Traveling again after lock-down, part II

In our last post, we told you about some of the ways in which traveling will change once the measures taken to control the spread of covid-19 are reversed. Today, we are back to tell you about a few more changes you can expect, so you can begin planing your first gettaway after lock-down.

coronavirus maleta
Packing a suitcase will not be the same
  1. Packing a suitcase:

The health crisis the world is going through implies that a lot of emphasis has been put on personal hygiene and dissinfection, with recomendations that people should wash and their hands several times a day and takng measures to prevent contamination. For a person who is traveling, this probably means carrying alcohol in gel or any other type of hand sanitizer, wet wipes with dissinfecting components, even latex gloves and face masks. You will probably start packing these items in your suitcase, and airlines might have to allow passengers to carry liquids on board. It is also likely that you will be packing your favorite, fashion face masks so prevention doesn´t cramp your style. Facemasks have become an essensial item, and they are on they way to becoming a fashion statement, as well.

It is also likely that thermometers and fever medicine will also become indispensable carry-on items.

2. Documentation:

It is very likely that you will need more to travel than just your visa and passport in order to go abroad. At lest for a few months after the quarantene, you may need to carry some sort of sanitary ID stating you are immune, be it because you have been vaccinates, (once there is a vaccine) or because you have recovered from the virus. In the film Contagion, there was this wristband with a code bar stating the person´s sanitary status when crossing borders. Some thing like that may be rutine in the more technologicaly advanced countries.

coronavirus hotel
Hotels will offer confort and dissinfection protocols

3. Priorities when choosing a place to stay and how to travel:

When you plan your trip, you will have more than just confort and amenities in mind. Passengers and guests will want to know the health and hygiene protocols and practices of each transportation company and hotel: how often do they dissinfect the surfaces, with what chemicals, how do they control air quality, how they limit unnecesarry interaction with other guests and passengers. And this is exactly what service providers will begin to advertise to get more people to book with their company. For example, it is likely that companies such as Airbnb will see a fall in their reservations, as people choose to stay in hotels with established and standardized health and sanitary protocols.

4. Flexibilization of tickets:

The current health crisis caused many sudden borders closing and trips and flights being cancelled. When these measures let up in the future, it is likelly that transportation companies will be more flexible with the cancellation and change of tickets. This, in the understanding that there could be new surges in some countries, which could lead again to the sudden cancellation of trips and closing of borders. It may also be that passengers are less willing to make a trip if they have cold simptoms, even if it is not covid-19, and may prefer to change the date of the trip or cancell (traveling with  cold will not be socially acceptable for some time).

Thus, you will want to know the cancellation and change policies of every company before booking. When you buy your bus or train tickets online to travel around South America, for example, with Tickets Bolivia, you can cancel your tickets for a refund with 48 hours anticipation. You can also change the date or leave the date of the trip pending for an entire year at no extra cost.

coronavirus masks
Facemask as fashion statement

At Tickets Bolivia, we will work with transportation companies so they meet all standards, and will inform our clients about the quality of their services. Our commitment is to provide all the information our clients need when planing their trips.

Meanwhile, lets stay connected! Follow us in Facebook to keep informed in real time about the re-opening of borders and routes in the next weeks.

Traveling again after lock-down

Just like social and commercial interaction, traveling will not be the same when the crisis caused by covid-19 passes. We will and will not go back to “normal”.

The world is going through a crisis such as we haven´t seen in our lifetimes; closed borders in every continent, hundreds of thousands of cancelled trips, passengers stuck abroad without a way to come home and many stimied plans. This, without mentioning the thousands of lives lost and the fear and anxiety many of us are feeling. Just remember, as the saying goes, this too, shall pass.

fronteras
Closed borders in Colombia

No matter what country we are living in, the lock-down imposed to control the spread of covid-19, the situation demands that we postpone plans and dreams in order to stay at home to keep the curve of illness at sustainable levels. We will come out of this, of course, and we will travel again, to feel the joy of looking out a train window, a incredible landscape flowing by, or the vertigo of an airplane takeoff, the wonder of steping into a new city for the first time. We will travel again, but some things won´t be the same.

In this post, we tell you about three of many thigs that will probably will change in the way we travel in the near future.

Qantuxcape
Tour bus in La Paz
  • We will travel more within our own country

It is very likely that national tourism and travel will be the first to recover when lock-down measures are lifted, since national travel will not have to deal with national borders,  which may still be difficult to cross for many months.

Probably, we will have to take this opportunity to travel within our countries, not only due to sanitary restrictions that will exist for international travel, but also to help recover the economy of national tourism and travel, which will have been strongly hit by the crisis. It will be an opportunity to get to know these tourist destinations in your country that you have been neglecting.

  • We will travel more by land

Airlines are amont the industries that will be most hit by this sanitary crisis and the masures to contain it. Once they are able to operate again, they will probably have to fly with emptier seats (no more middle seats for a while) in order to limit passenger interaction. This might cause a significant increase in prices. Not to mention the husstle at airports; if lines were tortuous before, can you imagine when you add sanitary checks?

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Ferroviaria Andina

On the other hand, one of the effects of this crisis, which has stopped many industries is the recovery of ecosystems and the decrease in pollution and contamination of the environment. When we get out of this crisis, it will be hard to go back to “normal” with no awareness of how our “normal” affects the earth and, eventually, our hability to live on it. We will probably be more concious than ever of our carbon footprint and the effecto on the environment of the desitions we make when traveling.

Therefore, it is likely we will choose train travel more often, since it is the most eco-efficient way to go) instead of planes for longer trips, whenever possible. We will likely choose bus or train for shorter, national trips as well, since they have a much lower rate of pollution per passenger than air travel.

  •  We will buy our tickets online

Like in many other socia and comertial interactions, traveler´s will chose more often to avoid handling chash, not out of a fear of getting robbed, but out of  a fear of holding this object that changes hands hundreds of times and may be a hard-to-sterilize source of contamination.

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Buying online (Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay )

Also, buying ht etickets over the Internet allows you to avoid crowded places, such as land terminals, which will also protect you agains the propagation of infectious deseases. You can buy online bus and train tickets for Bolivia, Chile and Peru easily and safely.

