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Bolivia

Last updated: September 2023

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Key Facts Cycling

Key Facts Cycling

  • 48 days in the country, from 08/12/2022 to 25/01/2023

  • 1,396 km / 867 mi cycled

  • 22 cycling days

  • Overnight stays: 

    • Wild camping: 10

    • Other free camping (villages, etc.): 6

    • Paid campsites: 0

    • Hosts: 2 (Casa de Ciclista Uyuni)

    • Paid accommodation: 30 (3 weeks in La Paz)

    • Other (bus, ferries, etc.): 0

  • The Route: Border Crossing Kasani – Copacabana – La Paz – Oruro – Salinas de Garci Mendoza – Salar de Uyuni – Uyuni – San Cristóbal – Ruta de Las Lagunas via Quetena Chico & Uturuncu Volcano – Border Crossing Paso Fronterizo Hito Cajón (to see our exact route, click here)

  • Our Cycling Highlights: Death Road, Salar de Uyuni, Ruta de las Lagunas & Uturuncu

Key Facts Country

  • Official name: Plurinational State of Bolivia 

  • Population (2023): 12.39 million people

  • Capital: Sucre, Administrative Center: La Paz

  • Official languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, Guarani & 33 other indigenous languages

  • Currency: Bolivian Boliviano (BOB)

  • Dialing code: +591

  • Three predominant geographic regions: Andean Region (28%), Sub-Andean Region (13%) & Plains (59%)

  • The largest landlocked country in the southern hemisphere 

Key Facts Country
Gallery
Bolivian Death Road

Bolivian Death Road

  • Carretera de las Yungas, 64 km / 40 mi long

  • Actual unpaved 'death road' is 36 km / 22 mi long

  • Descends ~3,500 m / 11,483 ft from the high mountains into the jungle

  • Used to be the main highway between La Paz and Coroico before the new parallel running Highway 3 was opened in 2007

  • Steep slopes, lack of guardrails & only ~3 m / 9,8 ft wide in some places: Many people died because their vehicle went over the edge (est. number of fatalities until the mid 1990s: 200-300 deaths / year)

  • Nowadays hardly any traffic, thanks to the new highway (but many bike touring groups & some jeep tours), meaning the road isn't as dangerous as it used to be

  • In La Paz we booked a mountain bike day trip with this itinerary:

    • Car drive up to 4,700 m.a.s.l. / 15,420 ft

    • Racing down the death road on rental mountain bikes (accompanied by a guide)

    • Big lunch in a restaurant in the jungle, optional swim in the pool 

    • Drive back up to La Paz in the afternoon

    • Great option if the death road is not on your route and/or you want to save your bike some heavy rattling  

  • Alternative: The Colombian Death Road, known as 'Trampolin de la Muerte', is a more authentic death road experience (in our opinion) - find out more about it here

Cycling the Bolivian Death Road
Cycling the Bolivian Death Road on Mountainbikes
Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni 

  • World’s largest salt flat (12,000 km² / 4,633 mi²)

  • Pretty spectacular, definitely worth cycling it

  • Different possible routes: 

    • Day trip from Uyuni

    • Across the Salar

      • North to South: There are tracks south of the Tunupa volcano going out on the salt flat

      • We went from Jirira straight southeast towards Colchani (approx. 130 km / 81 mi)

      • You can also cycle a longer route via the Isla Incahuasi in the middle of the Salar (the island might provide you with some shelter if needed)

    • It's more touristy in the east and around the Isla Incahuasi, meaning there are several jeeps driving on the salt flat; diagonally across from the Tunupa volcano to Colchani was less busy (except for the last kilometers)

  • The Salar can be flooded in the rainy season (November to March) – it’s still possible to cycle it, but might be more difficult

  • When flooded it's like a mirror and (from the photos we've seen) incredibly beautiful 

  • We cycled during the rainy season (January), but it hadn't rained a lot before and the Salar was pretty dry (except for some slushy parts)

