A question most travelers have when visiting this enchanting country is “is Bolivia safe?”. Well, we’re here to give you the lowdown on exactly that! We will be looking at the general risk to travelers, the safety of solo female travelers, common scams, and more!
So why exactly are people lining up to visit Bolivia? For starters, Bolivia has some next-level landscapes like snow-capped mountains, dense rainforest, and expansive deserts. It also houses a part of the Amazon Rainforest, one of THE best places in the world for wildlife.
If all that doesn’t already have you booking a flight, then there’s the drool-worthy food (get ready to eat a LOT of Quinoa), incredible cultural festivals, and (the icing on top of the Bolivian cake) ridiculously cheap prices! Of course, your safety is always a top priority for us, so keep reading for our in-depth guide to staying safe in Bolivia!
Is Bolivia safe? A general overview
To dive right in, Bolivia is somewhat safe. It has high levels of petty crime and there is a risk of violent crime too. Don’t let this put you off though, as long as you follow some of the basic travel rules and keep your wits about you, then your visit should be trouble-free!
If we take a look at Bolivia’s crime index on numbeo.com, it scores 58.73 out of 100 (with 0 being completely safe, and 100 being completely unsafe). That’s not great, but it’s not horrendous either! To put things in perspective, the crime index for the United States is 48.24. The highest risk to tourists is from petty crime and scams, although serious crimes involving tourists can happen (more on that below).
There is a high risk of pickpocketing and theft in the country, and bag snatching is a common crime. Keep a firm grip on your bag and do not put it on the ground while you’re doing other things. Leave valuables, your passport, and any other important documents locked safely in your hotel room safe, and if you must carry them with you, then keep them in hidden pockets in your clothes or get an anti-theft bag. It’s better to carry a photocopy of your passport on your person and we also advise against keeping all your money in one place.
Bolivia is prone to floods and landslides. The rainy season is from November to March, with intense, heavy rain, particularly in mountainous areas. In December 2021, heavy rains and flooding killed at least 12 people in La Paz. During the rainy season, roads can become impassable for several days. If you choose to travel during this time, we recommend you to monitor the weather situation frequently and avoid trekking in mountainous regions. Mountain climbing, a popular activity in Bolivia, is usually off-limits between the wettest months of January to March.
There are often large demonstrations and protests in the country. If you see a big crowd or hear of a demonstration going on, give that area a wide berth. These kinds of gatherings can become violent.
Serious crime in Bolivia
You need to remain aware and vigilant at all times when traveling through Bolivia. Serious crimes do affect foreigners and in some cases, tourists are sought out as victims. There is an increasing number of taxi robberies, particularly in La Paz and Santa Cruz. You should always take registered taxis, which are identifiable by a display sticker on their windscreen or window. Make sure to note down the taxi registration number AND telephone number before you hop in.
There have been reports of criminals occasionally dressing up to impersonate police officers in collaboration with fake taxi drivers. Usually, the “police officer” approaches the victim asking for their passport and other information, the victim is then convinced to get into a “taxi”, presumably to go to the police station, where they are robbed and taken to ATMs to withdraw all their money. These criminals are highly persuasive, even using false police ID cards and fake police stations to lure victims!
Express kidnappings (short-term, opportunistic kidnappings) are a general risk. Tourists are selected at random and kidnapped for several days while the criminals use their stolen bank cards. The overland entry points into Bolivia, via Argentina, Chile, and Peru, are places where foreigners are particularly at risk. Try to use direct buses when possible, and take extra care when you arrive.
In La Paz, kidnappings are most likely to happen downtown, as well as in Plaza del Estudiante, Plaza San Francisco, Plaza Isabel La Catolica, Plaza Abaroa, Sopocachi, and Plaza Humboldt. Altiplano is also a risky area. Tourists should stay away from Coronilla Hill in Cochabamba (near the main bus terminal). This area is frequented by alcoholics and drugs addicts, and even the locals avoid it.
Common Scams in Bolivia
There are a few common scams in Bolivia (including the “fake police officer/taxi driver” scam we described above). Here are some of the most common scams you should be aware of:
- The “fake police” scam – Yes, we’ve got another fake police scam to watch out for. This one is very similar to the one we described earlier, in which a criminal dresses up and impersonates a police officer. These “officers” will target foreign tourists and “arrest” them on the pretense of drug trafficking. They will demand payment for a fine and/or your ID, then, once you have handed it over, they will quickly disappear with it. In Bolivia, police officers aren’t allowed to search you without a warrant. If someone suspicious approaches you, ask to see their warrant before handing anything over and then immediately contact your embassy.
- The “spill” scam – This scam gets points for simplicity. It works by someone “accidentally” spilling something on you (it could be a drink, some sauce, etc.). Another person will approach to help, offering to clean you up, and while doing this, they will steal your things using an expert sleight of hand. If someone does spill something on you, just refuse any help and clean yourself up.
- The “fake tourist” scam – In this scenario, another friendly “tourist” will approach you and try to be friends. Then, they might invite you to join them at a friend’s house. If this happens, do not go and politely decline. You may find yourself being kidnapped and robbed.
- The “fake tourist/police” scam – The fancy dress shop MUST be raking in a lot of cash, as we’ve got yet another fake police scam for you. In this scam, a friendly “tourist” will try to befriend you, they will then be accused of drug possession by a uniformed “officer”. Both of you will get taken to a fake police station where your belongings will be confiscated (A.K.A. stolen).
