Getting around Bolivia is often unpleasant. Only about 5% of all the roads in the country are paved. Flying is a much better option, though expect delays and always reconfirm your reservations.
Traveling by plane is my preferred method of travel in Bolivia. Flights aren't too expensive ($40-$100) and tickets can be bought at short notice with no rise in price. Because the roads are so bad in Bolivia, it's really worthwhile to spend the extra money to fly. Additionally, if you take a plane instead of a bus, you will save at least 12 hours in travel time. Air travel has improved immensely, but it is imperative that you reconfirm your flight, or you might miss it (and the next departing flight might not leave for another 27 hr.!). After check-in, make sure you pay the airport tax, known as tasa. Also, always hold onto your boarding card to prove luggage ownership at the other end.
Aero Sur, Av. 16 de Julio 1616, La Paz (tel. 0102/2312-244; www.aerosur.com), is the largest airline in Bolivia, with a fleet of planes and routes to every major city. Other Bolivian airlines include Amaszonas (tel. 0102/2222-0848; www.amaszonas.com.bo), which flies to jungle areas such as Rurrenbaque and Trinidad); TAM (tel. 0102/2268-1101), which flies to major cities; and BOA (tel. 0102/4414-0873; www.boa.bo), which flies to La Paz, Sucre, and Santa Cruz. I must warn you that these flights are not for the faint of heart. Delays are common and landings are harrowing, as the thin air and short runways usually dictate a fast approach.
Traveling by bus in Bolivia has its charms, including economical bus fares and a chance to interact with "real" Bolivians. (You may even have the opportunity to sit next to live chickens.) But overall, buses are horribly slow and uncomfortable and have a terrible safety record. Most buses don't have bathrooms, and bus drivers don't like to stop along their route -- some 12-hour bus rides will only make two bathroom stops during the entire journey. Buses are often crowded because most drivers will pick up anyone who needs a ride, regardless of how much space is left on the bus. Passengers sit on the floor, and then more passengers sit on their laps. Also, beware of strapping your bags to the top of buses since you might lose them along the way. Keep in mind, too, that 95% of the roads in Bolivia are unpaved, which means that 160km (100-mile) journeys can take more than 12 hours. In the rainy season, from October through April, some roads may become impassable.
Overall, if you have a lot of time and not much money, the buses in Bolivia are perfectly adequate. If you're traveling on an overnight bus, I highly recommend splurging for the bus cama (buses where the seats recline enough to almost resemble a bed). Bus camas usually only cost Bs20 to Bs30 more than the regular bus. Most bus companies offer very similar services. One of the most reputable companies is Flota Copacabana (tel. 0102/2281-596). Always have loose change to tip the baggage handler if you're storing your baggage below. With the better companies, you will receive a security ticket to retrieve your luggage later. It is always wise to sit on the right of the bus to keep an eye on luggage as people board and alight during the journey. Be prepared to pay a small bus terminal tax as you board.
In Bolivia, there are 49,311km (30,573 miles) of highway. Guess how many of those are paved? A whopping 2,496km (1,548 miles). That's it. For the other 46,815km (29,025 miles), you're stuck on some of the bumpiest and most poorly maintained roads in the world. Additionally, there are no signs anywhere, so it's quite easy to get lost. If you decide to be adventurous and explore Bolivia by car, be sure to rent a 4X4. You'll definitely need it, especially in the rainy season (Oct-Apr), when most of the roads turn to mud.
Localiza Rent A Car (tel. 0800/2050; www.localiza.com) is one of the largest car-rental companies in the country. Hertz has offices in La Paz (tel. 0102/2772-929), Santa Cruz (tel. 0103/3336-010), and Cochabamba (tel. 0104/4450-081). Avis has offices at the La Paz (tel. 0102/2211-1870) and Santa Cruz (tel. 0103/3343-3939) airports. The rate for 4X4 vehicles ranges from Bs350 to Bs650 per day, including insurance. To rent a car in Bolivia, you must be at least 21 and have a valid driver's license and a passport.
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.