When to Go: The best time to travel is May to November. Bolivia has a variety of climates, from tropical in the south, to cool and sunny in the altiplano and Andes. The rainy season is December to March. La Paz is usually cool, while Sucre and Cochabamba are warmer.
Getting There and Around: Lloyd Aereo Boliviano (LAB) and American Airlines fly from the U.S. to La Paz and Santa Cruz. There is no direct service from Canada. There are other private aviation companies that are safe and efficient. Domestic fares are inexpensive (La Paz-Cochabamba, for example, $35). Purchase tickets in advance. El Alto Airport (LPB) is 8 miles (12 km) from La Paz. Most cities in Bolivia have airstrips and air service. Many towns without regular air service can be reached by chartered flights, costing about $150 an hour (for up to four passengers). Overland travel from neighboring countries is possible. Make sure all paperwork is in order before undertaking the journey. There is rail service between La Paz and other destination. Taxis in La Paz are inexpensive and there are "radio taxis," - on call cab service. La Paz has local bus service. Rental cars are available. Motorized canoes can be chartered, and some areas (e.g., Mapiri) retain regular river canoe service.
Accommodations: Everything from 5 star hotels to humble guest houses.
What to Buy: Bolivian goods are very inexpensive, including llama and alpaca sweaters, place mats, rugs and ponchos, gold and silver objects and jewelry, Indian textiles, masks, Bolivian music, Bolivian paintings, and native musical instruments. Also look for art, woodcarvings, tin handicrafts, fabrics, and handicrafts in rural areas, and ekekos (statues of the god of good fortune in silver ceramic, or gold).
In La Paz, the area above the Plaza San Francisco boasts the largest concentration of indigenous shops selling sweaters, jewelry, musical instruments, and souvenirs.
Shopping Hours: Monday through Friday 9-12 a.m., and 2-6 p.m. Saturday 9-12 a.m.
Banking Hours: Mon through Friday 8:30-11:30 a.m., and 2:30-6:30 p.m.
What to Eat: Dishes to try: silpancho, plato paceno, sajta de polio, fricase, lomo montado, chairo (potato soup), saltenas, trout, and surubi (fish).
Health Requirements: Although yellow fever vaccinations are not required for entry unless you are coming from an infected area, the Bolivian government recommends that visitors traveling to certain regions obtain vaccination.
National Bird: Condor.
National flower: Kantuta.
Location: Bolivia is in the heart of South America, bordering with Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru, and Chile. Its territory extends from the snowcapped mountains of the Andes to the lush Amazon jungle.
Capitals: Sucre (Supreme Court) and La Paz (Executive and Legislative Branches).
Population: 7 million (1995). 2% annual growth rate. 62% urban, and 38% rural.
Size: 424,162 sq mi (1.1 million sq km), the size of Texas and California combined.
Independence day: August 6, 1825.
Language: 88% Spanish; 43% Spanish only; 33% bilinguals Spanish/Quechua; 22% bilinguals Spanish/Aymara; 8% Quechua only; 3% Aymara only (Census 1992).
Education: Elementary, middle, high schools and public universities are free for all Bolivians. Excellent private schools and universities. Elementary school is compulsory. Literacy rate=82%. The new educational reform (1994) provides education in native languages, and has doubled the budget on education. There are 9 public and 12 private universities.
Climate: Cool in the highlands, mild in the valleys, and warm in semi-tropical valleys, plains, and rain forests. There are three months of rain (December through February), and nine months of cloudless blue skies and sunshine, especially in the highlands and valleys.
Holidays: Public Holidays include New Year, Carnival (before Lent), Good Friday, Easter, Labor Day (May 1), Independence Day (August 6), All Soul's Day (November 2), and Christmas (December 25).
Economy: Bolivia is a middle-income economy with diversified exports (World Bank, 1995). It is an open, free-market economy that grew at more than 4% (1994), with one of the lowest inflation rates in Latin America (12% in 1995). Bolivia's main exports are natural gas, gold, silver, tin, wolfram, wood, cattle, cotton, sugar, soy beans, and diverse manufactures. It has modern transportation, financial, energy, and telecommunications systems. Through the capitalization program, Bolivia in 1995 transferred the administration and ownership of 50% of the shares for four strategic state-owned companies (electricity, airline, telecommunications, and rail road) to foreign strategic investors. This year the government will complete the process by transferring the State Oil company as well as the smelting industry to the private sector. The new mining law facilitates joint ventures and foreign investment in rich Bolivian mineral deposits.
Government: Bolivia gained its independence on August 6, 1825. Bolivia has a democratic political system. New reforms to the Constitution (1994) reduced the voting age to 18 years old. Beginning 1999, the president will be elected for a 5-year period, as well as the members of Congress (senators and representatives). The Senate selects the 12 members of the Supreme Court. The first Bolivian Constitution was approved by Congress in 1825. The popular Participation Law (1994) divides the country in 304 municipalities, with local authorities democratically elected and with local citizen organizations allowed to control them. About 20% of the national budget is now directly distributed among these rural and urban municipalities, and local communities determine the projects. Relationship with the U.S. and Canada: Very Good.
Religion: Bolivians are Roman Catholic (85%), Protestants (11%), practice other religions (1%), or are nonbelievers (3%).
Currency: Boliviano (1 dollar = about 5.5 bolivianos, May 1996). There is free convertibility of foreign currency. Travelers checks and credit cards are accepted at most hotels, tourist shops, and at most restaurants (Discovery, Amex, Mastercard, and Visa). La Paz has widely scattered ATM machines (dispensing bolivianos) linked to U.S. networks.
Telecommunications: Good in major cities; poor in the countryside. Country code 591. Major city codes are La Paz (2), Cochabamba (42), Potosi (62), Santa Cruz (3), Sucre (64), and Trinidad (46).
Transportation: The main cities are serviced by commercial airlines. All other cities and towns are serviced by either bus, train, or boat. Many airlines connect La Paz and Santa Cruz with the capitals of neighboring countries, as well as with the United States and Europe.
Electric current: 50 cycles; 110 and 220 volts in La Paz, and 220 volts in the rest of the country.
Visa Information: U.S. tourists do not require visa for 30 day visits.
Other tourists: Check with the Consulate Section before departing.
Health Certificates: Yellow Fever certificate if arriving from an infected area.
Departure Tax: A $20 (US) tax must be paid in dollars.
Information: Embassy of Bolivia, (202) 483-4410 and Consular Section (202) 328-3712.
Addresses of Embassies & Consulates
Information on Bolivia is available in Bolivian Embassies or Consulates.
In the United States:
Embassy of Bolivia in Washington D.C.
3014 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington DC, 20008-3603
phone (202) 483-4410
fax (202) 328-3712
Consulate in Miami:
25 S.E. 2nd. Ave., Suite 545
Miami, FL. 33131
phone (305) 358-3450
fax (305) 374-8636
130 Albert Street, Suite 504
Ottawa, Ontario KIP SL4
phone (613) 236-5730
Senatur in La Paz
("Secretaria Nacional de Turismo")
Telephone 367463 or 35-8213
There are consulates in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco.
Special thanks to the Bolivian Times, Pasaje jauregui 2248 (Sopocahi), Cassila No. 1696, La Paz, Bolivia, for providing this material.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication