Bolivia Latin America

Is Bolivia worth traveling to?

April 12, 2023
La Paz, Bolivia

I recently did a one-week trip with El Camino Travel to Bolivia. To be honest, I really did not know what to expect of Bolivia before the trip — I knew of the famous salt flats and my cousins who visited before told me that the food wasn’t great, but other than that, my knowledge of Bolivia was basically a blank slate. My experience in Bolivia turned out to be quite eye-opening and incredible. It’s a country worth visiting, but it’s definitely not for the faint-of-heart. Read on to find out the pros and cons of traveling to Bolivia!

Pro: Bolivia has a rich indigenous history

Inside one of Freddy Mamani’s cholets, El Alto

Bolivia has a pretty large indigenous population, with the Aymara and the Quechua people being the majority. Bolivia’s second largest city, El Alto, consists primarily of Aymara settlers, and it’s boomed to about 1 million residents in less than 100 years. El Alto is the birthplace of neo-Andean architecture, first created by Freddy Mamani, a Bolivian architect with Aymara roots. These neo-Andean buildings (or “cholets”) have vibrant colors, striking shapes, and motifs inspired by the Tiwanacu civilization.

Cholitas shopping for polleras, El Alto

The cholitas have also become an iconic symbol of Bolivia. They are the women of indigenous roots, known for their bowler hats and voluminous skirts called pollera. However, these women were marginalized and even abused for decades. The term cholo was originally meant to be derogatory toward women of indigenous or mixed heritage. Over the years, though, the cholitas have reclaimed this word and now use it with pride. You can see cholitas all over El Alto; in fact, you can even see a cholitas wrestling show!

Pro: Bolivia’s cable cars (teleféricos) are a genius mode of transportation

View of the colorful Chualluma neighborhood from the cable car, El Alto

The teleféricos (or cable cars) are a fairly new addition in the past decade. As La Paz is situated in a canyon with lots of hills, the only viable form of public transportation is to go above the city, as opposed to going under, as you would typically see in most American metropolitan cities.

I found the cable cars to be a great way to see spectacular city views and simply relax. People are not hurried to get in and out, as you would see in a subway. The teleféricos have made a significant improvement on the mental being of the residents, and honestly, I wish more American cities would utilize this mode of public transportation as well!

Pro: Bolivia has the most out-of-this-world landscapes

Walking on Salar de Uyuni!

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and probably the most famous site in Bolivia. It’s definitely worth checking out, as it’ll make you feel you are on another planet. Closer to the rainy season is when the salt flats will reflect the sky for a surreal, heavenly view, like you would see in a Salvador Dalí painting.

Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

The salt flats are just one example of the extraterrestial terrain you’ll see in Bolivia. As you travel south beyond Salar de Uyuni, you can see the Sol de Mañana geysers, located in an active geothermal field. It’s similar to visiting the geysers at Yellowstone National Park, but there are fewer guardrails and marked paths, so you have to be very careful where you step. In the south of Bolivia are also lagoons with the most beautiful colors. The Laguna Colorada (or the Red Lagoon) is one of the most impressive — it has deep colors of red due to the algae, and is a site for different species of flamingos! As the location is outside of typical tourist spots, it is not busy and makes for a great place to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Con: It’s a pain to acquire a tourist visa for Bolivia

In order to fly to Bolivia (at least from the United States), you need to either obtain a tourist visa, which grants entry for 30 days. A tourist visa can be obtained at a Bolivian Embassy or Consulate in the United States, or by purchasing it upon arrival in Bolivia at immigration.

The latter is what I did. The visa purchase is done in a separate line, and it took up to an hour for everyone in my party to get their visas done. You’ll need to have a copy of the hotel reservation or a letter from friends or family indicating the address where you will be staying. You can pay by card or by paying $160 USD in clean, crisp bills. Note that they are very particular about the bills. If you choose to bring cash, be sure to bring extra in case they reject some of the bills.

Con: Good Bolivian food can be hard to find

I traveled with El Camino and they took my group to a number of great restaurants, many had fusion dishes that featured local ingredients. If you’re going on you’re own, though, don’t expect to go to any restaurant down the street and be satisfied. The number one complaint that I’ve heard from people who have traveled to Bolivia is that the food was bland and just not great. I recommend doing some research and checking restaurant reviews ahead of time so that you know what to expect. For fine Bolivian dining, I recommend Ali Pacha (vegan) and Gustu in La Paz. In addition, Manq’a is a social restaurant in El Alto that trains young adults into chefs and offers some more affordable but still delicious Bolivian cuisine.

Con: You will likely feel sick in some way

La Paz is situated at 11,942 ft (3,640 m) above sea level. The air will feel thinner and, unless you’re used to living at high altitude, you’ll likely feel a bit out of breath with a slight headache. There are local remedies like chewing or drinking coca leaves, but you’ll probably want to bring altitude sickness medicine just in case. When I visited, the altitude did not affect me too terribly, but I was definitely out of breath when I tried to go up a hill or even when I bent down to tie my shoes!

Beyond altitude, you may experience an upset stomach. In fact, when I traveled to Bolivia, most people in my group suffered from digestive issues. It’s unclear if the root cause was a stomach bug or a general form of traveler’s diarrhea, but you should be go prepared with Pepto Bismol or Imodium, especially since you may not always be close to a pharmacy in Bolivia.

Summary

Traveling to Bolivia is not easy and you may feel ill through part of your trip, but I’d say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime sort of experience and is still worth it if your body can handle it. To avoid the complications of planning a trip to Bolivia, you can go with the travel company that I went with: El Camino Travel. I had a great time with them and would highly recommend!

Have you been to Bolivia before? Let me know your experience!

You Might Also Like...

No Comments

    Leave a Reply