SAFETY TIPS

SAFETY AND SECURITY

DEMONSTRATIONS

Demonstrations and labour strikes occur regularly, often with little or no notice. Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent at any time. They can also lead to disruptions to traffic and public transportation. Protesters have used dynamite during previous protests.

  • Avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities
  • Monitor local media for information on ongoing demonstrations

More about mass gatherings (large-scale events)  

LOS YUNGAS REGION

In the Chapare area between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba and in Los Yungas region, northeast of La Paz, violence, carjackings and civil unrest, mainly associated with drug trafficking, pose risks. In the departments of Beni, Pando and Santa Cruz, there is a high police presence due to the increase in drug-related crimes.

BORDER WITH PERU

The situation is tense in areas along Bolivia’s border with Peru.

LAKE TITICACA

Disputes between local communities on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca have caused disruptions to transportation along the popular tourist route between Copacabana and Isla del Sol. If you plan to travel to Isla del Sol, be sure to carry extra food and water. Expect significant travel delays.

CRIME

Petty theft, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, is common in large cities. Robbery and assaults occur at tourist destinations and foreigners are frequently targeted by thieves.

Be especially careful when walking around tourist areas in La Paz, such as Sagarnaga Street, the Church of San Francisco vicinity and historic Jaén Street, and when hiking in the areas surrounding La Paz, such as the Muela del Diablo.

Remain in large groups and only join tours organized by reputable tour operators when travelling near Rurrenabaque in the Bolivian Andes, in Los Yungas and on the Inca trails.

Ensure that your personal belongings, including your passport and other travel documents, are secure at all times.

COMMON CRIMINAL STRATEGIES

Organized robbery occurs. Criminals operating in groups will distract victims by staging a fight, starting a conversation, offering help, blocking a sidewalk or throwing an object or liquid on the victims, while accomplices steal from them. Individuals have been lured by very young children to a location where they’re then robbed.

Criminals often pose as police officers and ask to examine the traveller’s belongings or ask the traveller to accompany them to a bogus police station, sometimes in collusion with a criminal posing as a taxi driver or another passenger.

In other cases, a criminal posing as a police officer intercepts the traveller interacting with an accomplice, who is posing as a tourist and carrying contraband material such as drugs. The “police officer” takes the traveller to a bogus police station set up by scam artists and seizes documents, debit cards and credit cards.

Under Bolivian law, there’s no obligation to go with an officer to a police station unless they have a formal written request from a judge with your name on it. Any search or seizure must occur at a genuine police station in the presence of the prosecutor.

  • Be cautious of strangers.
  • Remain alert to your surroundings at all times.
  • Dress casually, avoid wearing jewellery and carrying large sums of money, and keep cellphones, cameras and other electronic equipment out of sight.
  • Don’t travel alone, especially at night.

KIDNAPPING

“Express” kidnappings have occurred. In these abductions, criminals ask for small, immediate ransoms. The kidnappers usually force their victims to withdraw funds from an ATM or to arrange for family or friends to pay the ransom. This ploy is often used by criminal taxi drivers, who pick up the victim and then stop to pick up associates.

These kidnappings are committed by organized gangs and occur throughout the country, but most frequently in major cities such as Cochabamba, La Paz and Santa Cruz, and when travelling between them.

  • Avoid the Copacabana–Desaguadero route after 2 p.m.
  • When travelling from Copacabana to La Paz, take direct buses to avoid transferring at the Desaguadero border crossing with Peru.

CAR THEFT

Vehicle and auto-parts theft is a problem throughout Bolivia.

  • Keep valuables in the trunk
  • Park your car in a supervised lot

FRAUD

Credit card and ATM fraud occurs. Be cautious when using debit or credit cards:

  • Pay careful attention when your cards are being handled by others
  • Use ATMs located in well-lit public areas or inside a bank or business
  • Avoid using card readers with an irregular or unusual feature
  • Cover the keypad with one hand when entering your PIN
  • Check for any unauthorized transactions on your account statements

More about overseas fraud

MEDICAL SCAMS

Carefully research medical clinics if you plan to travel to Bolivia for medical services. Canadians visiting Bolivia for surgical procedures have reported falling victim to scams by medical companies that insist on retaining passports as collateral. Once the procedure is complete, the company attempts to extort more money from the patient before returning their passport.

If your passport is inaccessible due to such a situation, you may receive limited passport services. You may also be subject to investigation by Passport Canada. Never hand over your passport to anyone.

SPIKED FOOD AND DRINKS

Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as the items may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.

WOMEN’S SAFETY

Women travelling alone may be subject to some forms of harassment and verbal abuse. Sexual assaults occur periodically, including at clubs and hostels. Female travellers should be cautious when dealing with strangers and new acquaintances. Lock your room when you return to your hotel/hostel.

Safe-travel guide for women

ROADBLOCKS

Roadblocks are common, can be erected suddenly and can lead to significant disruptions to traffic and public transportation. They have stranded travellers for several days. All roads in border areas, especially along the Bolivia–Peru border, and roads leading to international airports are particularly vulnerable to blockades.

