Welcome to Bolivia and to BOLIVIA CULTURA TRAVEL
This guide contains information that you may need during your time in Bolivia.
Please take the time to read through it.
Download this document in pdf
1) PASSPORTS, VISAS AND IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS
2) MONEY AND FINANCES
3) IMMUNIZATIONS AND COMMON HEALTH PROBLEMS
• ALTITUDE SICKNESS (SOROCCHI)
4) SAFETY and SCAMS
5) CULTURAL DO’S AND DON’TS
6) THINGS TO BRING
PASSPORTS, VISAS AND IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS
Most nationalities do not need to get a visa before coming to Bolivia, and in fact getting one may
cause you problems. To check the status of your country, check http://www.rree.gov.bo./
For citizens of countries that don’t need to apply for a visa in advance (i.e. most western countries)
you will receive a 30 day stamp when you arrive in the country. Two extensions of 30 days each
can be obtained any immigration office. Anyone planning to stay longer than 6 months may need to
get a year visa. Citizens of the United States now require a visa - here is an application form and an explanation in Spanish (contact us for an explanation in English). All of this may seem a bit confusing, so please contact the office if you have any
questions or concerns.
Leave a photocopy of your passport and other important documents with your family at home and
when you arrive, leave a copy of your passport and entry stamp with the Bolivia Cultura Viajes y
Turismo office. Write down the serial numbers of credit cards, traveler’s cheques, and the phone
number of the lost/stolen hotline. Keep these in a separate place from the originals.
Bolivian law requires you to carry identification at all times – we recommend that you carry in addition to your passport a photocopy of your passport and show this when asked, never the
original. It is a good idea to make copies of other important documents such as: airline tickets,
insurance policies, important prescriptions be sure to store them separately from the originals.
Be aware of the expiration dates of your passport and credit cards/debit cards/travelers cheques.
Insurance which covers medical emergencies, evacuation, personal belongings and repatriation is
strongly recommended. Be sure to take note of the medical waiver fees. Keep a copy of your
vaccination record with you.
MONEY AND FINANCES
• Travelers checks are very difficult to change and the charges are often quite steep.
• You can exchange small amounts of US dollars, into bolivianos in the streets. It is
recommended that you use banks or casas de cambio (exchange houses) for large amounts
($us.100 or more) not street money changers.
• It is common that nobody will accept dollar bills that look old or are torn. Not even banks!!
• Credit cards - Visa (most common), and Master Card are accepted in main cities. Cash can
be withdrawn by credit card at some banks. Debit cards can be used in many locations,
ENLACE is the most common system available.
• When changing money it is advisable to ask for small bills as it is often difficult to change
It takes time to have an effective course of immunizations so you will need to speak with your
doctor or travel clinic at least 12 weeks before you intend to travel.
We recommend the following immunizations for Bolivia: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid,
Yellow Fever (required), and Rabies.
Serious tropical diseases are spread through infected mosquitoes. Malarial pills are not necessary in
the high altitude sections of the country, but you may want to bring some along in case you travel to
the tropical regions of the country.
In addition to the above, check that your other vaccinations are up to date (polio, TB, meningitis,
MMR, diphtheria, tetanus). It is recommended that you have a general check-up and dental exam
before you travel especially if you will away for an extended period of time (+3 months).
Check out these websites for up to date information.
COMMON HEALTH PROBLEMS:
“BOIL IT, COOK IT, PEEL IT OR FORGET IT”
The most common health problem with tourist is “traveler’s diarrhea”, caused by nasty bugs
found in contaminated food and water. More serious diarrheal illnesses caused by internal
parasites are Giardia and Amoebic dysentery, or by bacteria eg. Cholera and Typhoid. The best way
to avoid the above is by paying careful attention to what, and where, you eat and drink.
• Do not drink tap water in Bolivia or brush your teeth with it.
• Be wary of ice in drinks.
•Always ensure bottled water is properly sealed, it is cheap and available almost
• Always wash your hands thoroughly before eating and drinking.
• Street food is never certain to be safe particularly avoid undercooked meat and fish, dairy
products and raw vegetables.
