Date visited Bolivia: November/December 2016
When our Toyota Land Rover stopped, there was nothing in sight. No buildings, no trees, no life. Salt. Salt was all that the eye could see in every direction. We had made it to the famous Bolivian salt flats. A dried up seabed, totally flat, totally salt. This unique place offers tourists like ourselves a fantastic photo opportunity. We manipulated the eye using the depth of the horizon to create some hilarious pictures. The more creative you can be the better the results.
However, don’t be fooled into believing Bolivia to be a one trick pony. Oh how untrue that is. To the north in the Amazon you can spend days on the river or go ‘Bear Grylls’ on a survival session deep in the jungle. In the city La Paz you can watch grown woman in traditional dress have at each other inside a wrestling ring. That’s right. This crazy country has many tricks up its sleeve to leave you in love Bolivia. She is one of the poorer countries in South America but Bolivia is rich with fascinating features which you must travel to, to see in person.
Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia – 35 Sl. Total each ($10.30 USD or $b 71) + 4 Boliviano’s extras.
*Crossing the border to Bolivia can only be done during the day as the immigration office is only open certain times in the morning and the afternoon.
We booked our tickets a few days in advance at the main bus station in Puno with the bus company “Titicaca Bolivia”. The bus left at 6am and the journey took nine and a half hours. We arrived at 4.30pm (Bolivia time).
We had a bit of trouble with our original bus being delayed (or not existing) and the salesman put us onto a different bus. Original plan was 5hrs direct to La Paz through Desaguadero border. Instead we departed an hour late on a separate bus going through Kasani border and with a bus change at Copacabana. This journey added 4 hours on top of our 5, so we weren’t very happy about it.
Bus attendants will give you forms to fill out prior to arriving at the immigration office. Once through the border we stopped off in Copacabana and changed to a smaller local bus, then headed straight to La Paz.
- Depending on your nationality you might need to pay an entry fee or obtain a visa. As New Zealanders we did not need to pay any fees. Check out this website to see whether you will need to pay an entry fee and apply for visas prior to arrival.
- When travelling through Copacabana there is a city tax of 2 Bolivianos, everyone must pay. Further into the journey it costs another 2 Bolivianos to pay a barge across the lake.
*In both instances we had no cash (these extra costs were never mentioned prior). “Nosotros no dineros, Lo Siento” was our line and we got through both situations without paying. Do so at your own risk.
- Bolivia is one hour ahead of Peru so make sure you change your clocks.
La Paz to Uyuni – $b 200 Total each ($29.15 USD)
We booked return tickets for an overnight bus from the Loki travel agency a few days in advance.
The bus company was ‘Trans Omar’ and our tickets were for a cama seat (160 degrees recline). The bus left at 8pm and took just under 10 hours, arriving just before 6am.
We had not booked the salt flat tour in advance and planned doing so that morning.
Tour offices did not open until 8am so we had a few hours to kill. Café Aroma were open at 4am and we enjoyed a hot coffee and free WIFI before we began the haggle.
Check out our Must Do’s section for more information on the salt flats tours.
La Paz to Rurrenabaque – $b 679 Total each ($97 USD)
We planned to visit the Amazon in Bolivia. The easiest transport from La Paz was a 45min flight to Rurrenabaque with ‘Amazonas’. Booking can be done online.
The plane was very small, it could only fit 12 people and you can see right into the cockpit, it was definitely a unique experience.
Alternatively, we read online you can get to Rurrenabaque from La Paz by bus. However, It may take up to 20 hours and we did not have enough time for that. By bus it is half the price of flying.
Rurrenabaque to Santa Cruz– $b 250 Total each ($36.42 USD). This does not include the $b 6 needed to pay for the departure tax at three different bus/taxi stations.
We needed to get to Santa Cruz from Rurrenabaque for our flight into Brazil.
I searched the Internet to find out if it was possible to get to Santa Cruz by car, but everywhere suggested to fly back to La Paz first then bus to Santa Cruz. We decided to wing it!
We took a shared minivan taxi from Rurrenabaque to Trinidad for $b 180 ($26 USD). Turning up in the morning we waited 10 minutes for the van to fill up with people before departure. The journey took 8 hours and it was quite comfortable, different to the buses we usually take. There was one change and a break for 30 minutes at San Borja.