Before departure, check with your airline to determine if there are delays or changes in flight schedules.

If you plan to take a road trip, review your travel plans to determine if they will be affected by demonstrations or civil unrest, take personal security measures and monitor media reports.

Take extra food, water, medicine and warm clothing as a precaution. Once a roadblock is in place, local authorities, officials and vendors will not be able to enter or exit the city to provide supplies to stranded travellers.

Don’t cross roadblocks, even if they appear unattended. This may aggravate the situation and lead to physical harm. Instead, consider taking an alternative safer route, or returning to your place of departure.

WATER ACTIVITIES

Unknown bodies of water can be dangerous. Seek local advice on safe swimming locations. Rescue services may not be consistent with international standards.

Water safety abroad

ADVENTURE TOURISM

There are no official minimum safety standards for tour operators. Safety features in vehicles and on small boats used in river and lake excursions are sometimes unreliable. Only participate in tours in Uyuni, jungle expeditions, boat trips, mountain biking and other adventure activities with well-established companies. Ensure that your travel insurance covers your recreational activities.

TREKKING

Be vigilant when hiking in the areas surrounding La Paz, such as the Muela del Diablo, near Rurrenabaque in the Bolivian Andes, in Los Yungas and on the Inca trails. Criminals have targeted tourists in these areas.

There are no mountain rescue services in Bolivia.

If you intend to trek:

  • never do so alone and always hire an experienced guide from a reputable company
  • buy travel insurance that includes helicopter rescue and medical evacuation
  • ensure that your physical condition is good enough to meet the challenges of your activity
  • ensure that you’re properly equipped and well informed about weather and other conditions that may pose a hazard
  • inform a family member or friend of your itinerary, including when you expect to be back to camp
  • know the symptoms of acute altitude sickness, which can be fatal
  • obtain detailed information on trekking routes or ski slopes before setting out and do not venture off marked trails or slopes

AYAHUASCA CEREMONIES

Spiritual cleansing and ayahuasca ceremonies, offered by shamans and other individuals, involve taking substances that can cause medical complications and can severely impair cognitive and physical abilities.

Exposure to these substances has led to serious illness, injury, assault and even the death of several tourists.

Ceremonies often take place in remote areas that have no access to medical or mental health facilities or resources and only limited communication with local authorities. Most of the time, the facilities lack basic first aid or emergency plans for those suffering from physical or psychological illness from these ceremonies.

Ayahuasca ceremonies are not regulated and there is no way to assess the safety of any of the services, the operators or the shamans.

ROAD SAFETY

Road conditions and road safety are poor throughout Bolivia. Although improved highways connect Cochabamba, La Paz, Santa Cruz and Sucre, many roads in Bolivia are unpaved. The old Yungas road is considered one of the world’s most dangerous roads.

Outside major cities, four-wheel-drive vehicles are necessary, especially in mountainous areas.

Most drivers lack formal training and don’t respect traffic laws. Accidents and fatalities are common. Common road hazards include:

  • aggressive and reckless drivers
  • drunk drivers
  • excessive speed
  • poorly maintained vehicles
  • unlit vehicles at night
  • narrow winding roads
  • lack of guardrails on mountain roads
  • minimal signage
  • poorly marked road construction
  • unpaved roads and potholes
  • unfavourable weather conditions, sometimes causing landslides

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Public transportation, including buses, trains, shared taxis and mini-buses, is unsafe. The level of crime is high in taxis, on buses and at transportation hubs. Violent crimes and armed robberies against foreigners also occur in the Santa Cruz bus/train terminal.

BUSES

Local and intercity buses are frequently involved in traffic accidents, especially overnight buses. Accidents involving less reputable, poorly maintained tourist buses have caused injuries and fatalities.

Use only tour buses operated by well-known companies for trips. If you have any doubt about the safety of a bus or its driver, refrain from using it.

  • Exercise caution in La Paz bus terminals, especially the one near the La Paz cemetery and the main bus terminal on Peru Avenue in Zona Norte.
  • Avoid Coronilla Hill, adjacent to the main bus terminal in Cochabamba, due to recent assaults.

TAXIS

Most taxis are poorly maintained.

Avoid hailing taxis on the street. Instead, call radio taxi companies that are registered with authorities from a landline or from a hotel. Take note of the taxi’s registration and telephone numbers before you depart. Radio taxis are identifiable by the telephone number and name of the taxi company on the vehicle’s roof. Those registered with the mayor’s office should have a yellow sticker in one of their windows. This type of taxi should carry no other passengers.

  • Pay special attention when taking taxis to and from airports, particularly in Santa Cruz and La Paz, where bandits are known to rob tourists
  • Decline transportation from people offering cheaper fares
  • Never allow a stranger to share a taxi with you
  • Avoid taking motorcycle taxis

AIR TRAVEL

We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.

General information about foreign domestic airlines