So, despite the fact that many things will probably change in the mid-term, such as where we choose to travel and by what means, and how we purchase tickets, we are certain we will travel again, in a more sustainable way than before.

Bolivia for foodies; street-food

Bolivia is a country of incredible diversity: from highlands and salt flats at 4000 meters above sea level, the only place where Royal Quinoa can be grown and potato species are counted in the hundreds, to the tropics where hundreds of species of fruits and vegetables thrive; from the traditions of indigenous ingredients and preparations to the influence of French, Spanish and German immigrants.      

Despite its rich culinary heritage, Bolivia has been slow in standing out as a culinary tourist destination. The truth is, industries such as wine, beer, coffee and chocolate have shown incredible development in the last decades, with many brands winning several international awards. Gourmet restaurants have also flourished in the main cities, such as La Paz and Santa Cruz, complementing the vibrant street-food scene across the country. The best part? Eating in Bolivia is cheaper than anywhere else in the region, so you can really have a foodie feast on a budget.  

Salteñas
Salteñas

In this post, we imagine a Bolivia street food tour around the country´s best cities to eat, telling you about the street-foods you can´t miss and how to eat them safely. Check out next week’s posts in this series for a full report about gourmet food and restaurants in Bolivia. Let´s get started!

Street food in Bolivia is delicious, varied and easy on the wallet. Nevertheless, as a tourist, you should be careful to eat only in places where cleanliness and food safety is guaranteed. Also, some dishes are spicy and others come with spicy sauces, so be careful if you can’t hold your chili. 

Any self-respecting foodie in a Bolivia street-food tour should start in La Paz, the seat of government in Bolivia, a city located at 3,600 meters above sea level where you can taste the following dishes:

 

Salteñas 

These baked pockets of goodness are originally from Argentina and became very popular first in Sucre and Potosi, since their size and shape made them perfect for taking to the mines as a hearty lunch. But it was in La Paz that their current recipe was perfected, making them the juicy, meaty, somewhat spicy, golden-crusted dish they are today. Here is the practical info you need to know:

  • Although the original salteña is stuffed with red meat, salteñas now come with a variety of stuffings, like pork and chicken. 
  • As opposed to many other street-foods in Bolivia, some salteñerías offer vegetarian salteñas, so you can enjoy them even if meats are not part of your diet.
  • You can always spot a person eating salteñas for the first time, from the way the juice splatters all over their clothes. If you don’t want half your food to end up on your shirt, check out this demonstrative video
  • Though the best are in La Paz, you can also find salteñas in Sucre, Cochabamba and Potosi, in the mornings, between 10:00 and 14:00. 
  • If you want to avoid getting sick, don’t buy them from food carts on the street. Stick to salteñerias (special restaurants that sell salteñas). The price should be between 6.5 and 8.0 Bolivianos (around one US Dollar)
  • The best restaurants are Salteñas Chuquisaqueñas (La Paz), La Paceña (La Paz), El Patio (Sucre), and Los Castores (Cochabamba)  

Other Bolivian street foods you must try in La Paz are:

sandwich de chola detalle
Sandwich de chola
  • Sandwich de Chola: a traditional sandwich made from pork. Though you can get it at many street-cars around the city, go to the Las Cholas park for the freshest sandwich.
tucumanas deli
Tucumanas
  • Tucumanas: Similar to Salteñas, these are fried, not baked, and come with a variety of sauces to garnish. Remember to never eat them from street cars, only restaurants. Tucumanas del Prado are the most popular and tasty.  

From La Paz, you can take a bus to Cochabamba for the next stop in your foodie Bolivia street food tour. Cochabamba is a city in the heart of Bolivian valleys, located at an altitude of 2,600 meters above sea level. The city is the third largest in Bolivia, but the unchallenged capital of eating, with many traditional dishes and a culture of eating abundantly. Here are the street foods you must try:

anticucho
Grilling anticuchos

Anticuchos:

Anticuchos are a very traditional street-food in Bolivia and Peru, with the vendors coming out at around 7 pm to perform the spectacle of igniting their grills and starting to cook the meat and potatoes in metal skewers. In Peru, the meat can be anything from beef to seafood. In Bolivia, anticuchos are made only from thinly sliced beef heart. The meat and potatoes are first marinated in spices, then grilled in skewers and finally covered in a creamy sauce made from yellow chili and peanuts. Here is all the information you need:

  • Don´t be turned off by the heart meat. When thinly sliced and well-cooked, the meat becomes incredibly tasty and with great texture. Do make sure you ask your vendor to cook the meat well, as this improves the texture and is also safest on your stomach. 
  • There is almost no choice but to eat anticuchos from street cars, as restaurants that offer this dish are almost non-existent. For a really traditional place in La Paz go to Las Velas, a market that specializes in anticuchos. In Cochabamba, go to Las Islas. 
  • Vegan anticucho options are currently few. Some vegetarian restaurants offer anticuchos from vegetable meats, such as seitan, which taste incredibly good. In La Paz, Try La Ventanita In Cochabamba, your best bet is Nina Café Bistró Vegetariano.
  • Anticuchos are a staple of nightlife, and anticucheras are rife on the streets of Cochabamba and La Paz from 7 pm to 4 am on weekends. 
  • Expect to pay between 10 and 12 Bolivianos for a portion. The portions are not large, just the meat that fits in a mid-size skewer and two small potatoes. If you´re hungry, you will probably need two. Or three. 
  • The creamy, yellow sauce that anticuchos are covered in is spicy. Just how spicy varies, so you may want a taste of it before your food gets covered in it. Also, obviously, steer CLEAR of it if you have a peanut allergy. 

Other street-food to try in Cochabamba:

trancapecho
Trancapecho sandwich
  • Trancapecho: literally means “stuck in your chest”, this sandwich has rice, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoe, a fried egg and a thin piece of beef or chicken 
huminta
Huminta
  • Humintas: Quite similar to tamales, humintas are a dough made from ground corn mixed with anise seed and cheese, wrapped in corn leaves and either boiled or baked to a creamy goodness.  

