Getting Around

6 Top Tips for Bus Trips in Bolivia

Getting a bus in Bolivia is a lot more complicated than it should be.

At first everything appears to be running smoothly – you buy your ticket, have your seat booked, you’ve arrived early at the terminal and then the next thing you know you are sitting in the gangway of a bus that smells like the clogged on-board toilet and holding on for your life as the bus skids dangerously close to the cliff edges on a dusty dirt road.

Well, that’s my version of travelling by bus in Bolivia.

Bus Trips in Bolivia

Here are some top tips for bus trips in Bolivia, including a list of the best bus companies in Bolivia, so you don’t make the same mistakes that I did.

The 3 best bus companies in Bolivia:

El Dorado (Tickets not available online)

Trans Copacabana

Bolívar (Tickets not available online)

Don’t buy tickets in advance

Buying tickets in advance means that there is more time for something to go wrong, whether the ticket sellers resell your seat, they cancel or swap the bus, change the route, or just disappear completely.

The list of possible things that could hinder you from having a pleasant journey increases with the amount of time before you trip.

The best time to buy your ticket is just before departure.

Not only do you get to see the condition of the bus before handing over your cash but tickets are also discounted last minute to fill the bus.

Don’t Trust the photos

What you see is not what you get in Bolivia.

If you are expecting the fancy, brand new, VIP, full cama, luxury bus that you saw on the bus company’s sign or website then book yourself into the psychiatric unit because you must be crazy!

The ticket sellers will promise you the world to get your money – the cheapest tickets, food on board, comfortable pre-booked seats with full bed but the reality is that an old rusty, dirty, rattling bus will most likely pull up in the terminal and despite you paying for all the added bells and whistles, you will be sitting in the most overpriced standard seat on the bus.

Don’t accept the first price you are given

Ticket sellers have the gift of the gab in Bolivia.

They will offer you a customised price based on how much money they figure you will pay and generally for foreigners this is twice as much as a local.

The price they tell you is always open for negotiation and haggling is one skill you need to brush up on before coming to Bolivia – otherwise you will be ripped off at every given opportunity.

The best way to get a good price is to straight out ask the ticket seller what the cheapest ticket price is and then try to haggle them down from there.

Don’t expect the bus to be on schedule

I am a perfectionist when it comes to time keeping and I get super stressed when things aren’t running on time so my anxiety levels go through the roof when travelling in Bolivia.

A great example of this is when I was traveling from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz.

I arrived early, confirmed the departure time and boarding gate, waited around, and queued up 15 minutes early…and nothing!

No one showed up at the gate to take my ticket for an hour and a half after the bus was scheduled to depart.

Then, just as I was about to give up hope, a crappy bus pulled up that looked like it had just been salvaged from a junk yard – complete with rust, worn tires and a worrying amount of dents on the exterior.

After boarding I sat on bus for another half hour waiting to depart, the seats were so dirty that any time I moved my jeans clung to the chair’s fabric.

The entire trip was a disaster and in the end we arrived in Santa Cruz SEVEN HOURS LATE! 

But did anyone on the bus seem irritated by this?

Nope…that’s just how things go in Bolivia.

Don’t refuse to give money to the bus boy

Travelling in Bolivia has many surprise additional fees – you pay for toilet paper to use the public bathroom at the station, you have to pay a fee for using the terminal and you have to bribe the bus boy not to steal from your bag.

This fee is paid after he has loaded your bag onto the bus and is once again based on the price they think you are willing to pay but is generally between 3 and 6 Bolivianos.

Don’t expect to get the seat you booked

I travel with my fiancé so naturally enough we like to sit together on long trips to keep each other company.

We usually pre-book seats in other countries but having a ticket with a seat number on it means nothing in Bolivia.

Usually what happens is that if there weren’t enough people to fill the previous bus, everyone will just pile onto the next bus and sit wherever.

This might also mean that you won’t even get a seat at all and you will have to wait for the next bus and hope for the best.