Watch a traditional Tinku dance group in Bolivia
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Watch a traditional Tinku dance group in Bolivia

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Bolivia Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

1,098,581 sq km (424,164 sq miles).

Population

10,888,402 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density

9.8 per sq km.

Capital

La Paz.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

Luis Arce since November 2020.

Head of government

Luis Arce since November 2020.

Electricity

220 volts, 50Hz; some buildings in La Paz also have 110-volt sockets. Plugs are either two-pronged with round prongs (European) and flat-pronged pins (North American).

With its ice-capped Andean peaks, crystalline lagoons, rugged lowlands, Amazonian rainforest, terraced valleys and windswept altiplano, landlocked Bolivia is a virtual showcase of South America’s most dramatic landscapes. 

Its iconic sights include Lake Titicaca, spiritual home of the Inca creation myth and highest navigable lake in the world; the Salar de Uyuni, highest and largest salt lake on earth; and La Paz, the world’s highest de facto capital. The panorama of the city’s ramshackle roofs sprawled across the basin beneath the mighty Mt Illampú is surely one of the most awesome views in the Americas.

The country’s greatest treasures are the Bolivians themselves. Nearly two thirds of the people are of indigenous origin, preserving the continent’s purest cultural roots, which, for visitors, means a dazzling array of colourful festivals, mysterious rituals, haunting folklore music, magical markets and dazzling costumed dances.

While bespoke tourism is emerging, there are also plenty of long bus journeys over precipitous mountain passes, rough-and-tumble jeep trips across empty landscapes and chilly nights at high altitude in budget hostels under llama wool blankets.

Bolivia’s cities encapsulate the country’s staggering contrasts. La Paz mixes both traditional and modern culture in a frenzy of collisions. Weave your way through the backstreets where cosmopolitan restaurants and lively bars compete with witch markets and speeding minibuses. By contrast, Santa Cruz has a younger vibe: famous for its spirited Carnival, it’s the booming hub of the tropical eastern lowlands. Colonial Sucre and Potosí are chronicles of Bolivia’s past – whitewashed mansions, gilt-lined churches, monumental plazas, and steep cobbled streets. While Tupiza and Uyuni offer something different altogether: the isolated culture of Altiplano towns.

From jungle greenery to vast white salt plains and wildlife-filled wetlands, the sweep of landscapes can be overwhelming: one day you can find yourself walking through a canyon of rock formations, the next volcanic geysers and endless stretches of white salt. It is this smorgasbord of remarkable features which keeps trips to Bolivia varied, alive and unforgettable.

Travel Advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and see support for British nationals abroad for information about specific travel topics.

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Bolivia set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Bolivian Embassy in the UK (in Spanish). 

Passport validity requirements

To enter Bolivia, your passport should have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the date you arrive. 

 Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to. 

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

Checks at border control

You may need to show proof of your accommodation, for example, a hotel or hostel booking and its address, at least for your first night in Bolivia. 

Make sure you get your passport stamped.

Make sure you get an entry stamp when you arrive in Bolivia, otherwise you’ll have to pay a fine when you leave.

If you enter Bolivia overland, make sure you get your passport stamped on both sides of the border, with an exit stamp from the country you are leaving and an entry stamp on the Bolivian side.

Bolivia no longer stamps passports on the border with Argentina, but you must register your exit with Argentina’s immigration authorities (in Spanish) who pass the information to Bolivian immigration.

The British Embassy cannot intervene in immigration issues.

Visa requirements

You can visit Bolivia for up to 90 days without a visa. Border officials issue 30-day stamps, but you can apply for 90 days in person at your nearest immigration office in Bolivia (in Spanish).   

As a tourist, you get 90 days of visa-free travel in a one-year period. If you want to stay longer, check with the Bolivian Embassy in the UK (in Spanish) or the Department of Immigration (in Spanish).

To work, study, travel for business or for other reasons, you must meet the Bolivian government’s entry requirements (in Spanish).
Requirements include a police criminal record certificate from the UK, which you can get from the ACRO Criminal Records Office. If you need any documents from the UK, get them translated into Spanish and legalised by the Legalisation Office.

Travelling with children

If only one parent or legal guardian is travelling with a child, you cannot visit Bolivia for longer than 90 days. If you stay for more than 90 days, the child will need a judicial permit to leave Bolivia with only one parent.

Vaccination requirements

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Bolivia guide.   

Depending on your circumstances, this may include a yellow fever vaccination certificate.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Bolivia (in Spanish). You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.

Terrorism

There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in Bolivia

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Bolivia, terrorist attacks cannot be ruled out.

Crime

Protecting your belongings

Petty crime is common in central La Paz, in other popular tourist destinations, on buses and in crowded areas. Do not leave your bag or other belongings unattended. Always keep your passport, money and other valuable items in a safe place.

Violent crime

There has been an increase in robberies from people taking taxis in Santa Cruz and La Paz. If you use a taxi:

  • seek local advice and use established companies
  • order the taxi by phone – ‘radio taxis’ have the telephone number and the name of the taxi company on the roof
  • check for a sticker on the windscreen or windows – registered taxis should display one
  • do not get into a taxi already carrying other passengers

Ignore anyone offering help at taxi stands and bus terminals and watch your belongings. Thieves work in teams to distract their victims.

Attacks on lone travellers taking motorbike taxis have been reported at tourist sites such as Rurrenabaque.

Express kidnapping and scams

There is a risk of ‘express kidnapping’  – short-term, opportunistic abduction aimed at extracting cash. Victims are held hostage for up to several days while criminals use stolen bank or credit cards.

