Getting Around in BoliviaEdit This
The two major air carriers in Bolivia are Lloyd Aereo Boliviano (LAB) and Aero Sur. Amaszonas, Aeroeste and TAM (Transportes Aereos Militares) also provide service to some isolated locations.
Regularly scheduled air service is available between the major airports: La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz which are linked to Potosi, Puerto Suarez, Riberalta, Sucre, Tarija, Trinidad, Cobija, Rurrenabaque, Guayaramerin and Yacuiba.
There are two major train lines, which are served daily in good quality trains with reclinable seats. Best service is available on the ferrobus (passenger rail bus). Trains are inexpensive, with prices for long distances ranging from 10 to 30 US$.
There is an Altiplano North to South line, starting in Oruro (three hours south from La Paz by bus), passing Uyuni and Tupiza before reaching the Argentine border at Villazon/la Quiaca. At Uyuni a train crosses the Salar to the Chilean border, where a severely maltreated train may or may not be waiting to take you to Calama.
The second important train line is from Santa Cruz to Quijarro, on the Brazilian border at Corumba (Pantanal). From Santa Cruz there also is a train to Yacuiba on the Argentine border.
Traveling by bus is certainly the cheapest way to get around Bolivia. Recently, a rough benchmark was less than $1 USD per hour of bus travel. Bus travel between major cities is comfortable. The buses tend to be modern and service is adequate. Service to more isolated areas can be more challenging and breakdowns are not uncommon.
Remember, land travel in the Andes and tropical areas of Bolivia can be precarious. Road conditions are often primitive. High altitude trips can be very cold, especially in the winter (June-August). Low altitude trips in the tropics can be hot, dusty and humid. Travel in the rainy season (November-March) can be complicated by storms, dificult river crossings and collapsed roads.
Bolivia is famous for having some of the most dangerous roads in the world. Some routes along the Andes are single lane, dirt roads with breathtaking dropoffs. Such trips are not for the faint of heart. See note about travel to Rurrenabaque below.
Following are some approximate bus route times. Note that night schedules are almost always quicker since they do not require stops at as many rural villages:
La Paz to Copacabana: 3 hours on paved road
La Paz to Oruro: 3 hours on paved road
La Paz to Cochabamba: 6 hours on mostly paved road
La Paw to Rurrenabaque: 20 hours on mostly dirt road
La Paz to Santa Cruz: 24 hours on mostly paved road
Oruro to Potosi: 8 hours on mostly paved road
Potosi to Uyuni: 5-6 hours on mostly dirt road
Note on Rurrenabaque and the Most Dangersous Road in the World
Beware of traveling to tropical Yungas and Rurrenabaque unless you have a loose schedule! The bus takes approximately 20 hours and traverses "The Most Dangerous Road in the World." Conditions have recently improved as a new two lane road has been opened between La Paz and Coroico. From Coroico to Caranavi you'll still be on a 1 to 1.5 lane dirt road that supports two directions of traffic and is etched into the mountainsides, resulting in precipitous drop offs. Along most of the way, when two vehicles meet, the downhill vehicle is required to reverse along the road until reaching a wide enough point (on the outside of the road) to allow the other vehicle to pass next to the mountain side.
The bicycle path (the former main road) from La Paz to Coroico is famed, as cyclists whizz along the downhill route, passing from the Andean highlands of La Paz through more temperate zones until they reach the steamy village of Coroico, en route to the more tropical "Rurre," as it is nicknamed. Estimates abound in travel guides, with most citing at least one vehicle per month used to tumble over the side of the road. Bring Dramamine, or even better, heavy sedatives to sleep through the stomach-churning ride.
The preferred alternative to reaching Rurre is by air. This is
relatively inexpensive, running about US$50-60 (each way) while
offering gorgeous views of the mountain and rain forest landscapes
below. Once in Rurre, most travelers immediately book a tour or two at
one of the numerous agencies throughout town, either to the selva
(forests) or the pampas (grasslands).
A frequent obstacle for travelers to Rurre arises upon departure as
the airstrip is grass: Rurre is situated in the rain forest and in this
environment it, well, rains! More than a few travelers have returned
from their area tours, ready to jet back to La Paz and continue on
their travels, only to find that they are stranded in a tiny wet town
where the plane is grounded due to a muddy runway. Your options are to
a) wait it out for as many days as it takes, or to b) eat the money you
already spent on your ticket and take the dangerous, winding road 20
hours up to La Paz. Some travelers will choose not to take the risk,
and many will vouch that Rurre's beauty is well-worth the effort to get
there and back! (Current plans are to complete paving of Rurre's airstrip in
2007. This will certainly take some of the romance out of the trip,
though some may find the improved scheduling a better thing.)
A special note to those flying with Amaszonas to Rurre: as soon as you arrive, go to the Amaszonas office and confirm your return flight. Failing this crucial step, you may find yourself without a seat on their 12-seat Grand Caravan aircraft when you expect to depart.