I crossed the border near Puno because it made sense to go into Bolivia after getting to the Titicacalake. The idea was to do a quick round in Bolivia without too much volunteering and getting back to Peru soon. I had so many ideas what to do and where to go in Peru, but hardly knew a thing about Bolivia. In the end my “quick visit” to the country turned into almost three months of travelling! I regularly get puzzled looks from gringo-trail backpackers when I tell them how much time I spent in Bolivia, but the fact is that in addition to being a slow traveller I really liked the country and think it is quite underrated by lots of travellers.When I left Bolivia I got kind of sad and realized that if I had infinite time and visa I easily could have spent at last a month more. So what do I think is so fantastic about travelling Bolivia?
- The incredible nature. When people think about Bolivia they mostly picture the Andes and it is true that they are incredible, but Bolivia has so much more to offer! From the saltflats and colourful lagunes in the southwest to the amazon djungle, from cloudforests to the Titicacalake this country is unbelievably diverse. Trekkers will find a paradise and I certainly didn’t expect to see so many different animals. A bus drive of only a few hours can chnge the climate so drastically you might have to change from summerdress to thermo leggins and lamawool socks. But wherever I went, the nature was spectacular.
- The adventure factor. Forget about biking “deathroad” near La Paz – if you spend enough time in Bolivia you will get your thrills just by riding a bus. When I went to Rurrenabaque the bus companies slogan was “Your adventure starts here!” and they were not lying. Narrow bumpy roads, road blocks, getting stuck in the mudd – nothing ever goes according to plan. I had a mouse eat a hole into my backpack, stayed in hostels with no water and survived several days in Tupiza with no electricity in the whole village. If you are on a tight scedule orstress out about things going “wrong” Bolivia might not be for you – but if you learn to embrace the craziness it’s actually a lot of fun. Each day offers a new surprise and in the end everything turns out fine.
- The other travellers. This might also have to do with my choice of hostels or just be a coincidence, but the moment I entered Bolivia I was surrounded by amazing people. Don’t get me wrong – I met great people in my first month in Peru too, but everyone seemed to be on such a tight scedule so I would mostly just spend a day or two with them. There are also less travellers in a lot of places in Bolivia compared to south Peru, but it seemed easier to get to know them and everyone seemed so relaxed. I went from one great travel companion to another and really got to know them in the weeks (sometimes months) we spent together. I made real friends while travelling that I would love to see again and catch up with.
- The respect for personal space. Don’t expect random people to invite you into their house, offering to show you aroundor just strike up a conversation out of nowhere in Bolivia. Building connections takes a while here, small talk is not always welcome and most people will just ignore you except for a quick greeting. Compared to other latinos Bolivians might seem cold and distanced at first sight, but at the same time they respect your space. In the three months I did not have one uncomfortable situation- no whistling, no weird sexual comments, no men I had to try to get rid of. Unfortunately this is not the norm in a lot of southamerican countries. Still I had lots of interesting conversations and met great people everywhere: couchsurfing, volunteering or simply taking a taxi. Because if you take a bit of time it is very possible to get to know Bolivians.
- The diverse cultures. Although Bolivia is one country, it really consists of very different cultures. Peoples mentality, customs and traditional clothes are very different from place to place. Going from La Paz into the djungle I felt like entering a whole different country because everyone looked and behaved so different. After all this time in the country I still only got a superficial impression of Bolivias different cultures and this really makes me want to go back to learn and explore more.
- The prices. I am not going to lie – Bolivia is dead cheap and it is great! Of course it is not India, but I lived very comfortably without much volunteering and only spent 400 to 600 Euros per month despite various multi day tours which felt like a big luxury. I got so used to the prices that I would walk away from any street seller trying to charge more than 5 Bolivianos (0,65 Euro) for two papayas. If you get out of what I call “the tourist bubble”, eating overprized Pizza and staying at places that tell you their prices in US Dollars, Bolivia is a backpackers dream come true. Unfortunately beer and chocolate are quite pricy but I can live with that if I can have a huge fruit salad every day for under 1 Euro.