The next stop in our foodie Bolivia street food tour is Santa Cruz. You can easily take a bus from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz, the capital of the Bolivian lowlands. Here are the street-foods in Santa Cruz you need to try:

Sonso and cuñape

Street food in the low-lands, such as Santa Cruz, is dominated by cheesy pastries made with yucca, sold in street-cars and bakeries. They are baked (or grilled) fresh every day and offered between 3 pm and 7 pm, so you can eat them with a cup of coffee. More details coming right up:

Sonso
Grilling sonso over charcoals
  • Sonso is a mixture of mashed yucca, cheese and butter, which can be baked or grilled in wood skewers over hot coals in street cars. The taste and texture are absolutely sublime
cuñape
Cuñapé just out of the oven
  • Cuñape is a similar pastry, made not from mashed yucca but from yucca flour mixed with cheese and butter, and baked in special ovens
  • Happily for vegetarians, no meat goes into these!
  • You can expect to pay around 5 Bolivianos for a portion on the street. Some upscale bakeries and coffee shops offer them, as well, at a slightly higher price. 
  • Although, traditionally, these foods come from Santa Cruz, you will be able to find them at some coffee shops and bakeries in La Paz, Sucre and Cochabamba, as well. 

Other street food in Bolivia you can´t miss, by city:

  • Sucre: You can´t leave without trying the sausage. The best place is in Choricería 7 lunares. Also, you can´t miss the nation-famous Sandra´s Ice Cream you can buy at El Parque. Really, the best ice cream you will eat in Bolivia.   
api
Api and pastry
  • Oruro: Api with pastel is a traditional meal that is originally from Oruro, but that you can enjoy in La Paz, Sucre, Cochabamba and Potosí, as well. Api is a sweet, hot beverage made from the flour of purple corn, and it comes with a pastry made from fried wheat flour and cheese. In cold weather, nothing gets you warmer. 

We hope the information is useful. Happy traveling and tasty eating!

The ultimate travel-safely-through-Bolivia guide 2020

We get it. When you’re planning a trip abroad, you want to know what to expect regarding safety. Is terrorism a problem? Could I be kidnapped? Might I be pick-pocketed or robbed at gunpoint? Should I steer clear of specific places? Can I drink the tap water?

We got you covered. We live here in Bolivia, so we can give you first-hand information regarding all-things-safety in this country. And, because we don´t want you to just take our word for it, we will share with you links to official international reports as well. This way, at the end of this post you will have a clear picture of what to do and not do in order to travel safely through Bolivia in 2020. We admit, it’s a little long, but very thorough. Feel free to just read the parts you´re most concerned about, we won’t take offense. 

Uyuni Salt Flats during the rainy season
Dusk at the Uyuni Salt Flats

A little context

So, Bolivia is a pretty safe country for locals and tourists alike. With a total population of 10 million people, its largest cities (La Paz and Santa Cruz) have no more than 2 million inhabitants each, meaning that, under normal conditions, they don’t have the crime rates of larger cities like Sao Paulo or Lima or Bogotá. 

Nevertheless, the country went through a rough couple of months in October and November of last year after accusations that the national election had been rigged to favor then-president Evo Morales. 21 days of protests followed, resulting in the president’s resignation. This led to another two weeks of social conflict with 30 protesters losing their lives. The country has since entered a period of pacification, and the transitional government has called elections for the third of May. There have been absolutely no violent protests nor significant violence in the country since November, 2019. Nevertheless, tourism has seen a steep decline, which is sadly having a negative impact on the economy.    

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Traditional dances in the streets of La Paz

Is Bolivia a dangerous country?

In terms of 2019’s Global Peace Index, Bolivia ranks 85 out of 163 countries. This is moderate, and it means tourists should exercise common sense when visiting, but no extreme measures need to be taken to stay safe. For us locals, crime rates  are mostly related to property theft and domestic or personal disputes. There is some gang violence in certain neighborhoods in the larger cities, but this has never had an effect on tourists or visitors. In general, Bolivia ranks medium in terms of danger, according to most of the reports we could find. Don´t take our word for it, check out this report by World Population Review, showing Bolivia is a safer country than the United States, for example, and this this other safety report by Atlas And Boots.  

Be prepared to travel safely through Bolivia

In order to travel safely through any country, you must exercise caution and know what to expect. We found a cool guide of Things Not To Do in Bolivia in order to have a better tourist experience, and think you might find it useful. As for us, we have prepared a list of actual events that you might encounter while traveling through Bolivia, from food poisoning to road blockades (nope, no terrorism or hostage situations), and how to avoid and cope with them.

Bolivian Taxi, La Paz
Inside a minibus in La Paz

Pick-pocketing and theft:

  • Petty theft and stolen items: Bolivia, like any country that struggles with poverty, has it´s share of thieves and pickpockets. In order to avoid being separated from your belongings, keep your valuables close, especially in Santa Cruz and La Paz. If at a hotel or hostel, leave your valuables in a safe. Don´t walk around the street with your cellphone or other valuables in sight, and try not to use ATMs at night or in deserted places. 
  • Scams: Watch out for fake police officers claiming they want to check your passport or search you for any reason. Real police officers are always in uniform, and they DO NOT carry out random searches of tourists. In any case, make sure you travel with your passport complete with visa stamps and have a photocopy of it with you at all times. Do not pick up large amounts of money you find on the street, it may be part of a common, intricate scam where you end up handing over your wallet to the thief. You won’t be hurt, but you’ll feel pretty foolish. 
Death Road, Bolivia
Downhill biking in Los Yungas, La Paz

Drugs: 

  • Drugs: Not judging how you choose to entertain yourself, but in Bolivia, if you get involved in cocaine and get caught, the minimum sentence is 8 years and you might wait in jail for more than two years just waiting for a trial. Why risk it? Obviously, do not leave your luggage unattended in airports, train stations and bus terminals to avoid getting stuff planted.
  • It’s legal for farmers to grow coca leaf in Bolivia, but if you´re traveling around areas where coca leaf is grown, such as Los Yungas and the Chapare region, be careful taking pictures. Farmers may not like it.

