This country in South America is often overshadowed by more popular destinations such as Peru or Argentina. However, you will still encounter many backpackers, as Bolivia’s Andean region is a part of the well-travelled South American backpacker circuit (Colombia to Chile/Argentina or vice versa). While I only had time to explore the West–partaking in activities such as the Uyuni Salt Flats and the Death Road (more on that later)–there is another world in the East in the Amazon Lowlands. In this post, I will go over my experience and the costs of travelling to Bolivia.
Currency Info: When I was there in April 2019, the exchange of the Bolivian Boliviano to the Canadian Dollar was 5.17 BOB to $1 CAD.
While within Bolivia, I did not need to book any flights. I entered the country from the Chile border during my tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats and exited the country on the Peru border on the way to Cusco.
If you are planning to visit the Bolivian Amazon, which is the cheapest way to do any jungle activities within the Amazon, I would suggest to fly. Rurrenabaque, the small jungle town which serves as the primary gateway for tours, is only 400 km away from La Paz. But the journey via bus is a 16 hour ride on poorly maintained roads and is notorious for many accidents.
Food & Drinks
The food scene in Bolivia is heavily influenced by a combination of Spanish cuisine and indigenous Andean traditions. Ingredients such as corn, potatoes, quinoa and beans are popular in local dishes. Because their food is mostly bland and centered around meat and potatoes, Bolivia isn’t a world famous culinary destination. However, I was able to try out some delicious local delicacies such as:
- Lunch is the most important meal of the Bolivian day, and a typical Bolivian lunch would consist of several courses such as a soup and a main course of meat, rice, and potatoes. You can find these at a local inexpensive restaurant for 15 BOB ($2.90 CAD)!
- Grilled trucha (trout) from Lake Titicaca with quinoa and roasted vegetables. 50 BOB ($9.66 CAD)
- The chola is a classic sandwich from La Paz. There are many different versions and is a great snack (or meal if you get two). They can be bought for just 10 BOB ($1.93 CAD)!
- Choripan, consisting of chorizo (sausage) in pan (bread) and accompanied by lettuce, tomato and onion. 8 BOB ($1.55 CAD)
- Dinner at the highly rated Las Velas. This is a unique restaurant tucked away on top of Isla del Sol. There is no electricity here so the kitchen cooks with a wood burning oven and propane-fueled stove top. Because of that, be prepared to wait for almost 1.5 hours for the food (there are some board games to pass the time). I got the trout in wine sauce there, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as other places. But I was able to try some lasagna which was really delicious. The whole candlelit dining experience made it a memorable one. 50 BOB ($9.66 CAD)
- Fresh juice from a market. 10 BOB ($1.93 CAD)
- Local beers starting at 10 BOB ($1.93 CAD)
While I covered some of the dangers riding on buses across the country, that pertains more to the route between the Andes region to the tropical lowlands. I took buses in between Uyuni, Sucre, La Paz, and Copacabana, and I didn’t feel any dangers. The roads were obviously not up to the same standards as a developed country, but were not the worst (looking at you Cambodia!) The overnight buses I took were pretty basic, not as great as the ones in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Here are the bus journeys I took within Bolivia:
- Uyuni to Sucre: an 8.5 hour overnight bus journey 70 BOB ($13.53 CAD)
- Sucre to La Paz: a 12 hour overnight bus journey 189 BOB ($36.55 CAD)
I primarily used Busbud.com to purchase the bus rides as they are easiest to book and charge minimal to no admin fees.
Visiting Lake Titicaca, I also had to take ferries:
- Ferry to Copacabana 30 BOB ($5.80 CAD)
- Ferry to Isla de Sol 25 BOB ($4.83 CAD)
I also used Bolivia Hop (same company as Peru Hop) to get from La Paz all the way to Cusco. Within that trip I was able to stop in Copacabana, Bolivia, and Puno, Peru for $51.45 USD. Bolivia Hop (Peru Hop) is a hop on hop off bus system and makes getting around Bolivia and Peru a little easier (granted it only goes to Copacabana and La Paz in Bolivia). They pick up and drop off directly to your accommodations and provide English speaking guides on the buses. I also thought it would be great way to meet new travellers, but I didn’t find it to be the case as most people were already travelling in groups. I probably wouldn’t do it again, as you pay a lot more for that convenience.
I found the cost of hostels to be pretty cheap, similar to those in Southeast Asia. While they might not be the same quality, they are still great places to stay and are really great value. You can find more about the places I stayed as below:
KulturBerlin for 3 nights at 68.5 BOB ($13.24 CAD) per night
Only 10 minute walk to Sucre’s main square, this hostel is situated in a great location. The dorm rooms were so spacious that there was even a sofa and dresser in my 6 bed room. They have a great breakfast with a wide variety of foods: fruits, jams, and bread. It is a social hostel with nightly events and a big bar/club. A downside of that is that loud music will disturb your sleep as the dorms are right above the bar. I really appreciated that I was able to check-in at 5 am after my overnight bus.
Wild Rover La Paz for 3 nights at 68 BOB ($13.14 CAD) per night
If you want a taste of Ireland in South America, then head to this place. This party hostel also offers comfortable beds and hot clean showers. They also have beds with privacy curtains, which help with the noise from the in-house bar. As a party hostel, they have nightly activities such as trivia night, karaoke, etc. which makes it a great place to meet other travellers! They are also a chain with other locations in Cusco and Huacachina.
