As I was preparing for traveling through Bolivia, I noticed that there was very little information on what I might find there. I know that not knowing what to expect and figuring it out upon arrival can be part of the fun of travel. But sometimes a little preparation allows you to make the most of spontaneity. And in a challenging destination like Bolivia, not being prepared for what might come up can potentially leave you S.O.L. in Middle of Nowhere, High Altitude, Bolivia.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting the country as it is an incredibly rewarding place to go to. I just want to present a realistic view of what it’s like to travel there and delve into the practicalities of the impractical act of budget travel in Bolivia. First up: Hostelling.
» Staying Warm
Traveling during Bolivia’s winter (June-August) is often recommended for drier weather (which means better road conditions) and for solo travelers who want to meet other travelers (because it is high season). But the extreme cold can make it a tricky time to be there. Trying to stay warm in order to get a good night’s sleep was a recurring theme of my trip. There was no silver lining of toasty cabins and hot cocoa so I eventually learned a few things about how to fall asleep in a subzero room.
- central heating or even carpeted floors. If it’s freezing cold outside, it will likely be freezing cold inside your hostel.
- to always have a nicer and warmer sleeping option available. Bolivia is a cheap country to travel in and you often get what you pay for.
- to have to bundle up. Make sure you’re warm as you can be before you try to sleep. Getting out from under your covers in a freezing cold night to put on layers isn’t fun, and neither is having a sleepless and restless numb-toed night.
- to bring a sleeping bag and/or extra blankets to stay warm. You can also ask a receptionist if your hostel has extra blankets available.
- to be able to buy what you need there. There is an abundance of llama/alpaca gringo gear for sale in the markets so you can stock up on wool socks, gloves, hats, hoodies, and blankets to keep you warm at night. If you don’t want to take your purchases home with you at the end of your trip, you can always leave them behind for another traveler.
» Water and Showering
Another recurring theme of my trip was shower avoidance. After shivering yourself to sleep, the last thing you want to do is wake up and hop into chilly water. So sometimes you won’t shower. And when you do, it will likely be quick. Try not to think about what you smell like, instead give yourself a pat on the back for your environmentally friendly ways (even if they are forced).
- 24 hour hot water. A lot of hostels will have a window of time where hot water is available, usually during daylight hours.
- that a hostel that claims to have 24 hour hot really does. In my experience, hostels that explicitly stated that they did, really had 24 hour cold to lukewarm water. So you might be better off with an honest hostel that gives you a hot water time frame.
- running water. Water is scarce in Bolivia. There may be times where you’ll have to brush your teeth with bottled water or flush the toilet with a bucket of water.
- to have a towel provided. Bring along a quick drying towel.
- that if hot water is available, it might only be a trickle of water. To access the hot water in some hostels, you can only turn on the water a little bit. If you want more pressure, the water will be cold.
- to take advantage of having a hot shower when you get a chance.
» Party Hostels
Party hostels can be great places to meet other travelers and let loose, and nd they often have more amenities (such as hot water and warmer bedding) than smaller, more local hostels. However, I found that they tended to harbor all sorts of travelers with questionable motives. If you want to stay in party hostels, use them sparingly, and don’t get sucked into staying for an extended period of time.
- to choose your hostel wisely. Chat with other travelers who have already visited a city you’re heading to and get the scoop on the hostels there.
- to book in well in advance if you want a small dorm or private room in high season
- to keep track of your hostel purchases. Some hostels let you charge food, drinks, etc. to your room and it’s important to have a sense of what you’ve bought so you don’t get overcharged when you check out.
- to sleep
» A lot of this information is specific to traveling in the Andean part of Bolivia. Some of this information can apply to the Andean parts of Peru as well.