Bolivia gives visas on arrival for many countries, including India. You can find the list here[JG1] . However due to reciprocation, Americans have to get the visa beforehand and pay.
Visa on arrival is only available at Laz Paz and Santa Cruz airports. The cost for the visa is $60 USD and the process is fairly simple. You will need to show return flight, itinerary, hotel booking for the first few days, yellow fever vaccination proof, a bank statement and a passport sized photograph.
Indians and citizens from other nations can also get a visa at the Cusco consulate. The process is fast; you can get the visa within one hour. Another advantage is that the visa is free of charge. If you are planning on crossing through Peru to visit Bolivia, getting a visa in Cusco is the best option. You can find the list here. [JG2]
You will need the following things to get a visa at Cusco:
- Application: You need to fill out and sign the application form. You can get the application form at the consulate.
- Hotel Reservation: Proof of residence/lodging for first few days would suffice even though they have mentioned that booking is required for the entire trip.
- Flight/Bus Ticket: You may be asked to show proof of your flight, or a bus ticket in and out of Bolivia. In many cases, however, showing them an itinerary or details of the flight or bus ticket will suffice.
- Itinerary: A rough itinerary just to show where you will be going and the duration of your stay in Bolivia
- Bank Statements: You will need to show your current bank statement
- Yellow Fever Vaccination proof: This is probably the most important. Your visa will be rejected if you do not have proof that you have received the yellow fever vaccination.
- Passport sized photograph: Although only one is required, it is best to come prepared with several on hand.
Spanish is the main language and spoken by about 84% of the population. However, each of the 36 ethnic groups have their own language and the most prominent ones are Quechua (which is spoken by 28% of the population) and Aymara (which is spoken by 18% of the population). English is hardly spoken at all, even in cities like La Paz and a basic knowledge of Spanish is required to get things done.
Roman Catholic Christianity dominates the country, accounting for 77% of the population. Catholicism was brought to Bolivia when the Spanish people arrived in the 1500’s. Many of the indigenous people of the day adopted the Catholic religion, while mixing in their traditional spirituality and beliefs. This remains the case today. In addition, many adhere to the beliefs and traditions of their ancestors.
Although Bolivia is considered to be one of South America’s safest countries, many crimes still do occur. Petty theft is common in crowded places. Targeting and kidnapping foreigners to get cash from ATM’s and theft at ATM’S are on the rise. Being the world’s third highest cocaine producer, gang related crimes are common is rural parts of Bolivia. One should remain vigilant and careful at all times while walking around. Walking alone at night is definitely not recommended.
The local currency is called Boliviano and the rate at the time of writing was 1B$ = 10 rupees (or 1B$ = $0.14 USD). Bureau exchange can be found in all the big towns and you can exchange money in some banks as well. ATM’s are widely present even in the smaller towns – but be aware that in rural towns they can charge commission fees up to 6%. You can even withdraw USD from some ATM’s, and some hotels and tour companies will accept USD as payment.
Entel is a state-owned company that holds about 40% market share and has the best cell coverage. You can buy an Entel SIM card at any Multicentro Entel shop. Make sure you carry your passport while buying the SIM card. A 1GB data plan costs B$50, and 5GB of data costs B$200. Connectivity and speed will generally be low quality with any SIM card you buy in Bolivia. Internet connectivity is weak in South Bolivia, so expect to go without a network for long periods of time.
When to Go
There are many things to consider when choosing when to go. Bolivia has many different climate zones due to the diversity of landscapes found there – the Amazon, Andes and Atacama Desert to name a few. Although Bolivia can be visited year long, there are few things to consider.
The dry season lasts from May through November and is also the peak season. The weather brings sapphire skies and the chances of rain is low, but of course this depends on which region you are in. The lack of rain makes it a perfect time to do the outdoorsy stuff like hiking and mountain biking.
However, the dry season is also the winter season and it can get bitterly cold in Altiplano, especially in June & July. I was in Bolivia in June when it had snowed heavily in the desert – we had to dig out the snow in freezing temperatures to find a way out. The snow also kept us from visiting some highlights of the Atacama Desert. The temperature can dip down to -20 to -25, and the lack of proper heating (especially in the guesthouses in the desert) made it a very difficult experience, and we had to sleep with many layers and a sleeping bag.
While the Altiplano can be a tough place in the dry season, the steamy jungles benefit from the cooler temperatures. Hiking the Andes is only really possible in the dry season. The rainy season disrupts travels, and sometimes it’s not possible to go from one town to another because of the infrastructure of Bolivia. That being said, the summer and wet months that last from November to April are when the crowds disappear, and the prices go down significantly.
In my opinion, the best months to travel to Bolivia are October and November, which are technically still in the dry season, but things are starting to warm up and there are not too many tourists.
Other Things to Consider
- January through March are the wettest months – often Bolivia is prone to flooding in this period.
- You may have seen magical, mirror-like photographs of the flooded Salt Flats – a beautiful optical illusion during the rainy season. However, while you can still visit the edge of the Salar when it is flooded, you will not be able to cross it or visit the island in the middle.
- The main festivals happen between February and April, which could either be a nuisance or an extra fun incentive to visit during those months.
- Animal enthusiasts should consider that Amazon is teeming with life during the wet season.
The food in Bolivia is as diverse as the landscapes found here. The different regions of the Andes, Amazon and Altiplano all have different traditional dishes, in addition to the influence of European, Mexican, and other South American cuisine. All of this means that when you’re in Bolivia…you’re going to eat well. Their food culture is rich and delicious! Surprisingly there are also many options for vegetarians to try the local food.
Here are just a few of the main dishes found in Bolivia.
This dish is a Bolivian classic coming from central Bolivia. Enjoy rice, boiled potatoes, and meat with yummy toppings like fried eggs and salsa.
A beloved Bolivian breakfast! This baked pastry is filled with veggies, potatoes, and meat with a delightful sweet & spicy gravy.
This dish comes from western Bolivia. A bed of rice with diced tomatoes, onions and chuños (freeze-dried Andean potatoes) with perfectly seasoned boiled chicken on top.
A perfect morning treat, tucumanas are deep friend and full of variety. They are kind of like a Bolivian empanada. You can try it with many different sauces and get a different flavor every time.
Think of Pique Macho like a Bolivian stir fry. This catch all meal includes chopped up beef, sliced potatoes, onions, locoto chili peppers, and boiled eggs with all your favorite condiments on top.
This soup is sure to please. It contains chalona (lamb meat), chuno (potato flour), potatoes, oregano, carrots, and onion. It is beloved all over Bolivia.
This dish has no meat, and we love it that way! You probably wouldn’t think to put the two together, but mashed bananas and cheese make up this classic.