Visit Bolivia's salt flats in the wet season to see mirror-like views (Dreamstime)
Blog Words : I wish I'd known... | 09 January

Know before you go: Bolivia

Bibiana Garside, founder of Latin American tour specialist HighLives, answers the top ten most frequently asked questions travellers want to know before visiting Bolivia

As a Bolivian specialist, HighLives receives many enquiries about travel to the country and we always try to give the best possible advice. Here I've answered the top ten questions I received about Bolivia last year, to help you prepare for your trip.

1. Will altitude affect me when I arrive to La Paz?

Most likely yes, although if dealt with sensibly, there is no need to think this may be a problem at all for your visit. In fact I only know one person, my friend Bridget, who felt no effects at all from being at high altitude.

The reality for most people is that on your first day at high altitude you will have to take it easy, drink plenty of water, eat and sleep. Your body needs to adjust and this should minimise any uncomfortable headaches or breathlessness. Personally, I have found that taking Altivit tablets before my most recent journey helped me in adjusting to high altitude faster than for previous trips.

2. Are there direct flights from the UK to Bolivia?

From 29 November 2012, Spanish carrier Air Europa is introducing two weekly flights from London Gatwick to the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, via Madrid. From the USA, direct flights to Bolivia leave from Miami.

3. Can I visit Fish Island and the salt flats in the wet season?

Unfortunately not. If you travel in the rainy season of January to March you will likely have the unique experience of seeing the salt flats reflecting like the world’s biggest mirror. But a full tour to visit the island in the middle of the flats will not be possible in those wet conditions.

4 When is the best time to visit Bolivia?

Springtime (September-November) is the best time, as it is not too cold in the salt flats and desert, with far more sunshine and very little rain.

5. Is Bolivia safe to travel to?

Like many countries you visit as a tourist there are risks, particularly if you don’t speak the main language (Spanish). Compared to most South American countries, Bolivia is safe for travellers, although crime rates have increased slightly over the last five years. But I always say that it is important to be streetwise and not to carry all your valuables with you when out and about. I always recommend making electronic copies of your passport and travel tickets accessible online and on paper.

6. What is Bolivian food like? Will I have problems finding things to eat if I am vegetarian?

You will find that many meals, particularly at higher altitudes, are quite heavy and consist of meat, potatoes and rice, which helps because your body will burn more calories. Keeping to a strict vegetarian diet can sometimes be a difficult, as soups are often made from chicken or beef stock. And on some menus even salads identified as vegetarian might contain small pieces of ham or bacon. I always recommend not to eat raw vegetables to avoid stomach problems.

7. What currency should I travel with?

If you travel with US dollars many hotels and shops will accept them directly but are also easily changed in cities at good rates for the national currency, Bolivianos. You should also be able to use ATMs in the main cities to withdraw Bolivianos.

8. What is the weather like?

From 21 December to 20 March marks the Bolivian Summer, which will feel warm but with more frequent rainfall. Sometimes it will snow in the highlands and evenings can be cold.

From 21 March to 20 June is the Autumn season. This can be pleasant and sunny, but evenings are cold in the highlands

From 21 June to 20 September is Winter. Here temperatures get below freezing in the evenings, and at high altitude temperatures can reach -20 C in the salt flats and desert areas.

From 21 September to 20 December marks the Bolivian Spring, which is warm and pleasant, although it will still be cold at high altitude in the evenings.

9. What vaccinations do I need to have?

If you are travelling to the Amazon region you will need a yellow fever vaccination. I recommend you visit your GP, where a nurse will be able to provide the latest information for the vaccines required for the area you will be visiting.

10. Is Bolivia a part of the Amazon?

Yes, in fact a large part of Bolivia’s east is Amazon jungle, with many sections virgin rainforest.

Bibiana Garside is the founder of Latin American tour specialist HighLives, which offers fully organised tours and can help you tailor your experience to combine luxury, wellness, adventure, culture and fitness. Find out more online.