The Good, the Bad, and Bolivia

12 09 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 6.08.08-6.21.08

Bolivia is known as the backpackers’ Mecca: you must visit this country at least once in your traveling life. We met multiple backpackers who planned a 2 week trip to Bolivia and stayed for 2 months. They praised the people, the sites, and, of course, the cheap cost. Somehow, we missed this boat.

The moment we entered Bolivia, we almost got left at the border. When we left the country, we were ripped off by a bus company, who sold us a ticket to another company, then actually left us at the border to take a taxi to the next town where we could catch our bus. The two weeks in between our border crossings were not much better. People were constantly trying to rip us off, or not provide services we paid for. A hostel owner in Copacabana ardently argued that we had stayed four nights, when we were only there for three. Finally, I showed her our bus ticket to the town dated three days earlier. She told me she had a headache. Our hostel owner on Isla del Sol tried to charge us for breakfast which he said was included. It seemed like every time I looked at a bill, I was being charged for items I did not order.

When asking locals for information or directions, you have to ask at least two people. If someone didn’t know the answer, they would make something up. We walked around the town of Uyuni in circles after following directions to a cafe. When we stayed at the Radisson (a five star hotel), the woman at the travel agency told us that buses did not run from La Paz to Uyuni on Sunday, so we stayed an extra day until Monday, when she made us a reservation. When I went to the bus station to pay for the ticket, our reservation did not exist (and all the buses were full) and the ticket office told me they ran buses on Sunday. As backpackers, we don’t expect preferencial treatment, but dealing with overtly rude people and constantly having to argue over every bill is exhausting.

I have come to the conclusion that backpackers praise Bolivia because it is cheap. Generally, you can find accomodation for about $5 per person per night. You can find it for cheaper, but, believe me, it’s not worth saving two extra dollars per night and staying at these places. You can also find meals for around $3 as long as you don’t mind eating chicken and rice for every meal (and don’t mind your stomach feeling upset afterwards).

Bolivia offers many of the same tours as surrounding countries, but at cheaper prices. You can visit the antiplano, the jungle, and the salt flats. However, Chile has a larger (and cooler looking) expanse of antiplano. Brazil has a better jungle (so does Costa Rica for that matter). And Argentina also has salt flats (only slightly smaller than Bolivia’s). Once we started questioning the hype, we found other travelers who agreed with us and also left Bolivia early. While we had some interesting experiences in Bolivia, we definitely left with a sour taste for the country. If you’re simply looking for a cheap vacation, head to Bolivia, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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