Right next to Myanmar, Bolivia was one of the cheapest countries I travelled in 2016. If I had actually tried to save money (I didn’t), I could have easily travelled the country on $25 USD per day (I didn’t) and not gone over my daily budget (I did).
Crossing the border into Bolivia is like walking into a store where everything is 30% off. “It’s so cheap!” you shout, only to end up spending more money than normal and leaving with handfuls of crap you probably don’t need because, well, it’s so cheap. So goes the story in Bolivia.
For those on a tight budget and frugal spending habits, the country is crazy cheap; most definitely the cheapest in South America. For travelers with a bit more to spend, there are some phenomenal cost to value deals to be found.
For example, a private suite with sweeping views of Lake Titicaca, kitchen, fireplace and a large bathroom can be found for $44 USD per night. Definitely one of the best deals in the Western Hemisphere. For anyone willing for endure some bare bones transportation, getting around the country, whether bus or train, is phenomenal value as well. Good food that isn’t fried might be a bit harder to find, but overall what it lacks in flavor it makes up for in price.
A utopian budget destination with plenty to offer in terms of culture and landscape, Bolivia is a popular stop on the gringo trail for good reason.
Here is a (hopefully insightful) look into how I made it rain in Bolivia.
Date of Travel: May 2016
Total Spent: $731.47 USD
Total Days: 23
Average Cost per Day: $31.80
Budget per Day: $30 USD
Exchange Rate: $1 USD = 6.85 BOL
The graph below does a lot to explain how and when I hit my spending goals. My daily budget was $30 USD and the blue line indicates exactly how much I spent any given day. Pretty straight forward. The more important red line indicates how much I went over or under on my daily $30 per day allowance. Notice that only the first and last two days was I substantially over budget. The remaining days were actually under by $30 budget goal.
At first glance, the food in Bolivia matches it’s economy; some of the poorest on the continent. With a little bit of homework in the right location however, some definite gems will appear.
First the bad news. Without knowing where to look, most street food and local restaurants are bland mixes of just fried… stuff. Meats, meh. The rice, ugh. Soups, hardly anything to call home about. A bit harsh, sure, but I came across some pretty terrible meals.
Thankfully, two notable exceptions are Sucre and Cochabamba. In both these cities the food scene improves dramatically. Chochabamba, for example, a city somewhat off the gringo trail, turned into a gold mine of local food. Without too much effort I found great sandwiches, chorizo, pork, potatoes, and plenty of other tasty options. A good basic meal came in under $3 USD. A nice meal, around $6-8. The tourist hotspot Sucre has decent food as well. Plenty of cafes, asado restaurants and western themed bars to keep your appetite occupied.
Hostels, or equally as cheap hotels, often don’t include breakfast. Some do, but expect basic coffee, bread and jam. But honestly, doesn’t matter. Local food carts and cafes are great options for good and cheap meals. On a final note, local produce and meat markets (careful with this last one, refrigeration isn’t really a thing) is some of the cheapest I’ve ever encountered. With access to a decent kitchen one can potentially cook up some stellar meals.
Total Cost: $198.18
Average Cost Per Day: $9.01 | 61.71 BOL
Full disclosure: I’m old. The days of free shots and blacking out to the pounding house music from the bar beneath my dorm room doesn’t really do it for me anymore. Perhaps things were different one decade ago, but many of those all night ragers are behind me. So here I am, an old curmudgeon who occasionally enjoys a beer with his 11 p.m. bed time. In all honesty I probably fall somewhere between the two extremes.
Nearly all the accommodation during my three week stint was in private rooms. Hostels are still a good to great deal, but sharing a double room with a friend will be the most budget friendly option. Expect to pay $5 – $15 per night for a private room. Hostels, about $9 – $11. There were two or three night buses which helped reduce the overall cost just a bit.
Total Cost: $155.33
Average Cost Per Night: $7.06 | 48.36 BOL
Surprisingly, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with adventure activities. I was just kind of ‘adventured’ out from Peru, so most days were spent walking cities, parks and gardens, taking Spanish lessons or just relaxing in a quiet cafe. Again, I’m old.
One BIG exception however was the two days I spent in Uyuni and the subsequent three crossing the desert into Chile. The $150 or so dollars I spent for various tours was well worth the cost. One of the greatest things I did in South American actually.
Total Cost: $193.72
Average Cost Per Day: $8.81 | 60.32 BOL
Getting around the country is challenging. Thankfully your comfort is compromised much more than your wallet. Buses, when they’re operating (strikes and road blocks are popular forms of protest here) are a great deal. Much like Peru, not all bus companies are created equal so there is definitely an element of “you get what you pay for.” Even still, the more expensive options a still a good value. Never pay more than $2/hour for a journey and be sure to shop around.
And a quick Bolivia pro tip. Almost all the buses, even the long haul overnighters, don’t have bathrooms. Plan accordingly. If you’re not up to the challenge of dehydrating yourself the afternoon before your 12 hour trip, ask around different companies if there buses have bathrooms – and then follow that up with “is it working?” Many companies have a habit or permanently locking the bus bathrooms because the drivers/crew don’t want to maintain them. Seriously, it’s a thing.
Taxis are best for getting around town, generally cheap but will require some haggling in Spanish. Combis are great for quick trips less than a few hours between cities.
Total Cost: $59.78
Average Cost Per Day: $2.72 | 18.61 BOL
Here is where “less is more” came back to bite me. With beer so cheap I just bough more of it. C’est la vie.
Total Wasted: $58.54
Average Cost Per Day: $2.66 | 18.23 BOL
I’m still an idiot for not signing up with Charles Schwab. Trying to organize all the paperwork from abroad is kinda a pain.
Total Wasted. Again: $9.00 USD | 61.65 BOL
Toys and Misc
Things like my haircut, laundry, and tip for our amazing guide taking us through the Salar de Uyuni.
Total Spent: $34.45 | 236 BOL
Altitude sickness tablets and cold medicine. Let’s see how you feel at 3,500 meters.
Total Spent: $16.93 | 116 BOL
And for those with a graph fetish, the obligatory line graph.