Health and Safety
Health and Safety
Due to the high altitude in La Paz and Potosí, you may suffer from soroche, or altitude sickness, when you arrive. Symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Avoid alcohol and coffee, drink lots of water, and rest as much as you can in the first few days. It is also recommended that you eat less than usual prior to and upon arrival. Do not take the soroche pills sold in pharmacies within Bolivia—they are a dangerous mix of chemicals banned in the United States and Europe. Symptoms usually disappear within a week. If they do not, consult a doctor, especially if you have a history of high blood pressure. Mate de coca, an herbal (and completely legal) tea made from coca leaves, can be very effective. Some higher-end hotels will administer oxygen to guests upon arrival. If you suffer from heart or lung diseases, or are pregnant, consult your doctor before traveling.
Food and Drink
Although the higher areas of Bolivia are relatively free of bacteria, lower altitudes harbor some really dangerous strains. To play it safe, do not drink tap water and order beverages without ice. Avoid eating food from street vendors. You can find most of the things you want to try in restaurants and cafés for a slightly higher price. If you buy on the street or from a market, take the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's advice: "Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it."
At present, only Americans are required to receive the yellow fever vaccine, costing approximately $150 USD and valid for 10 years. Don't get one from the health centers in Bolivia—they are not recognized internationally. The northern and eastern areas of the country, especially jungle regions, are more prone to yellow fever epidemics. No other shots or vaccination certificates are required for entering Bolivia, although all travelers will need a yellow fever vaccine if moving on to countries such as Brazil. If you'll be spending time in remote areas, ask your doctor about typhoid, hepatitis A and B, and tetanus vaccinations. If you're headed for the Amazon, consider antimalarial prophylactics.
Bring plenty of sunblock—the high altitudes feel cool, but the sun will burn you within minutes due to the thin atmosphere. Wear sunglasses and a hat as much as possible. The trek across Isla del Sol can be particularly brutal since the open landscape is void of shade. In the winter, humidity in La Paz can drop to 0%, and your skin and eyes can get very uncomfortable, so use moisturizing cream and drops if necessary.
Be careful with dogs—in the cities they are friendly, but be very wary in rural areas. Usually picking up a stone is enough to warn them off. Rabies is a real risk in Bolivia, so if you're bitten by anything see a doctor immediately.
Crime is not a major problem in Bolivia compared to other Latin American countries, but it's increasing both in frequency and seriousness. In larger cities such as La Paz, Cochabamba, Sucre, and Santa Cruz, street crime—including pickpocketing, mugging, and purse-snatching—is on the rise. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry and watches, and be aware of your surroundings at all times, especially in busy plazas and on jam-packed buses. Carry only as much cash as necessary when in the city, especially in crowded market areas. When walking through busy cities such as La Paz, carry a copy of your passport rather than the original since passport theft is common. Exercise special caution around bus terminals, where there have been several kidnappings and even murders of tourists. Don't trust any "policemen" who ask to see your papers: be assertive, don't let them search you, and walk away fast. Never take an unmarked taxicab, especially in the Cementario area of La Paz. For public transport, use "radio taxis" (they have a telephone number on a sign on the roof), public buses and minibuses, or the fixed-route, shared trufis. For further advice, the best sources are the British Embassy's Travel Advice at www.fco.gov.uk and the U.S. Department of State's Country Specific Information at www.travel.state.gov.
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe