Difference between revisions of "Bolivia"
Revision as of 08:28, 22 December 2012
Bolivia is a beautiful, geographically diverse, multiethnic, and democratic country in the heart of South America. It is surrounded by Brazil to the northeast, Peru to the northwest, Chile to the southwest, Argentina and Paraguay to the south. It shares with Peru control of Lake Titicaca (Lago Titicaca), the world's highest navigable lake (elevation 3,805 m).
Sometimes referred to as the Tibet of the Americas, Bolivia is one of the most "remote" countries in the western hemisphere; except for the navigable Paraguay River stretching to the distant Atlantic, Bolivia and Paraguay are the only two landlocked nations in the Americas. It is also the most indigenous country in the Americas, with 60% of its population being of pure Native American ancestry.
The historic heartland of Bolivia lies on the 3700 meters high plains around Lake Titicaca. This is the cradle of Altiplano civilisation: the sacred Lake gave birth to the founders of the Inca Empire, and at its shores lays Tiwanaku, where the roots of Andean culture were invented. When the Spanish arrived, attention shifted to the South. The biggest bounty of their colonial plundering was found there in Potosi. The amount of silver found in the Cerro Rico was enough to create a city bigger than London and richer than Paris at an altitude of 4000 meters, and is believed to have fired off the industrial revolution in Western Europe. As still is the case today, profits left the country at an alarming rate. When the mine started to run out, Bolivia was left with two poor cities in the most wonderful of clothes. Potosi is still struggling to survive, whereas nearby official capital Sucre now is the most cosy and developed city in the country.
Bolivia, named after independence fighter Simon Bolivar, broke away from Spanish rule in 1825; much of its subsequent history has consisted of a series of nearly 200 coups and counter-coups. Comparatively democratic civilian rule was established in the 1980s, but leaders have faced difficult problems of deep-seated poverty, social unrest, and drug production. Current goals include attracting foreign investment, strengthening the educational system, and waging an anti-corruption campaign.
The current President is Evo Morales who won majority in a 2005 election and inaugurated at the historical Tiwanaku archeological site. Morales and his party, the Movement for Socialism, were re-elected in 2009, with another majority. There are often large protests in Bolivia considering issues like environmental protection, logging, hydrocarbon extraction, auto imports, mining, construction of highways, as well as other issues. These protests often cause the shutdown of streets in La Paz, specifically the area surrounding the Plaza Murillo, and the creation of blockades along major inter-city travel routes. If traveling between cities by bus it can be common for the trip to be stalled by several hours due to these protests.
Bolivia's climate varies drastically with altitude and from one climatic zone to another. It ranges from humid and tropical to cold and semiarid. In most parts of the country winters are dry and summers are somewhat wet. Despite its tropical latitude, the altitude of cities like La Paz keeps things cool, and warm clothing is advised year-round. The summer months in Bolivia are November through March. The weather is typically warmer and wetter during these months. April through October, the winter months, are typically colder and drier.
The following nationalities will not need a visa for short stays of less than 90 days as tourists: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany,Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Monaco, Norway, New Zealand, Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vatican City, and Venezuela .
Most people who do need tourist visas can obtain them on arrival, except for the following nationalities: Afghanistan, Angola, Bhutan, Cambodia, Chad, East Timor, Indonesia, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, United States, Yemen, and those from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, under urgent and special circumstances can foreigners in this group obtain visas at the port of entry. US citizens will normally receive a triple-entry visa valid for 3 entries per year over a 5-year period.
Holders of Indian passport can obtain visa on arrival or in advanced at any Bolivian Embassy or Consulate - the visa will not take more than 24hrs to be issues and most times in issued on the spot, as long as the applicant presents the following documents: passport, photos, itinerary of travels in Bolivia, photocopy of credit cards and hotel reservations. And Indians also walk away with no visa fees (gratis visa). 
Note that all business travellers and persons wishing to stay longer than 90 days in a year must obtain a visa in advance.
Unless you are under the age of 1, you will need a yellow fever vaccination certificate to apply for a visa.
