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Safety in Bolivia

As all travel is inherently dangerous, it’s important to recognize that you are never free from concern. As is true in most Latin American countries, in Bolivia, travelers tend to stand out. That being said, safety in Bolivia is what you make it. Yes, there is crime, poverty, illness, etcetera, but it can be avoided easily by exercising common sense and awareness.

Money Matters

Distribute important documents into at least two stashes. Don't carry more than a small amount of money for daily purchases. Keep your cash, and perhaps a credit card, in a wallet or coin purse in your front pocket. Keep your passport, at least one credit card and most of your cash well protected under your clothes–either in a money belt or sewn-in pocket.

Street Smarts

In crowds, always hold your bag close to your body and in front of you where you can see it. Most thieves work in teams; one will distract you while the other slashes your bag or picks your pocket. If you are approached by a suspicious person asking for money or the time, just walk away quickly. Don’t let yourself get cornered.

Bolivians and your Belongings

Bolivians, as a whole, are extremely friendly: they break change for large notes, readily give travel advice, and are usually willing to assist with directions (even if they aren’t exactly sure of where they are sending you). Thus, some trust is obviously merited, but be smart, especially when it comes to your belongings. Don’t ask anyone to watch your luggage and don't share rides with strangers. Take marked taxis (often called radio taxis), keep an eye on your bags when they are under and above the bus, trek with a friend (or notify your hotel of your departure and arrival time, so someone is expecting you) and lock your up your belongings when staying in hostel dorms.

Better to be a No-Show than a Gong Show

Drugs and alcohol are a traveler's worst enemy. Late night partying, loud or lewd behavior and any sort of shady dealings will get you into far more trouble than a stolen wallet. Even if it isn’t your scene, stay clear of other travelers who bring trouble with them.

Mo' Money, Fewer Problems

In most cities in Bolivia, the dodgy neighborhoods are easy to identify; they are around bus stations and major outdoor markets. Lodging is usually slightly cheaper in these areas, but for a dollar or two more a night, you can get a substantial upgrade worth the peace of mind. Researching the perfect spot beforehand is the best way to avoid being stuck in a neighborhood that makes you uncomfortable.

Violence in Bolivia

Petty and violent crime against foreigners is on the rise in La Paz and Santa Cruz, where there are also frequent protests, which often turn violent. If you encounter a roadblock, don't try to subvert it; protestors may react violently, and have been known to plant bombs. Violent unrest is also common in Chapare, the area between Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and the Yungas region northeast of La Paz. Consult travel reports and check with your consulate before traveling to these areas.

ATM Theft

Express kidnappings, where tourists are held for ransom, usually in a taxi, and are forced to use their bank cards to withdraw cash, most often occur in La Paz, and between Copacabana and Desguadero. 

Fake Cops

Beware of bogus police officers and police stations, which are set up to scam travelers. All officers should wear green uniforms with a name badge clearly identifying them. If you have any doubts, don't follow a police officer if asked. Request to see their ID, and demand to speak to your consulate, if necessary.


Trustworthy Tours

Travel only with authorized tour agencies and guides. Make sure they are trusted and reputable before embarking on any excursions.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Bolivia: When to Go , When to Go, Traveling with Children in Bolivia, Safety, Safety, Jesuit Missions Festivals, Safety, Safety on Isla del Sol, When to Go and Safety in Rurrenabaque.

By Margaret Rode
A self-professed city girl, sassy staff writer Margaret Rode hails from Chicago where she received Bachelor degrees in English Literature and Spanish...
17 Feb 2010

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