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Introduction to Bolivia

Bolivia may be one of the poorest countries in South America, but its cultural wealth, the mindblowing Andean landscapes and the remnants of mysterious ancient civilisations make it a rich and exciting destination for those looking for more than postcards.

This landlocked country is practically the Tibet of the Americas - it's the highest and most isolated of the Latin American republics. It is also the most indigenous country on the continent, with more than 50% of the population maintaining traditional values and beliefs.

History abounds in such wonders as the ancient ceremonial site of Tiahuanaco; the legendary mines of Potosí; the ornate Jesuit missions of the eastern lowlands; and the vestiges of Inca culture set against the dramatic backdrop of the Andes. Bolivia has certainly had a turbulent history, but nowadays its image as a haunt of drug barons and revolutionaries is greatly overstated. It's one of South America's most peaceful and welcoming destinations.


Bolivia has experienced severe civil unrest of late but upon the swearing in of yet another new president (the third in less than two years), a more peaceful period is looking likely. Democracy in Bolivia tends to involve hitting the streets and pounding the pavement and roadblo and political demonstrations are a common occurence. Sometimes they turn violent and sometimes they bring down governments. The possibility of civil unrest is highest in La Paz and western Bolivia. Unrest among coca farmers northeast of La Paz in the Chapare and Yungas regions can flare up occasionally.

Violent demonstrations and political gatherings have also taken place in La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. There are credible reports describing the drugging and rape of tourists who've taken guided jungle and pampas tours with independent guides around Rurrenabaque.

Female tourists should avoid taking tours on their own. Travellers are advised to stick to the larger group tours run by reputable agencies. You can avoid unlicensed guides by asking to see la autorización.

Full country name: Republic of Bolivia

Area: 1.09 million sq km

Population: 8.8 million

Capital City: La Paz

People: 30% Quechua Indian, 25% mestizo, 30% Aymará Indian, approx 15% European (principally Spanish)

Language: Quechua, Spanish, Guarani, Aymara

Religion: 95% Roman Catholic, Protestant (Evangelical Methodist)

Government: republic

Head of State: President Eduardo Rodríguez

GDP: US$24.2 billion

GDP per capita: US$3,000

Annual Growth: 3%

Inflation: 2.1%

Major Industries: Agriculture, smelting, petroleum, food & beverages, tobacco, handicrafts, clothing, tin mining, natural gas, narcotics.

Major Trading Partners: USA, Brazil, Japan

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Regulations change frequently, but currently citizens of Japan and most EU countries can stay 90 days without a visa; citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand can stay 30 days without a visa. Most other nationalities require a visa in advance - usually issued for a 30-day stay.

Health risks: altitude sickness, Chagas' disease, cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, rabies, tetanus, typhoid, yellow fever

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -4

Dialling Code: 591

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Bolivian fiestas are invariably of religious or political origin, normally commemorating a Christian or Indian saint or god, or a political event such as a battle or revolution. The festivities typically include lots of folk music, dancing processions, food, alcohol, ritual and generally unrestrained behavior. Major fiestas include Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria, a week-long festival in the virgin's honor, best seen in Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca (early February); Carnaval is a nationwide event but is best seen in Oruro (the week before Lent); Phujllay is held in Tarabuco to commemorate the Battle of Lumbati (early March); the animated Festividad de Nuestro Señor Jesús del Gran Poder is held in La Paz to celebrate the power of Jesus Christ (May-June); and Independence Day is a riotous nationwide party (6 August).

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Best time to Visit

Bolivia lies in the southern hemisphere; winter runs from May to October and summer from November to April. The most important climatic factor to remember is that it's generally wet in the summer and dry in the winter.

While the highlands and altiplano can be cold in the winter and wet in the summer, the only serious barrier to travel will be the odd road washout. In the tropical lowlands, however, summer can be miserable with mud, steamy heat, bugs and relentless downpours. Travel is difficult, and services may be stifled by mud and flooding.

