By any measure, Bolivia is a very safe destination. The crime rate is among the lowest in South America. Most travelers that find themselves in a tough spot could have avoided any trouble by using common sense and taking practical steps to look after themselves. We’re counting down our top 10 tips for staying safe during your trip to Bolivia.
10. Be Smart in La Paz
Like any major city, La Paz does have its instances of crime; but not much as you’d find in other major cities in South America. Petty theft is the most immediate theat for visitors, so keeping your personal items as close as possible is a good way to prevent your belongings from getting stolen. Never leave a bag unattended, and try to keep at least one hand on it at all time when roaming the city. Leaving valuables such as jewelry and electronics in your hotel, or even at home, is also a good idea as displaying affluence in La Paz could make you a potential target for pickpockets. There are always police in the street during the day so if anything were to happen you can always contact an officer. However, at night you’re more or less on your own. If you are far away from your hotel, a restaurant or a bar late at night, taking a taxi is your safest mode of transport.
9. Avoid Altitude Sickness
When traveling to La Paz, Bolivia, you’ll be in a city located at 4,061 m. (11,942 ft.) above sea level. Altitude sickness occurs when the body cannot get enough oxygen out of the air at high altitudes, and usually lasts up to 2 or 3 days until your body acclimatizes to the height. Symptoms include headache, loss of appetite, possible vomiting, fatigue, dizziness and trouble sleeping. Drinking plenty of water before arriving can help ease these symptoms but eating – and eating often – fruits, candy and high caloric foods such as bread is most efficient. The traditional, local remedy for altitude sickness, of course, is the coca leaf. The leaves can either be chewed or brewed in a tea and help to alleviate the headache and stomach issues.
8. Keep Copies of Your Important Documents
Make photocopies of your passport, travel insurance, visa and any vaccination documents that you may have. It is not mandated that you carry around the hardcopies when traveling but if you get in to any sort of trouble, the photocopies will be sufficient evidence to prove who you are and what your status in the country may be.
7. Steer Clear of Demonstrations and Strikes
Bolivians love a good protest and demonstrations occur frequently in the streets Bolivia, especially (but not exclusively) in La Paz. Staying on top of the news and planning a trip around such events is paramount to ensure that a travel plan is not held up or canceled due to a roadblock or sit-in. If you stumble across a demonstration, give both the police and the protesters a wide berth.
6. Use Marked, Legal Taxis
Although a taxi is a good idea at night, be aware that there are taxis in La Paz that are not necessarily affiliated with any sort of organization or business. There are instances of overcharging or even robberies when riding in these taxis. A red flag is a cab with nothing more than a simple “Taxi” sticker located on the hood or sides of the car. You are much better off finding a taxi that has a light/sign on the top of the car displaying a company name and or phone number – as well as the “taxi” sticker. Having your hotel or restaurant call a taxi for you in advance is your best bet in avoiding any commuting issues. It is also helpful to carry exact, or close to exact change when riding in taxis. Some drivers may not have change for higher Boliviano notes such as 100s so try to keep smaller denominations with you when traveling by cab.
5. Be Skeptical of Street Food
Be careful of what you eat in the street. Many say not to eat any fruit that can’t be peeled – such as berries – and to always wash anything else. If you’re not necessarily used to eating food from the street, you may want to avoid it all together, as sometimes it may be undercooked. However, much of the street food is not only delicious, but a great way to immerse one’s self in the culture and flavor of the region; just choose wisely.
Bolivia is a beautiful country full of warm, welcoming people. While most travelers will not have any issues during their trip, there are some practical steps you can take to reduce the risk of any issues putting a black spot on your vacation. Being aware of your surroundings and mindful of health hazards is the key to a safe, enjoyable experience in Bolivia.
4. If You Go for a Hike, Hire a Guide
Travel carefully when hiking through the mountains because emergency evacuation is not exactly on call. Be sure to either stay with your tour group or your hiking partners as some trails can be disorienting, and getting lost would not be ideal. Finally, hikers on popular trails are occasionally targeted by thieves. Such incidents are rarely violent, but hiking with a group or a local guide can help prevent such issues.
3. Beware of Bugs
Throughout low-lying Bolivia, including all through the Amazon region, you will encounter the dreaded mosquito, so be sure to carry insect repellent with you on any trek. It is also advised that travelers headed for Bolivia be vaccinated for Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Malaria: all which can be contracted in much of Bolivia.
2. Say “No” to Drugs
Contrary to what you may think, cocaine is not legal in Bolivia; rather its possession comes with a hefty punishment. The traditional use of coca leaves (i.e. chewing or brewing in tea) and its distribution on the street is legal. Other street drugs such as marijuana and heroin are also illegal. If incarcerated, offenders could spend up to two years in prison for sentencing alone, spending that time in overcrowded prison systems where prisoners are responsible for paying their room and board. Among the many sites you may wish to see in Bolivia, an extended visit in San Pedro Prison should be far off the bucket list. Keeping clear of any drug-affiliated situation is, of course, best when visiting Bolivia.
1. Never, Never, Never Drink Tap Water
Bottled water, bottled water and bottled water: Even when brushing your teeth, use bottled water. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and could mean the difference between a wonderful vacation and a miserable one. Showering in your hotel comes with no real issue as long as you do not ingest any of the water. You may also want to avoid any ice in your drinks. Most restaurants will boil the water they make ice with, but you never know.