Health issues: 

  • Food: Many tourists from first-world countries suffer some kind of food poisoning when traveling around Bolivia from eating street-food. So, in general, you shouldn’t taste the delicious, spicy, juicy street-food in Bolivia (which is a shame but, you know, health first and all). Make sure you eat at restaurants that display their sanitary certifications and look clean. For extra caution, avoid eating any raw vegetables and peel all your fruit. And wash your hands! But we’re sure we don’t have to tell you that. 
Salteñas
Salteñas are a must, just don´t eat them from the street
  • Tap water: While the tap water in urban areas is supposed to be potable, and many locals actually do drink it, it’s really better not to risk it as a tourist. So, drink boiled water or bottled water only. You can brush your teeth and wash vegetables with tap water in urban areas at no risk, but if in the countryside, wash your teeth with bottled water, too. 
  • Altitude sickness: Many of Bolivia’s most popular tourist attractions, like the Uyuni Salt Flats, Potosi, Sucre, La Paz, and Lake Titicaca lie at altitudes between 2,500 and 5000 meters above sea level, so yes, altitude sickness is something you must prepare for. Thankfully, you can do that just by following a couple of good tips. Check out this thorough report on how to cope with altitude sickness in order to travel through Bolivia safely without missing out on any of its great destinations.    
four cable cars in La Paz
Traveling by cable-car in La Paz, at 3,600 meters above sea level
  • Tour safety: Make sure you research your tour agency beforehand. Uyuni Salt Flat, trekking, rivers, mine tours, jungle tours, Bolivia offers some great adventure opportunities, but please always make sure the agency meets international safety standards. Many agencies might offer better prices at a cost to safety. So, again, safety first, right? Check out this listing of many certified tour options. Also, be responsible yourself. For example, don´t get wasted the night before a downhill biking tour down the Death Road if you would rather not break an arm. 
  • Diseases: If traveling around tropical areas of Bolivia and low-lands, make sure to cover up against mosquitoes with long sleeves and pants, and bring repellent. Malaria and dengue fever are a risk, especially during the rainy season, between November and February. 
Sajama National Park, Bolivia
Highway to the Sahama in Oruro

Transportation issues:

  • Road blocks: Roadblocks are somewhat common in Bolivia. The people in many rural communities and even in some cities block the roads and highways in protest. Mostly, you can know at least a day beforehand when a road will be blocked to take alternative measures, but it may happen that the blockade is upon you without warning. If this happens, you may have to walk to the point of blockade in order to take a cab or bike to your final destination. Or, the bus you travel on may take an alternative route, which could delay your time of arrival. How to cope? First, stay informed of possible road blockades by watching news and asking around. You can check out this map, which is updated constantly, and shows all Bolivian highways and marks road blockades. Secondly, travel with water and snacks, and enough warm clothes to deal with any situation. Wear comfortable shoes in case you have to walk long distances. Carry cash with you in case you have to pay for a cab or other transportation. And book your connecting buses and flights with enough time in between, so in the case of unforeseen circumstances you don´t miss your next flight or bus: at least four hours, just to be safe. 
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The trains of FCA take you from Oruro to Uyuni
  • Peaceful (but annoying) protests: Protests are common in the cities of Bolivia, but especially La Paz. They are usually sit-ins or marches through the city´s main streets and can block traffic for about an hour. Violence is not common during such protests, but it is best to avoid them. In case you get stuck in traffic due to a protest, be patient. You can either get out and walk the rest of the way, or stay in the car and wait it out. But if you need to catch a bus or plane, remember to leave with enough time to make it. A protest can add one or two hours to your commuting time. 
  • Natural disasters: No earthquakes or snowstorms in Bolivia, no hurricanes or tornadoes, but rainy season between November and February means flooding, landslides and road washouts, which could mean delays when traveling by land and even airplane. Traveling by land, you could get stuck overnight behind a landslide so, again, stay informed regarding transit and always travel with enough food, water and warm clothes. 
  • Local transportation: If you want to take a cab, call it from your hotel, or take official cabs from airports and bus terminals, which clearly display their phone number and the company they belong to. Try not to take cabs from the street, and never take a cab that does not display the name of the company and phone number overhead. When using a minibus (vans with multiple passengers) or city bus, make sure you don’t get distracted, as pickpockets love to, well, pick your pockets in these vehicles.
la paz bus terminal
Bus terminal in La Paz
  • Terminals and train stations: Always and in any country, be extra careful at transport hubs. You are most vulnerable when carrying all your belongings with you. Don´t get distracted by people offering to help with your luggage or ask you for directions. And don´t leave your stuff unattended. We think it’s helpful to know what to expect. Here is a page where you can find the addresses and description of most bus and train stations in Bolivia, including phone numbers. 
  • Traveling by bus: Traveling by bus is safe in Bolivia, but common sense must be used. To avoid things getting stolen, which is rare but can happen, don´t put a laptop or other valuables in the overhead bin if its a long trip and you’ll fall asleep. Valuables should always be kept on you when traveling by bus. Nobody steals luggage from the luggage compartment in buses, so relax, as long as you have a ticket for the luggage you left in there, it should be safe. There is also no risk of buses being robbed on the highway. The most exciting thing that can happen to you on a bus trip in Bolivia is a flat tire or a road blockade (see above). Nevertheless, try to buy your tickets from good, responsible, experienced bus companies, which are sure to keep their buses in good working conditions. Informal or cheaper bus companies might not make sure their drivers are rested and prepared for driving long distances, may not hire two drivers to take turns driving, ensuring safety, and the maintenance to their buses might not be enough to ensure a good trip. Check out this link to buy tickets in advance and check out the best bus and train companies in order to travel safely through Bolivia by land.

We hope this information was useful. Have a safe trip and enjoy Bolivia!

How to cope with altitude sickness in Bolivia and Peru

Should you be worried by altitude sickness? When does it start to become dangerous and how to prepare for it?

When traveling to Cusco or Puno in Peru, or La Paz and Uyuni in Bolivia it is important to come prepared as adjusting to the altitude can take some time and could affect your trip in Bolivia and Peru. Here are some tips to help you with this and some useful information.

Altitude sickness typically occurs only above 2,500 meters (8,000 ft), though some are affected at lower altitudes. Risk factors include a high degree of activity, and a rapid increase in elevation.