Also consider that the high tourist season falls in the winter (late June to early September), due not only to climatic factors, but also to the timing of European and North American summer holidays and the fact that it's also Bolivia's major fiesta season. This means that both overseas visitors and lots of South Americans are travelling during this period.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Boliviano


Budget: US$2-5

Mid-range: US$5-8

High: US$8-10

Deluxe: US$10+


Budget: US$2-10

Mid-range: US$10-35

High: US$35-100

Deluxe: US$100+

Bolivia is not an expensive country. Budget travelers can expect to spend somewhere around US$15 to US$25 per day, while those staying in more comfortable hotels and eating at restaurants will drop around US$20-30 per day. Really living it up costs upwards of US$35, and top-end travelers can easily spend $150 per day on their hearts' desires.

As a rule, visitors fare best with US dollars, the only foreign currency accepted throughout Bolivia. Currencies of neighboring countries may be exchanged in border areas and at certain La Paz casas de cambio (currency exchange houses). All casas de cambio change cash US dollars and some also change traveller's checks. You can often change money in travel agencies, jewelery or appliance stores and pharmacies. When exchanging money, ask for the cash in small denominations, as there are chronic problems with change. Major credit cards may be used in larger cities.

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La Paz

La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, looks like a moon crater. The city is 4km (2mi) above sea level, situated on a canyon floor which shows only a hint of greenery. Fortunately, the life and colour of La Paz is found in its people and culture, not its landscape.

People congregate around the splendid Iglesia de San Francisco with its arresting blend of mestizo and Spanish styles. Behind the church is the Witches' Market, where you can buy a bizarre assortment of potions, delicately crafted silver jewellery, sweets and dried llama foetuses.


Reputed to have the world's most perfect climate and Bolivia's most hardcore drinkers, the city of Cochabamba occupies a fertile green bowl in a landscape of fields and low hills. The city, founded in 1574, is Bolivia's largest market town and was once the nation's granary. It is still prosperous and progressive, and has a clutch of historical and archaeological attractions, including the 400-year-old cathedral, the Convento de Santa Teresa and the Museo Arqueológico.

Lake Titicaca

Traditionally regarded as the highest navigable body of water in the world (though there are higher lakes in Chile and Peru), Lake Titicaca is immense: its dimensions measure 233km (145mi) from northwest to southeast and 97km (60mi) from northeast to southwest.

The lake has an indented shoreline, 36 islands and exceptionally clear sapphire-blue water. Titicaca is revered by the Indians who live on its shores, and the Islas del Sol and Islas de la Luna, two islands in the lake, are the legendary sites of the Inca's creation myths.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz' longstanding reputation as a drug-trafficking mecca is now being eclipsed by an agriculture boom. Large corporate sugarcane, rice, cotton and soybean plantations now dominate the lowlands east of the city, which only a decade ago were covered with thick tropical forest.

This economic and agricultural potential has attracted not only optimistic settlers from the highlands, but also folks from many other walks of life. The region boasts rice-growing Japanese colonies as well as settlements of Italians, Palestinians, Indian Sikhs and thousands of German–Canadian Mennonites fleeing conflicts in Belize and Mexico. Once upon a time, the region was a haven for escaped Nazis but it now attracts more Brazilian opportunists, foreign oil workers, agribusiness tycoons, drug traffickers, scientific researchers, missionaries and environmental activists.


Often described as having the most beautiful setting in Bolivia, this sleepy town sits at an elevation of almost 2700m (8856ft) in a valley beneath the towering snowcapped peaks of Illampú (6362m/20,867ft) and Ancohuma (6427m/21,080ft). The lush valley and vegetation attract a steady stream of travellers, nearly all of whom fall in love with the place. Most visitors make the 10km (6mi) walk to Gruta de San Pedro to see the cave and underground lake.


Tupiza, located in the heart of some of Bolivia's most spectacular countryside, is a real gem for anyone who loves desert landscapes. It's a young, cultured city which lies in the narrow valley of the Río Tupiza. It is surrounded by the rugged Cordillera de Chichas, whose attractions include multi-hued rocks, mountains, chasms, clear rivers, cactus forests, brilliant skies and wide open spaces.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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