  • Be aware: When it starts raining, the Salar can flood really quickly because the water doesn't really drain; in this case the island Isla Incahuasi could be your best option for shelter

  • Camping is possible in dry conditions, take a stone or something similar with you to hammer in the tent pegs (the salt crust is extremely hard) 

  • Preparations:

    • Last proper shop north of the Salar: Salinas de Garci Mendoza

    • Last water supply north of the Salar: In the small settlements on the northern shore (e.g. Jirira)

    • Take a sufficient amount of water, you'll drink a lot 

  • Make sure to properly protect your skin from the UV radiation 

  • It's a cyclist tradition to take a naked picture on the Salar de Uyuni ;)

  • Don’t forget to clean your bike afterwards to prevent it from rusting (we went to a Lavado in Colchani)

  • Accommodation: In Uyuni is a donation based Casa de Ciclista, it’s called "LA CASA PINGUI"

Camping on the endless Salar de Uyuni
Louisa & Tobi while cycling across the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
Ruta de las Lagunas

Ruta de las Lagunas & Uturuncu Volcano

  • Tough route across the Altiplano in the southwest of Bolivia (our variation was 440 km / 273 mi long, from San Cristóbal to the Chilean border, incl. a detour to the Uturuncu volcano) 

  • Runs through vast open landscapes, along volcanos & colorful lagoons packed with flamingos 

  • A lighter setup and wider tires would have been more comfortable for riding, but we were able to manage the route with our touring bikes (we had to push a lot though)

  • Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa

    • The route runs through the park

    • Northern entry at Laguna Colorada: southern entry at Laguna Blanca

    • Entry fee: 150 BOB (~20€ / ~22 USD), only payable in cash

    • You can stay up to four days in the park (we took longer because of the Uturuncu detour, but were told that would be okay)

    • Many organized tours go through the national park, so even though it’s quite remote, you will still see many jeeps

  • The road conditions make it very challenging: Lots of deep sand, rocks & corrugation (our average distance was ~40 km / 25 mi per day)

  • Picking up around noon, we had strong southwesterly winds every day (January), so we tried to cycle most of the distance in the morning

  • Preparations for the Ruta de las Lagunas (going north to south): 

    • Take enough cash with you, no card payment possible on the route

    • The last proper shop & market is in San Cristóbal 

    • Last tiny shops in Villa Alota for snacks & water 

    • Quetena Chico has a small shop, but it's not on the original Ruta de las Lagunas

    • We carried food for a week & 14L of water (sufficient for 2-3 days for us)

    • Due to the constantly changing weather, the altitude & bad roads you have to be prepared for not getting as far as you want (also mentally prepared, it can be quite frustrating & challenging)

  • Places to fill up water:

    • San Cristóbal

    • Villa Alota (approx. 60 km / 37 mi from San Cristóbal)

    • Los Flamencos Eco Hotel at Laguna Hedionda (approx. 65 km / 40 mi from Villa Alota)

    • Hostels at Laguna Colorada (approx. 80 km / 50 mi from Laguna Hedionda)

    • Quetena Chico (approx. 60 km / 37 mi from Laguna Colorada, not on the original route)

    • Restaurants / Hostels in Chalviri (approx. 75 km / 46 mi from Quetena Chico)

    • The tourist jeeps might offer you water (and sometimes even food), but don’t rely on that

  • Camping is basically possible everywhere, but it's hard to find someplace sheltered from the wind

  • The hostels on the route often serve good breakfast and dinner; you have to pay cash

  • On the route you have no reception at all; the first (and only) time we had internet was in Quetena Chico

Flamingos in the Laguna Colorada in Bolivia's National Park Eduardo Avaroa
Bike Touring the Ruta de las Lagunas in Bolivia
  • Uturuncu Volcano (6,008 m.a.s.l. / 19,711 ft): 

