Bolivia travel tips: safety when traveling alone

Bolivia is a nation of friendly, hospitable people who are generally happy to answer questions or point you in the right direction. However, there are also those who take advantage of solo travelers, and tourists in general, to 'earn' their living. Here are some tips for those of you who may be traveling alone.

A) When you have questions or need directions, it's best to enter an establishment such as a hotel, a travel agency, a store, or a restaurant to ask your question. Never set your bag or luggage down on the floor next to you, always carry your backpack or purse diagonally across your shoulders and in front of you, never lose sight of your belongings, and do not get distracted. Petty thieves take advantage of this, or even distract you on purpose (they work in teams and while one 'helps' you the other is quietly extracting your belongings). If you must stop to ask questions in public ask a street vendor or someone who appears to have a 'set' location, not someone who is walking around. Never ever ever accept an invitation to enter someones vehicle if you don't know them or if you are alone, and especially if you are a woman.

B) Your documents: Carry photocopies of your document and keep your originals in a hotel safe or at the very least carry them in two separate places. Be aware that in Bolivia the police or other authorities are authorized by law to stop anyone at any time on the street and to demand they show their identification. Some criminals have taken advantage of this. They dress as police officers. Here are some tips on what you can do, and what you should probably not do, if a police officer stops you.

C) Your money: Use a money belt or carry a small, flat document bag around your neck and under your clothing. Separate your cash into several amounts and carry them in different places on your person and in your bags. That way you wont have to display all your money when you need to pay for something. Always exchange your money in a bank or money exchange house and never use an ATM that is on the street unless it has a cabin and door and is in a busy public area. Read these 20 ways to blow your budget in Bolivia.

D) Your belongings: Carry with you only the belongings you need each day and leave the rest in your hotel or safe. If you have several cameras or accessories, for example, take only what you'll need for the amount of time you'll be visiting an attraction. Carry only what you need in your purse or backpack too. Consider investing a few dollars a day in travel insurance. Tourists stand out in Bolivia and unfortunately, are frequent targets of petty crime.

E) Your personal safety: Never go anywhere unknown with anyone unknown. It's great to make friends along the way as you travel, but if you agree to go to a café, bar, disco, or other place, arrange to meet them there and be sure it's a very public place in a safe area. Never accept a drink unless you've seen the waiter or bartender pour it. Spiking drinks with drugs in one of the most common ways unsuspecting tourists are robbed and even raped. It's common among Bolivians too. Don't ever put yourself in a situation where you will be at the mercy of a stranger, such as getting drugged or drunk, or any other situation where you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Don't ever get into a stranger's vehicle. Use radiotaxis (also known as radiomóviles) and don't hail a taxi on the street. If the driver picks up other passengers get out immediately as they are getting in. Pay the driver once you are outside the vehicle. There have been several kidnappings and muggings in which the taxi driver was an accomplice, especially in La Paz. Don't walk alone in dark areas or in areas where there are very few people.

F) Your health: Bolivia has some very good and highly qualified doctors, if you know where to find them. There are some good private clinics and hospitals but most state-run hospitals are not the best option. They often lack infrastructure or medications, medical personnel sometimes go on strike, and in general are not a good option unless there isn't another option available. In remote or rural areas, medical centers are few and far between. Eat lightly when you first arrive, don't drink the water, don't consume raw fruit or vegetables unless they are peeled, and if you're really interested in trying the local food, do so in a restaurant and not in local markets where dairy, fish and meat products are often not refrigerated. Hydrate often. Again, don't get drunk or drugged. If you get sick, ask a local where you can find a private clinic or hospital, even if it's more expensive. Click here to read more about altitude sickness.

G) Your location: It's always a good idea to register with your country's embassy when you arrive just in case you end up needing help with anything or the embassy needs to notify your family of anything regarding you. This is one of the least-shared travel tips, yet it is one of the most important.

Read more Bolivia travel and safety tips here or share your own. In addition, take a look at these well-advised 10 tips for solo travelers by a seasoned solo traveler.

Return to the May 2011 BELLA NEWS E-zine

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