Thinking of traveling to South America? If so, Bolivia just might be the perfect destination for you. As the most elevated country in the continent, Bolivia offers travelers the most amazing panoramic views from its highest peaks. Whether you have your heart set on taking a week-long hike through the Cordillera Real, going on a terrifying bike ride down Death Road, shopping for souvenirs in La Paz, or just relaxing behind the gates of a fancy resort, here’s a list of things you SHOULDN’T do while visiting this landlocked and ethnically-diverse destination.
1. Travel Without Toilet Paper
It doesn’t matter if you’ve booked a room at a decent hotel, or if you’re dining inside a fine establishment. You’ll soon realize that toilet paper is a hot commodity in most cities. That’s why it’s best to bring your own roll of TP wherever you go. Similar to most South American countries, the pipes are a lot smaller and not well-maintained in Bolivia. So make sure you don’t flush your toilet paper when you’re all done. It should always be tossed in the trashcan instead.
If you’re traveling on a budget and want to save some cash, make sure to use the restroom in your hotel or hostel before heading out. Most public toilets charge per use, about 1 Bs (Bs = Boliviano and is the equivalent of 14¢ USD) in heavily populated tourists areas and up to 5 Bs (72¢ USD) in deserted areas like the salt flats around Salar de Uyuni.
2. Go Hiking Without Adequate Gear
The elevation can be tricky, especially if you’re not used to traveling in high altitudes. The capital of La Paz rests at over 12,000-feet above sea level. Then there’s Pequeño Alpamayo at 17,618 feet and Huayna Potosi at 19,974 feet. To make sure your hike is as enjoyable as possible, be sure to head out with an experienced guide who can communicate in both English and Spanish. It’s also imperative that you wear suitable footwear and clothing. Keep in mind, many of the hikes, including Huyana Potosi, have frosty and icy conditions you’ll be forced to battle through.
3. Enter a Bus Without Saying Hello
The locals are friendly and courteous, and they’ll always enter a trufis (public bus) by greeting the rest of the passengers with “buenas dias” (good day) or “buenas tardes” (good afternoon) as they board. Brush up on your Spanish so you can recite the greetings, as well!
4. Venture Outside the City Without a Four-Wheel Drive Vehicle
When you head outside of the major cities, it’s best to travel in a four-wheel drive vehicle. You’ll be faced with many sub-par roads, including hazardous highways without shoulders, lack of fencing and barriers, and unpaved streets.
5. Carry Large Notes
When traveling, it’s also advised to not carry large notes so that you don’t become the target of a crime. However, in Bolivia, the reason that many people instruct tourists not to carry big notes is much different. A lot of the vendors and establishments don’t carry change. So if a taxi ride costs you 10 Bs and you hand the drive 20 Bs, good luck getting any change back.
6. Get in a Taxi With No Signage
According to travel advisories, crimes that take place in taxi cabs are a huge problem in Bolivia. Many criminals drive around in cars that look like taxis, and once a tourist enters the vehicle, they’re mugged of their money and belongings. This is why it’s always best to take a radio taxi and make sure the vehicle has clear signage with the business name, address, and telephone number on the roof.
There has also been an increase of crime on buses and vans. Women travelers, in particular, have been kidnapped by Bolivian gangs. If you’re going to take public transportation on a bus or van, make sure the passengers in the vehicle are actual tourists or Bolivian locals. Criminals will sometimes plant fake passengers to throw off tourists and trick them into thinking the ride is legit. Don’t fall for it!
7. Always Expect Five-Star Service
If you’re looking for five-star service and top notch customer service, you may be in the wrong location. Bolivians are always friendly and respectful, but most of the workers in the hotels and the vendors on the streets are more focused on trying to make a living for their families. They will barter with you on everything, from bus rides to the cost of a cup of orange juice. You’ll pay more than you’re comfortable with, no doubt, but the prices in the country are extremely low to begin with. So it’s a win-win situation if you look at things from that perspective. 115 Bs ($16.64 USD) for a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant? You can’t beat that.
8. Get Distracted by Sprayed Water
Travel advisories also warn about criminals who use water to distract their targets. The fluid is sprayed on the victim’s neck to confuse them and get them flustered. Then, the criminal snatches their bag or purse and runs off. Crooks have also been known to spray a substance on tourists’ bags. They’ll then offer to clean and repair the fabric. When the tourist takes off their bag and hands it over, the criminal will take off running, never to be seen again.
9. Skip Out on Staying Hydrated
Altitude sickness can be severe when you’re visiting Bolivia. If you fly into El Alto International Airport, you’ll be greeted by an altitude of 13,323-feet above sea level. The signs of altitude sickness include shortness of breath, dehydration, and headaches. Staying hydrated will help prevent altitude sickness, but if you’re already experiencing symptoms, we have another solution. The locals swear by chewing on a ball of coca leaves to combat the symptoms.
10. Visit Coronilla Hill in Cochabamba, Coroico and the Caranavi Regions
These areas are the homes to many of Bolivia’s organized crime units. Tourists who venture into Coronilla Hill in Cochabamba, Coroico and the Caranavi in the Yungas region have been the victims of carjackings and kidnappings.
11. Visit While on a Diet
Bolivia isn’t the place to visit if you’re on any type of diet. The locals love to eat, and I guess you can say many of them have a sweet tooth. You’ll notice that every street corner has a vendor selling cups of jello topped with whipped cream, empanadas covered in powdered sugar, and cups of sugary juice. In restaurants, almost every meal consists of some form of potato, and Coca-Cola is the locals’ favorite beverage of choice.
12. Take Photos of the Natives, You Might ‘Steal Their Soul’
It’s never appropriate to take a photo of a stranger without their permission. In Bolivia, it’s not only rude, but it goes against their beliefs. Bolivians in rural villages to the locals in the big cities will turn away from having their picture taken because they believe the camera can steal their soul.