Bolivia

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Monday, 25 August 2014.   This advice contains new information under Safety and security: civil unrest/political tension (ongoing demonstrations in Uyuni). We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Bolivia because of ongoing political and social tensions and the risk of serious crime.

Bolivia overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Bolivia because of ongoing political and social tensions and the risk of serious crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • The political situation in Bolivia remains unpredictable. There is an ongoing risk of civil unrest, including roadblocks, violent protests and strikes. We advise you not to cross roadblocks set up by protesters.
  • Demonstrations, violent protests and strikes can occur at any time and may seriously affect domestic and international travel plans without notice. You should remain alert and avoid large crowds which have the potential to turn violent. Due to ongoing demonstrations, we advise you to seek local advice before travelling to or from Uyuni. See the Safety and security: civil unrest/political tension section for further details.
  • Travellers who ascend to altitudes greater than 2500m are at risk of developing altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can be life threatening and can affect anyone, including the physically fit. Many areas of Bolivia, including La Paz, Salar de Uyuni and Lake Titicaca are above 2500m. For more information, see the Health section.
  • See also our general advice for business travellers.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Bolivia for the most up to date information.

Children (under 18) who are Australian/Bolivian dual nationals, and are entering Bolivia alone, are required upon entry into the country to present their birth certificate and written consent from both parents, translated into Spanish and certified by the nearest Bolivian embassy or consulate.

Children (under 18) who are Australian/Bolivian dual nationals or residents of Bolivia and who are departing Bolivia alone, with one parent or with a third party must obtain a travel permit from the Juzgado del Menor (Children’s Court). For more information please contact the Bolivian Immigration Service at Avenida Camacho entre Calles Loayza y Bueno, La Paz, Bolivia: Telephone (591-2) 211 – 0960.

Bolivia is listed by the World Health Organization as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a serious and potentially fatal disease preventable by vaccination. We strongly recommend that all travellers be vaccinated for yellow fever before travelling to Bolivia (see Health section). As the quarantine requirements for yellow fever vaccination differ between countries, we recommend that you check the yellow fever entry requirements for all countries you intend to enter or transit by contacting their foreign missions in Australia. Some airlines may require passengers to present a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate before being allowed to board flights out of the country. For more information about yellow fever, including Australian re-entry requirements, see the Department of Health website.

If you are travelling to Bolivia through the United States of America, or if you are transiting in Honolulu or other US points of entry, you are required to meet US entry/transit requirements. Make sure you check with your nearest Embassy or Consulate of the United States your visa requirements well in advance of your travel. You should also read our travel advice for the United States of America.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information on terrorism and our General advice to Australian travellers for tips on staying safe overseas.

Civil unrest/political tension

The political situation in Bolivia remains unpredictable. There is an ongoing risk of civil unrest, including roadblocks, violent protests and strikes. Travellers should avoid all protests as they have the potential to quickly turn violent. The use of tear gas and force to control disturbances is common.

Where roadblocks are set up by protestors we advise you not to cross them, even if they appear unattended, as it may result in confrontation or the threat of violence.

Blockades and closures associated with strikes and demonstrations can seriously affect travel across Bolivia, including at airports and bus stations. International and domestic travel can be disrupted without notice, particularly to Oruyo, Uyuni and Santa Cruz.

Demonstrations in Uyuni are ongoing, and travel to and from the area can be difficult and expensive. We advise you to seek local advice before travelling to or from Uyuni.

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in the coca growing areas of Chapare (between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba) and the Yungas region northeast of La Paz, because of the possibility of confrontations associated with anti-narcotics activities.

Crime

Petty theft is common, particularly in tourist areas and on buses and in bus stations. You should exercise a high degree of caution if using public transport and do not leave your bags unattended at any time.

Thieves often work in teams using various forms of distraction. Criminals are also known to pose as police officers. Be aware that under Bolivian law, police need a written order or warrant to detain or search a suspect.

Food and drink spiking also occurs, so you should never leave your food or drink unattended.

Violent crime against foreigners, including armed robbery and assault, has increased, particularly in tourist areas and on public transport in the cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz.

'Express kidnappings', where victims are forced to withdraw funds from ATMs to secure their release, have occurred. Overland border points with Chile and Peru such as Copacabana and Desaguadero are particularly vulnerable.

Beware of hailing taxis off the street. Assaults and robberies in shared, unmarked and radio taxis are becoming more common. Use only well-known radio taxi companies that can easily be identified by the telephone number prominently displayed on the vehicle's roof. Before starting your journey, note the taxi's registration number and telephone number.

Hikers travelling without a guide have been robbed and assaulted on the Inca trails and in Rurrenabaque. Using an experienced, reputable tour guide may reduce these risks.

In Cochabamba, avoid Coronilla Hill located behind the main bus terminal, as assaults and robberies have been reported.

Money and valuables

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

Review the general advice to Australian travellers for further information on being safe and prepared abroad.

Local travel

Public transport can be unsafe, and you should exercise a high degree of caution when travelling on buses, trains and in taxis.

You are required to carry photographic identification at all times. A photocopy of your passport is acceptable.

Driving in rural areas of Bolivia may be hazardous as roads and vehicles are often poorly maintained. Rural roads often lack adequate lighting and signage. Drivers should maintain caution, particularly at night, as roads are often shared with pedestrians and livestock. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Drug traffickers and other criminals in the Bolivian/Brazilian border region present a serious danger to travellers crossing the border.

