The real South America
If you're seeking for a real cultural shock, Bolivia is your place in South America. As we couldn't find a job, or a community to stay for some time, we spent 2 weeks in this beautiful country full of nature and traditions. In some way that was more than enough, on the other hand it would be also nice to get to know more about this diverse place. Coming from the Atacama Desert in northern Chile we reached Uyuni, with its amazing salt flats, as our first stop in Bolivia. From the desert city in the south, we traveled northwards to La Paz, Coroico and Copacabana with a small detour over Sucre, the capital. With that we came along the most important places in the plateau of the Andes. The original plan was to see more cities like Cochabamba and Santa Cruz de la Sierra and of course the amazonian rainforest. Unfortunately we needed to skip some parts in order to reach Peru because of a pretty interesting job offer. Anyway Bolivia is beautiful, crazy, cheap and in some way just different to everything we have seen before and ever could except of a country. This article contains all necessary information about things to explore, comfort, safety, costs, why you should consider Bolivia for your next holiday and why better not.
1. What to experience in Bolivia
Bolivia is a great place for hiking and enjoying the nature, with a lot of natural wonders and sights. Besides that, it has some awesome cities and remote villages where you can get in touch with a culture as different as you can imagine. Just stroll along the endless markets and try tasty vegetables, exotic fruits as well as fresh prepared street food. To make your choice a bit easier we created the following list of things, you should not miss for your next Bolivia trip:
- Salar de Uyuni - Click here for more information.
- Potosí - a colonial city located near the Cerro Rico (rich hill). Because of the huge silver- and stannic incidence of the hill, Potosí became to one of the biggest and richest cities world wide. It also takes a very sad part in history with all the indigenous people who died, forced to work in the silver mines. Even today the mines are famous for their low level of safety and technology. Nevertheless Potosí became pretty touristic once because of the colonial city centre and of course, because of the mines, which you can visit in guided tours.
- La Paz - click here for more information.
- Sucre - click here for more information.
- Santa Cruz de la Sierra - considered as the most developed city of Bolivia it offers a nice colonial center, awesome weather all year long and nice surroundings with untouched nature, mountains and several archeological sights.
- Copacabana and Lake Titicaca - click here for more information.
- Cochabamba - the heart of Bolivia is famous for its rich cuisine. The city is surrounded by stunning mountains and as the most cities in Bolivia a nice and old, colonial center. Besides that it has a taller Jesus statue and a Carneval which is almost as famous as the one in Rio.
- Amazonia - beside the more populated part of the Andes, Bolivia has a way larger area of rainforest and is with that one out of nine countries, which are part of the Amazon area. In the Madidi National Park for example, you can find cloud forests as well as very deep tropical jungles, with all kinds of vegetations and exotic animals like cats, monkeys and birds.
There are as well many cultural things, especially dishes and drinks which you should not miss. In the following list you find our favorite must tries of Bolivia:
- Have some Chicha - a beer like beverage from corn, most common in Bolivia and Peru. Served in a bowl, you should share a bit with la pacha mama (Mother Earth), by spilling some of your drink on the ground as the rite requires.
- Chew coca - ever wondered why everybody in Bolivia is chewing all the time, especially the older generations? Lots of people chew coca, the green, bitter leaves of the coca bush. It is not really tasty but equivalent to a strong coffee and protects you from the altitude sickness which is a mayor problem in lots of places in Bolivia. You can find coca on every market, usually sold in green bags of every size. One portion is more or less a hand full of leaves, you remove the stem, put them leave by leave to one of your cheeks and start chewing. After some time you're going to have a huge ball in your mouth and everything will feel deaf. Try not keep everything in the same part of your mouth and don't change sides. Together with some alkaline ash from shells for example you can push the effect and even reach a little high.
- Try pasankallas - sold everywhere in the streets, is an abnormal huge version of popcorn. For bolivians probably just normal popcorn since their corncobs are also not from this planet.
- Put a huge load of aji in your food - aji is a spicy sauce from lime, garlic, onion and chillis. It has a very fruity hot flavor and gets reached in the local restaurants to season your food.
- Have some Humitas - a dough from fresh Corn, lard and fresh cheese, wrapped in corn husks and boiled.
- Try papa rellena - perfect as a quick snack on the streets. Papa rellena is a deep fried ball of mashed potatoes filled with either mushrooms, eggs or meat.
- Eat more quinoa - available in all variations, in soups salads or as breakfast with fruits and milk. Super tasty and super healthy.
- Cool down with some Mochichinis - a dried peach boiled in water and some sugar.
If you come with enough money you wont miss any of your standards in Bolivia, but if you go always for the cheapest way in the good old backpackers manner it can be … lets call it adventurous. Lets start with the transportation, usually you have two options to travel, one is a little more expensive, air conditioned and full of tourists, the other one is way cheaper, run down, either way to cold or hot and is filled up with more local people than available seats. Sometimes there is no choice and you need to take either the second option or pay 10 times the price for a flight. Anyway both of them bring you more or less safe to your destination and if you just sleep on the way there is also no time to worry about the insufficient safety standards.