Dehydration can easily occur at higher altitudes and is a serious danger when you are experiencing
diarrhea (be sure to drink at least a cup of water for each trip to the bathroom). At high altitudes
you should drink at least 2 liters of water per day.
If you do find yourself suffering from dehydration (symptoms include: headache, muscle spasms) a
good re-hydration mix is: 1 lit re of water, 1 spoon of sugar, 1 spoon of salt. You can also buy
re-hydration salts in any pharmacy.
ALTITUDE SICKNESS (SOROCCHI)
Altitude sickness (sorocchi) can occur (especially when first arriving to the El Alto airport!), the
best cure if possible is to descend to lower altitude. The symptoms (headache, nausea, vomiting,
dizziness, insomnia, loss of appetite) can be avoided or alleviated by taking it easy your first few
days, eating small meals and avoiding alcohol your first few nights in town.
Sorocchi pills are sold in almost all pharmacies and are a mixture of caffeine and aspirin, which can
also be helpful in alleviating symptoms.
Remember the sun is strong especially at high altitudes. It is a good idea to follow our friends the
SLIP on some clothes
SLOP on some high factor sunscreen
SLAP on hat
SAFETY and SCAMS
Bolivia is one of the safest South American countries and most Bolivians are friendly and helpful
although, as in every country, you should take precautions.
• Be aware that Bolivians drive on the right and pedestrians do not have right of way.
• Lock your baggage when traveling.
• Keep your valuables, including passport, in a money belt under your clothing.
• Don’t wear expensive jewellery.
• Don’t walk alone after dark in isolated areas. Take a radio taxi.
These scams will be tried on you throughout Bolivia …read through the list below, be aware, and
remember they happen when you least expect it…
1. The friendly tourist and the plain-clothes police officer.
A “tourist” approaches you and asks for directions, moments later, someone else comes over and
shows you an official looking ID. He claims to be a police officer and asks to see your
passport/entry stamp. Your new “friend” says this isn’t unusual and takes out his own ID / passport
/ entry stamp. The “police officer” then asks to inspect your money for counterfeit notes and / or
your bag for drugs. During the process the two will steal your money / contents of your bag.
Variations include being asked to get into a taxi to go to the police station, during the ride they will
go through your wallet / bag robbing you.
What to do?
Assume plain-clothes police officers are con – artists. Don’t allow anyone to search your bags. Only
show a photocopy of your passport. Never get into a taxi with a stranger or with other people
already in it.
2. It’s raining money / credit cards / white powder, etc.
Someone drops money or some other potentially valuable item near you. You bend down to pick it
a. You are accused of stealing it and asked to pay to avoid arrest.
b. You are asked to share your find while being robbed
c. While bending over, you are pick-pocketed / have your bag snaked/stolen.
What to do?
Ignore “accidentally” dropped items – keep walking, minding your own business. If someone
approaches you with “dropped” money / phone card / credit card, become suspicious, watch your
bags, and get away from the situation. Be rude if necessary.
3. Helpful cleaners
You’re walking down the street and a helpful person points out spit / vomit / mustard / dulce de
leche etc. on your bag / jacket. They, or someone else, offer to help clean it off – while another
person empties your pockets / bag or runs off with the jacket / bag you’ve just taken off to clean.
What to do?
Ignore said mess and keep walking. Wait until you get to your hostel / hotel / a safe restaurant to
clean it off. Be careful the nearest convenient spot may be a set up to rob you.
4. The unlucky traveler
A “respectable looking traveler” tells you they’ve just been robbed / they’ve just got out of prison /
their sisters just died, etc. and ask you for money.
What to do?
Do not give them anything; if in doubt give them information on the nearest police station / their
country’s embassy details.
5. Bag – slashers and pick – pocketers
You are in the busy market / bus terminal and someone casually brushes against your back / bumps
into you. The contents of your pockets / your bag have disappeared.
What to do?
Always carry your valuables in a safe place (ex. Money belt) underneath your clothes. Don’t have
large amounts of cash in your pocket / bag. Wear backpack / bag on the front of your body.
