I was a little worried about traveling in Bolivia.
However, I ended up loving Bolivia.
Well, for the most part.
The food was better than expected. The people are wonderful. The diversity of landscapes is incredible in this relatively small country. It’s extremely affordable, especially after traveling in Argentina and Chile.
Yes, the travel is a little rougher, and you have to be prepared for that.
But it is totally worth it.
I flew into Sucre in April of 2012 from Buenos Aires and fell in love with the city. I couldn’t bring myself to leave until three weeks later. I then flew from Sucre to Tarija, the wine country that is not often visited by tourists. I liked the laid-back atmosphere and spent over a week, including an incredible two-day hike in nearby Valle de Los Condores. Next was the scariest bus ride of my life to Tupiza, known as the “Wild West of Bolivia” and for the mythology surrounding Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. From Tupiza, I did the four-day Jeep tour to the Salar de Uyuni, which can only be described with the words incredible and breath-taking.
Next time I visit Bolivia (my visa is good for two entries within five years), I will visit Lake Titicaca, La Paz, and Rurrenabaque… and I’ll probably have to go back to Sucre
My tips for places to visit, accommodations, transportation, and eating and drinking are listed below.
Check the airlines BOA and TAM for cheap flights within the country. I frequently found offers of US$50 per flight.
For buses, ask the locals or at your hostel which bus lines to check out to get to your next destination.
If you are a picture person, check out my photo galleries from Bolivia.
You will find some links to relevant blog posts throughout this page. If you would like to review all posts about Bolivia, click here.
I traveled to Sucre by flying from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had already seen the north of Argentina, and I realized it would have cost me almost the same amount in bus tickets, lodging, and food to travel by land to Bolivia. I heard the border crossing isn’t the easiest. It only cost about $400 to fly, and I could have found a cheaper flight if I booked earlier.
A note about border crossings and visas…. I met very few travelers who did not have some trouble crossing between Argentina and Bolivia. The Bolivians wanted crisp US bills with no markings to pay for the visas, and frequently it was clear that a bribe (although small) was the only way they would grant the visa. So I went to the Bolivian Consulate in Buenos Aires to get my visa in advance. I highly suggest this if there is a Consulate in a city you are passing through (allow at least two business days). Call to get clear requirements of what you need to bring and how many copies. In Buenos Aires, I took in all of the paperwork to the Consulate (located at the Once Train Station), then went downtown to make a payment to the bank, then went back to the Consulate with my receipt. Then they processed it, telling me to pick it up the next day.
A note about departure taxes… All airports and bus stations have a departure tax. In the bus stations, it seemed to be very small (2 Bolivians). The airports were higher (10-15 Bolivianos). You should get a receipt that proves you paid, and you will show this when you board the bus or go through airport security.
I felt reasonably safe in Bolivia. The biggest thing to worry about is your bag. Keep an eye on it at all times as thefts from buses are common.
Be aware of potential scams. I heard about two. Someone posing as a police officer will corner you, go through your bag, and when you get it back, it will be a bit lighter. There are also taxi driver scams, so it is best to have your hotel/ hostel call you a taxi.
If you take the proper precautions with your things, there is not much to worry about.
- It is nearly impossible to NOT travel cheaply in Bolivia.
- I found it was cheaper to eat in the markets and small restaurants (where the locals eat not the tourists) than buy my own food to prepare.
- There is less of a hostel network than in surrounding countries. But you can still find cheap lodging in budget hotels (called a hostal in Bolivia).
- Long-distance buses are ridiculously cheap, but they are also not very comfortable or safe. Be sure to dress very warmly and even have a blanket or sleeping bag with you. The roads in Bolivia are not-so-great, the mountain passes are dangerous, and there have been problems with the bus drivers drinking. Of course, most travelers make it to their destinations fine. It just wasn’t worth the risk of falling off the side of a cliff, so I opted for flying whenever I could because I found it was still quite cheap and within my budget.
- Check out my Budget page to see how much I spent in Bolivia.
Every traveler I met said Sucre was a pleasant place to spend some time. I went there with the plan to stay two weeks and stayed for three… then came back for another week.
I love Sucre.
Although it is a large city, it is not crowded and dirty, but rather relaxing and beautiful with well-maintained plazas and parks, colonial architecture, and a good variety of cafes and restaurants.
There is not a whole lot to do in the city. In fact, you can probably see the “tourist attractions” in two days, but it is worth staying longer to do some of the tours outside the city (great mountain biking, hiking, and more). It is also a very popular place to learn Spanish.
Where to Stay
I was pleasantly surprised by my hostel Wasi Masi. This is one of the only real hostels I came across in Bolivia with great shared spaces (TV room with about a billion DVDs, dining room, and courtyard), the best book exchange, and well-constructed dorm beds and lockers (they have private rooms too).
The owner is awesome. She lives there with her son and speaks fluent English (but will speak to you in Spanish if you are learning). This place is popular, so book in advance.
Favorite Restaurants, Cafes, Bars
I ate at the market nearly everyday.
