert between Chile and Bolivia. It was one of the nine countries, I have visited during my six months backpacking trip through South America. Even planning this trip at home, I already knew that Bolivia will be my favorite destination. The one, I will remember forever. And it happened to be one indeed. In this section, I will quickly tell you about my experience, but my main goal is to give you an overall look at prices, transport and food in this absolutely stunning country.
Probably the hardest thing to deal with in Bolivia, and pretty much in every Latin country, is zero to minimum English-speaking people around. I have to admit that it was difficult at times with my limited Spanish. You really have to learn basics to travel there around, otherwise you may miss or lose on loads of things. Thought, in most hotels or hostels receptionists speak English, it’s not always guaranteed, and remember that they are not going to be with you everywhere anyway. But here’s something to cheer you up. Bolivia is one of the cheapest places in South America, I think only Paraguay is cheaper, so enjoy! That can also be handy in taking Spanish classes there. Sucre, capital, is most popular for it, with prices starting at just under a 5$ for a day long course. Apart from study, once there, if you need a new clothes, buy them. That’s the best place to stock up on anything you need. Don’t also waste your time in the hostel’s kitchen to cook. You can get an amazing main meal for just 1-1.5$ that comes usually with drink and sometimes even with a soup. Trips are very affordable, even that I prefer always to do everything on my own, I bought few, and I was very pleased with them. Plus, I have met other travelers too, while doing so. Prices depends on season, agency and your negotiation skills, but let’s say one day trip to the jungle can cost around 20$, including all meals, transport and guide. Ha, almost forgot to mention how important negotiations are. Try to do it if possible, especially while dealing with travel agents. You can always get a discount. I never done it while buying food or meals, simply as It was cheap already. I was even paying more, just as I felt that they deserved a little bit extra from us, tourists. But hey, do what you want!
Transport. When it comes to transport you wallet is happy, but your back not so. Buses are very cheap, but that reflects on the comfort you are getting. There is not much choice around too. Well, loads of companies, but with the same standard buses (as of Feb 2016), so there is no need to look around too much, check just few to get the cheapest price (they don’t differ that much neither) and buy a ticket. Average bus ride for 8h will cost you no more than 11-12$. 80% of the bused do not have a toilet, or there is one, but permanently closed to public view. Don’t panic. Bus driver will be stopping very often next to the toilets, restaurants and shops, so you will be able to stuck up on food or use a loo. Your intake and outtake will be well taken care of on the road. You don’t even have to go to the shop really, there will be loads of colorful ladies popping in to the bus to sell all kind of food and drinks. From hot meat, corns (my fav, miss them with all my heart), vegetarian or meaty delicious pastry, to nuts, all kind of fruits and sweets. Try saltena, they are all homemade and extremely delicious!!! Anyway, even that I mentioned how uncomfortable buses can be, with minimum recline chairs and no toilet in, there will be nothing more amazing and beautiful than what you will see through the window on the road. Landscape is just breath-taking. You think you are getting from A to B, but what you’re really doing is having an amazing cheap trip thought the Andes, valleys and jungle.
Now few worlds about city transport. Don’t hesitate to take a taxi if you need one. It’s very very cheap, but always remember to agree on the price before getting in. I am not saying they will try to cheat on you, as I found Bolivians more than fair, but just in case. For example 5km will cost you around 3$. Buses and minibuses are way cheaper. It is very difficult to get your head around, but once you will master that, just go for it! See yourself the real Bolivian transport system, extremely dodgy buses full of amazing people. For example, in La Paz you will be shock how buses do run, but they always have a destination shown on the front window, and they do go to the main “backpacker interest” places, so chill out. From minibus you can get off where you want, and get in where you want, just wave your hand or tell the driver to stop. They will cost you around 0.20$.
Hostels and hotels are very cheap too. Usually I was paying max 8$ per night. In one of the best Hotels, with balcony and view on Titicaca lake in Copacabana, I paid 35$ (oh well, I need that from time to time), so you can see that good ones are affordable too. There are loads of places to stay around, and I mean it! It is like a backpacker`s dream land, so you will not look for too long to find a place you like. Bolivia is elevated, so the temperature range tend to be as the lowest in South America. That’s why in most hostels you will get a hot water, so enjoy till last, as in other countries that’s like a rare pleasure.
At the beginning of my trip (in Brazil, Argentina and Chile), I was using a booking.com, but I quickly discovered that I am just paying more, as of booking.com fesses, so do look yourself or look online and then just go to your accommodation. There is hardly any hotel, hostel that is fully booked. As I mention before, it`s loads of them, especially in the city canter area and near all bus stations, so you won’t end up walking with your backpack for too long.
Maps.me. Please do get a maps.me app. It saved my life many many times. You can use maps with no internet connection, and even, as because it uses a GPS, it will show you your location in most of the places. Plus, it has hostels, shops and all places of interest on it, which make it easier to find your way around.
Food in Bolivia is like a dream. I loved it a lot. I guess, I still do, but it’s not a culinary side, so I will spare you writing much about it. However, it’s cheap, homemade, delicious and it’s available on every corner. Always go to the big markets (Mercados) to eat. Everything is there, and usually (at least in every place I visited so far) is divided in sections for stands selling fruits, vegetables, meat, clothes, cosmetics, and then there is that amazing food area, I am talking about. Oh, public toilets are there too. Well, to be honest, they are very dirty, smelly and not nice in general, but please don’t act with your nose up. It is a third world country. People live in this condition and often don’t have a choice. Think how lucky and fortunate you are. Use it, pay and leave. Anyway, coming back to my favorite topic, please do visit mercados and try the food there. Its traditional and made in front of you.
As I wrote above, the average price for the main meal and drink is 1.5$. Though, it’s not much of vegetarian range there, you can find something anyway. Otherwise you can have a delicious meat (chicken, beef) with salad and rice or potatoes. Pasta is very popular too. Dishes differ from very mild to very spicy. The most amazing thing is that you will eat with locals. They are all very nice, and they will always talk to you. I really would like to highlight places like that, as usually I was the only traveler there, and that gave me the chance to truly experience a daily life in Bolivia and atmosphere. Don’t be scared and don’t listen about food poisoning, upset tummy etc. For the whole 6 months (and trust me, I ate the cheapest street food, sometimes even sitting on my bum on the street..see pic under), and I’ve never ever experience anything like that!! Be brave and don’t act posh, but if you are like that, then Bolivia is definitely not for you!!
Girls, now you can relax, finally. There will be non to minimum harassment from Latinos in Bolivia towards you. It’s very interesting about that place, and I still don’t understand why. People are very distant there, not pushy at all, but nice when it comes to interaction. I think Nicaragua and Salvador are on the top of the list, when sometimes I was wishing, I could just give them a good old face palm. So, enjoy it and walk around without unwanted attention. At the same time, I felt like Bolivia is the safest place too.