The safety standards that you might expect of tour operators are not always met, especially when undertaking adventure sports. Sufficient life jackets for boats, rafts and kayaks are not always provided. Check operators' credentials and safety equipment beforehand and ensure your travel insurance policy covers your planned activities. Don’t be afraid to ask about or insist on minimal safety requirements with tour operators.

Uyuni Salt Plains: During winter and early spring, tours to the Uyuni salt plains can run one or two days late as heavy snowfalls and melting snow can cause difficult driving conditions and blocked roads. Check the reputations of companies offering tours to Uyuni, as the quality of the drivers and vehicles can vary greatly. Australians are advised to choose a company that operates with CB radio communications and/or satellite telephones for emergencies, as mobile phone coverage is very limited.

Yungas and Beni: During the wet season (November to March), proceed with caution when travelling by road to Yungas and Beni due to the possibility of flooding and landslides.

Airline safety

In November 2013, a plane crash at Riberalta airport killed 8 and injured 10 people. You should carefully consider the credentials of domestic airlines and the capacity of regional airports to deal with emergencies when choosing to take domestic flights in Bolivia.

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See instead the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Bolivia.

Please also refer to our general air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Bolivia, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Research local laws before travelling.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

It is illegal to drive if your blood alcohol level is above zero.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails.

While homosexual activities are not illegal in Bolivia, homosexuality is not widely accepted in Bolivian society. See our LGBTI travellers page.

It is illegal to remove any item that the Bolivian government considers to be a national treasure (i.e. pre-Columbian artefacts, certain historical paintings, items of Spanish colonial architecture and history, some native textiles, and certain flora, fauna and fossils). Excavation or collection of fossils without prior written authorisation is also illegal.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

Approaches by foreigners taking photographs have been misunderstood, particularly in remote areas. You should seek permission from an adult before taking photographs of people, particularly children.

Information for dual nationals

Australian/Bolivian dual national males over 18 years of age are required to complete Bolivian military service. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Bolivia for the most up to date information.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

The standard of medical facilities provided by private hospitals in Bolivia's major cities is reasonable. Outside of major cities, however, facilities can be very limited. Treatment at private clinics and hospitals is expensive. Hospitals often require up-front payment or confirmation of medical insurance prior to commencing treatment, including for emergency care. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation, at considerable cost, may be necessary. Travellers who require medical evacuation from Bolivia often face difficulties, as many air ambulance services cannot fly into La Paz due to the high altitude.

Bolivia is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which is preventable by vaccination. We strongly recommend that you are vaccinated against yellow fever before travelling to Bolivia. See the Entry and Exit section for important information about vaccination certificate requirements. For more information about yellow fever, see the Department of Health website

Malaria and dengue fever occur in areas below 2500 metres. For information on dengue fever, see the World Health Organisation's factsheet.Other insect-borne diseases, including Chagas' disease, also occur. You should consider taking prophylaxis against malaria and take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing, and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases (including typhoid, hepatitis, tuberculosis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Travellers who ascend to altitudes greater than 2500m, particularly if the ascent is rapid, or who at higher altitudes make further rapid ascents, are at risk of developing altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can be life threatening and can affect anyone, even the physically fit. Those more at risk include people who have had altitude sickness before, who exercise or drink alcohol before adjusting (acclimatising) to the altitude, or who have health problems that affect breathing. If you plan to travel to high altitude areas, you should see your doctor prior to travel and get advice specific to you and your situation. Many areas of Bolivia, including La Paz (3660m), Salar de Uyuni (3650m), and Lake Titicaca (3820m), are above 2500m.

Where to get help

Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.

The Bolivian government has a tourist police number with English speaking operators to assist tourists who encounter problems in Bolivia. The contact number is: 222 5016 (outside La Paz 02 222 5016).

The national emergency number is 110 for police, and 118 for ambulance.

If the matter relates to complaints about tourism services or products, contact the service provider directly.

The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and can’t do to assist Australians overseas. Australia has a Consulate in La Paz headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance which does not include the issue of Australian passports. You can obtain full consular assistance from the Australian Embassy in Peru.

Australian Embassy, Lima

Avenida La Paz 1049, 10th Floor
Miraflores, Lima, 18, Peru
Telephone: (+51 1) 630 0500
Facsimile: (+51 1) 630 0520
E-mail: consular.lima@dfat.gov.au
Website: www.peru.embassy.gov.au
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm

Australian Consulate, La Paz

Av. Arce #2081
Edificio Montevideo
Mezanine, Oficina #2
La Paz, Bolivia
Telephone: (591 2) 297 1339
Mobile: (591) 7676 8787
Email: ausconsbolivia@acelerate.com, cristinafernandezm@gmail.com
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 8:30am to 12:30pm

See the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you are travelling to Bolivia, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The rainy season is from November to March. Landslides in mountainous areas, impassable roads and flooding are a regular occurrence and can make road travel extremely difficult. In the event of severe flooding and landslides, transport may be disrupted and airports can be closed. Travellers should keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly. If you plan to travel to an affected area, you should monitor local media, confirm your transport arrangements and follow the advice of local authorities

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. In the event of a natural disaster, follow the advice of local authorities.

Additional Resources

For additional general and economic information to assist travelling in this country, see the following links:



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.