Bolivia travel tips: don't let your money put you at risk

Tourists are easy targets for pickpockets in Bolivia and criminals are becoming bolder and more cunning, using some very creative ways to separate you from your money. Here are some of the ways you could lose your money in Bolivia:

1. Purse snatching. If you carry a purse, handbag or backpack strapped over just one shoulder, hang it on your chair at a restaurant, or set it down on the ground near your feet for any reason, you could become the victim of a purse snatcher. No matter how safe an area seems to be, and no matter how friendly the people around you seem to be, don't do this. Instead:

a. strap your purse or handbag diagonally across your chest

b. walk on the inside of the sidewalk, not the curb - thieves occasionally do drive by and snatch a purse simply by stretching their arms out of a car window

c. at restaurants hold it on your lap (or between your feet under the table - wrap the strap around your ankle or leg one or more times and place the bag between your feet)

d. carry your backpack or satchel in front of you, not on your back

e. if your bag or backpack is too large or heavy, consider bringing along a smaller backpack or shoulder bag for daily use and leave your large travel backpack at your hotel

2. Safety at ATMs. If you use an automatic teller to withdraw funds from an account or credit card:

a. choose an ATM that has doors, not one that is open on the street

b. choose one in a well-lit area with plenty of people around (but not so crowded that people can 'accidentally' bump into you)

c. never accept help from a stranger - if you can't understand the ATM instructions enter a bank instead - they'll provide a person to help you

d. be sure no one can look over your shoulder as you type in your data

e. 'cloning' ATM cards is prevalent in Bolivia - prior to inserting your card, check the ATM keypad and slot to be sure they don't look loose or tampered with. If they do, don't use the ATM

f. count your money, place it in your wallet or purse, completely close your purse, and strap it diagonally across your chest inside the ATM - do the same if you use a money belt or satchel under your clothing

g. as you exit the ATM be very aware you are not followed

h. change your password frequently while you travel

3. Pickpockets/Purse-slashers: when you are in busy areas such as malls, movie theaters, markets, buses and busy streets always carry your money, wallet or purse in front of you or safely inside your clothing (money belt, satchel around your neck and under your shirt). This makes it difficult for pickpockets to get to it. In addition, in Bolivia thieves often carry small razor blades or knives which they use very deftly and silently to slash your purse or bag. Although they may attempt to reach in to steal your belongings, often they'll simply follow you picking up your belongings as they slip out.

4. Distractions: Thieves often work in pairs or groups in Bolivia. They approach tourists who look lost or look like they need help. As one offers to give you directions, explain or describe something to you, and engages you in friendly distracting conversation, the other is picking your pocket or taking off with your bag which you may have unwisely set down beside your as you converse. Take note: you most often will not be aware there is a team working against you. Most often, only one person will approach you. The other person(s) will approach you from behind or somewhere else or simply walk quickly past you - and you may perhaps not ever see or notice them.

5. Muggings: these have become more prevalent in the past few years and some have taken place in broad daylight. If you visit attractions that are not well-populated, don't go alone. Even in groups of 3-5 tourists have occasionally been mugged by gang-like groups. If you are in a quiet area always be on the alert. One option is to hire a taxi by the hour (still inexpensive in Bolivia) and have the car and driver wait for you as you look around the attraction you are visiting. If a problem occurs, they have a radio to call for help. This works well if you stay within their sight.

6. Being really obvious: Don't be conspicuous with your money. Carry several amounts in different places so you don't have to take out the entire amount you're carrying every time you need to purchase something. In addition, you'll never be able to bargain down a price if you do.


7. Express kidnappings: this has taken place numerous times in La Paz and is very dangerous. Small groups of criminals will approach a tourist or foreigner and force them into a car. (Sometimes they'll enter a taxi you've entered). They then drive the tourist to an ATM and force them to withdraw from their account. The tourist is then dumped somewhere and they leave. However, on some occasions, express kidnappings have resulted in deaths. Resisting or fighting can result in serious injury at the very least. Give them your money if it will save your life.

