Tourists: Demand Bolivia Tour Operators Provide Proper Safety Equipment!

Do you really need travel insurance in Bolivia? Good question. And I've been asked this a LOT recently. Enough to get me concerned. Most of us DON'T invest in travel insurance when we tour - myself included, I'm ashamed to say! But for the following, and other reasons, I now recommend it. So here are some TRAVEL SAFETY TIPS I hope you'll find helpful.

Especially after receiving some messages through our forums like this one, Worst Trip Ever Salar de Uyuni and with the various airline accidents that have taken place lately throughout the world, the recent swine flu outbreak, bikers going off the edge on the world's most dangerous road, the express kidnappings that have become more frequent in La Paz, general stories of luggage theft and loss, 8 bus accidents in the first three months of 2010, and more, I've begun to rethink both safety and insurance.

Being that the Salar de Uyuni and the World's Most Dangerous Road cycling trips (both of which have experienced tourist accidents and deaths in the past year) are Bolivia's Top Tourist Attractions I thought I'd better seriously take a look at the situation and research it more in depth for you.

We don't want tourists to be afraid to travel and tour Bolivia. But we do want you to be fully informed. We all have the right to know what we are getting into.

I get many questions from tourists and travellers and many complaints from those who've already toured about the lack of safety equipment and training. Unfortunately, as we don't own the tour operators that give these tours the only thing we can do is share the information truthfully, speak to tour operators (I have and I tell them what you write me) and as travellers, take precautions.

A WORD ON TRAVEL INSURANCE

Having travel insurance does not prevent accidents. It merely can be helpful if something does occur, but given these things have been running through my mind a lot lately, I began to research travel insurance and why people don't make use of it (aside from the expense) and I came to the conclusion that most of us don't take out travel insurance because we think it's usually too inflexible and won't cover what we really want it to cover, or we believe we won't need it.

Since I always mention services and resources to BoliviaBella readers that I consider useful to you, I've added a page to the site (see below) on one type of travel insurance I found that is very flexible and even covers some of the more extreme adventuresome activities and sports people take part in while traveling. Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and others also recommend it so I contacted the provider and we've set up a page so you can get all the information you need right here on BoliviaBella.

Don't be alarmed. 99% of the time you WON'T USE your travel insurance. But then, when could situations like the ones described above ever be PREDICTED? Here's the page on travel insurance

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO IMPROVE SAFETY AND YOUR CHANCES OF BEING SAFE

Travel safe - whatever choice you make. If the tour you booked doesn't seem to have the proper safety equipment, training or drivers, demand they either supply it or give your money back. The visitor who shared the above story on Uyuni is right. You should never compromise your safety - anywhere in the world.

Also, in countries like Bolivia, you should remember that the addage "you get what you pay for" is usually very literally true. It's OK to try to travel on a shoestring budget. But it's also important to research several travel agencies and tour operators thoroughly and ask them important questions before you contract their services.

For example you could ask:

Do your drivers have driver's licenses? (You'd be surprised how many do not).

Do your drivers/tour guides have first aid training?

Is your vehicle equipped with seatbelts (second question: and do those seatbelts function)?

Is your vehicle equipped with a first aid kit (second question: and it is complete? third question: and is the first aid kit new or recent)?

Will your driver/tour guide have a cellular phone, satellite phone or CB radio throughout the trip? (Most tourists don't realize how remote places like the Salar de Uyuni really are!)

On a map, what are the exact distances to the three nearest medical centers or hospitals from the tour site? Second question: how well equipped are they? Third question: can you supply me a printed list with their locations and phone numbers before we start our trip?

Have them send you a WRITTEN GUARANTEE prior to contracting their services and never pay for a tour prior to getting to Bolivia. You can reserve a tour, but don't pay for something that hasn't yet been provided. Would you do that in the US, Canada, Europe, etc?

It may seem extreme to have to ask questions like these but Bolivia's tourism industry thrives on remote, unique and naturalist destinations and in some cases, extreme sport tours like cycling Death Road. My friends, there is a reason it is called Death Road! About 300 people die on that road EACH year.

Most tourists underestimate the distances between major cities of Bolivia and these destinations, the lack of tourist infrastructure and medical facilities, and the conditions of the roads. Most of all, most tourists underestimate the true size of Bolivia. It's NOT a small country. There are vast remote empty regions between our major cities. You have every right to demand your tour operator provide you all the safety, medical and communications equipment, and driver and tour guide training YOU may require.

I visit many travel forums such as Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and my own forums and I see the complaints. I also see many comments about how it is unlikely things will change in Bolivia. If travelers turn tour operators down and refuse to use their services until they provide safety guarantees, they will be forced to provide them.

I know we should all be able to just ASSUME that they value our lives and will provide the above. It isn't something that SHOULD be an issue - proper safety equipment and training should be a GIVEN and tour operators should not have to be told or asked to provide these things.

However, as long as they don't change their ways consider that it's your money that keeps them operating and your life is in their hands. Therefore it's your RIGHT to demand your safety be taken into account.

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