Top 10 Things NOT To Do in Bolivia
The most important tips for keeping healthy and safe in Bolivia.
Don't forget to carry a roll of toilet paper.
Even the best hotels, shopping malls and restaurants often lack this basic item in their bathrooms. If you need to use a public toilet, the usual 1 or 2 Bolivianos fee will also buy you a few carefully counted pieces that the attendant will hand to you. In Bolivia you don't flush the paper, it should always be tossed in a trashcan located next to the toilet instead.
Make sure to use the restroom in your hotel or hostel before heading out as most public toilets charge per use. The usual cost is about 1 Boliviano in cities and up to 5 in deserted areas like the salt flats around Salar de Uyuni. Also, you will have to accept that facilities are nonexistent on nearly all buses except for some overnight tourist buses like Todo Turismo or Panasur.
Don't drink tap water.
Anywhere. There is no city in Bolivia where tap water is safe to drink and all local water should be considered contaminated. Even if truly dangerous pathogens are rare, an upset stomach can ruin your dream vacation. Always opt for bottled water or soft drinks.
Don't get distracted or drugged.
Criminals in busy and confusing environments such as a bus station or a market love to distract you and steal your bag. Some methods include spraying water, making you beleive you stepped on their foot or broke some of their belongings, etc. Important! Do NOT accept candy or refreshments from strangers. These may contain sedatives and you can get robbed while unconscious.
Don't try to follow a specific diet.
While vegetarians may have a hard time already, vegan and gluten-free diets are almost impossible to follow in Bolivia. The locals love to eat, and fried chicken, potatoes and Coca-Cola have become the new traditional cuisine. Also, quality international food is almost non-existent and most meals are made from some kind of potato. Other than that, there is plenty of good local food, so just go for it.
Don't explore outside the cities without a four-wheel drive vehicle and experienced trustworthy guides.
When you head out from the major cities and towns, it is advisable to travel using an all-terrain vehicle and a reliable driver. Most roads are unpaved and can be dangerous if you are not used to the local's driving "style". Also, road signs are virtually non-existent on all but the most important highways. Distances are large and gas stations scarce.
It is also imperative that you wear suitable shoes and clothes.
Don't try to pay with large notes.
In Bolivia most vendors don't have enough change. The largest bill is 200 Bolivianos (about 19 USD), but you may have trouble getting change even for a 50. The best is to keep with you coins and the smaller 10 or 20 Boliviano bills for petty expenses like snacks, taxi rides or tips.
Don't use unmarked taxis, especially after dark.
Many criminals drive around in cars that look like taxis (some actually are), and once a tourist enters the vehicle, they're taken to a remote place and releived of their money and belongings. El Alto Airport in La Paz is also famous for fake taxis that prey on unsuspecting tourists. Take a radio taxi and make sure the vehicle has clear signage with the business name, address, and telephone number on the vehicle.
Concerning crime on buses and vans, you need to make sure the passengers in the vehicle are actual tourists or Bolivian locals. Criminals will sometimes plant fake passengers to trick tourists.
Don't enter a "Trufi" or "Micro" (local public transport) without saying hello.
The locals will usually enter by greeting the rest of the passengers. While not obligatory, doing so will earn you some appreciation and goodwill.
Don't forget to stay hydrated.
The high and dry climate in Western Bolivia or the smeltering jungle heat in the East can leave you dehydrated faster than you would think. Keep your water bottle close and filled.
Don't go to known danger zones.
Especially not alone. While Bolivia is generally safer than neighbouring countries, La Paz, El Alto and Santa Cruz are large cities with some areas that have serious crime problems. Make sure to ask around if the place you plan to go to is safe at the time of the day you wish to go there. Remote rural areas with few tourists can be problematic too. Running into smugglers when exploring deserted border regions or stumbling upon a hidden drugs laboratory deep in the jungle can put your life in danger. As a general rule, try not to get separated from other tourist in places where help may take some time to arrive in case of trouble.
+1 Don't, under any circumstances, consume or carry with you cocaine.
Even though coca-leaf production and comsumption (in the form of chewing or as a tea) is widespread, legal and safe, the "processed" version is still very much illegal and you can get lengthy prison sentences in an infamous Bolivian prison for possessing even small amounts.
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