Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
Isla del Sol
The Island of the Sun is the legendary Inca creation site and is the birthplace of the sun in Inca mythology. It was here that the bearded white god Viracocha and the first Incas, Manco Capac and his sister-wife Mama Huaca (or Mama Ocllo), made their mystical appearances.
With a population of around 5,000, Isla del Sol is dotted with several villages, of which Yumani and Cha'llapampa are the largest. The island's Inca ruins include Pilko Kaina at the southern end and the Chincana complex in the north, which is the site of the sacred rock where the Inca creation legend began. At Cha'llapampa, there's a museum with gold artifacts from the underwater excavations near Isla Koa, north of Isla del Sol. The Museo Templo de Sol near Cha'lla features a collection of all things Aymara, one of Bolivia's largest indigenous groups.
Parque Nacional Madidi
The remarkable Río Madidi watershed is the most biodiverse of the earth's protected regions. The most ecologically sound section is found within the Parque Nacional Madidi, which encompasses a huge range of wildlife habitats, from torrid rain forests to Andean glaciers at 6000m (19,685ft).
Researchers have observed over 1000 bird species here - 10% of the world's known avian species.
Populated stretches along the Río Tuichi remain territorio comunitario original, which allows indigenous people to continue with their traditional practices: hunting, fishing and using other forest resources. So far, the Quechua, Araona and Tacana communities are coexisting successfully with the park.
If you are seriously adventurous and self-sufficient you can visit the park's fringes independently, but must register with the Sernap (Bolivia's national park service) office in San Buenaventura and must be accompanied by an authorized guide. Otherwise, arrange a trip with one of the ecotourism companies in Rurrenabaque.
Salar de Uyuni
The world's largest salt flat sits at a lofty 3653m (11,985ft) and blankets an amazing 12,000 sq km (4633 sq mi). It was part of a prehistoric salt lake, Lago Minchín, which once covered most of southwest Bolivia. When it dried up, it left a couple of seasonal puddles and several salt pans, including the Salar de Uyuni. The savage beauty of this vast salt desert makes it one of South America's most awe-inspiring spectacles.
From strange islands in a sea of blindingly bright salt to delicately colored mineral lakes in the Andean mountains, this is an unforgettable Bolivian landscape.
However, travellers should take great care in choosing which tour operator to go with when visiting the salt flats. Fatal accidents due to unsafe vehicles and drivers are not unheard of. Make sure your vehicles have seatbelts, emergency radio transmitters and first aid equipment, and don't shy from asking about guides' levels of training and experience. Of course, there are also many reputable tour operators in the area who will ensure your experience of this natural wonder is both memorable and safe.
When to go?
Travelers will encounter just about every climatic zone in Bolivia, from stifling humidity and heat to arctic cold. Summer (November to April) is the rainy season, when overland transportation becomes difficult if not impossible in some areas. In the lowlands it can be utterly miserable, with mud, high humidity, biting insects and relentless tropical downpours. The most popular, and arguably most comfortable, time for exploring the whole country is during winter (May to October) with its dry, clear days. This is also the best season for climbing.
The high tourist season falls between late June and early September, due not only to climatic factors, but the timing of European and North American summer vacations and the fact that it's also Bolivia's major fiesta season. Both international visitors and lots of South Americans are traveling during this period, so prices are generally higher than during the rest of the year.
Travel Visa Overview
Passports must be valid for six months beyond the date of entry. Entry or exit stamps are free, and attempts at charging should be met with polite refusal; ask for a receipt if the issue is pressed.
Bolivian visa requirements can be arbitrarily changed and interpreted. Regulations, including entry stays, are likely to change. Each Bolivian consulate and border crossing may have its own entry requirements, procedures and idiosyncrasies.
Citizens of most South American and Western European countries can get a tourist card on entry for stays up to 90 days, depending on the nationality. Citizens of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are granted 30 days while citizens of Israel are granted 90 days. In January 2007, the Morales government announced that from March 2007 all US citizens visiting Bolivia would require a visa. Check with the Bolivian embassy (www.bolivia-usa.org) for the latest.
Visas are issued by Bolivian consular representatives, including those in neighboring South American countries. Costs vary according to the consulate and the nationality of the applicant. See the website of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto (Bolivian Ministry of Exterior Relations & Culture; www.rree.gov.bo) for a complete list of overseas representatives and current regulations.