Arriving overland from Peru, US citizen tourist visas can be obtained at the border. Officially, they require a visa application form, a copy of the passport, a copy of yellow fever vaccination, a copy of an itinerary leaving Bolivia, evidence of economic solvency, a hotel reservation or written invitation, and a 4cm X 4cm or "passport sized" photo. A $135 dollar fee is also required, payable in freshly minted cash. Any old or marked bills will not be accepted. There are photocopy machines at the Border crossing in 
Air travel is the obvious way to get to Bolivia, the main airports are located in La Paz to the western side of the country and in Santa Cruz to the east. The arrival plan must be based mostly in the purpose of your visit to the country; you have to remember that La Paz receives most of their visitors due to the immense culture and heritage from the Incas and other indigenous cultures from the Andean region, and therefore from La Paz it is easier to move to the Tiwanaku ruins, Oruro’s carnival, Potosí’s mines, Uyuni, Lake Titicaca, Los Yungas valley and the Andes Mountains; since La Paz is the seat of government all the embassies and foreign organizations have their headquarters in the city, which is useful in case of an emergency. On the other side, Santa Cruz with a warmer weather could become a good location for doing business visit other alternatives in tourism like the Misiones, the Noel Kempff Mercado national park or visit the eastern cities. There are also some foreign consulates in Santa Cruz. But don’t forget that the cities in the south and central Bolivia, like Cochabamba, Tarija and Sucre also offer a very rich experience; there are several ways to get to these cities from La Paz or Santa Cruz.
As of September 2012, after Aerosur's demise, there are no more direct regular flights from Europe to Bolivia. Connections must be made in neighbouring countries such as Brazil or Peru, or in the U.S. The cost could go from 1000-1200€ to other higher prices depending on the class and duration.
From Latin America
Airlines that fly into Bolivia from other Latin American countries include LAN from Santiago via Iquique and from Lima, and TACA Perú from Lima to La Paz. Avianca flies from Bogotá to La Paz. TAM Mercosur flies from São Paulo and Buenos Aires to Santa Cruz via Asunción. Copa Airlines has begun to fly to Santa Cruz from Panama City. Gol Airlines (from São Paulo and Campo Grande, Brazil) and Aerolineas Argentinas (from Buenos Aires) also fly directly to Santa Cruz. Boliviana de Aviación flies from Buenos Aires and São Paulo to Santa Cruz.
From the USA
There are departures from Miami to La Paz and Santa Cruz on American Airlines. Connections are also possible on Latin American airlines such as LAN, Copa, Avianca, and TACA.
Once you have your international flight booked, it's far easier and cheaper to organize your internal flights from the point of departure.
There are many train lines in Bolivia, each with varying degrees of quality and efficiency. However, adequate transportation via train can be found.
The FCA timetable can be found at their website .
Watch your belongings.
It is common for tourists to travel through a land border at the north-east of Chile/ South-West of Bolivia.
Keep in mind that only about 5% of all the roads in Bolivia are paved. However, most major routes between cities are paved (Aka big cities, Santa Cruz, La Paz, Cochabamba, Sucre) . 4x4 is particularly required when off the flatter altiplano. Be aware that in mountainous regions traffic sometimes switches sides of the road. This is to ensure the driver has a better view of the dangerous drops.
An international drivers license is required but * most* times EU or US drivers licenses will be accepted. There are frequent police controls on the road and tolls to be paid for road use.
There are many options for traveling from Argentina to Bolivia by bus. Check out the Bolivian Embassy's website  in Argentina for specific options. There is also a bus that runs from Juliaca and Puno in Peru to Copacabana.
It is common for tourists to arrive in Bolivia by boat, by navigating from the port city of Puno, Peru, over Lake Titicaca.
Transportation strikes (bloqueos) are a common occurrence in Bolivia, so try to keep tuned to local news. Strikes often affect local taxis as well as long-distance buses; airlines are generally unaffected. Do not try to go around or through blockades (usually of stones, burning tires, or lumber). Strikers may throw rocks at your vehicle if you try to pass the blockade. Violence has sometimes been reported. Many strikes only last a day or two. There is a government website with a live map showing which roads are closed or affected by landslides .