We wouldn’t blame you if right about now you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of scams… However, simply knowing about them is already the biggest step to reducing your chances of becoming a victim! Be super wary of anyone who approaches you and politely decline any invitations. Be firm in asking any officers to see a warrant before handing over any important documents or allowing them to search you. If they become aggressive, don’t be afraid to make a scene and draw attention to the situation.
Is Bolivia safe for female solo travelers?
This is a tricky one to answer outright. Lots of women travel to Bolivia solo and nothing bad happens to them. However, other women have reported serious incidents such as rape and sexual assault. For this reason, we’re going to say that Bolivia is somewhat safe for solo female travelers. You will need to take the normal precautions that you would normally take while traveling solo, as well as some additional steps.
Be especially careful at night and avoid unlit streets, deserted areas, and if possible, walking alone. If you decide to go out on the town, be extra alert in clubs, making sure to keep your drink with you at all times and only accepting drinks you’ve seen being made with your own eyes.
Be wary of any strangers who might approach you, and if you can, make friends with some other female travelers in your hotel/hostel, so you can go on a girl’s night out and watch each other’s backs! Always lock your hotel/hostel door as soon as you get back.
Is public transport in Bolivia safe?
Traveling by bus is by far the best way to get around Bolivia, unfortunately, public transport can be unsafe and unreliable. If you have the budget, splash out the extra cash for “luxury” bus services, as the extra cost will be well worth the extra comfort. As a minimum, you should always travel using well-established public transportation companies.
Always try to take direct bus routes, and if you’re traveling from Copacabana to La Paz, do so during the day. Night travel between these destinations is dangerous. If you’re on a non-stop trip, be wary of bus drivers who are working with criminal taxi drivers. They often stop short of the final destination, leaving passengers behind who are then forced to use a taxi. The taxi drivers often try to rob their passengers of their valuables. If you’re arriving in La Paz, take care in the Cementerio General area, as there have been reports of kidnappings in that area.
Breakdowns are really common, and during the rainy season, be prepared for long delays. If you are planning to travel through mountainous regions over the rainy season, there is a risk of landslides. The Bolivian Road Authority website has up-to-date info on the state of the roads, so it’s good to check before you set out on your journey.
Bolivia has a tense political climate and groups often make rock blockades as a form of protest. They can happen without warning and can widely disrupt public transport. If you come across a blockade, do not attempt to cross it.
Be extra vigilant in popular tourist sites such as Rurrenabaque, as attacks have been reported on by lone travelers using motorbike taxis.
Is tap water in Bolivia safe?
Most of you will be well aware, but for those who aren’t, tap water is NOT safe to drink in Bolivia! Always drink bottled water and use bottled water for brushing your teeth and rinsing your mouth out.
When eating out, try to avoid drinks with ice (unless you’re sure it has been made using bottled water) and steer away from dishes with ingredients that may have been washed in tap water, like salads.
Top 7 tips for staying safe in Bolivia
As you’ve probably gathered, fantastic as it is, Bolivia can be a dangerous place… We’ve compiled our TOP 7 safety tips to help you make sure your visit goes off without a hitch:
- Don’t stay out past 4am – There is a law in Bolivia prohibiting the sale of alcohol past 4am. There are illegal speakeasies that operate outside of the legal hours, but these places can be dangerous, and getting caught here by the police could have severe consequences.
- Be vigilant at all times – Never let your guard down in Bolivia. Always be wary of friendly strangers, don’t walk alone at night, and always keep an eye/firm grip on your things.
- Only use reputable tour companies – Bolivia has loads of tours to visit their absolutely stunning natural sights. The problem is tour companies don’t have a minimum safety standard so your safety could get compromised. It’s best to choose reputable tour companies with good reviews and recommendations.
- Stay away from dangerous areas – Several areas in Bolivia are notorious for crime. The obvious solution?? Stay away, especially at night.
- Be aware of scams – We’ve told you about the most common scams, but it may be good to brush up right before your trip so you can avoid falling victim to criminals.
- Leave your valuables at the hotel – With such a high level of pickpocketing and theft, bringing your valuables out just isn’t worth it. This includes your passport. Just bring a photocopy of your passport out with you (including the Bolivian visa page) in case a REAL police officer needs to take a look for whatever reason.
- Always take registered taxis and well-known bus companies – A lot of crime happens in fake taxis. Always take the time to double-check if a taxi is legitimate before getting in. Scams can happen with corrupt bus drivers who are in cahoots with criminals, to reduce the chances of this, take well-reviewed bus companies that come highly recommended.
Is Bolivia safe: the final verdict
So, Bolivia isn’t exactly the safest place in South America, BUT, that hasn’t stopped travelers from visiting time and time again! While most visits are trouble-free, serious crimes DO sometimes affect tourists so you should always be on your guard. Knowing the local scams and which areas not to go to is key to keeping yourself safe.
Lots of female solo travelers explore the country without any problems, but serious incidents have been reported by a few. The key to staying safe is exercising the normal precautions as you would anywhere, and being extra vigilant and wary of strangers.
Bolivia is a fantastic country, and despite the dangers, it is well worth the visit! Now you’ve read our safety guide you should be well equipped to enjoy this incredible place and all it has to offer!