Bolivia Quick Introduction
Bolivia is known as the South American ‘Tibet’ because of its landlocked nature and mountainous terrain.
It's cold because of the altitude but its inaccessibility for centuries means you can see much more of the indigenous cultures than anywhere else in the continent. It is also one of the poorest South American nations.
• Bolivia is a place of visual dramatics including the volcanic geysers and mud pools in Laguna Colorado and the cultural fascinations of the Inca Crypt on Laguna Verde, the jungle near Rurrenbaque with the indigenous tribes of the Tacana who still preserve much of their culture because of their remoteness.
• One of the most surprising, but not the most interesting places on the tourist trail in Bolivia is San Vicente. Its main selling point is that it’s the place of the ‘last stand’ of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
• La Paz, the capital, is not much to look at, enclosed by the mountain ranges that surround it. Beyond La Paz are the strong indigenous Quechua and Aymara cultures.
• The Bolivians eat meat with rice or potatoes, shredded lettuce with a hot chilli sauce known as Llajhua to add spice and flavour. Bolivians drink beer, wine and Chicha , a potent maize liquor. Be wary as Bolivians drink plenty so don’t try to keep up if you can’t!
• Although 95% of Bolivians profess to be Catholic, Bolivian Catholicism is inextricably linked with the beliefs that pervaded before Catholicism arrived, those of the Aymara and Inca.
• The population is sparse but this means there are plenty of rare wildlife species thriving there such as the Tapir and Capybara.
Gap Year Work and Volunteering in Bolivia
Bolivia is not a wealthy country and doesn't have opportunities for travellers to work on a paid basis, apart from maybe working as a TEFL teacher, but bear in mind that even doing this, you will be earning very little. Your other option would be to look for volunteering work in Bolivia, on placement with a gap year company, such as those listed on our South America destinations page.
Temperature and Climate
• Bolivia has many mountain ranges, and La Paz is the highest capital in the world. Altitude means it gets pretty cold, so you should wrap up warm most of the year! The highlands are cold in winter but the lowlands are hot and wet in summer. Winter is May to October and summer is November to April.
• Bolivia’s extreme geography means there are specific ecosystems in certain places.
Things you need to know before you go
• The Official language in Bolivia is Spanish but because of the difficulty of access to much of the country, Quechua is still spoken, with Spanish being used as a second language for large parts of the population.
• You need to be protected against dengue fever, chagas disease, cholera, hepatitis, malaria, rabies, tetanus, typhoid and yellow fever. The government of Bolivia has requested that all travellers into the country have a yellow fever certificate. You may also be of risk of altitude sickness or soroche.
• You will need a visa to visit Bolivia. Your travel agent will help with this.
• The high tourist season coincides with its festival season in winter, and its easier to travel as the summer can be marked with rain, flooding, steamy heat and mud in the lowlands making it difficult to travel.
• The currency is the Boliviano but visitors fare better with US dollars.£1 equals 14.5 Bolivianos. Travellers’ cheques and credit cards are accepted in all major cities.
• The extreme height and landscape of Bolivia makes it more expensive to fly direct. It’s easier to fly via another South American country. The international airports are at La Paz and Santa Cruz. The national airline is Lloyd Aereo Boliviano but is invariably unreliable with delays and cancellations. Domestic flights are with LAB Tam (military) and AeroXpress.
• Roads in Bolivia are rarely paved so not particularly good. Buses are ok. Trucks are rough going but half the price of buses. Rail is privatised which makes the system a little unreliable. If you want to travel through the Amazon basin, boats are the best form of transport.
• Check with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office "Know Before You Go" campaign and travel advice before booking travel to Bolivia, as it is not a risk-free destination (but then, is anywhere?!)
It is very important not to forget about travel insurance when you are exploring somewhere like Bolivia. Make sure you get a good policy which covers you for this destination in our gap year travel insurance section.
Words which are very useful to get by:
Good Day Buenos dias
See you later Hasta luego
How are you? Como Estas?
Please Por favor
Thank you Gracias
It’s a pleasure Con mucho gusto
Do you understand? Me entiende?
You’re welcome De nada
Excuse me Perdone
How much is it? Cuanto cuesta esto…?.
This is just a start though so its best to get a phrasebook as English is not widely spoken on the continent!