1. What are the effects of altitude

Altitude can affect anyone in some way. Your physical fitness has no impact on how the altitude difference will affect you so there is no need to go to the gym to prepare. The symptoms are roughly the same for everyone but it will impact people on different levels.

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Slow digestion
  • Out of breath

Severe altitude sickness is rare but if you think you are not adjusting well to the altitude, go see a doctor and travel to a lower altitude if required.

2. Can you prepare before?

The best way to prevent altitude sickness and be prepared for high altitude locations is by climbing slowly, by steps, allowing the body to adjust to the new altitude. If that is not possible and you are planning to trek or want to attempt a climb soon after arrival, taking acetazolamide can be used to prevent and reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Acetazolamide is also known as Diamox. Please consult with your doctor before taking it.

How to use Diamox Tablet

Acetazolamide should be taken 1 to 2 days before starting to climb. Continue taking it while you are climbing and for at least 48 hours after you have reached your final altitude. You may need to continue taking this medication while staying at the high altitude to control your symptoms.

3. What to do when you arrive

However, it is not absolutely necessary to take Diamox, or acetazolamide, before coming to Peru or Bolivia. In most situations, you can adjust by taking some time when arriving to a new height and avoiding certain things:

  • Do not exert yourself
  • Avoid smoking and drinking, and other intoxicating substances
  • Eat light meals

Some companies advertise over the counter medicine against high altitude sickness, these medicine (Sorojchi pills for example) only treat some of the symptoms, such as the headache and are made of aspirin, acetaminosalol (Salophen) – which is an analgesic – and caffeine. These pills don’t cure altitude sickness and you should check the composition before taking them.

Coca tea is also believed to help with altitude sickness, though there isn’t any evidence to support this. However, drinking coca tea wouldn’t hurt and coca’s analgesic properties would certainly help.

Ultimately, it is important for travelers arriving to Peru and Bolivia to understand the difference between Diamox, Sorojchi Pills and coca tea.

  • Check with your doctor before taking Diamox.
  • Sorojchi pills can help with the symptoms when you first arrive but are not a treatment for altitude sickness.
  • Like the pills coca tea may help alleviate some of the symptoms
  • If you are planning to trek or climb a peak, make sure to plan time to acclimatize to the altitude. And if it is not possible do check with your doctor for the best way to deal with it.
  • If strong symptoms of altitude sickness remain after a few days please check with a doctor.
  • The only treatment for high altitude sickness is to descend to a lower altitude.

The most common scams to avoid in Bolivia

Travelling in Peru and Bolivia is often associated with a number of dangers and scams targeted towards travelers. Especially if travelling in South America by bus. These fears can be somewhat exaggerated turning into urban myths which spread an image much scarier than reality. However, when travelling, you should always be careful and take some necessary precautions. Scams can occur in Bolivia (as in any other places in the world), and unaware travelers can easily fall victim to them. Here is a list of the most common ones in this part of the world and how to spot and avoid them.

Bolivian Taxi, La Paz

Taxi scams

There are different types of scams in Bolivia involving taxis. The general rule is to not get into a taxi without a working taximeter. However, most taxis in Bolivia , even radio taxis from reliable taxi companies, don’t have them. For this reason, it is better to check the price and agree with the taxi driver before getting in the car.

Sometimes the driver will pretend that the accommodation you picked is already full or that it’s really bad and will give you suggestions of places you should go. Which ends up being way more expensive. Tell the driver that you have a room booked (even if you don’t) and insist on being driven there, they rarely insist more.

What to do:

  • Check the price range from and to your destination. Always agree on a price and a currency. For instance, you may agree on a 50 soles ride in Lima from the airport but the taxi driver ends up charging 50 usd. If things are not clearly established before going in the taxi or you sense something dodgy then pick a different taxi.
  • People arriving late at night or very early in the morning are easy targets for scammers as they know that travelers will be more vulnerable and anxious to get to their hotel/accommodation. Always have the address/telephone number written on a piece of paper and the location pinned on your phone on an offline GPS application.
  • Bus terminals can feel less safe than airport terminals and it’s easy to get overwhelmed when people are approaching you from all directions trying to get you into their cab. Don’t follow the first driver that comes towards you, make sure to ask prices first.
  • If possible, use an app-based application to travel or call a recommended radio-taxi company.
  • Don’t get into taxis that already have passengers in them and don’t accept to take other passengers in route, even if they pretend to be police officers (see next scam).

No change

Generally in Bolivia, people don’t like when you pay with large bills for small items. If you go to a market or a small tienda, it’s better to always have small change but people will find a solution. However, sometimes taxi drivers can use this as their advantage hoping that they end up with the larger bill as they don’t have change and it’s the middle of the night. It’s hard to say when it’s legitimate or if the driver is lying in order to get more.

What to do:

If you can’t break the large bills, ask the driver after the price has been set if he has change (‘Tiene cambio de XX?’). This way there won’t be a bad surprise when you arrive at your destination and the driver announces that he has no change and makes you give him the 50 bolivianos or 100 bolivianos bill you have.

Police impersonator

In the street or sometimes in a taxi, a fake police officer will ask you for your documents and/or will ask you to follow him somewhere in order to get you to give him your money.

Sometimes the police officer will have an accomplice to legitimize him as a ‘real’ police officer. There is no reason why a police officer would randomly ask you for your documents or why you should follow anyone anywhere.

What to do:

Always have a copy of your passport printed with you when traveling. Don’t give your original passport to a stranger. Ask to see their badge number or any proof that they are who they say. Do NOT follow anyone, even if you think they are a real police officer. Say that your papers are in your hotel and that they can accompany you there, they won’t.

Corrupt officials

A variation on the police officer impersonator is the one where actual police officers/custom officers or anyone with a legitimate position, will take advantage of this in order to make some money on the side. (more on this in the Border Crossing Scams section)

What to do:

As a general rule, don’t break the law as it will be an opportunity for any corrupt official. Make sure to be aware of the country’s rules on specific issues and use good judgment to not get into situations where you could be taken advantage.

