Travellers to Bolivia should, above all else, pack an open mind. Things in Bolivia are not done in the same way they are done in developed countries, not even close. Indeed, almost nothing is done correctly or with any sense of craftsmanship or effort. Patience is a virtue with a lot of value in a country where a bus might come an hour early and leave you in the dust or might come 4 hours late and leave you waiting for 5 hours, as you arrived an hour early just in case. If you ask a Bolivian for advice, the simple reply is, as always, ‘_Todo es posible, nada es seguro_.’
Be patient and smoke lots of weed, as it is plentiful and cheap. The police are non-existent and, though Bolivia is far from the hedonistic paradise of somewhere like Cambodia, there is virtually limitless freedom for the average backpacker. The only concern should be not to fuck with the locals, as they might kill you for it. If you aren’t doing harm to anyone else, though, you’re unlikely to be bothered.
Bolivia is a very cheap country to travel in, and for that reason is full of the most cheapskate backpackers. It’s actually quite rare to be overcharged for something in Bolivia, as they are used to dealing with Israelis, who will argue for an hour over $.50 if necessary. The seller’s revenge, however, is the utterly dismal quality of just about every good or service going.
Bolivian cities are not as bad as others in South America and some places are actually attractive enough to stay for awhile. The Carnival in Oruro is one of the best places to be on the continent during that time and is a good deal safer than Rio de Janeiro. La Paz is one of the nicer capitals in Latin America but then again that’s in comparison to places like Tegucigalpa or Lima, which are horrible.
The real beauty of Bolivia is its natural landscapes. The jungle is big but under heavy attack. Now is the time to see it before it’s gone. The mountains and Altiplano are vast and beautiful and there are remote ranges such as the Cordillera Apolobamba where few if any tourists will be sighted. The Salar de Uyuni is a strange and otherworldly mirror-like landscape with lakes of strange colours. The cloudforest that remains is beautiful, but most of it is gone, as in the rest of South America.
The sheer remoteness of the country is its special draw for many travellers, whether criminals on the run or just backpackers looking to get away from the Thailand crowd. With the crumbling infrastructure and underdevelopment, the big tourist groups of fat middle-aged gringos with wide-brimmed hats have yet to invade. There are no McDonalds or KFC’s in Bolivia, and billboards have yet to plague the Bolivian highways with a reminder every five minutes that Coca-Cola makes you happy.
In fact, there are still some places in Bolivia where no man has ever stepped. The Cordillera Apolobamba is one of the remotest in the Central Andes, and there are dozens of mountains there that have never been climbed. The eastern jungle is particularly impenetrable and remote, and people going into the jungle must have a guide,if they plan on ever coming out. These kinds of vast, uncivilized places aren’t for everyone but for those with courage and strength, the options for real adventure are virtually unlimited.