Many people argue that Bolivia is a must-visit destination, being a country of contrasts – extreme contrasts might we add. That is to say, you’re bound to find snowy mountain peaks and golden amazon lowlands, the climate being really diverse.
After descending from the highlands, you might think that you’ve reached a different country – that’s how diverse the relief is. This is, in truth, one of its primary attraction points. At the same time, this country recognizes no less than 36 distinct ethnic groups – each having its own customs and traditions.
That being said, visiting it definitely accounts for a unique experience. Still, before concretizing your traveling plans, you might wonder how safe is Bolivia for tourists? And this makes sense: you should definitely assess the risks such a journey would entail beforehand.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting Bolivia
Overall Risks in Bolivia: MEDIUM to HIGH
As noted in this source, the crime rate in Bolivia is moderate, even if, during the past couple of years the incidence of crime has been increasing. Robberies, scams and kidnapping incidents could happen.
At the same time, since Bolivia is acknowledged as the world’s third largest cocaine producer, drug crime is common. Consequently, the penalties for those dealing with drug trafficking or possessing illegal substances are severe.
Plus, tourists are advised to steer clear of visiting the Coronilla Hill in Cochabamba, which is situated near the main bus terminal. That’s because this area is a haven for alcoholics and drug addicts, being dangerous for both locals and tourists.
In essence, it’s worth mentioning that the political situation in Bolivia is unstable. This is why there is a heightened risk for political demonstration to become violent without any notice. In many instances, road blockades are put up.
Under no circumstances should you attempt to cross them. Government and police authorities have the right to use force in order to disband protests, tear gas included. Plus, during past incidents, angry, frustrated protestors have attempted to throw rocks during the demonstrations.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in Bolivia: MEDIUM to HIGH
Unfortunately, petty crime – including pickpocketing and theft, are on the growth. More specifically, petty crime is likely to happen in central La Paz, as well as other popular tourist destinations, crowded areas and on buses.
On a different note, many cases of robberies involving taxis have been monitored, in the city of La Paz and Santa Cruz. Other tourist destinations in which petty crime is prone to happen are Copacabana, Oruro, and Cochabamba. Concurrently, note that during the festivals, the risks are even higher.
At the same time, many theft incidents happen at ATMs. In fact, in many instances, the theft attempts result in serious assaults.
Note that binoculars and cameras are also major attraction points for thieves in the Yungas and Chapare areas. Hence, make sure you guard them at all times. Carjacking incidents are prone to occur in these locations, as well.
Perhaps, one of the most common petty theft strategies is the snatch and run. Thieves snatch valuable items and bolt away at amazing speed, making it nearly impossible to catch them. Variations occur around or inside cafes and restaurants, when foreigners are likely to get distracted.
The tourist site of Rurrenabaque is another popular spot for thefts, as criminals target alone foreigners that take motorbike taxis.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in Bolivia?
If you want to eliminate the likelihood of pickpocketing and theft incidents, there are some things you can do. Since ATMs account for a major attraction point for thieves and pickpockets, you shouldn’t withdraw cash, specifically at nighttime. Secluded, remote locations should be off-limits, as well.
Under no circumstances should you leave your belongings unattended. Plus, your passport, ticket and other significant valuables should be kept in a safe.
Also, even if this doesn’t mean that you should dress like a homeless person, we don’t advise you to wear overly expensive clothing or jewelry when visiting Bolivia. Dressing up will simply make you the ideal target for opportunistic pickpockets and thieves.
Scam Risk in Bolivia: HIGH
If you’re planning a visit to Bolivia, you should also be mindful of the most common scams engaged by criminals. For one thing, note that the taxi industry isn’t regulated in Bolivia.
That is to say, literally anyone could attempt to place a taxi sign on a car and take passengers. And even if the majority of taxi drivers in Bolivia are honest, hard-working people, some are scammers. There have been cases in which these scammers have taken foreigners and extorted them for money.
Another widespread scam is that of the fake police. This practice entails being approached by a so-called police representative that requests showing your ID. Others embrace a different practice, that of consenting to a search. As they search you, they will plant drugs or, even worse, accuse you of other crimes, claiming that you have to come with them to the nearest police station.
Conversely, the police in Bolivia are wholly aware of these scams. What is more, the law doesn’t allow them to bother tourists, unless they are in danger or they are evidently committing a crime. This scam is likely to happen in busy tourist areas and bus stops.
Moving on, the spilled substance scam is just as common. This involves having a stranger accidentally spill something on you – such as sauce, mustard, etc. Afterward, another person will offer to clean up. As he/she does that, he/she will take your valuables, as well.
