Bolivia is one of the best South American destinations for adventure tourists and lovers of nature. The country is one of the smaller ones on the continent but contains an astonishing diversity of landscapes.
From the Salar de Uyuni lunar-like desert and the Amazon jungle to the high Andes Mountains and stunning Lake Titicaca, it’s a nature-lovers paradise.
Besides natural wonders, Bolivia has a unique culture for travelers to explore. Bolivia’s indigenous population is numerous, and many groups, such as the people of Lake Titicaca, retain their traditional ways of life.
Bustling La Paz, the capital, is the perfect mix of traditional culture and modern metropolis, including the world’s largest urban cable car network. With so much to explore in the country, you might be raring to go right away. But is Bolivia safe? Here’s our expert take.
Is Bolivia Safe to Visit?
Yes. Bolivia is mostly safe to visit, and many people come every year and have a wonderful time. However, you should exercise caution when you are there and closely follow the local news.
Although the political situation has calmed down since the turmoil of a few years ago, civil unrest breaks out sometimes. Plus, crime does happen, especially in major tourist areas.
The main reason why most foreign governments advise their citizens to exercise caution when visiting Bolivia is political tension and the potential for civil unrest. For example, the New Zealand government warns citizens to exercise a high degree of caution and avoid all protests.
Demonstrations and labor strikes are fairly common, and protesters often set up roadblocks. Avoid demonstrations as even though they are mostly peaceful, they do sometimes turn violent.
If there is a demonstration announced for the city you are staying in, try to head out of town for a few days, especially if you have travel scheduled. If there are roadblocks, you will be stuck.
Bolivia is still recovering from the polarizing political events in 2019 and 2020. The election of 2019, in which it was disputed whether long-time president Evo Morales won, resulted in the ousting of the government.
The new caretaker government promised elections but kept postponing them, leading to months of demonstrations that were heavily suppressed. Eventually, Evo Morales’s party MAS won in the 2020 elections when they finally took place.
The year or so of turmoil left a deep mark on Bolivian society, and people are still very polarized in their interpretations of what happened. Protests still sometimes break out.
Avoid discussing political topics with local Bolivian acquaintances unless they start the conversation, as you never know what someone’s opinions are or what their comfort level is for discussing politics.
Besides civil unrest, crime is another concern for people visiting Bolivia. Common crimes that occur include:
- Bag snatching
- Armed robbery
- Sexual assault
Although petty crime is prevalent, especially in tourist destinations, Bolivia’s violent crime levels are fairly low, so you don’t have to be very concerned during your visit. One final thing to note before your visit to Bolivia is the dangers that come to you from the environment.
The entire country of Bolivia is at a very high altitude, and many visitors get altitude sickness if they are not careful. Give yourself time to acclimate to the country before going on any treks or doing strenuous physical activity.
Drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen, as even though the weather is cooler, the sun is strong.As long as you are careful around crowds and tense political demonstrations, you will have a great time in Bolivia.
Crime in Bolivia
One of the primary problems countries warn their citizens about before visiting Bolivia is crime. Most countries have Bolivia under an advisory level of elevated concern due to the crime levels.
For example, the Australian government tells its citizens to exercise a high degree of caution in Bolivia due to a high risk of serious crime in addition to the political tensions mentioned in other travel advisories.
A major driver of crime in Bolivia is drug trafficking and organized crime. According to UN data, Bolivia is the third-largest producer of cocaine in the world.
The prevalence of drugs creates the perfect environment for organized criminal gangs to operate, and they are behind much of the crime in Bolivia. Gangs are behind serious crimes such as human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, arms, and drug trafficking.
However, although violent crime is present in Bolivia, the situation is much better than in the rest of South America.
For example, Bolivia ranks second-to-last in South America on the Global Organized Crime Index, showing that although there are dramatic incidents, overall organized crime rates are low. Most serious crimes affect locals, not tourists.
Bolivia overall has a moderate violent crime rate. Its violent crime rate in 2019 was seven incidents per 100,000 people, which is about the global average (keep in mind that 2019 was the year that started the serious political unrest in the country, so in more stable years, the crime rate is even lower).
The robbery rate is also moderate in Bolivia. According to Knoema, the prevalence of robbery in 2018 was 132.2 incidents per 100,000 people.
That is a lower incidence rate than in many North American cities. Most robberies that occur in Bolivia are petty crimes, not violent thefts, although armed robbery is sadly a growing problem.
Sexual assault does occur in Bolivia. Although gender-based violence is mostly a problem that local women face, foreign women are also sometimes victims.
Sexual harassment, such as catcalling against female travelers, is the most common crime women experience in Bolivia.
But there have been more serious incidents of assault. Always keep your eyes on your drink or food when going out in Bolivia, and avoid going places with new acquaintances that seem too friendly.