Inside a bus in Lima, Peru

Spills/Pickpockets:

A very common technique around the world is to distract someone by spilling (or throwing) something on them. While you are confused, someone will try to help you clean the stain and an accomplice/or that same person will empty your pockets.

What to do:

Don’t stop, and don’t let anyone help you, go to a bathroom and clean it yourself. When walking in crowded areas don’t put anything of value in your pockets and wear your backpack in the front. Make sure none of your valuables are easily accessible.

Fake goods

Especially when buying electronic goods in a market, there is a risk that the products won’t work.

What to do:

We don’t recommended to buy phones/computers/anything electronic from a street market. Always go to an official seller or from someone you can trust. But if you must buy it always ask to try it. They should have an outlet to let you turn on the device you’re buying and make sure it works. The same applies for cheaper devices like earphones, cables and anything electronic. If you can’t try it, don’t buy it.

ollague
Ollague Border Crossing

Border crossing scams

This a sub-category on the corrupt official scams and take very different forms depending on the border. These can change and adapt as people always find new creative ways to scam people. It is less common with the new well-regulated migratory centers between Peru/Chile/Bolivia. The process is extremely straight-forward with rarely cases of scams. At the less formal border crossing points this can happen, especially Desaguadero (when going through the city and not the migratory center outside which is for larger buses), Yunguyo/Kasani (when going from Copacabana to Puno), Ollague (Calama-Uyuni).

Some of the ones we’ve heard about in the last year are:

  • Stamp on passport: Tourists have reported that they are not receiving the migration stamp when entering Bolivia and have to pay a hefty fine when leaving the country. Scams usually involve some instant bribe or immediate reward for the scammer so it is not clear how this constitutes as a scam. In any case when entering and leaving a country, especially by land, always make sure that you have a stamp from each country.
  • Sin tarjeta‘. Upon entry in Bolivia, there is additional migratory form that comes with the passport which you may need when leaving the country (otherwise the officer writes ‘S.T.’ on your stamp). However, sometimes officials pretend there is a fine for not having the form and charge travelers with a fake fine.
  • Bolivia/Peru: Pornography found on phone. When leaving Bolivia, officers may ask to check your phone and will find ‘pornographic content’ which they will claim is illegal in Bolivia, making you pay a fine instead of sending you to jail. This is clearly a scam. Don’t let anyone look at your phone.
  • Straight-forward bribes. Sometimes, because it is late at night or because you are in a rush, officers will create some excuse and make it clear that with some money they will let you go. There is not much to do if this is happening to you other than paying the bribe. You could try asking for a receipt. Also, depending on the situation you may be able to get away with it but that will depend very much on who you’re dealing with. You can also try to report this later on.

What to do:

It is difficult to stand up to officials, especially if late at night in a isolated border crossing post, or if you don’t speak any Spanish and if you are in a rush. The safest option sometimes is to comply and report it later in the capital city. You can also try asking for a receipt which could scare away the official. This would mostly happen on some border crossing sites so be aware these could happen.

Fake notes

In Peru and Bolivia, there are accounts of counterfeit money circulating. It is hard for newcomers to recognize immediately which ones are legit and can be hard to avoid. Try to familiarize yourself quickly with what a real bill looks and feels like, and don’t hesitate to check the bills given to you.

General tips

  • Use common sense, if something doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t. Don’t do anything you are not comfortable with and don’t put yourself in a situation where you could be taken advantage of (this applies anywhere in the world, even at home).
  • It’s always good to know some of the country’s language as it will make you less vulnerable and less prone to be targeted by unscrupulous people trying to take advantage.
  • Based on one’s experience a country can feel more or less safe. Bolivia suffers from a bad reputation but La Paz is one of the safest cities in Latin America, just stay in the central areas. Petty theft is rare, as long as you follow common sense. The same is true for Peru, even if Lima, due to its size, will have more problems. Pickpockets may operate in public buses and walking at night in some areas is strongly discouraged.
  • Express kidnappings are mentioned frequently as a risk when traveling South America. These involve being taken and held up at an ATM for a period of time until you have withdrawn all the money you could. These are rare and would only happen in secluded areas at night. Only use ATMs during daylight hours or in busy areas.
  • Be careful in buses, especially when leave bags unattended. Book from bus terminals to avoid scams in Bolivia or Peru and with reputable bus companies. Find here safe travel options in Bolivia and Peru and find here tips to prepare for your bus trip in Bolivia.

Discover La Paz by bus in three hours

The city of La Paz (Our Lady of Peace in English) has a lot to offer, you can discover it by joining one of the walking tours on offer, by riding the cable-car lines, or by taking the new sightseeing city tour bus. From the center of La Paz to the Valle de la Luna in the south of the city, you can comfortably enjoy the different sights around you while learning about the city’s history.

View of La Paz from mirado Killi Killi

La Paz has a rich history, architecture and culture to explore and there is no better way to do it than by bus. Because of the altitude, 3,600 meters above sea level, it can be difficult and tiring for newcomers to walk the steep streets, especially when one has only a few days in La Paz and there is so much to see, eat and learn. From inside the bus, whether it rains or not ­– which it does a lot during the rainy season between November and March – you can appreciate the colonial buildings, the Art Deco architecture, the vibrant street life and the beautiful panoramic views of Illimani (the 6.438-meters-high mountain protecting the city of La Paz).