Sometimes I had real meals at the upstairs dining area. Sometimes I had fresh fruit salads and juices.
However, I did check out a few cafes and restaurants. These are my faves in Sucre:
- Cafe Abis – I practically lived here. The food isn’t that great, but the cappuccino and espresso are fantastic! Plus, they have reliable wifi.
- El Mirador – Yes, this place is touristy, but you must go for the view and the excellent pasta and fresh-squeezed juices.
- Parrillin – Very close to the hostel, you can get a great set lunch for under US$2. You’ll only see locals here.
- 7 Lunares – This is the best place for chorizo or choripan. The entrance is right by the market and is a bit tricky to find.
- El Germen – Awesome vegetarian food. The lunch special is a great deal at about US$3.
- El Patio – Located on a street parallel to and one block from the main plaza, this is where you can find the best saltenas in Bolivia. Their juices are amazing too. Go early because they run out before lunchtime.
- Nouvelle Cuisine – Best place for an affordable steak dinner. It includes a good salad bar too.
- La Taverne – This is the fancy French restaurant of Sucre. Good food, good service, and a nice atmosphere. I had a filet wrapped in bacon and a beer for under US$12. The bread is great too.
- Joy Ride is the main all-in-one gringo bar, restaurant, cafe. Decent food and drinks and a nice atmosphere with reliable wifi.
- Walk through the main cemetery. It is much more impressive than I imagined.
- Get out into the surrounding mountains and get your exercise on a mountain-bike excursion. Note: This is really difficult, and you should only attempt if you are very fit and adjusted to the altitude.
- Take a tour to the Sunday Market in Tarabuco. You can go on your own, but I was happy to have a guide tell me about the history and unique customs of this indigenous group.
- Buy chocolate at Chocolates Para Ti (close to the main plaza).
- Take a tour to the Inca Trail and Maragua Crater and small towns. (I went with Joy Ride.)
- Go running (or just people watch) at Parque Bolivar. In the mornings, you will find the runners of Sucre working out here. In the afternoons, many students gather to hang out and eat from the street vendors.
- Check out the dinosaurs. The Parque Cretacico is nearby, but I heard it was pretty corny and it was not worth the price to me. There are supposed to be dinosaur footprints you can see without actually going inside, but I never made it there. I was amused enough by the random dinosaur statues throughout the city, including a phone booth.
- Walk around. This is a great city to just wander, admiring the architecture and winding cobblestone streets, and you’ll also get your exercise with all the hills.
Sucre has an airport very close, however, you will most likely be flying through Santa Cruz to get anywhere else. A taxi to the airport should cost 25 Bolivianos. Have your hotel/ hostel call the taxi, and confirm the price before getting in (don’t be afraid to say no if they try to overcharge).
There is one central bus station, and it is within walking distance of the main plaza/ center of the city (15 minutes). It is downhill to the city but uphill to get to the bus station.
I heard Tarija is a wonderful city where the Bolivians go for vacation.
It has a similar climate to the nearby wine region in northern Argentina, so the wines are supposed to be good. I also heard the climate was pleasantly Mediterranean and that the people of Tarija were different than the rest of Bolivia (more smiles, more laidback). When I started hearing from Bolivians that gringos never go there, I was sold.
There is not a whole lot to do in Tarija. You can see the main sites in one day, plus another day to do a wine country excursion.
But I loved it. It’s beautiful, laidback, and nobody speaks English. If you go to Tarija, I suggest at least five days (see the Activities section to know why) and to book any excursions in advance if you are on a tight schedule.
There is an airport, so I flew from Sucre (connecting through Santa Cruz). It cost me under US$100, and if I had purchased in advance, it would have been close to half that.
There are also bus options from Sucre, Tupiza, and probably other areas.
Where to Stay
I stayed at Hostal Carmen. There are no real hostels (i.e. with shared dorms) in Tarija because it is not a backpackers destination. I tried to get a room at the budget place Residencial El Rosario across the street from Hostal Carmen, but it was already booked (and looked very depressing). I decided to treat myself to a nicer room, good wifi, and a great buffet breakfast instead. Contact Hostal Carmen via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They also have a tourism agency.
Favorite Restaurants, Cafes, Bars
The market is a good bet for cheap, traditional dishes.
You will also find the fruit ladies making juices (but no fruit salads like in Sucre). I didn’t go to any bars, but I heard that this is a good city for partying at the bars/ clubs, so ask around if that is what you are looking for. Because I was splurging a bit on my hotel room and they had a huge breakfast buffet, I didn’t eat out a lot. Here are the few places I did enjoy.
- El Molino – This place was only a few blocks from my hotel (on the same street), and they served up awesome vegetarian set lunches for under US$2. I ate here every day I did not eat at the market.
- Wine Shop – I cannot remember the name, but it is located on Ingavi very close to the tourism office and the Casa Dorada. They have a good selection and sell at the same prices the vineyards do. Also friendly and knowledgeable.
- Casa Grande – This is a bit out of the way at Calle Avaroa 387 (still walkable), but it is totally worth it to go to their wine shop and pick up a couple of bottles to try. This was my favorite Bolivian wine. See this post about Food and Drink in Bolivia for specifics.