In addition to a valid passport and visa, citizens of many Communist, African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries require 'official permission' from the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs before a visa will be issued. Anyone coming from a yellow-fever infected area needs a vaccination certificate to enter Bolivia. Those entering some neighboring countries, including Brazil, from Bolivia, are also required to have proof of a yellow-fever vaccination. If necessary, a jab can often be administered at the border.
European plug with two circular metal pins
plug with two parallel flat blades
Yellow fever is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. There is an effective vaccine against yellow fever, so if you have been immunized, you can basically rule this disease out. Symptoms of yellow fever range from a mild fever which resolves over a few days to more serious forms with fever, headache, muscle pains, abdominal pain and vomiting. This can progress to bleeding, shock and liver and kidney failure. The liver failure causes jaundice, or yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes - hence the name. There's no specific treatment but you should seek medical help urgently if you think you have yellow fever.
A group of parasitic diseases transmitted by sandfly bites, leishmaniasis is found in some parts of South America. Cutaneous leishmaniasis affects the skin tissue, causing ulceration and disfigurement. Visceral leishmaniasis affects the internal organs. Seek medical advice as laboratory testing is required for diagnosis and correct treatment. Avoiding sandfly bites is the best precaution. Bites are usually painless, itchy and are yet another reason to cover up and apply repellent.
HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organizations and services for HIV-positive folk and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com.
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are traveling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you.
If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested once you return home as you can harbor malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travelers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-colored clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave. Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own.
This is a fatal viral infection. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution.
Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death.
This infection is caused by a germ that lives in soil and in the feces of horses and other animals. It enters the body via breaks in the skin, so the best prevention is to clean all wounds promptly and thoroughly with an antiseptic. Use antibiotics if the wound becomes hot or pus-filled, or throbs. The first symptom may be discomfort in swallowing, or stiffening of the jaw and neck; this is followed by painful convulsions of the jaw and whole body. The disease can be fatal, but is preventable with vaccination.
Also known as enteric fever, typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease.
The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhea and stomach pains.
You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity.
Seek medical help for any fever (38°C/100°F and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating.
Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment.
Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored feces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes.
There are 6 known types of viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D, E and G. G is not dangerous. A and E are passed on by the fecal-oral route of transmission; there is a vaccine. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. A and E cause an acute illness, but you will recover fully from it.
B and D are passed on via blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluids. They can be passed on by close contact, sexual contact, and blood-to-blood contact. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. There is a vaccine.
Hepatitis C is only passed on from blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccine.
Unlike the malaria mosquito, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day, and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings.
Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever. Severe complications do sometimes occur.
You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may be infected. A blood test can indicate the possibility of the fever. There is no specific treatment. Aspirin should be avoided, as it increases the risk of hemorrhaging. There is no vaccine against dengue fever.
This diarrheal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae . It's transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage.
Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure.
The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It's characteristically described as 'rice water' diarrhea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario - only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form.
It's a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don't succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment.
You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera.
Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time.
This parasitic disease is transmitted by the reduvid bug. It infests crevices and palm fronds, often lives in thatched roofs and comes out at night. A hard, violet-colored swelling appears at the bite site in about a week. The disease is treatable in the early stages, and the body usually overcomes it unaided, but it can eventually be fatal if it goes untreated. Avoid sleeping in thatched-roof huts, or use a mosquito net, insecticides and repellents and check for hidden insects.
In the thinner atmosphere above 3000m (9842ft), or even lower in some cases, lack of oxygen causes many individuals to suffer headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, physical weakness and other symptoms that can lead to very serious consequences, especially if combined with heat exhaustion, sunburn or hypothermia. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can affect anyone and care should be taken to avoid ascending mountain peaks above 3000m too quickly. Sleep at a lower altitude than the greatest height reached during the day, if possible.
Bartonellosis (Oroya fever) is carried by sandflies in the arid river valleys on the western slopes of the Andes in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador between altitudes of 800m (2625ft) and 3000m (9843ft). (Curiously, it's not found anywhere else in the world.) The chief symptoms are fever and severe body pains. Complications may include marked anemia, enlargement of the liver and spleen, and sometimes death. The drug of choice is chloramphenicol, though doxycycline is also effective.
Bolivian Hemorrhagic Fever
Bolivian hemorrhagic fever has been reported from the Beni Department in the northeastern part of the country. The causative organism, known as Machupo virus, is thought to be acquired by exposure to rodents.