    • At the Uturuncu you can cycle up to ~5,800 m.a.s.l. / 19,029 ft on one of the highest roads in the world (the official world-record-holder is the Umling La Pass in India at 5,798 m.a.s.l. / / 19,022 ft)

    • The closest village is Quetena Chico, from there it’s 30 km / 19 mi to the end of the road

    • Several hostels in Quetena Chico, we stayed at one and could leave some of our panniers there while cycling up to the peak

    • We took two days and camped at 5,200 m.a.s.l. / 17,060 ft, reaching the summit around noon on the second day

    • The Uturuncu has two peaks and the road climbs to the saddle between them (5,750 m.a.s.l. / 18,865 ft), then continues a bit further up the smaller peak

    • We got to 5,800 m.a.s.l. / 19,029 ft before the road was covered in too deep snow

    • We then descended a bit back to the saddle and left our bikes behind to hike the remaining part to the summit of the higher peak (6,008 m.a.s.l / 19,711 ft) 

    • It’s very important to properly acclimatize for this; as we had spent several weeks at an altitude of at least 3,500 m.a.s.l. / 11,483 ft before, we were used to the thin air; from 5,000 m.a.s.l. / 16,404 ft onward it was getting harder and harder for us

    • We were able to cycle most of the way, the key is to pedal super slow to keep your heart rate down

    • Only when the road got too rocky or too steep we had to push 

    • Technically you need a guide at the Uturuncu, but we were told that it wouldn’t be a problem to go without one (that might have been an exception though, so definitely ask before you go) 

Uturuncu Volcano
Cycling towards the peaks of the impressive Uturuncu Volcano
Louisa & Tobi standing on the peak of the Uturuncu Volcano at 6,008 m
Camping & Accommodation

Camping & Accommodation

  • Camping can be difficult sometimes because of all the scattered settlements, strong winds and open fields

  • Usually you can just ask in villages if you can camp nearby (we slept next to local soccer fields three nights in a row)

  • Check iOverlander for places to sleep; we found nice Baños Termales in Pazna where we could sleep inside of the building for free 

  • You'll find hostels/motels/hotels only in the bigger towns or in touristy places like the National Park Eduardo Avaroa (as mentioned above, throughout the park are several hostels- basic, no wifi, sometimes no showers)

  • In La Paz we stayed in a very nice and affordable Airbnb for three weeks

Infrastructure

  • Bolivia has many nicely paved small roads, e.g. the 603 on the way to the Salar de Uyuni 

  • Almost every town has a shop (tienda) and/or a market, where you can buy food

  • The tap water was often potable (according to the locals), we never had any digestion problems caused by drinking the water; we always carry chlorine tablets though to disinfect water if necessary 

Spare Part Availability

  • La Paz: 

    • Some good bike shops around

    • We went to one in San Miguel

    • Huge market in El Alto (Feria 16 de Julio), where you can also get many bicycle parts (reachable from La Paz by cable car)

  • In Oruro there are several small bike shops around the Mercado Simon Bolívar, we got spare spokes and a new chain there 

  • We didn't encounter bike shops in the small towns and villages, but in bigger towns you should find some basic spare parts

Sim Card & Internet

  • Three big network providers: Entel, Tigo & VIVA

  • We bought an Entel sim card in the Entel store in Copacabana, but you can basically buy sim cards at every small market stand

  • Advantage of buying a sim card in the store: You have to officially register the number under your name, so when our phone got stolen, we were able to get the same number again and even continue using our purchased internet package

  • You can recharge your credit either by purchasing a voucher at a market stand/shop (tienda) or by using the Entel App (which we can definitely recommend)

  • With Entel the mobile internet was pretty good - we even had 3G on the Salar de Uyuni
     

Climate & Weather

  • Three topographical / climatological regions:

    • The Andean area & arid highlands of the west

    • The sub-Andean and semi-tropical valleys in the middle third of the country

    • The tropical lowlands of the east

  • Rainy season throughout all three regions is from November to March (summer) 

