It recently came to my attention that an article was published a couple years ago that named Bolivia as the “World’s Most Unfriendly Tourist Destination.” I was surprised by this, and figured I’d use this week’s blog to set the record straight.
While I will admit, navigating public transportation can be quite intimidating here, and you won’t find many people who speak fluent English to ask for help, but I find Bolivia to be an incredibly friendly place! You can see the friendliness of the people right away because greetings are very important to Bolivian culture. Even when someone climbs into a crowded public bus, they still greet everyone else inside with a “Buenos Dias!” And they don’t exclude us gringos from their greetings. They are also very willing to help. With a few basic Spanish phrases, you should be able to get directions to where you need to go, whether that’s the nearest “baño” or the restaurant you’re looking for.
Bolivia is an absolutely beautiful country. We have only been here for a month and traveled primarily in and around La Paz, and we have already seen many different breathtaking landscapes. Snow-capped mountains, winding roads, waterfalls, and lush, jungle forests – all within a few hours drive of each other!
Also – Bolivia is extremely kind to the traveler’s wallet. You can take a mini-bus from one end of La Paz to the other for less than 3Bs (that’s 50 cents!), and a taxi usually doesn’t cost more that 20Bs. If you’re hungry, you can grab food from a local market easily. The freshest fruits and vegetables are yours for the taking. We bought 3 onions last week for 4Bs (less than 60 cents). Of course, I would recommend washing your veggies before taking a bite, but I would still consider this a “friendly” way to eat. If you don’t want to cook or clean, there are plenty of restaurants around that offer delicious food for good prices. So far we’ve eaten at restaurants that serve Tex Mex, Vietnamese, Indian, and Italian food. Not to mention all the great traditional Bolivian restaurants around. My new brunch obsession is to eat salteñas – similar to empanadas – and those only cost 6Bs apiece! We even “splurged” one night at a fancy place to taste some Argentinian beef, and that cost us less than $15 each. Tourist attractions are pretty cheap as well. Valle de la Luna, a day hike just outside of La Paz, only charges a 15Bs entrance fee (that’s $2 for those of you doing the math). Or, you could really join in the local culture and catch a soccer game for about 60Bs ($10). Warning – depending on which team you choose to root for, you will experience both extreme friendliness and unfriendliness from the fans. But it’s all in good fun!
Here are just a few of the places we have visited so far. I submit these as proof of the “friendliness” of Bolivia toward travelers.
San Francisco Plaza and Calle Sagarnaga
In La Paz’s city center, you will find this gorgeous Catholic church. It was built by Spanish missionaries to serve the indigenous population of Bolivia, and it’s architecture is so unique. You can see right on the building the combination of European Catholic traditions and flora and fauna native to the Americas. It is fascinating to look at! You can also venture inside and check out a view of the city from the roof. Behind the church is a street busy with color and activity. This is Calle Sagarnaga, and it is an excellent place for shopping. You can get a traditional aguayo blanket, a sweater or hat of Alpaca fur, or anything else you can imagine with some Bolivian flair! There’s also an excellent coffee shop on Calle Sagarnaga called “Café Al Mundo” that serves yummy (and safe!) salads, sandwiches, and even a llama burger!
Valle de la Luna
This incredible landscape, located just 10 km outside of La Paz, and only 5 minutes from Highlands International School, is an awesome park for a day hike. The spires of rock are so unique and beautiful! It’s a great place to hike here in the Andes because it’s not too difficult or long – and hiking here can sometimes feel extra tough due to the altitude!
Coroico and Las Yungas
If you take a drive outside of La Paz towards Coroico, you will not be disappointed. The mountain roads (don’t look down!) are incredible and the views are absolutely gorgeous. If you’re feeling really daring, you can even take a drive (or a bike) down the Camino de la Muerte. Yep, that’s right – Death Road. Don’t worry, it is mostly used as a tourist attraction now, and two-way traffic has been banned on this winding, cliff-side street; however, it is still a white-knuckle ride! You’re reward for braving and surviving Death Road is the town of Coroico and it’s many sights to see. We took a short hike to a waterfall and toured a coffee plantation when we were there last weekend, but we hope to return for a zip-lining or rafting adventure soon! Our coffee plantation trip was both fun and informative. We learned that better quality coffee is produced at higher altitudes, making Bolivia a prime spot for growing coffee! We also learned that coffee is much better for the environment of the Yungas than the other crop popular in the region – coca. While coca plantations ruin the soil after 10 years, coffee is much more sustainable. We were able to see and participate in every aspect of coffee production; from picking the berries from the trees, to separating the berries from the beans using an ingenious bicycle machine, to drying the beans out in a greenhouse, to actually hand-roasting the beans in a pot, and finally, of course, to drinking the most delicious coffee! I didn’t even need cream or sugar, and if you know me at all, you know that’s saying something about how good it was! If you’re ever in Coroico, check out M+M’s café, where Mauro and his wife sell the coffee they grow on the plantation. They’re not only extremely friendly, they’re Christians, too! 🙂
These are only a few of the incredible places and things to do in Bolivia, all with kind and friendly Bolivian people who not only greet you but are also so willing to help you navigate their exquisite country and show you just how awesome it is.
While I’m sure that article had some reason for placing Bolivia in the “Most Unfriendly” spot, I am also sure that all of those reasons can be remedied by visiting with someone who can navigate the tricky parts. And guess what? If you’re reading this blog post, you have two people here in La Paz (and a ton of our co-workers) who are ready to help you do just that! So hopefully this blog post has accomplished two things: convince you that Bolivia is not so bad after all (but instead gorgeous and welcoming), and convince you to COME VISIT US! 🙂