The next problem is the low hygienic standard, you wont find things like soap or toilet paper in public toilets, so you need to carry everything on your own. Its not a big deal since you get those items for cents on the markets but its the small things which makes the difference. You should also be careful with your groceries. Always wash your fruits and vegetables before you eat them raw and better use bottled or boiled water for that, since the tap water is not drinkable. The same counts for animal products, to be sure avoid meat and cheese or just eat it, if you're really sure that it comes from a reliable source. Lots of things in Bolivia just don't come along with european stomaches. To be fair, we ate a lot of dubious things, just to try and nothing happened during the whole two weeks. On the other hand we heard from several travelers about indigestion and diarrhea, so it is as always up to you.
The Internet connection as well as the provision of electricity and warm water is mostly sufficient, at least in the metropoles. Go a bit more into the countryside and nothing is guaranteed. From really slow to no internet, cold showers and regular power cuts everything is possible. So if you are dependent on internet due to your work or family, better check twice where you travel to.
Last but not least electrical showers. I don't know if you ever took a shower under one of those death traps or if you know what I'm talking about, but I seriously don't even wish my worst enemy to shower with them. These showers are some kind of, in the shower head integrated, flow heaters. So basically the cold water gets heated, while running through the shower head and with heated I mean barely lukewarm to not heated at all. Anyway to run the heater you need some kind of electrical source, which is usually provided through two un-isolated cables coming from the wall to the shower head. In my two weeks of showering in Bolivia I got 3 strokes, which almost knocked me out, several small electro shocks and a still lasting phobia of white plastic showers.
Before reaching Bolivia we got a bit scared, cause everything you will find online related to safety and Bolivia are articles about kidnappings, robberies, murders and deadly traffic accidents. Im not saying that these things are not happening, but we made a different experience. We didn't got once confronted with any kind of violence. The most locals are really friendly and helpful, maybe sometimes a bit shy towards foreigners or strangers. A thing which we can really recommend is don't leave anything unattended, especially during longer bus rides. Try to put all your valuables to your hand luggage and keep it as close to your body as possible, even if the bus driver is telling you something else. One mayor problem is that you wont get a baggage tag for your luggage, which means that anybody can just leave the bus, take your backpack and leave without you even recognizing. On our first longer trip from Uyuni to Sucre somebody tried to remove Katyas Laptop from her hand luggage. For luck she woke up and the thief just moved on. To avoid crimes in general, just trust in your common sense and follow the usual safety advices like don't go out alone at night, don't wear your valuables visible, always use radio taxis instead of calling one in the streets and so on.
A way bigger safety risk in Bolivia are buses and the traffic in general. Some streets are really narrow, not asphalted and not secured, barely big enough for a second line. Also the conditions of some cars and especially the most buses is really questionably. You can avoid these kind of problems in paying more for a better bus, but usually you find yourself in an antique model without legroom, seat belts, toilets and profile one the tires.
Another problem is the mentality of some drivers, especially in the city lots of people tent to speed, scramble and endanger other road users.
We actually travelled to a lot of countries, from very rich ones to pretty poor ones, but I can´t think of any place which would be cheaper on average than Bolivia. It is considered as the poorest country of South America and consequently low are the prices. But it doesn't make a big difference, Bolivias inhabitants are going out, eating in restaurants and making quiet a satisfied impression. Education and healthcare are free for you if you can’t afford them and with one Boliviano (0,14€) you can actually buy something while you can't really purchase anything with 1€ in Europe. Lots of articles, like toiletries or techniques have a way lower quality, but especially with agricultural and natural products, you can't do much wrong. In the end its a matter of where and how you buy. If you do your shopping in a supermarket or go to eat in a touristic restaurants, you won’t feel a difference, but if you go to the market or the local restaurants you can live pretty cheap.
A big problem, is that the prices of products and services are really uncertain. Usually nobody use price marks. You will see that you, as a tourist is paying up to the double amount than the local community. So always negotiate for a better price, it might feel a bit strange in the beginning but you will see that you can push the prices at least for 15%, even in official places like bus companies or tour operators. If you don't find an agreement just go to the next shop. The strong market culture brings a high competition and bargaining doesn't mean to rip somebody off, somehow its just part of the culture and good for everyone. You will be happy because you got a better price as well as the vender who sold something. Anyway to give you an impression about the price structure we created the following list:
- A bed in a hostel dormitory - 30Bs. (4€)
- A double room with private bathroom (hostel) - 50Bs. to 70Bs. (7€ to 10€)
- A lunch in a quick service restaurant (soup, main course, drink and desert) - 10Bs. (1,40€)
- A snack on the streets 1-2Bs. (0,14 - 0,28€)
- A liter of fresh pressed juice on the market 1,5Bs. (0,20€)
- A liter of beer 14Bs. (2€)
- A week worth of groceries 250Bs (35€)
Leave a comment
Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.