Foreign visitors are particularly vulnerable when entering Bolivia at overland border points with Peru, Chile and Argentina. If you’re travelling from Copacabana to La Paz, try to use a direct bus.

There have been several incidents at the Cementerio General area in La Paz and in the Sopocachi area of La Paz.

Express kidnappers sometimes impersonate police officers to target foreigners. They have used fake police ID cards, uniforms and even police stations to fool victims. One of the criminals pretends to be a friendly tourist. A fake police officer then approaches and asks for passports and other information. The impostors persuade the victim to get into a taxi driven by another criminal, where they rob them, sometimes by taking them to ATMs to withdraw money.

Call the Tourist Police on 800-14-0081 (toll-free) if you suspect impostors are targeting you. The police cannot search you without a written order from a state prosecutor.

Sexual assault

There have been rape and sexual assault incidents at clubs and hostels. Be cautious if you’re approached by strangers. Lock your room when you return to your hotel or hostel.

See advice for women travelling abroad.

Prison tours

Avoid prison tours. They’re illegal and unsafe. There are no guarantees for your safety inside prisons.

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

Police and immigration officials sometimes carry out ID checks. Carry copies of the photo page from your passport and the Bolivian entry stamps. Leave the original document in a safe place.

Illegal bars

There are illegal bars in Bolivia. If the police find you at one, you may be detained for questioning, particularly if drugs are found at the premises. Legal bars close at 3am.

Illegal drugs and prison sentences

Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of cocaine. There are harsh penalties for those caught trafficking or in possession. The minimum sentence is 8 years and prison conditions are very poor. Never leave luggage unattended when departing the country and avoid any contact with illegal drugs.

Ayahuasca ceremonies

Ayahuasca is a traditional plant used in ‘spiritual cleansing’ ceremonies by indigenous communities in Bolivia, primarily in the Amazon region, but also near La Paz. At these ceremonies people consume a brew containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a hallucinogenic drug. It is not illegal to consume this brew, but its interaction with existing medical conditions is not well understood. People have suffered serious illnesses and in some cases death after consuming it. Some Ayahuasca retreats are in remote areas, making it difficult to get medical help.

Using cameras and binoculars in remote areas

Be careful travelling with cameras and binoculars in remote areas, particularly in coca-growing areas such as the Chapare and the Yungas, where people can be suspicious of anyone taking photographs. 

Check before taking photographs of local people.

LGBT+ travellers

Same-sex sexual activity is not illegal. However, same-sex relationships are frowned on by many Bolivians, more so in the Altiplano than in Santa Cruz, where attitudes tend to be more liberal.

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism

Adventure activities in Bolivia include mountain biking, salt flat tours and jungle expeditions. There are no official minimum standards for tour operators. Get local advice and only use reputable companies. Check your travel insurance policy covers you for the activities you’re planning.

If you’re mountain biking on the so-called ‘Death Road’, from La Paz to Coroico through the Yungas Valley, make sure the bikes are in good condition. Check your guide is carrying safety equipment and first-aid kit.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning to drive in Bolivia, see information on driving abroad.

You’ll need to have both a 1949 international driving permit (IDP) and your UK driving licence with you in the car to drive in Bolivia. You cannot buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel. You can buy an IDP in person from some UK post offices – find your nearest post office branch that offers this service.

Road travel can be dangerous due to poor road conditions and low driving standards. Serious accidents happen on the main tourist routes. Some of Bolivia’s main highways are paved but most roads are unpaved rough tracks.

During the rainy season (November to March) there is a risk of landslides and roads can be blocked. Check road status updates from the Bolivian road authority (in Spanish) and get local advice before you set out.

Vehicles are often not well maintained. Four-wheel drive vehicles are often needed, especially during the rainy season. Broken-down vehicles with no warning lights are a frequent hazard on roads at night.

Buses and taxis

Several recent accidents involving public transport, especially long-distance buses, have affected British people. Bus drivers drive for longer than would be permitted under European laws.

Many taxis and most bus companies do not meet European standards and rarely have seatbelts.

Road blockades

Groups often use road blockades as a form of protest, without warning. Avoid large crowds and demonstrations, and do not attempt to cross blockades. Blockades can disrupt public transport at very short notice. Strikes may result in widespread road blockades, including on roads to and from airports. Check road status updates from the Bolivian road authority (in Spanish) to see which roads are blocked.

Air travel

Many of Bolivia’s airports lack safety and rescue capability. Airports outside the departmental capitals are less likely to possess fire and rescue equipment.

Lake and river travel

The boat trips on Lake Titicaca offer boats that are often very basic. The same is true of boats used for river excursions in jungle areas. Check life jackets are provided.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Flooding and landslides

Floods and landslides are common, particularly in mountainous areas during the rainy season (November to March). Roads are often impassable for days at a time.

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Call 118 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccinations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip check:

Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of Bolivia, including in La Paz and the Salar de Uyuni salt flats. Read more about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro.

Medication

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

Healthcare facilities in Bolivia

The public healthcare system does not meet the same standards as the UK, and you may not be able to access the public health system as it is already overstretched. There are private clinics in all main cities that work with international insurance. It is very important to have travel insurance and access to funds, as you will need to pay up front to receive treatment.

FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Bolivia.

There is also guidance on healthcare if you’re living in Bolivia.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Bolivia

Ambulance: 118

Police: 110

Fire: 119

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you’re in Bolivia and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in La Paz.  

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.