Bus transportation in Bolivia is a nice cheap way to get to see the beautiful scenery while traveling to your destination. Unfortunately the buses often travel solely at night. There are different types of buses: "bed bus" with fully reclinable seats and leg platform (bus cama), "semi-bed bus" (semi cama), normal. Keep in mind that roads are occasionally blocked due to protests, often for several days. So ask several companies at the terminal if you hear about blockades, unless you are willing to spend a few days sleeping on the bus. Bus travel is usually pretty cheap. Estimate that it will cost you about 1 USD for every hour of travel (it's easier to find travel times online than actual price quotes). Prices do change based on supply and demand. Sometimes you can get a deal by waiting until the last minute to buy. Hawkers are constantly crying out destinations in the bigger bus stations cajoling potential riders to take their bus line. There is a negligible tax for using bus terminals, you pay it as you leave.
Usually you have to "check-in" your big bags for the travel - they get a tag and get to the baggage compartment and you get a copy of tag. Overhead reading lamps and air conditioners on buses rarely work (if at all). There usually technically is a WC on board, but is never open. Rather the bus stops in some predefined "stations" for WC (baño) and eating. On longer journeys they'll start some movie on TV in the bus - most are brutal ones. Sometimes (usually when leaving) people gather around or enter the bus to sell food (cuñape, salteña, pollo) to the travelers. At times "brainwashers" enter the bus to sell some books (i.e. health-related) - they tell (using their "plastic" voice) people different things to persuade them to buy their stuff.
On average, bus companies are not-that-great to decent, but some are just really bad. It is recommended not to travel with Urus, as they drive less safely than others, and include many many stops which unnecessarily prolong the ride.
Flying within Bolivia is quick and fairly economical.
On some routes, the roads are in such a dire condition that the train becomes the alternative of choice. Trains are more comfortable than one would expect, having for example reclinable seats. The trip from Oruro to Uyuni is especialy beautiful, with the train going literally through an Andean lake on the way. The train is especially good for trips to the Salar de Uyuni and the Pantanal.
Coming from La Paz, you need to take a three hour bus ride to Oruro to catch the train. You best book your tickets a few days before your trip. In La Paz booking office is at Fernando Guachalla No. 494, at the corner with Sánchez Lima (between the Plaza del Estudiante and Plaza Abaroa). Main stops are Uyuni, Tupiza and Villazon, on the Argentine border. Travel times here. .
Between Santa Cruz and the Pantanal it is more straightfoward to organize a trip. Just go to the Terminal Bimodal in Santa Cruz (see the Santa Cruz page for details), or the train station on the border in Puerto Quijarro. The train is also convenient for trips to the Jesuit Missions. Check the website  for timetables.
For longer trips between towns and cities that aren't served by bus, shared taxis are common. Shared taxi is not safe for tourist, especially if you are solo female traveller.
Bolivia has 37 official languages -of which Spanish (often called Castellano), Quechua, and Aymara are the main ones. In rural areas, many people do not speak Spanish. Nevertheless, you should be able to get by with some basic Castellano. Bolivia is one of the best places in which to learn or practice your Spanish because of their very clean, deliberate accent. There are many options for studying Spanish in Bolivia, and they are usually very good (often, the program includes a very good homestay component).
Currency can be exchanged for US dollars and most South American currencies at Casa De Cambio agencies or street vendors. Expect to negotiate for a favorable exchange rate, as most vendors will try to make money off a tourist.
U.S. dollars are widely accepted in hotels, tourist shops, and for large purchases.
Banco de Credito is a good bank to take cash from. Banco Union should be avoided if possible as it charges a 5% surcharge (as of May 2012), although they do not make any mention of this.
Some notable Bolivian dishes:
Street food and snacks:
Mid-Morning snacks typically consists of any of several of meat-filled buns:
Many people also start off the day with some concoction involving fruit:
Vegetarians will find decent to very good options in Gringo-places around the country. But also at market places, there are good vegeratian options on offer (usually potatoes, rice, fried egg and salad for about 7Bs.) In bigger cities, there are some (decent to good) fully vegetarian restaurants.
Juice bars appear at most markets. Shakes (either with water or milk) are 2-3Bs. Locals can be seen to drink Vitaminico an egg, beer and sugar concoction or "Vitima" which includes coca leaves.
Bolivia Altiplano traditional alcoholic drink is chicha de colla, a whitish, sour brew made from fermented corn and drunk from a hemispherical bowl fashioned from a hollowed gourd (round-bottomed so you can't put it down). It's customary to spill a bit of chicha on the ground before and after drinking it as an offering to Pachamama, the Inca earth godess.
