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Etiquette in Bolivia

    Bolivians are conservative and have some strict rules of etiquette, which may cause you to shy away from interacting with the locals at first. But going to the effort of getting to know some local Bolivians will make your trip to Bolivia much more rewarding than just sticking with other foreigners in touristy spots. Try to remember these tips, and if anything goes wrong, just smile and apologize for your error.

    A warm handshake is the most common form of greeting in Bolivia. Make direct eye contact, and use the person's title if you know it. If someone invites you to share food or go dancing, accept graciously, even if it's the last thing you want. Rejected invitations are offensive. Be generous, and offer to share anything you have with you, such as gum or another snack. Bolivians will easily accept someone who treats them generously.

    While you are out and about in Bolivia, especially in the highlands and rural areas, don't gawk at the locals. Even if you have never been to South America and are surprised by something you see, it would be extremely disrespectful to show those emotions. If you would like to take someone's picture, ask before you do so.

    If you are invited to a Bolivian's home for dinner, etiquette becomes slightly complicated. Many customary etiquette rules actually stem from superstitious beliefs, so contradicting a custom is not just impolite, it actually insults someone's beliefs.

  • Always arrive 15-30 minutes later than the stated time.
  • Never arrive in someone's home empty-handed; bring flowers or wine, or another type of simple gift.
  • During the meal, don't eat with your hands. Bolivians use a knife and fork for nearly everything, including fruit.
  • When you are not eating, keep your hands visible on the table. It is a serious form of disrespect to have your hands hidden.
  • If someone asks you to pass them something at the table, don't hand it to them directly; instead, set it on the table next to them.
  • Never say you don't like anything, and don't refuse food offered to you. Although still impolite, it is better to simply leave the food on your plate.
  • Be sure to compliment your host on the food, but wait until the meal is over if you are full, because compliments can be construed as a request for more.

    In general, just try to be as polite and gracious as possible while you are visiting Bolivia. Bolivian customs can be a bit complicated, so follow basic rules of respect and ask someone if you are unsure what to do.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Bolivia: Safety, Getting To and Away from PN Noel Kempff Mercado, Traveling with Children in Bolivia, When to go, When to Go, Cultural Centers in Cochabamba, Safety, Safety , Lake Titicaca and When to go to Sucre.

By Amanda Loviza
I am currently studying at la Universidad San Francisco de Quito and interning with V!VA while I am living in Quito. I am from Midlothian, VA, USA,...
07 Dec 2009

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