Bolivian Expectations: Hostels

by Ekua on January 18, 2010 in backpacking,Bolivia,d.i.y. travel

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.

Don’t expect:

  • 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.

Expect:

  • 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).

Don’t Expect

  • 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.

Expect

  • 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.

Expect:

  • 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.

Don’t expect:

  • 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.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren Quinn January 18, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Great tips. Very well organized!

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Mary R January 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Thanks for the advice. It’s always good to temper expectations before hand, though I admit I do like to be surprised (even by the bad things)

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Lola January 20, 2010 at 4:56 am

Didn’t make it to Bolivia when I was in SA, but it’s definitely on my list, especially the Salt flats!

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Lola January 20, 2010 at 4:56 am

Also, excellent tips as well.

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Ekua January 20, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Thanks for the feedback everyone 🙂 And Lola, Bolivia is definitely a worthwhile destination. It’s one of the most interesting and unique countries I’ve visited.

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Fly Girl January 21, 2010 at 11:39 am

Wow. I never knew that Boliva could get that cold. Warmth is a priority for me, mostly because I live in Chicago. So I wouldn’t consider traveling to Bolivia during their winter. What are the summers like?

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Ekua January 21, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Haha, warmth is definitely a priority for me too. I was unbelievably cold there. The primary problem with summer travel is that it’s rainy season and it makes it hard to get around. That’s something I talked about in my post today about transportation. The roads there are not great and sometimes even airport runways get flooded. I had flight cancellation issues and I wasn’t even there in the rainy season. Problems in the rainy season are even more likely for tours in the Amazon or salt flats which are two of the main attractions… most tours use crappy jeeps and in the summer there is more of a chance of flooding and getting stuck. If you really want to avoid the cold, you could go there in Spring or Fall… it will still be cold, but not as much as winter. Also, I budget traveled, so if you don’t mind spending more, you might be able to find better accommodations.

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GRRRL TRAVELER February 2, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Thanks for this post- I’ve never thought of Bolivia, but it sounds like it could be an interesting destination. The hostel thing there is definitely good to know & who would have thought water would be a big concern! Here’s my GRRR trick… baby wipes! Useful in more than one way & definitely good for several baths.

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Ekua February 3, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Bolivia is definitely interesting. It’s one of the most unique places I’ve visited so far! The water supply is decreasing in Bolivia as glaciers evaporate and rain fall decreases. Some places ask visitors to conserve water, but many just limit the supply. Thanks for the tip!

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