Tarija is located at 1924 meters above sea level, and is known for it's wine-making, vast vineyards, and award-winning wines. Hence you can visit and taste wine at it's beautiful wineries, such as: Campos De Solana, Kohlberg, Casa Vieja, Valle De Concepción, and Casa Real, where the famous Singani is made.
Offering a favorable exchange for Western tourists, lodging can be found at very reasonable prices throughout the country, from hostels to luxury hotels. During a 4 week trip in 2012 I stayed mainly in hostels with the average rate per night ~6.50 USD. Most basic are Alojamientos (at 20/25Bs per night).
Apply common sense and take precautions that apply elsewhere. All tourists should be careful when selecting a travel guide and never accept medication from unverifiable sources. Women tourists should be cautious when traveling alone. At night try to use "radio taxis" as fake cabs are common and robbings and even rapes do occur. It is a good idea to register with the consulate of your country of residence upon entry into the country. And it is also helpful learn at least basic Spanish to keep yourself a little safe.
Be careful of cars when crossing the streets (particularly at roundabouts). Cars go quite "chaotic". There are usually no lane marking and minimal signage.
Some parts of Bolivia like La Paz (3650), Potosí (4010), Oruro (3950) and the Lake Titicaca region are high altitude, so adequate precautions against "sorojchi" altitude sickness should be taken.
At local pharmacies they sell sorojchi pills, that are supposed to help with altitude problems. It has painkillers as well as natural herbs to help cope with the symptoms of "sorojchi". In many parts of the Altiplano you can purchase coca leaves, which are reputed to be useful against soroche. Coca tea ("mate de coca") is available in tea bags in many markets.
However, severe cases of high altitude disease can be treated at the High Altitude Pathology Institute at Clinica IPPA . This Clinic has the most advanced technology including a hyperoxic/hypoxic adaptation chamber. In addition, the sun's ultraviolet rays are much stronger -- up to 20 times -- than at sea level. A sun hat, sunglasses, and skin protection (sunblock or long sleeves) are advised.
You can't usually drink tap water in Bolivia. There's plenty of bottled water being sold in the stores. One note though: if you're not a Coca-Cola company (very strong in Bolivia) fan, in some towns you may have trouble getting water from other manufacturer.
Do not use the word "indio" in Bolivia to describe indigenous people. It is considered offensive. The term they use is "campesino" which translates to peasant or "indígena". "Cholo" is a campesino who moved to the city, and though originally derogatory, has become more of a symbol of indigenous power. Nevertheless, some locals still use the word cholo as a derogative term.
Also, keep in mind the stark cultural and racial differences between the "cambas" of the Llanos in the east, who are white and mestizo and the "collas" of the Andes in the west who are Native American. They tend to not be on good terms and have been even more fiercely divided in recent years since the election of Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous president. The two peoples tend to be very defensive about their side of Bolivia, so discussing your travel to the other cultural region of the country may be seen as insulting. In Santa Cruz, where society is much more Westernized, associating with indigenous culture is frowned upon, whereas in La Paz and elsewhere, it is quite the contrary.
It is also good to keep in mind that the Bolivian culture is very warm and friendly. That being said, it is very rude not to say Buen Día or Buenos Días to passerbys in the streets. It also customary give up your seat on a city bus for someone older then you, or a woman. Which people will do for you if you look a little bit older.
Bolivia has three cellphone companies, Entel, Tigo, and Viva. All three have outlets on practically every block in major cities. There are internet cafés practically everywhere, they typically cost about 3Bs/hour, or about $0.50 per hour.
While traditional payphones still exist, you can also make local calls for 1Bs ($0.15) from cellular phones at kiosks.
If you are staying for a while, consider buying SIM cards for your cellphones. They are quite cheap and you get good network coverage in all main cities and towns. Bolivia uses GSM 1900 frequency, so check, if your cell phone supports this one (older European phones don't). You can as well buy cell phone in Bolivia for as cheap as 200 BOB.
Using Skype from Internet cafes (there are a lot of these) may be an option, but microphones are screwed-up in most places thus making this option difficult.