Along the way you will pass through:

  • Calle Sagarnaga: Home to the famous Witches Market where local and tourists alike can buy traditional clothing and ancient remedies.
  • Plaza Murillo: This is where Pedro Domingo Murillo declared Bolivia’s independence in 1809, the first in South America to do so. It took six months for the Spaniards to get the control again and Bolivia had to wait until 1825 to finally be independent and proclaim the Republic.
  • Mirador Killi Killi: One of the seven miradors of La Paz, this one has some of the best views, facing the Illimani and allowing people to appreciate how the city spreads south.
  • Miraflores: This whole neighborhood is from 1920s. The Bolivian architect Emilio Villanueva Peñaranda conceived it and connected it to the Avenida Camacho. Here you can see the Hernando Siles Stadium, Plaza Uyuni and Avenida Busch.
  • Sopocachi: A bohemian neighborhood, Sopocachi is filled with coffee shops, street art and interesting architecture, mixing styles and giving it a very unique feel.
  • Valle de la Luna: After Sopocachi, The bus drives down to the south of La Paz to Mallasa where the Valle de la Luna or Moon Valley can be found. It was named by Neil Armstrong himself in 1969 who, while visiting La Paz, found an uncanny resemblance between the rocky structures south of the city and the Moon.
Valle de la Luna, La Paz, Bolivia

You can see all of this and more in the newly refurbished double-decker buses which are now available for tours around the city. The trip lasts approximately three hours, departing twice daily from Tuesday to Sunday at 2 pm. Departure is from Hotel Qantu on Calle Illampu in the center of the city. There are three stops for passengers to hop on and hop off: Plaza Murillo, Plaza Isabel la Catolica, and Las Cholas. The bus drops passengers back at the Hotel Qantu or gives them the option to get off at the cable-car station Curva de Holguin where they can take the yellow or green line. The yellow line goes all the way up to El Alto where it connects to the silver line and then to the red and blue lines.

A bilingual guide in each bus will provide information on the different buildings and places on the way, enriching each travelers’ experience with local knowledge.

STOPSPICK-UP TIME
Illampu 740 Hotel Qantu14:00
Plaza Murillo14:30
Plaza Isabel la Catolica15:00
Kiosco de las Cholas15:45
Sightseeing City Tour La Paz

If you have more time in La Paz and want to explore places near by and make the most of its museums and attractions you can check this guide listing 15 things to do in an around La Paz.

Everything you Need to Know about Carnival in Bolivia

Diablada, Carnival of Oruro

Every year around February-early March comes Carnival. A festive Christian tradition which takes place the days leading to Lent. Carnival is celebrated around the world with parades and public celebrations. Rio de Janeiro is one of the most famous parties around the world but Carnival is celebrated in most Christian and Orthodox countries with each its own traditions. Here in Bolivia, Carnival comes with its own set of customs and is well worth the visit.

The best place to enjoy Bolivia’s carnival season is in Oruro. Located in western Bolivia, 230 km south of La Paz, this small mining town is fairly quiet the rest of the year but turns into one of the largest and most visited places in South America. This year, Carnival of Oruro will take place between Saturday 2 March and Tuesday 5 March. The Oruro Carnival takes place over four days from Saturday to Tuesday, with the main celebrations taking place Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday is the Great Pilgrimage to the Socavón and the Entry of the Corso is on Sunday.

Carnaval, Oruro, Bolivia

The main dance performed, originally from Oruro, is the Diablada – the dance of the devil – which is performed alongside other traditional Bolivian dances including morenadas, caporales and tinkus. The parade runs from morning until late at night, until Shrove Tuesday. Over 50 parade groups dance, sing, and play music over a four kilometer-long course. The Carnival parade passes through the Plaza 10 de Febrero square. At the different sectors there are stands where you can get a seat after paying a fee.

The 2019 Carnival procession in Oruro will start on Bolívar Street, maintaining the route of the previous years: Calle Pagador, Aroma until 6 de Agosto, Calle Bolívar, and then will continue to La Plata, Adolfo Mier and Presidente Montes, Bolívar to La Petot, Adolfo Mier, Avenida Civica “Sanjinés Vincentti”, Junín and finally culminating at the Socavón Sanctuary. The procession finishes inside the Socavon cathedral in the center of town.

Diablada de Oruro, Bolivia

Oruro’s carnival was declared in 2001 “Masterpieces of Oral Heritage and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO and attracts more than 400,000 people each year, involving 30,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians. The city of Oruro receives almost twice the number of inhabitants come for Carnival. For this reason, it is highly recommended to reserve the accommodation with months, if not a year, in advance. During these days the hotel occupancy reaches 100%. It is also possible to sleep in rooms rented by local families. The prices of any accommodation during the carnival is a lot higher than during the rest of the year and you may have to share accommodation.

In the rest of the country, celebrations are held involving traditional dances and water wars. Prepare yourself for being randomly targeted (or not so randomly if you are a foreigner) and being attacked with water balloons and water guns. This tradition started over a century ago when people started filling eggs with water and throwing them at other people in weirdly violent displays of fun. The warmer the weather, the more popular are these games, and nowadays, cities like Sucre and Cochabamba turn into full-on water wars. La Paz and Oruro are not excluded from the fun despite the colder weather. In Santa Cruz de la Sierra, on the east side of the country, tropical weather allows a Brazilian-type Carnival, with Comparsas dancing traditional songs in matching uniforms.

Expreso del Sur train, Bolivia

How to get there

Carnival can be experienced all around Bolivia, and wherever you are, you will have the opportunity to watch dancing parades and to be attacked by strangers with water balloons, but if you are looking to experience the frenzy and overindulgence of Oruro’s carnival, there are many ways to get there.

Most cities will have direct buses to Oruro. La Paz to Oruro is a 3.5 hour long journey. You can also take the train from Uyuni. The train leaves on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

There is another option for this year’s celebration. Ferroviaria Andina announced that the ‘Tren Carnavalero) (Carnaval Train) will be made available this year and includes throughout the day (in the train and in Oruro):

  • Pick up from different locations throughout the city of La Paz and El Alto
  • Seats in Executive Class, with reclining seats, blankets and pillow
  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner/Snacks
  • Open bar with beer, fernet, rhum, singani, vodka
  • Individual and covered seats to watch the parade in Oruro on Av. 6 de Agosto y Bolívar
  • Two of the wagons will be turned into a Discotheque
  • Security/Guides/First Aid/Cloakroom/Teas and coffee
  • 30 additional bathrooms
  • An exclusive fireworks show and the possibility of dancing with the ‘Diablada ferroviaria’

The train leaves from Viacha but the journey includes the transfer from La Paz and El Alto. Departure is on Friday 1st March at 11pm to arrive at 6am in Oruro. The train then leaves Oruro on the Sunday at 12am.

For more information and to book bus and train tickets, visit Tickets Bolivia.

