Bolivia is a land of drastically diverse landscapes, from the Amazon jungle in the far north to the vast Uyuni salt flats in the south. People travel from around the world to witness the country’s unique scenery and hectic cities. But how much does a Bolivia trip cost? Let’s take a look.
Our Bolivia journey in brief
Before I summarise our Bolivia itinerary and dive into our costs in detail, I’ll explain who we are and how we travel. We are Alex and Lisa, a couple from the UK in our 30s.
On our about page you can find details about the way we travel, which will give some context to the costs I outline in this article. You can also read a breakdown of the overall costs for our round-the-world travel.
In brief: we class our travel budget as mid-range. We are neither low-budget nor luxury travellers. Where possible, we tend to focus our spending on activities and local experiences, and we seek to save money on accommodation and transport.
Our trip to Bolivia was in July and August 2017, during the early stages of our round-the-world travel career break. In 14 days and nights in the country, we covered over 1,500 kilometres and visited five different locations.
We entered Bolivia along the shores of Lake Titicaca on the border with Peru, arriving in the town of Copacabana. After two nights here, we moved on for five nights in the capital city, La Paz. We then took short trips to Sucre (two days, one night) and Potosí (two days, two nights), before heading to Uyuni for a three-day tour of the world’s biggest salt flats.
One glaring omission from our Bolivia itinerary was the Amazon jungle; as we had visited the Peruvian Amazon a month earlier, we decided to skip this. Maybe next time!
Bolivia has a reputation for being one of the cheapest countries in South America to travel in. Is that an accurate reflection of reality? In our experience, yes and no. I’ll explain…
What our Bolivia trip cost: an overview
The costs I detail in this article are for two people, based on our own experience of travelling as a couple. Where relevant, I break down into individual costs.
Most of our spending in the country was in the local currency, bolivianos, and I present costs in pounds sterling based on the exchange rate at the time. You can find the latest exchange rates at xe.com. At the time of writing, over a year after our trip, the rate is very similar (around 9 bolivianos to the pound).
Let’s begin with the overall figure, and then I’ll throw in some caveats. During two weeks in Bolivia, we spent £1,105 in total, or £552.50 each if you prefer. That works out as £78.93 a day for both of us. This includes everything: accommodation, transport, food and drink, activities, and sundries (additional necessities).
Now for those caveats, for which we’ll need to look at our spending divided into different categories…
Bolivia costs by category
The chart below shows a breakdown of our Bolivia spending by category:
There are a few important factors to note here:
- As you can see, activities accounted for the lion’s share of our spending in Bolivia. We engaged in some expensive experiences during our time in the country, most notably tours of Salar de Uyuni and Death Road mountain-biking. As a result, 43.4% of our total spending in Bolivia was on activities. As a proportion of our entire world travel costs, activities accounted for 19.8%. Only in Peru (where we did the Inca Trail) and Indonesia (where we learnt to scuba dive) did we spend a higher proportion of our budget on activities than in Bolivia.
- In Bolivia, we ate in restaurants with a higher frequency than other destinations on our trip. Many of the hostels we stayed in did not have kitchens to prepare our own food, and as eating out was fairly cheap, we decided to indulge a little more.
- On average, we had more nights out in Bolivia than in most countries we visited, and as a result, our spending on alcohol was higher than usual. This distorts our food and drink costs a little. In total, £136 of the £318 we spent on food and drink in Bolivia was on alcohol. That’s 42.8% – only in Vietnam (the last stop on our trip) was this proportion higher.
Now, let’s take a closer look at each category.
Accommodation costs in Bolivia
We found Bolivia to be one of the cheapest countries we visited in South America in terms of accommodation costs. For 14 nights we spent a total of £165, which averages out at £11.79 per night for the two of us.
It’s important to note, however, that for two nights of our trip the accommodation costs were included as part of a tour package. Therefore, our actual daily accommodation expenditure was £13.75.
We stayed in a mixture of hostels and guest houses in Bolivia. For hostels specifically, our nightly average was actually slightly higher at £14.75, or £7.38 each. Here’s how this compares with other countries we visited in South America:
As you can see here, only Paraguay – where we stayed for just two nights – was cheaper for hostel accommodation.
Food and drink costs in Bolivia
At £22.71 per day, Bolivia ranks among the cheapest countries we’ve visited in the world for food and drink. However, if we hadn’t indulged in the nightlife so much, it could have been even cheaper.
As I already described above, alcoholic drinks accounted for 42.8% of our spending food and drink in Bolivia. With the alcohol costs removed, we spent just £13 per day on food and drink for two of us – and this was mostly eating out in restaurants and cafés.
