In Bolivia buses are the most common form of transportation in the city and between cities. There are various different types, each named according to its purpose. View a list of bus stations
in Bolivia with contact info.
Prices for the little local city ‘micros’ (meaning 'mini' or 'tiny' and so named because they are only supposed to carry up to 24 passengers) are regulated and all routes costs the same. Schoolchildren and the aged get discounts. Micros have set routes and stops throughout the city, although most stop at nearly every corner and anywhere in between if someone flags them down. They come by often, on some routes as frequently as every 2-5 minutes.
Micros can be a hazardous means of transportation. Drivers must cover their routes from beginning to end in a set amount of time and have several ‘checkpoints’ in between where they must punch a time card to show they are on time all along their routes. This does not mean they are always timely. There is no printed schedule anywhere so how would you know anyway? Usually micros are busy racing each other, making terrifying lane changes and passing each other with total disregard for their passengers’ safety. Sometimes micros from different routes follow the same street for a while and will race each other to compete for passengers. They've been clocked at 80 kilometers per hour on narrow downtown streets.
Many a pedestrian has jumped out of the way just in the nick of time, and passengers are accustomed to running alongside the bus, grabbing the handrail and jumping in as the micro may not make a complete stop at all when flagged down. Most micros are stuffed like sardines with people standing so tightly in the aisles it becomes hard to breathe (making it hard to disembark as well). (You’ll probably be glad you can’t breathe well anyway – they smell awful!) Because they are very inexpensive and most of the working class cannot afford to take a taxi or own a vehicle, micros are the most common form of transportation in Bolivian cities and passengers are at the mercy of their drivers.
Flotas (which literally means 'fleet') are large and modern, usually part of a fleet owned by one company, hence their name, and can carry upwards of 80 passengers. They provide service between cities and towns. Prices are supposed to reflect the level of service, but this is not always the case. There are many competing companies and nearly all list the same prices for the same destinations, regardless of the condition or age of their flotas, which are in various different states and stages of maintenance at any given time. Most, however, are high quality Pullman buses and offer a middle ground for transportation and provide comfort and safety while traveling. They are usually heated and air-conditioned, have reclining seats, and offer movies and music throughout the trip. These long-distance flotas are generally newer, in better condition, and travel the main roads and highways.
You can purchase tickets at any city's "Terminal de Buses", except in Santa Cruz it's called a ‘Terminal Bimodal’ (dual bus and train station) from which all intercity flotas depart. From here you can go to practically any other city in the country including La Paz, Cochabamba, Oruro, Sucre, Potosí, Trinidad, Tarija, Puerto Suarez, and all points in between. Tickets cannot be reserved by phone or in advanced and must be purchased personally at the window of the specific 'flota' company you plan to use. Don't purchase from ticket 'scalpers' (resellers) who loiter around the terminal. Prices may be cheaper but tickets may be useless.
Micros do not use the "terminales de buses". They usually are kept in private garages because each micro busline is privately owned.
Buses. Between micros and flotas you’ll hear of ‘colectivos’ (because they quite literally "collect" passengers). These are smaller than flotas and larger than micros, do not have reclining seats, air conditioning, or any of the other comforts of the flotas (most look like – and probably are - 1960’s U.S. school buses) and are generally used on secondary routes, not main highways, such as between rural towns. On colectivos you’re just as likely to travel alongside chickens and very smelly cargo as you are next to another human passenger. And they generally are PACKED with many passengers standing or sitting in the aisles. Cargo is stacked so high on the rooftop of the colectivos that at times it seems they will overturn from the weight (and they sometimes do).
You'll find traveling in them around
cheap and easy, but uncomfortable and packed. Still, they’re the best bet for the budget traveler. Be warned: when you arrive at the border in the middle of the night, you must wait for the immigration office to open: you may find yourself sitting on a freezing bus in the middle of the night for several hours. Be sure to ask about when the bus gets to the border and if they must wait there.
In Western Bolivia there are lines that run from San Salvador de Jujuy, Argentina to Villazón. From Villazón to La Paz you can take a bus through
or a train through
From Peru, you can go by land or take a boat in Puno that will take you across the border through Desaguadero and Guaqui on the way to
If you choose to navigate
a hovercraft is the fastest form of transportation across the lake.
In Eastern Bolivia you can travel overland from Salta, Argentina and enter Bolivia at Yacuiba or you can enter from Brazil through Corumbá and
where you can hop a train to Santa Cruz. Going to Brazil, from Corumbá it is a 24-hour road trip to Rio de Janeiro. You can also take a flota to
and enter Brazil at Cáceres. There are flotas between
and San Matías.
In northern Bolivia you can enter the country at Cobija, Pando from Brasiléia, or you can enter at Guayaramerín from Guayajá-Merím, Brazil. In Bolivia, from sort-of nearby Riberalta, it is possible to take a 17-hour trip through the worst roads on the planet to Rurrenabaque, and from there to the rest of Bolivia, although the next leg of the trip, from Rurrenabaque to Caranavi, is also long: it’s a 12 hour trip.
Flotas can be a very fun way to travel Bolivia if you are willing to sacrifice a little comfort, don’t expect to stick to a strict schedule, and travel with a mind open to the unexpected. The scenery, if you travel during the day, can be amazing, although you aren't able to stop and take photos whenever you like. It is a true cultural experience as well. You’ll see how a large part of the population lives, try some unusual foods like ‘tacú’ (armadillo for dinner at midnight somewhere in the middle of nowhere), maybe learn how to pee behind a bush, you know, the usual stuff you'd expect. Not!
Traveling overland in Bolivia is only for the most adventurous in central and western Bolivia through the mountains. In the eastern Bolivian plains problems typically arise during the rainy season when roads are muddy. Even in the most comfortable means of transportation, whether a flota or your own vehicle, there are few signs along the roads, you must be continuously informed about the
(landslides are common), and if you’re on a flota potty breaks can be few and far between.
Bring tissue as restrooms in rural areas may be nothing more than a hole in the ground. Bring gel alcohol to clean your hands when water is not available, sunscreen and mosquito repellent, and plenty of snacks and drinking water. Having something to keep you entertained along the way is essential – music, games, books or magazines, your camera... a sense of humor... and if you don't have one,
take a plane.
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