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Country Reports

Bolivia Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Before traveling to the large and sparsely-populated South American country of Bolivia (population 11 million) it is important to take a few points into consideration. Bolivia remains relatively poor despite the robust economic growth the country has enjoyed over the past several years (GDP growth rate of 5.5 percent in 2014; 4.8 percent in 2015; 3.7 percent in 2016).

SOCIOPOLITICAL RISKS

Strikes and protests are not rare - particularly in the cities of La Paz, Potosí, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, and Oruro - and can be highly disruptive to daily life. Bolivian civic groups and unions frequently erect roadblocks as a form of protest. The country's mountainous terrain means few roads connect major cities and therefore roadblocks serve as especially effective bargaining tools in negotiations. Violence, in the form of clashes between protesters and security forces, often breaks out at roadblocks.

For example, a civic group led a month-long mobilization in mid-2015 that virtually cut off the city of Potosí (population 200,000) from the rest of the country and paralyzed the surrounding department.

As in many countries, the frequency and intensity of social activism tends to rise during electoral periods. The next presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for 2019.

CRIME

Violent crime rates, including carjacking and armed muggings against foreigners in La Paz and other tourist destinations (e.g. Los Yungas, the jungle region to the north and east of La Paz), have risen in recent years. In the city of Santa Cruz, crime rates have also increased considerably over the past five years; violent assaults and muggings are no longer rare.

The risk of "express kidnappings" (where individuals are detained for up to 48 hours - often by taxi drivers - and driven to various ATMs to withdraw as much money as possible) is considered to be high in many areas.

There has been an increase in the number of robberies involving taxis in the cities of Santa Cruz and La Paz. It is advisable to always use "radio" taxis, which are identifiable by the telephone number and the name of the taxi company on the vehicle's roof. This type of taxi should carry no other passengers. If possible, request a taxi by phone and make a note of the taxi's registration number and telephone number before you set off. A list of taxi companies registered with the mayor's office in La Paz is available (in Spanish) here.

Pickpocketing, purse snatching, slashing purses/pants pockets with knives, and theft of jewelry/cell phones are routinely reported by tourists and visitors, including at La Paz-El Alto (LPB) and Santa Cruz-Viru Viru (VVI) international airports. Thieves typically operate in groups of two or more; one or two members of the group will create a distraction while the others rob the victim.

Fraud related to credit/debit cards as well as "skimming" - the theft of credit card information using an electronic "skimmer" during an otherwise legitimate transaction - is also a concern. This is likely to occur in restaurants or bars where the waiter takes the victim's card out of the owner's view.

TRANSPORTATION

The old highway linking La Paz and Los Yungas has been designated as one of the most dangerous in the world. This old route is still open to the public but travelers are advised to use the new one when driving to Coroico. Though most bus companies utilize the new road, it is worth checking with drivers beforehand what route they plan to take.

Generally speaking, road accident mortality rates are high throughout Bolivia (19.2 deaths per year per 100,000 inhabitants). Traveling in rural areas during the rainy season (October/November to March/April) can be particularly tricky as roads in the western part of the country, already in poor condition, frequently become impassable due to landslides.

In cities, it is advisable to only take marked radio taxis (see CRIME section). Taxis and other businesses are often reluctant to give even small amounts of change, so travelers should carry small bills and give exact change when possible.

NATURAL RISKS

Flooding is common in Bolivia, particularly during the rainy season (October/November to March/April), and can result in significant transportation disruptions, structural damage, and loss of life.

Several strong earthquakes have occurred in Bolivia, though they rarely cause significant property damage or casualties.

LEGAL

Certain medications prescribed for personal use abroad are treated as narcotics in Bolivia (see HEALTH section).

By law, it is mandatory to carry a photocopy of your passport at all times.

Travelers should declare all cash being brought in or out of the country. In the event of a customs audit, the difference between the declared sum and the real sum will be taxed. Additionally, individuals who attempt to leave the country with unauthorized archeological treasures (even if purchased in stores) risk sentences of up to six years in prison.

Bolivia's election laws dictate that in the two days leading up to elections, the selling and consumption of alcohol is banned and non-government cars are sometimes prohibited from driving. Police frequently erect checkpoints in major cities on the eve of elections, and violators face stiff fines and possible jail time.

HEALTH

All travelers are advised to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance prior to departure.

Travelers should also be aware of potential altitude sickness; La Paz is located 3600 m (11,900 ft) above sea level and El Alto International Airport is over 4000 m (13,300 ft) meters above sea level. To avoid developing altitude sickness, avoid strenuous activities for several days after arrival, keep well hydrated, and avoid alcoholic beverages.

Bolivia's tap water is not safe to drink in any part of the country. Travelers should also be wary of brushing their teeth with tap water, uncooked vegetables washed in unfiltered water, and ice cubes. To reduce the risk of contracting a food- or water-borne disease, avoid any undercooked dishes, especially meats and seafood, and any other foods that cannot be thoroughly cooked, peeled, or disinfected (ice cream, berries, etc.).

Certain medications prescribed for personal use abroad are treated as narcotics in Bolivia, with severe penalties for importing or exporting them without a valid prescription from a doctor. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, carry a letter from a doctor describing the medical condition and any prescribed drugs. If you bring medicines with you, make sure they are in their original containers and clearly labeled.

Finally, various mosquito- and insect- borne diseases are present outside of high-elevation areas. Case rates of these diseases tend to rise during and following the rainy season (October/November to March/April).

  • Malaria can affect rural areas below 2500 m (8200 ft) year-round, although the risk is low.
  • Dengue fever is endemic to Bolivia, particularly in the east of the country. In 2016, nearly 32,000 cases were reported nationwide.
  • A spike in transmission rates of chikungunya was reported in Bolivia in mid-2016. More than 20,700 cases of the disease were reported in 2016 nationwide.
  • The Zika virus is present in the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando. While the virus is usually relatively benign, links between the Zika virus and severe birth defects as well as the potentially fatal neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) have been established. The virus is also transmittable via sexual intercourse.
  • Cases of yellow fever are very occasionally reported (two cases in the past decade).

Travelers to Bolivia should also be aware of the risk of rabies. The main line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact (e.g. bites, scratches, licks) with both domestic and wild animals. If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Finally, La Paz is one of the most polluted cities in South America, which poses long-term health risks to the population. For visitors, the pollution can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation and aggravate cardiovascular and respiratory conditions (such as asthma). Vulnerable individuals (e.g. children, seniors, pregnant women, and people suffering from asthma and other respiratory issues) should be particularly cautious (for example, avoid strenuous outdoor activity and wear facemasks during pollution peaks).

Climate

Bolivia's climate is tropical. The dry season lasts from May until October with relatively cool temperatures in June and July. The rainy season, characterized by stifling heat and humidity, begins in November and lasts until March.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +591 Police: 110 Fire Dept.: 119 Ambulance: 118

Electricity

Voltage: 220/230 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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