6. People lurking at the bus terminal / café / outside hostel
Someone distracts you, asking for directions, telling you their life story etc., while someone else
snatches your bag.
What to do?
Always have one eye on your belongings. Try not to travel alone. Make a habit of hooking your
leg / arm through the strap of your bag.
7. The extra – long bus ride
You are on the bus and the person next to you, asks you to open their drink. You oblige, and being
polite, the person offers you a little. You take a swig and hours later you wake up in a daze, having
been drugged with no belongings; even your shoes are gone.
What to do?
Never accept drinks or food from strangers.
CULTURAL DO’S AND DON’TS
It is almost certain that one of the reasons you are coming to Bolivia is its culture. Bolivian culture
is still a vibrant part of everyday life and the innumerable festivals and remote small villages will
allow you to experience it firsthand.
However, as any culture, Bolivia may at times irritate or disturb you because it is different from
what you are use to. You may find the poverty or treatment of domestic animals disturbing or be
frustrated by Bolivians’ lack of punctuality. It is very important that you try to gain a respect for,
and understanding of, the cultural differences. One way to do this is to read about Bolivia before
Here are a few tips for lessening that culture shock and helping you figure out some common social
• Greeting is an important part of Bolivian culture one should always acknowledge all the
people in a room when you enter or leave it. You can do this by looking at each person and
saying "buenos días/tardes/noches", shaking hands or by a simple kiss on the right cheek.
• It is considered rude to stretch, yawn or burp in front of someone.
• If there is a mat or rag in a doorway take the hint and use it to clean your feet.
• If someone is eating and leave the table you should say “provecho” – “permiso” and if it is
said to you, respond with “gracias”. The same “permiso” should be used when you enter or
leave a group or meeting.
• Bolivians in general, are quiet people - so be aware of the volume of your voice
especially when in groups of foreigners.
• Drinking is a part of almost all fiestas, weddings, baptisms and even Todos Santos and
Bolivians can often times be very insistent that you join in. If you don’t feel up to having a
few cups with them it may be best not to go attend the event. It may work to say you are
"mal de estomago" (sick) or pregnant but the social pressure will still be there.
THINGS TO BRING
Light-weight fast drying clothing which is easy to wash is ideal. Layers are most flexible with the
climate. When you pack remember LESS is MORE, many people wish they hadn’t brought so
many clothes. If you forget something or need an extra sweater, good quality clothing is cheap and
easily available in Bolivia.
We recommend that you bring the following:
• Lightweight layerable clothing
• Jacket and sweater
• Bath towel
• Comfortable walking shoes (tough to find shoes larger than 42)
• Rain gear
• Small knapsack
• Tampons (expensive) and contraceptives if necessary
• Extra film or memory chip
• Money Belt
• Insect repellent
• Sun screen lotion 30 factor
• A good sun hat
• Medical supplies (including antiseptic, aspirin, charcoal, Imodium/Lomotil, lip and nose
• Lonely Planet: Bolivia
• GBT: Bolivia
• Footprints, Bolivia Handbook
• Rough Guide to Bolivia
• A Concise History of Bolivia, Herbert Klein.
• The Complete Bolivian Diaries of Ché Guevara and Other Captured Documents,
Ernesto Guevara with Daniel James ed.
• We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us: Dependency and Exploitation in Bolivian Tin
Mines, J Nash, a classic study of miners in Bolivia.
• Llamas, Weavings and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia, Kevin Healy, An interesting overview of development in Bolivia especially the first four chapters.
• Teetering on the Rim: Global Restructuring, Daily Life, and the Armed Retreat of the Bolivian State, Leslie Gill.
• Impasse in Bolivia: Neoliberal Globalization and Social Resistance by Ben Kohl and Linda Farthing, Zed Press, London 2006.
• Whispering in the Giants Ear by William Powers, 2006.
• The Price of Fire-Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia by Benjamin
Feel free to contact us at: email@example.com with any questions or concerns you have. Bolivia Cultura’s team is waiting to hear from you.
Copyright © 2010 Bolivia Cultura