We arrived in Trinidad at around 5.30pm at the same place as the main bus terminal. Brett and I booked tickets for a night bus with “Trans Santa Cruz”; the journey took around 10 hours and left at 9.15pm in the evening.
We were making good time, the bus was very comfortable and the driver was very safe, the cost of the bus was $b 70 and we arrived in Santa Cruz at around 6.40am. 1 whole day faster than expected.
- every time you leave the bus station or collectivo/taxi stop you will need to pay $b 2 for departure tax.
Santa Cruz, Bolivia to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil – $b 2,090 Total each ($300 USD).
Our time for Bolivia has sadly come to an end. We really enjoyed travelling Bolivia and all the friendly people we met along the way. Our next country we planned on visiting was Brazil. The easiest way for us as we were now pressed for time was to fly there.
We flew from Santa Cruz with 2 stopovers before finally reaching Rio (one in Lima and the other in Sao Paulo). Of course these were the cheapest flights we could find, and came at the cost of one whole day of travelling.
Tip – When departing Bolivia by plane you will need to pay $b 14 for departure tax, remember to save some cash to pay for this tax.
Loki Hostel, La Paz – Value dorm (11-14 people). Large dorm (8-10 people). Small dorm (6 people). Matrimonial room.
Of all the Loki Hostels we have stayed, Loki La Paz is the most like a hotel. In the ground floor lobby a receptionist greets guests kindly. An in-house travel agency is just around the corner for booking all kinds of adventures or buses’. Adding to the hotel feel of Loki La Paz is the 7 different levels. Above the lobby and travel agency are 5 levels of rooms accessible by elevator. On the 6th level is a communal area. Ping-pong, computers and a relaxing lounge can be found here. Level 7 at the top floor of the building and with the best views of La Paz is the bar/restaurant area.
As with all Loki Hostels, La Paz throws an awesome party! This time it was Pirate theme, although every night you will find something happening at Loki.
We stayed in a private room with en-suite. Our double bed was comfortable and the room quite large with a desk, mirror and a huge cupboard with a safe. Towels, tea and coffee and hot-water bottles are provided with this room. We did not need the hot water bottles, as the room was adequately warm. The shower was small but hot and with excellent water pressure.
It became the ‘cure’ after our long bus ride from Puno.
Meals at the restaurant followed the Loki theme, big and hearty westernised meals.
You can head off for a few days to the salt flats or climb one of the nearby peaks with only the gear you really need. Leave your main bags without a worry in the Loki safe room with ticketed security system.
The location is central making everything walkable including the bus terminal. Ask at reception for a map and they will show you everything you need to know.
We had a great stay at Loki La Paz.
Hostal Turistico Santa Ana, Rurrenabaque – $b 120 Total, Matrimonial room with a private bathroom.
We found this hotel on the main strip in town; we turned up with no reservation and asked to view the matrimonial room. We really liked the look of the place with many hammocks and a chill out area; we booked in a night in the matrimonial room with a private room. For what we paid, it was really clean and comfortable. After 6 hours sleep in two days we crashed out on the bed, and it felt so good!
There is a kitchen here but it costs $b 15 to use per day, we thought this was a bit odd, but this place is more of a hotel than a hostel.
We really enjoyed our brief stay here, it felt very safe and although the staff spoke little/no English they were still very friendly and helpful.
Residencial Ikandire II, Santa Cruz – $b 133 Total (Including tax), Matrimonial room with a private bathroom
We found it very difficult to find cheap accommodation here, we are not sure if it was because that Santa Cruz is the wealthiest city in Bolivia? Or maybe that it was high season?
As we were in the last few months of a very long travel period, Brett and I preferred to have some time in a private room.
We found Residential Ikandire II online. It had decent reviews and the price was cheap. So we booked two nights at this hotel.
It was very average, nothing flash. The rooms were decent with your own bathroom and A/C included. The price was very cheap and you get what you pay for.
There is no breakfast included and the WIFI only worked in the public areas, however it is about 15 minutes walking distance to the main square. It seemed quite safe to walk around during the day and early evening.