- How to avoid getting scammed in Bolivia?
One of the most important Bolivia safety travel tips is to know how to behave in the case in which these scammers approach you. That being said, you should refuse to comply with the requests made by dubious police officers. If they insist, make a scene and the scammers will disappear.
Also, if they insist, request the police officer to have a market police car for driving to the police station. Additionally, you may ask them to contact your embassy.
Kidnapping Risk in Bolivia: MEDIUM to HIGH
Express kidnappings are really common in Bolivia, as well. These entail targeting foreigners, and taking them hostage. In some instances, these criminals drive the foreigners to ATMs, forcing them to withdraw cash.
The areas in which many kidnapping incidents have been reported in La Paz include Plaza Humbolt (Zona Sur), Plaza Abaroa, Plaza del Estudiante, Plaza Isabel La Católica, Plaza San Francisco, Plaza del Estudiante and the Altiplano.
Many of these criminals pretend to be taxi drivers, and when the unsuspecting victim gets in the car, he/she will be held hostage. Victims are usually held for a couple of days until the criminals steal their money.
- How to avoid getting kidnapped in Bolivia?
Our Bolivia safety guide incorporates a range of tips on how to avoid kidnapping. For one thing, you should be doubly vigilant at all times. Avoid getting on buses or vans, unless you are 100 percent sure that the people inside are locals and tourists – especially if you’re traveling by yourself or in a small group.
Additionally, it is advisable to steer clear of taxis that don’t have a signage. In fact, it’s recommendable to consult with an official list comprising of the registered taxi companies in Bolivia beforehand, to exclude any unwanted scenarios.
Also, if you’re entering Bolivia at the border with Chile, Peru or Argentina, you should be extra vigilant, as incidents have been reported here, as well. If you’re planning on going from La Paz to Copacabana, you should take a direct bus.
Terrorism Risk in Bolivia: LOW
If you’re asking: how safe is Bolivia for tourists in terms of terrorist attacks, the good thing is that there is little threat in this area.
As a matter of fact, the risk of terrorist attack in Bolivia over the last couple of years can be classified as not existing. Only one terrorist incident took place over the past five years, which injured two individuals. Notwithstanding, no deaths were monitored.
- How to avoid terrorism in Bolivia?
Even though the risk of terrorism is low in Bolivia, you should still prepare yourself for any kind of attacks - or at least know what to do in an emergency situation.
For example, terrorists usually target crowded places - markets, shopping centers -, as well as official buildings, places of prayer, and so on. Naturally, you don't have to stay away from these entirely, as you wouldn't visit any of the city's/ country's attractions. Instead, be extremely careful while you are in such a location and, if you notice anything suspicious or out of the ordinary, it is better to leave the area, just to be sure.
In case anything happens, flee and call the authorities as soon as possible, as they can handle such situations the best!
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in Bolivia: MEDIUM to HIGH
After reading the risks associated with rape, you might wonder: is Bolivia safe for solo women travelers? Especially since the British woman who had a traumatic rape experience was traveling solo.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that every woman traveling to South America, Bolivia is prone to be a victim of rape. Even so, there are some challenges that come with the territory, and you should acknowledge them.
For example, as a woman traveling by yourself, you’ll definitely draw a lot of attention towards yourself – especially if you have fair skin, since this is a major attraction point for Latin Americans. That is to say, the odds are you will be a target of nasty, sexual comments.
At the same time, depending on the areas you’re planning to explore, traveling solo to Bolivia may or may not be indicated. For example, hiking and backpacking might entail a wide range of risks, as well as going to remote areas.
Additionally, it isn’t recommended to explore Bolivia at nighttime – especially as a solo woman traveler. That being said: it’s entirely up to you to decide whether Bolivia is a safe destination for you or not. There had been other female travelers that uncovered this country by themselves, and they said that the experiences they had were unforgettable. Nonetheless, excluding or overlooking the risks isn’t indicated.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in Bolivia?
Even though you can have unforgettable experiences while discovering Bolivia on your own, you should understand that such a venture - a solo one - is not recommended throughout this particular country. While the locals may cheerfully greet you - no matter the area you visit -, there will always be people that will gaze at a foreigner with different eyes. As such, a solo traveler - man or woman - may experience harassing, racism, catcalling, and so on.
In fact, any traveler should expect such things, as not all people are kind and good. Therefore, as a solo woman traveler, we recommend you to stay within tourist-friendly areas and not venture into remote places, border places, villages, or any other similar locations. Stick to the main cities and points of interest, so to say, and you shouldn't experience any of the mentioned. Also, if possible, do not travel during the night - in this case, traveling implies going to a club, to a shop/ store, or simply having a walk in a park or on the street.