Isla del Sol
A (shared) private room for 2 nights at 60 BOB ($11.58 CAD) per night
Most of the visitors to the island only make it for a day trip. We were glad that we stayed the night so much that we extended another night in this beautiful island (more below). As for accommodation, many of the Isla del Sol hotels and hostels are fairly basic. But what they lack for, they make up in sweeping vistas of Lake Titicaca and the island. Be wary that most of the accommodation are at the peak of the island, requiring a hike up. Being up at 4,000 m altitude adds to the challenge. Carrying my backpack was intense as I had to stop a lot just to catch a breath. I got a random room at a basic accommodation, which I shared with another fellow traveller.
My two must do’s in South America were both in Bolivia: The Uyuni Salt Flats and The Death Road. These activities were not cheap and added to my cost of travelling Bolivia.
Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats)
My tour left from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile which made it more expensive than if you were doing it from the Bolivia side. The tour was 130,000 CLP ($255.40 CAD) but this also included all our meals and accommodation for the three days and two nights. This did not include the National Park entrance which was 150 BOB ($28.99 CAD). The tour was more than just the salt flats, which by the way, was breathtaking. It also included stops to:
- Laguna Blanca (the White Lake)
- Laguna Verde (the Green Lake)
- Aguas Termals de Polques – a hot spring, which was lukewarm at best. An additional 6 BOB ($1.16 CAD)
- Sol de Mañana geyser
- Laguna Colorada (the Red Lake)
- Arbol de Piedra (Tree of Rock)
The tour was by far my biggest expense in the country and probably within South America but it was the activity I looked forward to most. The whole experience was an amazing one and definitely worth the money! I was able to see so many incredible sights and meet awesome people.
Aside from the Uyuni Salt Flats, another must in Bolivia for me was cycling down Death Road. For those that do not know, this road was one of the most dangerous roads in the world due to its steep slopes, narrow dirt road, and lack of guardrails.
The Death Road experience takes you down 65 km from an altitude of 4,700 m to 1,200 m. Because of that, the climate drastically changes from the freezing Andean peaks at the top to the humid tropical jungle at the bottom. Most of the ride was downhill with only some pedalling at the end of the road where there is an incline. Even though I did fall due to a flat tire, I did not find the ride to be too dangerous. While there are sheer drops off the side of the road, if you are careful, you should be fine!
There are different adventure companies that sell the Death Road Tour package, but I did mine through the Wild Rover Hostel in La Paz for 380 BOB ($73.45 CAD). There was an additional fee of 50 BOB ($9.66 CAD) to access the road.
Sucre is one of the two capitals (the other being La Paz) of the country, where it houses the Supreme Court. “La ciudad blanca” or White City is Bolivia’s pretties and well-kept city with numerous colonial historic buildings. The city centre is on the UNESCO World Heritage List as it was able to blend local architectural traditions with styles imported from Europe. Its relaxed atmosphere makes it a great place to stay long term, with many choosing to take Spanish lessons here.
I did a walking tour of Sucre through my hostel, KulturBerlin for 30 BOB ($5.80 CAD). Unfortunately, the tour guide left half way without even telling us. There are a bunch of museums and parks that are nice to see such as Casa de la Libertad, the meeting hall where Bolivian independence was declared and Parque Bolivar. But the best thing to do is to walk around the city.
At 4,058 m above sea level, La Paz is knows as the highest capital city in the world. It is also an important cultural center of Bolivia and most visitors to the country often stop by in this city.
I did also did a walking tour of La Paz through my hostel, Wild Rover La Paz. This time, the tour guide did not leave us and was actually knowledgeable of the city and the Bolivian culture. We got to see the Witches’ Market, where stores sell things like llama fetuses and dried frogs for Aymara rituals, as well as Plaza Murillio, the main square with government buildings and the city cathedral. 20 BOB ($3.87 CAD)
I explored the city with its extensive cable car system, Mi Teleférico. It is also the largest urban cable car network in the world. There are 8 lines that traverse across the city giving great views of the city. Each ride on each line is 3 BOB ($0.58 CAD).
Isla del Sol
A little introduction to the island, which is the largest island on Lake Titicaca. Inca legend says that Isla del Sol was the birthplace of the Sun God, hence the name of the island. Once you get out of the main port, life on the island is tranquil. There is no noise and no motorized traffic. You can only find donkeys here. Everything is laid back, where you can enjoy the sun (sun shines strong here as you are about 4000 km above sea level) and the slower pace. If you are looking things to do there are great hiking trails and incredible lookout points all over the island.
My other costs travelling in Bolivia were very minimal, they include:
- No ATM Fees for me. I didnt find many ATMs in the country that charges any fees. Make sure you use a debit card that doesn’t charge you for any foreign transaction fees. If you are from Canada, I recommend using STACK!
- Laundry for 24 BOB ($4.64 CAD)
- Entrance fee for Isla del Sol 10 BOB ($1.93 CAD)
The Sum of Travelling in Bolivia
For the 12 days I was in Bolivia, I spent a total of 3,762.58 BOB or $727.30 CAD. That amounts to 313.55 BOB or $60.61 CAD per day.
As you can see below, my Activities budget is the biggest portion due to my Uyuni Salt Flats tour and the Death Road experience. Just those two alone was 47% of my total spend in Bolivia. You can save a lot of money by doing the Uyuni Salt Flats tour from the Bolivian side and only doing 1 day instead of my 3 day one.
As the Uyuni Salt Flats tour also included meals and two nights accommodation, my food/drinks/accommodation spend per day is understated. Nonetheless, they are still very cheap. Meals can be had for under 25 BOB or around $5 CAD. A night at a highly rated hostel will only set you back around 70 BOB or around $14 CAD.