Choripan – A sandwich filled with chorizo. You can find many fast food stalls selling the choripan on the side of the road. Great, quick snack to keep you going.
- Sandwich De Chola – Another sandwich, this time filled with roasted pork and crackling, pickled veggies and a spicy chilli sauce.
- Saltenas – Are popular among many areas in the Andes, they are a baked pastry filled with meat, veges, egg, olives and a spicy sauce.
- Cuñape – Calling out all coffee lovers, this is the perfect snack to have with your coffee. It is a cheesy bread, absolutely delicious!
- Pique A Lo Macho – This big hearty meal consists of beef strips, sausage, onions, locotos (spicy peppers), boiled egg and fries. It is topped off with spicy sauces, mayonnaise and ketchup.
- Silpancho- Large and very flat piece of breaded beef or llama; it is served with beetroot and carrot salad topped with fried eggs, rice and potatoes. It is a lot of food but so very tasty!
- Tucumanas – Delicious filled pastries. They can be filled with meat, veggies, egg and a spicy sauce. You can also get it in vegetarian served with a salad on the side.
- Quinoa – As Quinoa is grown in the Andes/high altitude; it is a common staple food among the households in Bolivia. For us westerners it is a super food, high in protein, contains amino acids and low in gluten. Quinoa can be made into soup, salads, stews and burgers.
- Picante de Pollo – Known as spicy chicken in English. Fried chicken covered in spicy sauce, served with potatoes, rice and salad.
- Chuflay – Traditional mixed drink of Bolivia, made with ginger ale and singani (a native spirit distilled from white grapes) poured over ice. Simple but tasty.
- Mocochinchi – Made with bits of peaches. The dehydrated pips are then cooked in water and boiled with cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. Once the liquid is cooled down, it is then served on the street.
- Paceña – The local cerveza (beer) in Bolivia.
- Ayala restaurant – This restaurant serves all traditional Bolivia cuisine, share a few plates to get a taste of the delicious foods of Bolivia.
- The steak house – If you are like us and craving thick and juicy piece of meat. This is the place to go! A wide variety of burgers and steaks available here.
- Tierra Saba vegetarian – A few doors down from the steakhouse is a vegetarian restaurant. It offers “menu of the day” deals that come with soup, a main and dessert. Highly recommend this restaurant.
- Kiwi’s café restaurant – We could not resist going into this café! Owned by a Kiwi it was decorated with Maori designs, we felt a little at home away from home. Here they served some traditional and western food. The food is hearty and they have many good reviews online.
- Brown fox – Is pub in the centre of Santa Cruz, selling artisanal beer, it was a great place to taste test the many types of beer and offered a great vibe to hang out in.
Must see & do
- Free walking tour – Always a great way to see a city. Get a taste and a feel of the atmosphere from the local guides. We joined in on one of the red cap walking tours (famous in La Paz), all walking tours no longer are free and now cost around $b 20. It is truly a great tour, one of the best we have been to as they take you to all the main sites and offer a lot of knowledge about the Bolivian culture.
- San Pedro prison – Made famous by book ‘Marching Powder’ San Pedro prison is a prison like no other. Families of inmates live inside the prison where prisoners must pay rent for cells. Once tours ran inside the prison although these days the public are not allowed in. Surprisingly this is because the prison is too dangerous. The tours are now illegal.
- Witches market – Also known Mercado de Hechiceria or Mercado de las Brujas. A popular tourist attraction and a unique place to visit in La Paz. Here you can find fetus of the llama, dried frogs, insects, herbs and seeds. These products are used for Aymara rituals such as a sacrifice to Pachamama (Mother Nature).
*You can also buy various love potions such as ‘come to me come to me dust’- blow the dust at the chosen person and they will come running for you. Or ‘the punisher’ add two drops to their coffee, then he/she will turn into your slave! Haha all very interesting.
- Cholita wrestling – By far one of the most random things we have done on our trip, yet very entertaining. We booked our tickets through the Loki travel agency inside the hostel. It cost $b 90 for the ticket, transport, drink, snack and souvenir. I’m sure you can get here a lot cheaper but it was nice going in a bus with other excited travelers, you also get VIP front row seats! There are roughly six rounds of cholita wrestling and all more intense than the last! It was awesome to watch! And you can expect the full on fighting in pretty skirts. Not an activity to miss when visiting La Paz.
*Make sure you are in La Paz on a Thursday or a Sunday as they only run the events on these days.
- Take one of the cable cars up to the top for a great view of the city – In the past two years the government have been working on the largest cable car system in the world. They currently have three lines – Red, Green and Yellow (all colors of the Bolivian flag), within the next few years they will add another 6 lines to the system. We took the red line, as it was a five minute walk from our Loki hostel and gave us the view of the city and the snow cap mountains behind it.
*The ride costs 3 bolivianos one way and offers some spectacular views.
- Death road – Brave enough? I dare you to ride the most dangerous road in the world! 64km of mostly downhill biking, starting from high altitude mountains, down to the Amazon floor. This is a great experience not to be missed.
The main reason you will visit Uyuni is to take a tour to the salt flats. There are many tours available you can choose from 1, 2, 3 and even 4 day tours. There are also different tour agencies so be careful in who you choose.
We took the night bus from La Paz and arrived at around 6am in the morning, and found a cafe to chill in for a few hours until the offices opened at 8am. We walked around trying to get the best bargain. We have heard by a lot of fellow bloggers that they “guides” are more of a driver than a guide so it is not completely necessary to have an English guide, they cost almost double.
We ended up going with Betto tours and really enjoyed our experience. The 2 night/ 3 day tour cost $b 600. Our driver spoke Spanish. Which we could get by on and had a person on our tour that also spoke English who helped us when we were stuck. Our driver Wilson, looked after us very well and served us with some delicious food.
The tour itself was spectacular, we visited the train cemetery, salt flats and fish island the first day. On the second day we ventured more south to surrounding volcanoes and different colored lagoons with flamingos. Our final day we visited the geysers at sun rise, bathed in thermal hot springs and visited the inspiration for the Salvador Dali clocks out in the desert. We then returned back to Uyuni at 4.30pm, plenty of time to catch the night bus back to La Paz at 8pm.
Totally recommend this tour as saw not only the famous salt flats, but also a lot of Bolivia’s nature that we would not have seen otherwise.
- you can book your tour on the day you arrive by night bus as the tours do not start until 10.30am
- Amazon Tours
Rurrenabaque is the place to go if you want to visit the Amazon in Bolivia.
We choose Bolivia as we had heard many good things about the Pampas tours and that it is far cheaper than in neighboring countries like Peru and Brazil.
After arriving in Rurre early afternoon, we booked our Pampas tour with Escorpian Travels. They looked like a highly organised and quality-driven company.
There are many tours you can do with Escorpian, such as the ‘Jungle’ or ‘Survival Tours’. Unfortunately we only had enough time to do one and we choose the ‘Pampas’ as there is more wildlife to be seen and off course pink dolphins! We could not miss out on this experience.
Our tour guide Jose, was absolutely amazing! If you do choose Escorpian Travels be sure to request for Jose as your guide. He is amazingly knowledgeable about all the wildlife and different plants! A few days earlier (on another tour) he had been bitten by a poisonous snake and used a tree sap to suck out its venom! He learnt a lot of his skills from his grandfather who left him in the jungle when he was 11 to survive for a month… We will let Jose finish off the story for you 😉
- Ayahuasca ceremony
Brett and I have been contemplating since before our trip whether to take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony, after talking to numerous people in the jungle we decided to go for it! We talked to Jose our Pampas guide and he recommended to us his personal shaman, Martin. After hearding of a number of different Shamans in Rurre we discovered they were all students of Martin, a sharman of over 40 years.
There is a special diet to be undertaken a day before, or like us we did a few days before of no meat, sex, alcohol, salt or spicy foods. On the day you should stop eating at 12pm and only eat plain food like rice and bread (no fruits).
Ayahuasca is a plant used in traditional spiritual ceremonies among the indigenous people in the Amazon. It has hallucinogenic properties which allow for a critical analysis of one’s self. A type of natural jungle psychotherapy. The ceremony is used for mental, spiritual and physical healing. Some shamans claim to see the future using the plant. One unique property of ayahuasca is its ability to replace serotonin pathways (something no modern pharmaceutical can do), This is why it is very popular for people with anxiety and depression or troubles with addiction.