If you have just entered a taxi and someone else begins to enter it, get out immediately! Taxi sharing is common in some parts of Bolivia. Don't share! If you're already driving along and your taxi driver wants to pick up someone else along your route, say no! If he/she insists, get out immediately. Don't hesitate to look for money to pay for the partial ride you already got. The taxi driver has no right to pick up anyone if you've said no and being insistent is NOT normal. (Normally, the taxi driver may simply charge you a little more for being the only passenger).

8. Pildoritas: be very alert in cafés, bars, restaurants and discotheques. Pildoritas are women who approach men, engage them in friendly conversation and often offer accompaniment. Never accept a drink offered you by ANY person you don't know - and always keep an eye on any drink you've ordered for yourself if you choose to keep company with strangers. Pildoritas (which means 'little pills') drop sleeping pills in your drink. They accompany you merrily until you've lost consciousness and then they rob you blind. You may even awaken to find every last stitch of your clothing gone. This is particularly dangerous if you choose to accompany one of these women to a secluded place or hotel room. They often work in teams or with a male companion who can carry or drag you to another location.

9.Getting high or drunk: If you plan to use illegal drugs or get drunk while you are on a trip, you are unwisely putting yourself at risk. Thieves often hang out near bars and discotheques they know are frequented by tourists. If you are not in any condition to take care of yourself, have the bar waitstaff call a taxi to take you back to your hotel. Exiting the bar or discotheque drugged or drunk is dangerous and you won't be able to defend yourself if you are mugged. Being ANYWHERE drugged or drunk is not a wise choice. To do so in a foreign country puts you at more risk than you might imagine and it's a sure way to invite criminals to help themselves to your money.

Click here to see more tips from an experienced traveller on how to handle money safely while traveling. Add your own money safety tips for travellers below.

If you accessed this article from our April 2011 Bella News Ezine, return to reading the April Bella News Ezine here.

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Comments for Bolivia travel tips: don't let your money put you at risk

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Jun 23, 2012
The Forgotten Car Item Mugging!
by: Eric Redman

I learned a very, very, good lesson, having been robbed in broad daylight, in the middle of the day. Thieves don't mind, and many like a busy area to rob you. If you give them the opportunity, mine was right in front of a busy shopping area, they will take advantage of it. Thieves wait for opportunity, don't give it to them, or they will jump at it. Never, never, not look all around before entering your car!

Never do what I did!

I forgot my armed plain-clothes security identification in the car, and ran back to get it. I reached in to quickly get in and get back to work. Suddenly when I was getting my id, a 1- liter beer bottle came crashing down on the back of my head. A few minutes later, dazed and bloody, I woke up. I lost my id, my money too, and could have easily been dead in the street!

Bottom line, never reach in your car, get in and close the door. I would consider locking it too, if it is going to take a few minutes. You leave yourself totally vulnerable to your blind back side.

It pays to always think someone is there waiting to attack you! I call it the, "Combat Response!" I relaxed in the moment, had I been in, "Combat Mode", I would have been looking, and not nearly dead, and bloody on the side of my car! My gun would have done me no good, because I broke the rules of, "Combat Response!"

Feb 26, 2012
Safety is a deliberate action
by: Anonymous

What exactly does "safety is a right mean"?

Apr 06, 2011
safety is a right
by: Anonymous

I agree with the person below who says safety is a right. However, it's also an obligation.

It becomes your obligation to take all steps necessary to ensure your own safety the moment you make the conscious decision to travel somewhere you know ahead of time may be dangerous. Even despite all measures you may take, things can still happen, so why tempt fate?

There's something to be said for using common sense and not purposefully exposing yourself to potential harm, something many tourists forget - especially when they engage in behaviours such as getting drunk or hooking up with strangers - behaviours that do indeed put them in situations they could have avoided.

Apr 05, 2011
by: Anonymous

safety is a right!

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