While we were at lake Titicaca in Copacabana at the Bolivian side, we never thought we would make it to La Paz. Our bus was stuck for hours. That was our first contact with this special tiny country surrounded by big neighbours. Meet Bolivia.
Bolivia was the second country I visited in South America during the Big Trip. Bolivia is for a large part on higher ground, only if you reach towards the jungle lowlands. In many cases, it is combined by travellers with Peru, or used as a small stop towards Chile. We spend 7.5 days over there, from hustling yet developing La Paz, to the silver mines of Potosi, ending in one of THE highlights of our South American adventure: the Uyuni Salt Flats!
Travel budget: important facts and figures
- I traveled around Bolivia with Ms. Rice, all expenses mentioned are for the two of us (unless per person is specified).
- We spent 8 days in Bolivia, entering the country by bus over land at lake Titicaca, and leaving to Chile by bus at border San Pedro de Atacama.
- I quote prices in Bolivian Bolivianos (BOB) as this is the currency of Bolivia. I’ve also added prices in EUR and USD. At the time of traveling (October 2016), the exchange rate was 1 EUR = 7.5 BOB or 1 USD = 7 BOB.
- In total we spent 3,852 BOB / 514 EUR / 550 USD in 8 days, which comes down to an average of 482 BOB / 64 EUR / 69 USD a day as a couple. Pretty nice!
- All expenses are included, also the bus journey to cross the border from Bolivia to Chile (100 BOB / 13 EUR / 14 USD) which technically is partially a cost in Chile.
Our five Expense categories
1. Accommodation: 9% of daily costs
2. Transportation: 15% of daily costs
3. Food & Drinks: 15% of daily costs
4. Activities: 55% of daily costs
5. Other: 6% of daily costs
Coming up, the details!.
1. Cost of accommodation
Bolivia was the first time we experienced a Servas Homestay. We could stay at a lovely family for 2 nights in La Paz. Even though we paid them a small dinner and got some groceries, it still saved us some money. We also took 1 overnight bus, spend 2 nights in a hostel, whereas the last 2 nights were part of our package tour at Salar de Uyuni.
Therefore, our accommodation costs are very low for Bolivia. All of this for a total of 362 BOB / 48 EUR / 52 USD (2 nights), an average price per night being 181 BOB / 24 EUR / 26 USD for 2 persons. There are always cheaper possibilities, but as a couple, you can estimate the nightly cost (private room in hostel with shower) at around 15-25 EUR/USD. We were extremely grateful for being part of the Servas Community, it’s truly an extra adventure during our trip. A great way to get to know and get close to Bolivians.
2. Transportation costs
When you travel in South America, you’re bound to spend a lot of time (and money) on long-distance buses. After several overnight buses in Peru, Bolivia was quite similar.
Total transportation costs were 575 BOB / 76 EUR / 82 USD, on average 72 BOB / 9 EUR / 10 USD a day as a travel couple. This includes one long distance overnight bus to Potosi, one 5h day bus to Uyuni, a day trip by shared car to Sucre, one transfer to and beyond the Chilean border and some smaller city buses or cable car in La Paz. We even experienced sitting in the wrong bus, then chasing the correct bus by taxi! That’s Bolivia 🙂 Don’t expect Peruvian standards though. Everything’s cheaper, but also poorer quality and zero service (except for the taxi chase). Overall, we never felt anything bad about safety, just be prepared for people to randomly get on and off the bus (we still don’t understand their system).
3. Cost of food & drinks
In total we spent 573 BOB / 76 EUR / 82 USD on food and drinks, on average 71 BOB / 9 EUR / 10 USD a day as a travel couple. Not bad at all! We did not cook ourselves that often in Bolivia. Why? There are plenty of local street food stalls / small restaurants available with a set menu for around 10 PEN (2,5 EUR / 3 USD). Just expect a lot of chicken 🙂 Like a lot. Again.