It was a very special and unique experience I will cherish forever. We sat around in the circle and shared our feelings and reasons why we wanted to take part. Our shaman gave us knowledge and guidance of what the plant would have for us. “It is like a opening up your third eye” giving you clarity and a different perspective of yourself and the world. Bringing you more in touch with Mother Nature. We drank the ayahuasca, got comfortable and waited for the magic to happen.
Only take part in an ayahuasca ceremony after extensive research. Know exactly what it is and who you are doing it with. Even though it is a hallucinogen it is not a drug, it is medicinal and to be used for healing or guidance purposes. Find a recommended shaman who you are comfortable with as he will be your spiritual guide.
We didn’t have a lot of time here as we needed to catch our flight to Brazil. We did spend half a day exploring the town which was enough for us.
Having done the research anyway, here are a few things to do;
- Catedral Metropolitana Basilica – is located in the main square in Santa Cruz, here you can go up the bell tower to get a great view of the city.
*It will cost a few Bolivianos to go up.
- Botanical garden – A wee bit out of the city and more like a zoo with animals and birds that exist in the area.
*It costs 14 Bolivianos to enter
- Waterpark – Cool off from the heat at the water park, located just outside of the city. A great place to hang out but beware it gets packed in the weekends with all the locals visiting.
Tips & Advice
- In Bolivia the currency is ‘Boliviano’s’
High season/dry season is between May and October; it can be very expensive then as there are many tourists. Rainy season is between November and March, it is not recommended to travel during this period, as the road transport can be impossible due to flooding.
- The norm is 10% tipping at restaurants.
- Many roads in Bolivia are unpaved and bumpy; the government are in the process of improving the roads. So in the mean time it may take longer by bus to get to any destination, especially on the east side of the country.
- There are 3 ATM’s in Rurrenabaque, however bring the cash you think you will need as many of them may run out and you don’t want to be stuck there waiting until a Monday when they will top it up.
- Stock up on repellent with a high percentage of deet. When visiting the Amazon in Bolivia there are a lot of mosquitoes. We also took vitamin B tablets as it helps against mosquitoes.
- Don’t forget your head net when travelling to the Jungle and/or Pampas and wear light coloured long sleeves and trousers to prevent mosquito bites.
- We have heard from various sources there is no malaria in the Jungle/Pampas and around Rurrenabaque, nevertheless take Malaria tablets at your own risk. We didn’t think we needed too and came out unscathed.
- Make sure all your injections are up to date – Hep A&B, Typhoid, Meningitis, yellow fever, rabbis, diphtheria and cholera.
- It is possible to book your Salt Flat tour on the morning of arriving. It is cheaper to do it this way and bargain with the many tour companies when they open at 7.30am/8am. The tours don’t leave until 10am and many venders sell the last tickets cheaper to fill seats.
- There is also an ATM available in Uyuni.
- Remember to bring warm clothes, as it gets very cold at night on the Salt Flat tours.
- To avoid altitude sickness, arrive a few days early to your destination to give time for your body to acclimatize. Drink plenty of fluids and take things very slow. You may want to purchase coca leaves to chew on.
- Coca leaves are only legal in Peru and Bolivia.
- Be a smart traveller and do not carry any valuables around with you – passport, wads of cash, credit cards etc, keep them in a safe in your hotel or hostel.
- Book taxis from your hostel or hotel, as they know the right price that you should pay to get anywhere.
- When visiting the San Pedro prison in La Paz, do not take any tours inside. This is now very illegal and dangerous.
- Book the “Death Road” bike tour with a good company who use quality safe equipment as many accidents occur along this road.
Helpful words and phrases
The main language is Spanish in Bolivia
Please Por Favor
Thank you Gracias
You’re welcome De Nada/ Con Gusto
Pardon me Perdone
English? Habla Ingles?
More from Bolivia?
* Updated to 2016 prices; Please let us know if there has been any changes to prices or if you have any tips to add.
* This guide is written in our own personal opinion and all recommendations are our own