There are virtually no government-sponsored tourist offices outside Bolivia. The U.S.-based Embassy of Bolivia has a moderately useful website, www.bolivia-usa.org. For general travel information, you can also log onto www.boliviaweb.com or www.boliviabella.com.
For more specific travel-related information, your best bet is to contact travel agencies that specialize in trips to Bolivia. Some of the best include:
- Andean Summits, Aranzaes 2974, Sopachi, La Paz (tel. 0102/2422-106; fax 0102/2413-273; www.andeansummits.com). This Bolivia-based company specializes in active vacation packages, including sea-kayaking trips in Lake Titicaca and treks up Huayna Potosí.
- Crillon Tours, 1450 S. Bayshore Dr., Suite 815, Miami, FL 33131 (tel. 888/TITICACA [848-4222] or 305/358-5353; www.titicaca.com). Based in Miami, this company has a huge infrastructure in Bolivia and is the owner of several fantastic hotels in the Lake Titicaca area.
- Explore Bolivia, Inc., 2510 N. 47th St., Suite 207, Boulder, CO 80301 (tel. 877/708-8810 or 303/545-5728; www.explorebolivia.com). This operation specializes in kayaking, trekking, and mountain-climbing packages.
- Ruta Verde, Calle 21 de Mayo 318, P.O. Box 4030, Santa Cruz de la Sierra (tel. 0103/339-6470; www.rutaverdebolivia.com). This Dutch-owned operator runs highly regarded trips to off-the-beaten-track locations all over Bolivia, like Madidi National Park, the Jesuit missions near Santa Cruz, Amboro National Park, Noell Kempf Mercado National Park, and the Che Guevara trail.
In Bolivia -- Although the Viceministerio de Turismo has an office in La Paz (tel. 02/2358-213), the staff doesn't speak English, and the only resources on hand are some promotional brochures. You're much better off heading to the visitor information office on Plaza del Estudiante, where you can buy regional maps.
Telephone Dialing Info at a Glance
- To place a call from your home country to Bolivia, dial the international access code (011 in the U.S. and Canada, 0011 in Australia, 0170 in New Zealand, 00 in the U.K.) plus the country code (591), plus the Bolivian area code minus the 010 (for example, La Paz 2, Santa Cruz 3, Cochabamba 4, Sucre 464, Potosí 262, Copacabana 2862), followed by the number. For example, a call from the United States to La Paz would be 011+591+2+0000+000.
- To place a call within Bolivia, you must use area codes if you're calling from one department (administrative district) to another. Note that for all calls within the country, area codes are preceded by 010 (for example, La Paz 0102, Santa Cruz 0103, Cochabamba 0104, Sucre 010464, Potosí 010262, Copacabana 0102862).
- To place a direct international call from Bolivia, dial the international access code (00), plus the country code of the place you are dialing, plus the area code and the local number.
- To reach an international long-distance operator, dial tel. 35-67-00. Major long-distance company access codes are as follows: AT&T tel. 0800-1111; Bell Canada tel. 0800-0101; British Telecom tel. 0800-0044; MCI tel. 0800-2222; Sprint tel. 0800-3333.
The Bolivian unit of currency is the boliviano (designated throughout this book as Bs). Besides coins with values of 1 and 2 bolivianos, all the currency is paper, in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. It's very hard to make change, especially for a Bs100 note. If you are retrieving money from an ATM, be sure to request a denomination ending in 50. Restaurants seem to be the only places in the country capable of changing large bills.
Currency Exchange & Rates -- At press time, the boliviano was trading at a rate of Bs707 to $1. The boliviano has been relatively stable for the past few years. You should note, however, that Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, and it's hard to predict what will happen in the future.
When exchanging foreign currency in Bolivia, it's best to head to a casa de cambio (money-exchange house). Some banks will exchange American dollars and British pounds, but the lines are often long and the process can be chaotic. Note: U.S. dollars are widely accepted throughout Bolivia, especially at hotels and restaurants. All hotel rates, as well as some tours and airline fares, are quoted in U.S. dollars.
ATMs -- ATMs are ubiquitous in Bolivia, except in small towns such as Coroico, Sorata, and Copacabana. Major banks include Banco Santa Cruz and Banco de Crédito; there are Citibank branches in both La Paz and Santa Cruz. Most ATMs accept cards on the Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587) networks; however, they can't deal with PINs that are more than four digits. Before you go to Bolivia, make sure that your PIN fits the bill.
Traveler's Checks -- Citibank will exchange its own traveler's checks. But you can't change American Express traveler's checks at the American Express offices in Bolivia (sounds strange, but it's true). If you're traveling with traveler's checks, your best bet is to cash them at a casa de cambio. Most upscale hotels and restaurants in Bolivia will accept traveler's checks. For lost American Express traveler's checks, you must call collect to the United States at tel. 801/964-6665.
Credit Cards -- MasterCard and Visa are accepted almost everywhere in Bolivia. American Express is less common, but it's still widely accepted. To report a lost or stolen MasterCard, call tel. 0800-0172; for Visa, call tel. 0800-0188; for American Express, call tel. 800/327-1267 (via an AT&T operator).
When to Go
Peak Season & Climate -- The peak season for travelers in Bolivia is mid-June through early September, but this is only because most travelers come here when it's summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Ironically, this is the coldest time of year in Bolivia. Fortunately, it's also the dry season.
In the high plateau areas of Bolivia -- La Paz, Lake Titicaca, and Potosí -- it's generally always cold. The weather is only mildly more pleasant in the off season. La Paz has an average daytime high of 57°F (14°C) and an average nighttime low of 34°F (1°C). Santa Cruz has a tropical climate, although it can get chilly from June through September. Cochabamba has a pleasant springlike climate year-round.
Public Holidays -- Each city in Bolivia celebrates its own independence day, which always seems to correspond with a local festival. La Paz's independence day is July 16. The entire world seems to converge on Sucre on August 6, Bolivia's official independence day. In small towns throughout the country, you'll find colorful indigenous festivals on or near the summer solstice (June 21). National holidays include New Year's Day (Jan 1), Carnaval (dates vary), Good Friday, Labor Day (May 1), Corpus Christi (dates vary; usually in mid-June), Independence Day (Aug 6), All Saints' Day (Nov 1), and Christmas (Dec 25).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.