Most of Bolivia lies as near to the equator as Tahiti or Hawaii, but its elevation and unprotected expanses result in unpredictable weather. The two poles of climatic extremes are Puerto Suárez with its overwhelming heat, and Uyuni for its icy, cold winds. But there are no absolutes; at times you can sunbathe in Uyuni and freeze in Puerto Suárez.
Knowing what to pack depends not so much on when you go but how high you go. Ascending a whopping 3657m (12,000ft) to a town like La Paz will mean rugging up year-round, with maximum temperatures only nudging the 20°C (68°F) mark and dropping to the low single digits at night. Visit the Bolivian lowlands, however, and you'll be peeling off the layers, with average monthly highs sitting around 30°C (86°F). In both cases, the rain is generally less in the middle months, especially July; November to March at low altitudes are downright soaking.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Centure History
Civilization in the Bolivian Andes is thought to stretch back some 21,000 years. The most influential Pre-Columbian cultures were the Tiahuanaco, who were based around Lake Titicaca and who ruled the region between AD 600-1200, and the Incas, who headed a vast empire comprising most of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and northern Chile.
The Spanish conquest of the country began in 1531 under Francisco Pizarro. The conquistadors made rapid progress, exploiting the trust (and later the disunity) of the Indians to secure the territory that within two years became known as Alto Peru. In 1544, deposits of silver were discovered at Potosí. The wealth generated by this find underwrote the Spanish economy (and the extravagance of its monarchs) for more than two centuries. However, conditions for the mine workers were appalling, with most of the enslaved Indians and Africans dying within a few years of working there.
The spur toward achieving independence from the inefficient Spanish colonial administration finally came in the form of Simón Bolívar's lieutenant Antonio José de Sucre, who waged the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824. Bolivia was formally declared a republic the following year.
Bolivia's territory had always been coveted by its neighbors, encompassing as it did over 2 million sq km (780,000 sq mi). Chile's desire for more land first bore fruit in the War of the Pacific, which it fought with Bolivia between 1879 and 1884. Chile triumphed, securing 850km (527mi) of coastline and robbing Bolivia of the port of Antofagasta, leaving the country landlocked. Soon after, Peru, Brazil and Argentina also began hacking away at Bolivia's borders.
In 1932, a border dispute with Paraguay over oil deposits in the Chaco region futher stripped Bolivia of land. The ensuing Chaco War (1932-35) served to foment civil unrest within the country, promulgating reformist associations and leading to a series of coups by reform-minded military leaders.
Perhaps the most significant development during this time was the formation of the populist Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR). In 1951, the MNR, under the leadership of Víctor Paz Estenssoro, prevailed in the general elections but was stymied by a last-minute coup. This provoked a popular armed revolt which became known as the April Revolution of 1952. The military was subsequently defeated and Paz Estenssoro was brought back.
In 1964, a military junta headed by General René Barrientos overthrew the MNR. A long period of instability followed, characterized by constantly changing regimes and a brief moment in the world spotlight when Ernesto 'Che' Guevara mounted an unsuccessful rebellion in 1966-67. This period ended with the election of the leftist civilian Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), under Dr Hernán Siles Zuazo, in 1982. Three years later, Zuazo was defeated by the long-lived Paz Estenssoro, who immediately sought to curb the stratospheric inflation levels (at one point reaching 35,000% annually) and implemented austerity measures.
Since the election of Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, in December 2005, whirlwind changes occur on a daily basis. In July 2006, voters elected the National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the country's constitution. As of November 2006, the country was in an uproar over whether changes to the constitution should be decided via a simple majority or a two-thirds vote.
Many middle- and upper-class Bolivians are wary of Morales, his anticapitalist stance and socialist ideologies, and critical about the inexperience of his ministers. However, his demand for indigenous equality after centuries of domination by Spanish descendants is very popular. Most Bolivians are giving Morales a chance, at least until the outcome of the Constituent Assembly in 2007.
Internally, Morales is fending off demands by the Santa Cruz department for autonomy. At the time of writing, furthermore, 16 miners had been killed after rival mining groups fought over concession rights. And Chile is still not forgiven for having usurped Bolivia's ocean access. On a positive note, in 2005 the IMF agreed to write off Bolivia's debt of 120 million US dollars. Cultural revolution or impending civil war? As the Bolivians themselves say, vamos a ver (let's see)...
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