The most common crime by far that tourists experience in Bolivia is petty theft. Petty theft takes many different forms. The UK government warns travelers that pickpocketing is common in popular tourist destinations such as La Paz.
Pickpocketing incidents also occur at bus stations and on intercity buses. Always keep a firm grip on your belongings, especially when you are moving in a crowd. Keep your money, passports, and tickets in a secure place, such as a front pocket or zipped inner jacket pocket.
Divide up your money and cards so even if a pickpocket takes your wallet, you still have enough money to get home. Bag snatching is even more common than pickpocketing.
These incidents often occur in large cities that are also popular tourist destinations, such as La Paz. Always use a bag that you can strap securely to your body, such as a cross-body bag or money belt, instead of one that is easier to grab, such as a tote bag.
Keep a firm grip on your bag straps at all times as you are moving around and even when you sit down—this is not the country to carelessly hang your bag off the back of your café chair.
Scams are also very common in Bolivia. One of the most common and serious scams involves criminals posing as police officers. They demand bribes or for unsuspecting tourists to follow them to a police station, but really, they lure you away to rob you.
The New Zealand government advises its citizens that according to Bolivia law, a police officer must have a written warrant to seize your valuables or ask you to come to a police station. Always ask to see identification.
Scammers will also pose as fellow tourists and invite you on an adventure or to a house party. Making friends while traveling is great, but beware of going to an unknown location alone.
Also, be careful when people cause a commotion on the street, such as staging an argument or spilling something on you. These are usually thieves working with an accomplice that will relieve you of your valuables as you are distracted.
Although violent crime is rarer in Bolivia than in many of its neighbors, it does occur. The most common violent crime that tourists experience in Bolivia is armed robbery.
Armed robberies are sadly becoming more common in Bolivia’s tourist areas, from La Paz to the Inca Trail. One hot spot according to many government advisories and forums, including the official Australian government site, is the taxi.
Only take authorized radio taxis or taxis that you hail through a ride-sharing app, as many criminals pose as unauthorized taxis.
They then rob customers turned victims at gunpoint or take them to a remote location where accomplices do the dirty work. One common form of armed robbery in Bolivia is express kidnapping.
Criminals will force a victim at gunpoint to go to an ATM and empty their bank account. Unauthorized taxis are often behind this form of crime. Always use secure ATMs within bank branches and only during daylight.
Avoiding Bad Areas
There are certain parts of Bolivia where you need to exercise more caution than you would in other places. The United States government advises all citizens to avoid travel to the regions of Chapare and Yungas due to elevated crime.
These regions are the hotbeds of coca growth in Bolivia. If you are hiking the Inca Trail or stopping in Rurrenabaque, go with a large group or a reputable guide.
Armed robberies are becoming more common on the trail. Be careful along land borders, especially those with Chile and Peru. Those are hotspots for armed robberies, especially express kidnappings.
Bolivia’s bigger cities all have areas that are less safe than others.
In Cochabamba, avoid Coronilla Hill, the area near the bus station, due to high crime levels. Dangerous areas of La Paz include Cementerio General and Sopocachi. The central area of La Paz isn’t dangerous but has a high rate of petty crime.
Things to Consider
Also keep these things in mind when traveling to Bolivia:
- Prison tours are illegal and unsafe. Operators are usually unscrupulous guards looking to make a quick buck. Avoid them at all costs, as Bolivia’s prisons are notoriously dangerous.
- Drugs are illegal in Bolivia, and penalties are stiff. Don’t partake while you are in the country.
- There is a special number for tourism police in Bolivia, so save that in your phone.
- Never take down road blockades, even if they are annoying you, as locals will not take kindly to that.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other things you might want to know about Bolivia:
Is Bolivia safe for female travelers?
Women do face a higher risk when traveling in Bolivia than men because of the risk of sexual assault. They are also targeted more than men for theft because they are seen as easier victims.
However, Bolivia is one of the safer places in South America for women. Just be aware that local attitudes are more conservative than in neighboring countries.
Are people friendly in Bolivia?
Yes, Bolivian people are friendly and very welcoming. However, be careful of overly friendly new acquaintances as sometimes scammers lure tourists in that way.
Is La Paz safe for tourists?
La Paz, the Bolivian capital, is safe for tourists! The city does have incidents of petty theft and some armed robbery, but its crime rates are similar to most major North American cities.
Is it safe to drive through Bolivia?
If you have a license and are an experienced driver, driving through Bolivia is doable. However, beware of frequent roadblocks and read up on planned demonstrations that might affect your travel plans.
Is Bolivia cheap to travel to?
Not only is Bolivia safe to visit, but it is also one of the cheapest places to visit in South America! Many backpackers make it through on a shoestring budget.
So Is Bolivia Safe to Visit in 2024?
As long as you pay attention to your surroundings and follow local news, Bolivia is safe to visit! There are frequent political demonstrations, and thieves do target foreigners, but some precautions can help you stay safe. Happy travels!