Top Five Tips for Surviving Bolivia

1. Bring your own TP

For most folk, it may seem strange to always carry a roll of toilet paper in your jacket pocket. But like a good boy scout, we found it to be more than just a good practice but a necessity to always be prepared in Bolivia. Chances are that restaurant you’re dining at in Potosi will not be providing you with the most basic of bathroom commodities. That’s right – here in Bolivia TP is a luxury, one that most people seem to live without. Hostels, restaurants, museums and the like tend to provide you with a sink, toilet, but alas no roll of toilet paper. Once we succumbed to the general notion we were responsible for our own TP, we made sure we were always packing. With that said, bring your own soap too!

After enjoying local fare such as these delicious soups, TP was definitely needed. ASAP.

The Bolivia Lonely Planet may be a good substitute for TP in desperate times

2. The more money, the better

On more than one occasion we found ourselves penniless in Bolivia, either that or scrounging through every pocket for one more Boliviano to cover a bill. In La Paz, Sucre and other main cities you won’t have an issue running down to the corner ATM to take out a little extra cash. But if you find yourselves in the highlands or even touristy Tupiza chances are once you’ve run out of money, you’re in trouble. Taking out more than you need is your best bet or you’ll be scrubbing dishes in the back of a ramshackle restaurant just for a plate of food.

Despite our happy faces, we were unsure whether we would be able to pay the bill for this breakfast in Tupiza

Devin counting out his change to pay the little innkeeper at a hostel in Samaipata

3. Don’t forget your parka

But it’s South America, you say. It’s always hot! Think again, dear reader. Bolivia is high and the higher you get, the chillier the weather. Plus, most Bolivian lodgings aren’t equipped with heating. You’ll find yourself layering every piece of clothing you have just to maintain your core temperature. If you are interested in salvaging a few fingers and toes after your Bolivian adventure, pack mittens and wool socks. Alpaca gear is plentiful in most spots so if you want to pack light, make sure you hit up some artesian markets to stock up on alpaca socks, leg warmers, gloves, toques and other fashionable alpaca accessories.

Freezing cold and waiting to be fed on our Salt Flats tour. Don't be fooled, Bolivian winters are snowy.

Even with the bitterly cold weather, we still had fun because we were prepared

4. Don’t play favorites with your belongings, chances are they will disappear

So there was this shirt. It wasn’t much, a hand-me-down to be precise. But I loved it, treasured it really. But now Bolivia has it. I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but just one day my all time favorite travel shirt was gone. In the entire several months of traveling, I had managed not to lose one possession but the moment we stepped foot in Bolivia, the most random of our belongings started to disappear. Shirts, a camera, water bottles, books, we couldn’t figure out what was happening. We aren’t accusing anybody of theft or pointing fingers. We have come to the conclusion that things just have a way of evaporating into thin air and only in Bolivia. We loved the people, the culture, the landscape, absolutely everything about that country and so we aren’t holding any grudges or bad feelings. Whatever we lost probably found a better home somewhere in Bolivia.

Leah experiencing some of her final moments with her beloved waterbottle at El Fuerte. Bolivia has it now.

5. Like comfort and convenience? Well, forget about it

Are you a fan of hot showers, comfortable beds, cozy blankets, convenient transportation options? Well, I’ve got some bad news for you. You’d better just get over any notion you have of being “comfortable” in Bolivia. You are going to be squished into buses, sleep on rock hard mattresses, under prickly thin, yet surprisingly heavy blankets and good luck finding a hot shower. The good news is that of all the countries we have visited so far, Bolivia is by far the most cherished because it wasn’t easy or “user-friendly”. It was a challenge and beat us up at times. In the end Bolivia made us much stronger travelers and now we have some hilarious stories to tell to our grand-kiddies.

One uncomfortably cold moment during our stay at the hostel made of salt and an interesting moment crossing by ferry to Copacabana

Some of the hard, cold beds we experienced

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