- Cakes at the Market – There is a whole section of cakes at the Mercado Central. It’s pretty to look at, but you should also sample a slice (or two).
You can see the attractions in Tarija in a day, but you want to also check out some of the nearby small towns, as well as do a hiking excursion and possibly a wine country tour.
- In the city, check out the Casa Dorada (tours daily with times posted on door), Paleontology and Archaeology Museum (dinosaur bones!), Mirador Heroes de la Independencia (you may want to taxi there, but it is the best view), Plaza Luis de Fuentes y Vargas, and Plaza Mariscal Sucre.
- Day trip to San Lorenzo and Tomatitas. Go to San Lorenzo in the morning for the fresh bread (this is where most of the bread in Tarija comes from and spend an hour walking around this small town. Take the bus back towards Tarija but stop in Tomatitas to eat cangrejos (that is really the only reason to go to Tomatitas, and you’ll hope right back on the bus back to Tarija).
- Hiking excursion with Educacion y Futuro to see gorgeous landscapes, Andean condors, and get a glimpse of life in a small community. This was the highlight of my time in Tarija and possibly all of Bolivia. This non-profit does lots of great things in Tarija and nearby communities. They offer a 2-day (or more) hiking trip with a local guide and all camping equipment and food. Email them in advance to schedule it.
Tupiza to Uyuni
I heard this area had the most beautiful landscapes in South America, and it did not disappoint. I decided to do the four-day Jeep tour starting in Tupiza and ending in Uyuni because I heard Tupiza is a much more pleasant town, and they have the most reputable tour companies.
I would agree Tupiza is much better than the depressing, trash-filled Uyuni. I still wouldn’t plan to spend more than two days in Tupiza, and even then you won’t want to hang out in the town.
I took a bus from Tarija to Tupiza, and this was the scariest bus ride of my life. there is no airport in Tupiza, so it was my only option to get there. It was overnight. I nearly froze to death (despite wearing all of my layers, hiking boots, wool hat and gloves, scarf, fleece, and sleeping bag). The windy road through the mountains was scary, and I finally had to cover my eyes and not look anymore. So prepare yourself.
Where to Stay
I started out at Hotel Mitru because I was arriving at 3am (or some ridiculous hour) and wanted a reputable hotel that would actually let me in at that time. This is also the most expensive hotel in Tupiza (US$18), and they do not have single rooms. I stayed for two nights but left because the internet was so bad and the staff at the front desk were rude. On the plus side, they have an awesome breakfast buffet and a pool (but it was way too cold to use it).
The brand-new Hostal Bolivar offered a simple private room with shared bath and way better wifi for US$5 per night.
Favorite Restaurants, Cafes, Bars
The market in Tupiza is tiny, and the food vendors did not look super-clean. I decided not to take the risk, especially with the big tour coming up. I bought fruit, yogurt, and granola to eat at my hotel and then ate one meal out. By the way, there are no cafes with wifi in Tupiza and no decent coffee.
- Rinconcito Quilmes – On Suipacha not far from the bus station, this locals place serves filling set lunches for a good price.
- There is nothing to do in Tupiza. What you want to see is actually surrounding Tupiza, and you’ll need to take a tour. You can go horseback riding, take a driving tour, get on a mountain bike, or combine these activities. There are tons of tourism agencies. I went with Tupiza Tours, but there are plenty of others that are reputable.
Four Day Jeep Tour Tupiza to Uyuni
This is of course why people go to Tupiza. My tour cost just under US$190, and that includes everything except sleeping bag (you can rent from the agency), two park entry fees totaling about US$27, and public bathrooms (just 2 or 3 Bolivianos each).
I went with Tupiza Tours, and although the driver and cook were excellent, I was not happy with a woman that worked in the office who was very rude to me. Had I not already given them the deposit, I would have gone to another agency (most now offer the exact same tour itinerary and quality of drivers, cooks, and food).
Check out my tips on how to survive the tour.
And if you want a sneak peak at what you will see, check out these landscapes.
I only went to Santa Cruz to fly into and out of the country. Supposedly, Santa Cruz is warm and tropical, however, I experienced two days of constant downpour while I was there. I got out a bit but was not impressed with the city. The center of the city is dirty and feels a little unsafe (not sure if this is true).
Where to Stay
I stayed at Jodanga Backpackers Hostel. Although it is a little pricey (by Bolivian standards), it is a really nice hostel, is within walking distance of the local airport, and is just a couple blocks from a great park where you can run. You can also walk about 20 minutes to the city center or take a local bus or cheap taxi.
Favorite Restaurants, Cafes, Bars
I only spent a couple of nights, but I did check out a few notable spots.
- Alexander – Very close to the main plaza, this place has a nice atmosphere, serves good coffee and excellent salads (I had the quinoa) plus other options.
- Kiwi’s Cafe – Also very close to the main plaza, I had a fantastic burger here. They have good variety on the menu, and it’s a pleasant laidback place.