Last but not least, approach a decent dress-code and keep your important belongings close to you. Watch out for pickpockets that may try to rob you just because you are a woman and alone!
Rape Risk in Bolivia: MEDIUM to HIGH
Unfortunately, gender violence is habitual in Bolivia. Roughly 90 percent of women are likely to be victims of violence. That is to say, Bolivia features the highest rate of violence in Latin America. Aside from this matter that is really problematic, the rape rate has increased as well. In fact, it has grown at a rate of 16.77 percent.
There has been a severe case of rape, involving a British woman - 37-year-old Vasilisa Komarova. She had been traveling on a solo motorbike around the country, and she had a traumatic experience, being raped and beaten by three men. The good thing, however, is that she survived the attack, and the got justice.
- How to avoid getting raped in Bolivia?
As a rule of thumb, you should avoid going to remote places unaccompanied – especially at night. Additionally, refrain from exploring remote, secluded areas where there are few people.
Plus, it’s highly recommendable to choose your accommodation wisely. If possible, make sure you lock the door to your room. Concurrently, if you’re staying in a hostel, you should be extra vigilant. The same applies if you plan on going to clubs. If you’re approached by strangers, be cautious.
Risks for People Traveling with Children in Bolivia: MEDIUM to HIGH
If you’re thinking of embarking on a family adventure to Bolivia, it is your responsibility to be prepared for whatever may come. That is to say, even though this goal may seem rather daring to most people, it is still doable.
The key to a successful outing is adjusting to the altitude, whilst breaking up long journeys into shorter trips. At the same time, you should choose your destinations by considering the season. Both the markets and cities can be fascinating for children, as well as the abundant variety of wildlife species of the Pampas. Essentially, boat tours are just as attractive to little ones – the possibilities are really diverse.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
Notwithstanding, traveling with Bolivia comes with a range of risks. First and foremost – you should get your little ones vaccinated. We’ll enumerate the necessary vaccines for a visit to Bolivia in the forthcoming paragraphs. However, since most vaccines aren’t recommended for children under two-years old or for breastfeeding moms, traveling with small children might not be the best idea.
Additionally, the road conditions aren’t the best. In truth, the infrastructure is bad, as the road conditions are poor. You should also note that weather conditions could impair your ability of traveling. Also, on the main tourist routes, accidents are prone to take place. These may happen due to broken-down vehicles with no warning lights, and so on.
Plus, long distances and bumpy roads might not be the recipe for a happy family outing. As for the altitude, some children might suffer from altitude sickness. Not to mention that the climate is extreme. Another common concern is that diarrhea is widespread, and children are more prone to suffer from it.
Diaper-changing facilities are only available in the finest hotels, which can be found in the biggest cities.
All in all, planning a family vacation in Bolivia entails a bunch of challenges, and a lot of preparation. You should be 100 percent that your family is prepared for such an outing before embarking on such an adventure.
Natural Disasters Risks in Bolivia: MEDIUM
Our Bolivia safety guide continues by indicating the risks associated with natural disasters. In November 2016, Bolivia went through a terrible draught. Consequently, this led to water shortage, which caused to numerous demonstrations due to the water rationing measures that were applied in the Zona Sur district of La Paz. This is the area in which most restaurants and hotels are located.
Even though, after the arrival of the rainy season, this situation was no longer an issue, visitors should acknowledge that this could happen, without prior notice.
Additionally, earthquakes pose a range of concerns as well. Since January 1994, 13 individual cases of seismic activity have been reported. In November 2011, the last significant earthquake was monitored in San Ignacio de Moxos.
During the rainy season, which lasts from December to March, flooding incidents are likely to occur, specifically in low lying areas such as Tarija, Beni, Pando, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.
Transportation Risks in Bolivia: MEDIUM to HIGH
Bolivia's roads are, overall, in poor condition. This aspect is the main cause of dangerous driving, not to mention the driving techniques of the locals that might confuse foreigners. On top of that, local vehicles are in poor condition as well.
Moreover, there have also been some incidents involving public transport, especially long-distance one. As this is used often by foreigners, we recommend you to choose your way of traveling across the country carefully - namely, instead of the local bus company, you should consider a reputed tour operator, for example. Also, make sure that the drivers have a normal schedule, so to say, as it is known that, in Bolivia, bus drivers work significantly over the time that is permitted on European countries, for instance.