While we were in Potosi, we did one splurge and went to eat Western style food (170 BOB / 22 EUR / 25 USD for 2 peeps). Our last days in Salar de Uyuni, the food was also included in the tour package. You only need to add some extra BOBs for drinks (cola, beers).
Too bad guys. I did some research, but I did not find anything interesting in Bolivia. Maybe some stuff will pop up in the near future, but the few things that I had, still did not meet great quality standards. Don’t worry, plenty to eat and do in Bolivia beyond craft beers !
4. Cost of activities
Total costs for activities came to 2,110 BOB / 281 EUR / 300 USD, a daily average of 264 BOB / 35 EUR / 38 USD.
Which activities did we do for 281 EUR / 300 USD as a travel couple?
Let’s start with the small ones, then finish off with a blast !
- Luna Valley – La Paz: first the context. We were planning to do an really active adventure: cycling down the Death road, a 65km downhill track. However, Bolivian farmers were protesting for several days, so the activity got cancelled. Nevertheless, we visited the Luna Valley just outside of La Paz city centre. It’s an interesting rock formation, where you can walk around for like 1 hour. Entrance: 15 BOB per person (2 EUR/USD). Oh yeah, we also experienced the “money on a bus seat trick” on our way back. Bolivia 🙂
- Silver mine tour – Potosi. Potosi is not the most beautiful city of Bolivia, yet on a very high altitude (above 4,000m !). There’s a small colonial centre, yet most people will do a Silver Mine tour. There are a few tour companies, not all of them are very genuine. We followed the recommendation of our hostel, and had a lot of fun! Well, Ms. Rice did. I had my only SICK day of the entire Big Trip, not entering the mine with a shaky stomach. Most tours are around 90 BOB (12 EUR/ 13 USD), which includes transport, the guide and around 1h inside the mine.
We also went on a day trip from Potosi to colonial city Sucré. It’s small, but very nice to walk around all the white buildings.
- Salt Flats Tour – Salar de Uyuni: yes, the big one. It’s THE activity (almost) everyone will come for. And no kidding: it one was of our highlights in South America. Driving around, walking around this huge salt flat in Uyuni is breathtaking. With lots of funny pictures and videos of course. But beyond that, the National Park is even more fun: lots of coloured lakes, volcanoes, geysers and wildlife to spot (Flamencos). DONT MISS THIS.
There are plenty of Tour operators (DIY is impossible), we opted for the 3 day tour with transfer to San Pedro de Atacama: 800 BOB / 105 EUR / 115 USD per person, including driver, food, 2 nights accommodation. You only need to add another 150 BOB / 20 EUR / 22 USD per person for entrance fee to the National Park on day 2.
5. Other costs
Other costs typically holds the stuff I can’t really categorise in any of the 4 mentioned above. Some souvenirs, post cards, crap, …, you know, those kind of things. In total, these topped at 233 BOB / 31 EUR / 33 USD:
- Bribes: well, sort of corruption fee. The officers at the Bolivian/Chilean border asked for 15 BOB per person. No questions asked, or no passport stamp 🙂
- Flag souvenirs: I wanted to put some mini flags on my backpack, and Bolivia seemed to have all 13 countries for a very fair price: 45 BOB in total.
- Gifts during mining tour: it’s not included in the tour, nor mandatory. But it’s nice to buy some small gifts for the mining guys: cigarettes, water, cocoa leaves, etc. 20 BOB per person
So that’s pretty much it! We did not know what to expect from Bolivia, but everything worked out perfectly. Maybe just a pity we could not do the Camino de la Muerte bike ride: good reason to go back one day! I think budget wise we kept things quite well under control. You can’t really go much lower on the Salar de Uyuni tour. You could lower the budget a bit on rooms or food. 30 USD per day per person is definitely possible !
So go to Bolivia, live on high altitude, indulge in the Inca culture, put on your shades at the Salt Flats in Uyuni, and … don’t forget to eat some chicken, ha!
Did you go to Bolivia? Which adventures did you like? Share your stories with us!