When we didn’t eat out, and we had access to kitchen facilities, we sought local markets to buy low-cost, fresh produce for preparing our own meals.
One notable component of our food and drinks costs in Bolivia was water. As the tap water in the country is not safe to drink, we bought bottled water everywhere. This ran up to £11 in total over two weeks.
Restaurant cost examples
Here are a few examples of our costs for eating out in restaurants and cafés during our time in Bolivia. Each of the following shows the total bill for two people:
- Dinner at Orilla, Copacabana, with one glass of wine: £16.67
- Fresh fish from Lake Titicaca on a waterfront stall with chips and beers: £7.78
- Curry with beers at Delhi Curry Lounge in La Paz (now closed): £18.89
- Lunch at La Cueva Mexican restaurant in La Paz: £12.78
- Pizzas at Mozzarella Pizza in La Paz: £9.22
- Chorizo, rice and soft drinks at a lunch stall in Mercado Lanza, La Paz: £3.33
- Pique macho (a Bolivian speciality) at Pub 4060 in Potosí: £13.56
- BBQ meat, chips, salad and soft drinks in a side-street café in Uyuni: £4.67
- Pizzas and soft drinks at Pizzeria Las Leñas in Potosí: £5.78
Transport costs in Bolivia
The bulk of the £89 we spent on transport in Bolivia was £83 on buses between destinations. Two journeys in particular accounted for most of this.
We travelled with Bolivia Hop from Puno in Peru to La Paz, via Copacabana. The section of this journey in Bolivia cost £19 each.
From La Paz, we took an overnight bus to Sucre with Trans Copacabana, which cost £20 each. Unlike other countries in South America, we didn’t book online beforehand – we bought tickets for all of our internal bus journeys at offices in the bus stations.
The shorter bus journeys from Sucre to Potosí (£2.50 each) and Potosí to Uyuni (£3.50 each) were much cheaper.
In La Paz, we used Mi Teleférico, the city’s cable car transport, which is the highest-altitude system of its kind in the world. Tickets were incredibly cheap at 3 bolivianos per single journey (about £0.33).
Activity costs in Bolivia
Our two-week stay in Bolivia was packed with fun activities, and this is where we spent the largest share of our budget.
We spent £480 on activities in Bolivia in total. These were our most significant activity spends (costs given are for both of us):
- Day trip to Isla Del Sol on Lake Titicaca from Copacabana: £10
- Three-day, two-night jeep tour of Salar de Uyuni salt flats: £191 plus £42 in various entry fees and a £7 tip for the guide
- Mountain-biking tour down Death Road: £138
- Day trip from La Paz to Chacaltaya mountain and Valle de la Luna: £22 + £7 in entry fees
- A night at cholita wrestling: £20
- Guided tour of the Cerro Rico mines in Potosí: £34 + a £6 gift for the miners
Additional costs in Bolivia (sundries)
Any additional necessities, such as laundry and toiletries, we class as ‘sundries’. In total we spent £46 on sundries during our two weeks in Bolivia. This included:
- £16 on laundry
- £7 on toilets
- £6 on toiletries
- £5 on cigarettes
- £3 exit fee into Chile
Bolivia costs in relation to other South American countries
Finally, let’s take a look at how our spending in Bolivia compares with other countries in South America. The chart below shows a comparison of expenditure on basic living costs – food, drink and accommodation:
At £34.50 per day, Bolivia was among the cheapest destinations we visited. The difference between Bolivia and the likes of Chile and Brazil is even more pronounced when considering that we did a lot more eating and drinking out in Bolivia on average.
Quick tips for travelling in Bolivia on a budget
While Bolivia is generally a very cheap place to travel, there are still some tricks and tactics that will save you money. Here are just a few:
- Taking free walking tours to see the main attractions in cities
- Read up about common tourist scams in Bolivia
- Book accommodation with kitchen facilities to cook your own food, and shop in local markets for produce
- Also look for hostels with free breakfasts – we were hugely impressed with the quality of hostel breakfasts in Bolivia!
- Shop around for tours. In particular, if you are planning to visit the Uyuni salt flats, don’t book anything before you get to the city. Tour agencies in Uyuni will compete for your custom, and you can haggle the price down. Make sure you check up on their safety record though (just give the reviews on TripAdvisor a read). We met people who spent about three times as much on their tours because they booked them before getting to Uyuni
- Take overnight buses for long distances to save on accommodation costs. Shop around for bus tickets too – the price difference between different companies can be significant
- Learn basic Spanish before you go – it might help you haggle in markets or avoid being ripped off
- Take advantage of happy hours in bars for drinks
Have you travelled in Bolivia? Let us know about your experience with prices in the comments below.
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