Bolivia... I don't even know where to start to be honest with you. This was just one of those places that had us enthralled from the start. I won't lie though, there was a slight concern in our departure from Perú in late July of 2019 as we boarded a local van set to approach the Bolivian border just a couple hours south of the small town of Puno where we had been staying for about a week. Perú had been nothing short of amazing and while the idea of exploring a new country was invigorating, it was also bittersweet. Bolivia looked incredible from our brief research but we had also heard very interesting and deterring stories about how difficult it is to get in to the country when you are a United States citizen. We went for it anyway... what is travel without a little risk, right?
When I tell you that the entry wasn't easy, I am not really doing it justice. It was extremely difficult and it took us almost 6 hours to cross over and there was no line what-so-ever. There is a simple checklist that you have to follow online, provided by the Bolivian government's tourism website, outlining every little thing that you need to do in order to get in. You have to provide proof of hotel/hostel/homestay booking, transportation information, destination details (where you are going, what days, when you will be moving on and how you will be getting around), your departure date and 160 USD for your tourist visa. While up front this sounds straightforward, perhaps even a story not worth mentioning, the requirements go much deeper than this and there is no heads up from the government sites. What the tourism site fails to mention is that the immigration officers will, more likely than not, modify the rules upon your document presentation.
We approached the immigration officer with all our paperwork and passports ready, convinced that we had done everything that we needed. We were wrong. First on the list was our hotel booking… it was booked with a site he was unfamiliar with and told us that only Booking Dot Com reservations were accepted. Then he went on to tell us that the transportation information wasn’t good enough because it was with a friend of ours, even though he owned the tourism company that we were going to be traveling with. He wanted bills proving our friend had a residence in La Paz and the vehicle information to prove that he owned the car. Then, as if it couldn’t get worse, our money wasn’t considered valid. The website stated ‘160 USD in new bills’. The ATM in Puno gave crisp 20’s but the officer at the border said he personally only accepts the payment as one 100 dollar bill, one 50 dollar bill, and one 10. This had all taken so long that the bank was closed and all he could say was, ‘Well that is too bad. You can come back tomorrow’. We scrambled around the small border town to find internet (a very difficult task) so we could make new booking arrangements, cancel the previous reservations and then on top of it we had to find a place to print the new documents. We almost called it quits after a couple hours wandering the streets but eventually we found someone that was able to help us print our paperwork.
The Bolivian immigration department functions on what they call the ‘Reciprocity Rule’, meaning that they treat incoming tourists the way that they are treated when they visit the incoming tourist’s home country. Sadly, Bolivians have a rough time getting into the United States and as a result we got to experience the same process. I can’t say I blame them, to be honest and it kind of makes me feel bad about their experiences with the United States. Anyway, after hours of arguing and changing booking plans we finally were able to make our way into the country and I will tell you now, this nightmarish process was worth the adventure that we had ahead of us.
La Paz is an incredible city, boasting a vibrant street life with markets and restaurants all over. The nightlife is energizing and certainly unique from our other late night experiences in South America. The bars are so different and offer all kinds of unique local drinks, delicious handheld food, and Bolivian people are so unbelievably kind. We spent our first day relaxing, shrugging off the previous day’s travel experience, and visited local spots with our friends from Visit South America and Experience Bolivia and even had drinks in a bar made out of an old airplane… cool, right?
The following morning we set out for the most epic road trip you could ask for in Bolivian with destinations ranging from geysers in the mountainous desert landscapes, the world famous salt flats, the Laguna Colorada (Red Lake), and we even spent the night under the most star laden sky we have ever experienced miles and miles away from any civilization. I know I started this blog with a lengthy ‘travel advisory’, if you want to call it that, but I wanted to do so in order to let you know that when something is difficult it can make the adventure so much more worth the effort. We absolute loved Bolivia and we will undoubtedly return one day to explore it more. As a positive to the process, the visa is valid for 10 years so you only have to experience the hassle once every decade!
The shot above is just on the side of a road but check out these photos below. Pardon the same clothing... it was very cold and we like to pack light.
Salt Flats during sunset
Sol de la Mañana Geysers at Sunrise
All Photo Rights Owned and Managed by Kelly and Kody, @positravelty.
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