Then, when it comes to weather and transportation, keep in mind that the rainy season lasts from November until March. In this period, weather conditions can affect your ability to drive and travel. Heavy rains can cause landslides and, therefore, a lot of roads can be affected and closed. If you plan on traveling during the rainy season, we recommend you a 4-wheel drive vehicle, as it is the preferred mean of transport, for both locals and tourists.
Last but not least, it is worth mentioning that vehicle maintenance comes with little to no control in Bolivia. As such, you may encounter broken-down vehicles on the road, with no warning lights and so on - besides the usual things that can happen during traffic, such as lack of turn signals. We strongly recommend you to leave transportation to a reputed tour agency that is capable of providing you with competent drivers and well-maintained vehicles. Most taxis and buses in Bolivia don't come with seat belts and rarely meet any safety standards.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in Bolivia: MEDIUM
A lot of sources mention that an increasing number of crimes against tourists and foreign nationals have been reported. In short, it is better if your consider your safety before you consider having a wild night out, so to say. This is because popular tourist areas and destinations, such as central La Paz, come with petty crime, especially in crowded areas - including buses. Naturally, night-clubs, pubs, and bars are very crowded areas, especially if there's an event going on.
When going to or returning from a night-club or pub, you should also choose your means of transportation carefully. People recommend relying on a radio taxi, which can be identified by its name - found on the car's roof - and by its telephone number. You can write these down or take a picture of them before you get in and head to your destination. Obviously, you should not share the taxi with any other passengers - unless you personally know them.
Moreover, make sure that the taxi you get into is registered - you can check this by searching for a particular sticker on their windows or windscreen.
Overall, it is recommended that you ensure your transportation from and to the night-club or pub that you want to visit. Express kidnappings are know to happen, as well as criminals impersonating authorities and so on. If you really want to visit a certain location during the night, make sure you can return to your accommodation safely!
Health Risks in Bolivia
First of all, it is worth mentioning that Bolivia is subject to the distribution of fake medicines - moreover, police stated that this is a more than common aspect of the country. AS such, it is recommended that you purchase medicine only from reputable pharmacies. You can ask the staff of your accommodation for more information and recommendations.
When it comes to health risks, the country comes with a risk of transmission of Zika virus. You should check online - including reputed health-related websites - on what safety measures you should approach to keep your health in perfect condition. Also, if you plan on traveling through areas below 2300m - in the east of the Andes Mountains - you must be vaccinated for Yellow fever. Last but not least, you should also take the recommended safety measures to prevent contracting the Dengue fever - especially if you're traveling to Bolivia during the rainy season.
In terms of medical facilities, the hospitals of Bolivia are usually crowded and don't meet the standards of the US or the UK, for example. However, in case of emergency, you can rely on private facilities that usually work with international insurance companies - they are available mainly in major cities. Because of this, you should always travel with comprehensive travel health insurance, as well as with enough funds to cover the costs of any treatment or medication that you may need during your stay in Bolivia.
List of Vaccines You Need in Bolivia
Among the most important Bolivia safety travel tips is getting vaccinated; the CDC actually recommends getting the following vaccines:
- Typhoid – Typhoid can be contacted through contaminated food or water. Getting vaccinated is a must, especially if you want to explore the rural areas of the country.
- Hepatitis A – Regardless of where you’re staying or what you’re eating, you can contact hepatitis A through food or water.
- Hepatitis B – Hepatitis B is transmitted through contaminated needles, sexual contact – in short, body fluids.
- Rabies – Rabies is transmitted by animals such as dogs, bats and other mammals. If you plan on exploring the outdoors, getting vaccinated is recommended.
- Yellow Fever – There are several yellow fewer risk areas in which you have to carry proof of appropriate vaccination.
- Malaria – Transmitted through mosquito bites, malaria in Bolivia is widespread.
Most Dangerous Areas in Bolivia
- La Paz city center - usually the home of violent demonstrations.
- Rurrenabaque and similar tourist sites - here, criminals usually attack lone travelers that ride with motorbike taxis.
- Sagarnaga Street and other popular streets of La Paz - reportedly, they swarm with petty thieves.
Concluding Remarks: Is Bolivia Safe to Visit?
Even if Bolivia is a beautiful country, which is surprising due to the mixture of relief and cultures, the risks associated with traveling there cannot be dismissed. So: is Bolivia safe to visit or not? While it is far from being one of the safest countries in Latin America, knowing what to expect can help.
Also, we are hopeful that our Bolivia safety guide has answered most of your questions. Make sure you do additional research before your trip, to cover all the bases.