  • For us, in December and January, the weather was mixed, we often woke up to sunshine and had heavy rain/thunderstorms in the afternoon

  • As mentioned above, strong southwesterly winds occur in the southwest of Bolivia, getting really strong around noon and making it tough to cycle & difficult to camp

  • The temperatures usually ranged between 0°C / 32°F (night) and 15°C / 59°F (day) at high altitude (we were always above at least 3,500 m.a.s.l. / 11,483 ft)
     

Border Crossings 

  • Peru to Bolivia: Border Crossing Kasani at the Titicaca Lake - the easiest border we ever had, we just got the stamps in our passports and were done in 10 minutes

  • Bolivia to Chile (Paso Fronterizo Hito Cajón): The two border control stations of Bolivia and Chile are 5 km / 3mi apart; quick & easy

  • These are only the border crossings we took, of course there are many more

  • With our German passports we got 90 days without applying for a visa

  • No costs, no documents to fill out beforehand

  • Always check regulations and requirements before entering the country as they might change at short notice 

 

Safety

  • Generally we felt safe, but we always tried to stay hidden when camping

  • When we openly camped in villages, sometimes people came and talked to us, but they were always friendly and curious

  • Big cities are potentially more dangerous, just be cautious and inform yourself about areas you better avoid

  • Beware of pickpockets - we got a phone stolen on a busy market (Feria 16 de Julio) in El Alto

  • Much less aggressive dogs than in Peru

  • The drivers were mostly considerate, but the traffic in cities and the surroundings (e.g. El Alto) can be very busy & chaotic

  • Emergency numbers:

    • General: 911

    • Police (Policia Nacional): 110

    • Ambulance (Ambulancia de Emergencias): 118 / 160

    • Fire department (Bomberos): 119

 

Cash & Expenses

  • Bolivia was relatively cheap for us (exchange rate Sept. 2023: 1 EUR = 7,35 BOB / 1 USD = 6,90 BOB)

  • Payment by card is not often possible, so make sure to always carry enough cash with you

  • You can exchange cash at the border (USD & Peruvian Soles possible, maybe also Chilean Peso), but check the exchange rate beforehand so you don't get ripped off

  • ATMs can only be found in bigger towns

  • ATMs are called Cajero Automatico in Spanish

 

Tourism

  • Lake Titicaca: 

    • Highest navigable lake in the world (3,810 m.a.s.l. / 12,500 ft) and largest lake in South America (8,300 km² / 5,157 mi²) 

    • Divided between Bolivia and Peru

    • Copacabana is a touristy town on the southern shore, nice to visit for a day

    • You can do boat trips to different islands from Copacabana 

  • La Paz: 

    • Administrative capital of Bolivia, highest capital in the world (3,250 - 4,100 m.a.s.l / 10,663 - 13,450 ft)

    • We spent three weeks in an Airbnb in Sopocachi (very nice area!) and really enjoyed the city

    • Rosario is the more touristy area

    • The cable car (Mi Teleférico) is a great and cheap way to get around; you can do a round trip with the different lines (takes about 1 hour)

    • You can also take your bicycle on the cable car so you don't have to cycle the incredibly steep roads of La Paz 

    • Try the street food, we loved Papas Rellenas & Tucumanas

    • If you are German (or not) and missing some German food, you should definitely go to Reineke Fuchs, they have good food and beer (but it's a bit pricier than other restaurants in La Paz)

    • La Paz has some nice cafés, our favorite was the Café Típica in Sopocachi

  • Alternative to the Salar de Uyuni is the Salar de Coipasa: Smaller and apparently not as touristy, we didn't cycle there though

  • Sucre and Cochabamba are supposed to be nice cities as well, they weren't on our route so we can't speak from experience

Infrastructure
Spare Part Availability
Sim Card / Internet
Climate & Weather
Safety
Border Crossings
Cash & Expenses
Tourism
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