5 Things You Should Know If You’re Coming To Bolivia

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Whilst Bolivia has so far not been as difficult to travel in as I previously thought it would be, there have definitively been some eye-opener moments already since I arrived here (just 3 days ago).

Electricity is not 24 hours here

This one kind of astounded me. Electricity is not 24 hours in Bolivia. It is regularly shut off in towns and cities across the country for large parts of the day. Where I am in Tupiza it is currently shut off between 8am and 6pm on Sundays! I don’t know when or if this changes in the future and I get confusing replies when I ask local people (my Spanish isn’t great so this could be the reason). Even when I travelled in Morocco (which I found to be a much more challenging destination in many ways versus Bolivia), I could still get electricity 24 hours a day. It never even entered my head until I arrived here that electricity might not be a 24 hour thing in some places. I’ve always known there were people who lived without electricity in poorer parts of the world, but I always just assumed the electricity would be 24 hours if you could afford to pay for it. It never crossed my mind that a country itself would not have the power to supply demand and therefore shut off entire towns for various periods of time.

In a way I’m more astounded at my own ignorance and assumptions rather than the lack of electricity itself. Most of all it really opened my eyes to what life may really be like living in a developing country. And yes of course the moment I found out was also the moment I realised I had zero battery in both my phone and computer, but I suppose that’s just the way it goes sometimes! The joys of travel eh?

Maximum wifi speed of 256kbps

Forget uploading photos or watching videos when you’re in much of Bolivia. The maximum wifi speed in most towns and cities here is 256kbps. If that’s your home connection and you only have 1 computer I’m sure it’d be absolutely fine, but for a hotel like I am in now, if more than 4 people are online at any one time the internet just crashes. For most people I’m sure this probably wouldn’t matter majorly, but for a wifi addicted pro blogger (who relies on good wifi to keep up with my job) it has been quite hard to adjust to. I await my journey to Sucre tomorrow to see if it’s any better in the bigger cities but from what I’ve heard the entire country in general just has a very slow internet speed.

Incredible traditional outfits

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Photo credit; Pressenza.com

One endearing fact about Bolivia is the traditional wear that many of the local women wear. The big skirts, colourful shawls (that are often used to help carry big loads or babies on their backs), and their platted hair combined with the traditional hats are genuinely very pretty. For me this was the one big visual difference between coming from Argentina (where pretty much everyone just wears modern attire) to Bolivia. It was the main sign that you had crossed the border and is a large part of the visual identity of this country.

The cheapest country in South America

I’d heard that Bolivia was the cheapest country in South America and I can now confirm that food, transportation, and accommodation are all exceptionally affordable in the country! Particularly where catching a bus is concerned. I think it costs me the equivalent of £1.34 to get from the border town of Villazon to Tupiza (approximately 1.5 hours drive away). For a night in hotel room (with en-suite bathroom, wifi, and breakfast included) here it is costing me 100 Bolivianos per night (£9 / $14.50 / €10.60). For a hostel here it’s around 40 Bolivianos per night (£3.60 / $5.80 / €4.23), although it can be slightly more in the bigger cities such as Sucre or La Paz.

You should really learn some Spanish before coming

Whilst you will find English speakers in most hostels, hotels, and tour operator offices, beyond that you are unlikely to find any English speakers in Bolivia. Especially when you’re in the smaller towns and cities, but even in the bigger places it helps greatly if you can at least ask for what you want. It’s for this reason that I’m really glad I took some Spanish classes in Buenos Aires before coming here, and even then, sometimes I still struggle a little as I try to improve on my listening skills. It can be quite hard at times to understand the locals as (like in most Spanish speaking countries) they speak quite fast.

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10 Responses to “5 Things You Should Know If You’re Coming To Bolivia”

  1. John B says:

    Wow! I can’t believe they don’t have electricity 24 hours some days! The traditional outfits look beautiful though!!!

  2. Hmmm, maybe conserving energy has been working well for them. If it doesn’t get used, the entire country can save a little money?

  3. Arianwen says:

    OMG! I completely agree about the internet in Bolivia! It did my head in! I was so happy to be in such a cheap place with such a vibrant culture but blogging nearly gave me a nervous breakdown!!

  4. Sam says:

    Great overview! These were almost exactly the same things we experienced as surprises when first coming to Bolivia. I loved it though; not so much the wifi situation (we got around that by buying a local sim and using 3G, which was surprisingly good).

  5. Alex says:

    Although it’s the cheapest place in South America, would still cost a lot to get to! But love the traditional outfits, you definitely have to try a traditional one on!

    • Jane says:

      @Alex yeh but if you were coming to South America anyway (which I highly recommend by the way) then I think you’d get your monies worth for the flight. 🙂

  6. The slow internet was such a frustration while in Bolivia! We travel and work online as we go, but in Bolivia was almost impossible to get anything done. Oddly enough, the best internet we got was in a hotel at the Salar de Uyuni – go figure.. in the middle of nowhere! I remember in La Paz the hotel receptionist kept on excusing the barely working internet on the weather “today it’s not working because it’s too windy!” 😛

  7. Brigid says:

    Great info Jane! As wonderful as Bolivia is, there are definitely some things that take getting used to. Living and traveling in Bolivia for 5 months I had to adjust my western expectations, and learn not to freak out when things didn’t pan out as they were ‘supposed’ to!

    Also thought I’d just share…Great news for digital nomads in Bolivia. Entel, Bolivia’s nationalized telecoms company, is planning to be able to deliver unlimited fiber optic Internet access to homes and businesses throughout Sucre by the end of the year = faster and more reliable internet.

    I’m taking ‘by the end of the year’ with a big grain of salt, but fab news all the same 🙂

    • Jane Meighan says:

      Yeah I remember reading about that not so long ago. Good internet access in Bolivia would do wonders for the country from a business and economic view! Hopefully it happens soon (like you I’ll take it with a grain of salt that it’s by the end of the year haha.)

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