Everything You Need To Know About Alasita in Bolivia

miniaturas_de_alasita_
Caleidoscopic – via Wikimedia Commons

Every year on 24th January starts the annual Alasita festival in La Paz, Bolivia. It lasts for a month with stalls covered with miniature versions of houses, money bills, cereal boxes, passports, iPhone, diplomas, and all the items one may aspire to acquire during the year.

What is the alasita festival in Bolivia?

In Bolivia, Alasita is a place where one can also look for love in the shape of a rooster or a hen. To ensure that you will find love during that year, the rooster/hen has to be given to you. You cannot purchase it yourself. The birds have come to represent love and they come in different colors, each representing something: black ones are for widowers, yellow (or gold) are for people looking for a (very) rich partner, white ones represent purity and the red ones are more passionate. Some of them even have professions and different qualities depending on what you look in a partner.

Everything purchased at the fair needs to be blessed by priests and then offered to the Ekeko, the Andean God of Abundance. He’s easily recognizable by the bags of goods he carries, the chullo (traditional hat) and the cigarettes he’s smoking.

Other traditional and typical items people purchase are golden toads which represent Pachamama (Mother Earth) and are meant to bring fortune and prosperity to your home. Suitcases filled with money are also popular implying that money won’t be missing and that there will be opportunities to travel during the year. Food is another common purchase people make, with miniature boxes of pasta, rice, quinoa and other staples that you can buy.

vista_de_alasitas_2010,_la_paz,_bolivia_-_panoramio_-_lilapagola
lilapagola – via Wikimedia Commons

Alasitas is popular festival that mixes indigenous beliefs and Catholicism, tradition and modernity, illustrating perfectly Bolivia’s complexities and idiosyncrasies. On the first day of Alasitas, at around 12:00pm people gather in and around the churches to have their items blessed by the Catholic priests in a vibrant display of syncretism. And it’s also more than that; Alasitas is a fun, convivial place with food and games, enjoyable for the whole family, where one can also find hand-crafted and artisan goods. Make sure to go and try the plato paceño, a local specialty with corn, cheese, meet and fava beans, and the unmissable api con pastel, a purple-corn drink accompanied by a deep-fried cheese empanada.

Alasitas can be enjoyed throughout the city during 30 days, especially on the first day but the fair is held in Parque Urbano in La Paz. The fair then moves to Santa Cruz in September, where it also stays for a month.

If you are travelling in Bolivia in January/February or September make sure not to miss the Alasitas fair. You can easily travel to La Paz and Santa Cruz and plan ahead your trip with Tickets Bolivia.

What to pack when traveling to Bolivia

Sajama National Park
Sajama National Park – Photo by Armin Silber

Here is a complete guide on the essential things to bring to Bolivia and what to pack, whether you are traveling to La Paz or Santa Cruz; in the altiplano or the jungle.

Warm clothes/Layers

Bringing layers is a must when traveling to Bolivia. Even during the summer months temperatures can be surprisingly chilly because of the rainy weather. Keep in mind that summer is the rainy season and winter the dry season. And in winter, temperatures go really low at night while it is deceptively warm during the day. Whatever the season, temperatures can change drastically throughout the day.

Some parts of the country are warmer but if you are traveling by bus, especially night buses, it can get very cold despite having a heating system. Most buses (semi lie-flat and lie-flat) have it but be aware that sometimes drivers might not put it on or it may not work. Be prepared as temperatures get very low!

The opposite is also true in the warmer parts of the country where it can get really hot. So if you are traveling to Santa Cruz from La Paz in bus, prepare layers as the weather will go from cold to hot during the journey.

Waterproof clothing

As mentioned above, the summer months (between November and March) are the rainy seasons, rains may make traveling difficult, if not impossible, and it can rain at any time, in any part of the country. You can carry an umbrella in the city, but if hiking, better to pack for Bolivia waterproof clothing at any time, and layers. The rain can be unpredictable and be accompanied by a sudden change in temperature.

Altitude sickness medication

If landing in La Paz from sea level, or any place of lower altitude, it is essential to take some time to acclimatize. Especially considering that journeys to La Paz are often long and tiring, and accompanied with jet lag. It usually takes 2 or 3 days to acclimatize and longer if one plans to travel to a higher altitude and to hike.

The only way to help prevent altitude sickness is by taking Acetazolamide (Diamox) which is prescribed by your doctor and should be taken a few days before arriving. Altitude sickness varies depending on the individual and you may not need anything. Most of the time, that’s the case. But in case your time is limited or you have experienced altitude sickness before, do ask your doctor about it.

Vaccination card

You’ll need the Yellow Fever vaccination if you are traveling to Bolivia. You may not be asked to show it when entering the country but it may be asked at a later time, especially when trying to travel to other countries who request the yellow fever vaccination. Bolivia is listed as Yellow Fever high risk country, and without the certification, other countries may not let you in.

Plane tickets/proof of onward travel

When traveling to Bolivia you will have to show either a return ticket or a proof of onward travel. This may be asked if you need a visa to enter the country but it may also be asked by the migration officer when entering the country (some airlines may not let you board if you don’t have it). If you are unsure of your travel plans, you can always book online a bus ticket to Peru or Chile from La Paz, which can be amended or cancelled at a later time, depending on your plans.

Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunglasses

This is an absolute essential item to pack for Bolivia especially if going to the Salar de Uyuni. Not wearing sunglasses on the salt flat might permanently damage the eye and it is better to bring your own.

Flashlight

In case the power goes off but it’s also helpful at night, while doing the Uyuni 3-day tour, the second night doesn’t usually have electricity during the night. Also in night buses it can be useful to have a source of light if you drop something in the bus.

Wet wipes

Not just in Bolivia, but these are always useful when traveling long journeys and for freshening up after overnight buses.

Toilet paper

A good advice is to always carry toilet paper with you. Public toilets charge between 1 or 2 bolivianos and will provide you with a small amount of toilet paper but it’s good to have more on you, just in case. Don’t forget to put it in the bin, not the toilet.

Books

The scenery is beautiful wherever you are traveling in Bolivia but long-distance buses can be very long, especially during the daytime so don’t hesitate to bring a book or your kindle, or to have podcasts ready. Bus journeys in journey can take up to 20 hours.