Bolivian bus tips

Someone recently asked me for tips about overnight buses in Bolivia. Try to get firsthand information as much as possible. By this, I mean ask other people you meet what their experiences have been. There are tons of horror stories out there, and I’ve had some pretty bad rides myself, but I’ve also had good journeys too (and no-one ever tells stories about those). Buses vary greatly between routes and companies (even within companies sometimes), so take the chance to get detailed information when you can.

GENERAL TIPS

Buy bus tickets at the bus station. You’ll be able to checkout the different companies and maybe save a little commission by not going through an agency. Often, companies won’t sell tickets in advance (the night before the day of travel is usually the earliest, but I have managed a week in advance once). A very general rule is that every hour of the journey costs 10Bs (e.g. La Paz to Sucre cost 120Bs and takes about 12 hours). Of course, you might get stuck in a blockade or diversion in which case your journey could be much longer.

Splurge for cama. Like other countries in South America, Bolivia has different levels of comfort and price. I’ve been on a cama bus that was as good as any in Argentina, but I’ve also been on a cama that most definitely wasn’t. However, if you can afford it (which you probably can in Bolivia) then go for the best quality you can. If it doesn’t turn out to be so great, just think of how awful it could have been if you’d gone for the cheaper seat.

Bring snacks. Sometimes buses stop where you can buy food, sometimes they don’t. Most of the time people get on the buses to sell you food (sandwiches, bread, dried snacks, jelly etc.), but it’s not always the most appetizing or hygienic. Plus, if your journey gets delayed (see above) you’ll be stuck on the bus getting hungrier and hungrier if you didn’t bring anything. Better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

Go to the bathroom when you can. I’ve yet to see a bus that has a bathroom, or, if it does have one, that passengers aren’t allowed to use it. Buses do stop for toilet breaks, but not regularly. They might be at a service station where you have to pay to use the (usually poor) facilities, or they might just be in the middle of nowhere with a few bushes for cover. In this latter case, I recommend not straying too far (despite the desire for privacy) because once the driver decides to leave, he won’t wait for you.

Dress for all temperatures. Some buses have heating, some don’t and the nights in Bolivia can get very cold. If you’re travelling in the altiplano, take a blanket or sleeping bag with you. I’ve even worn scarf, hat, gloves and multiple socks before! Likewise with air conditioning, it’s not guaranteed so wear layers that you can strip off if it gets too hot.

Carry all valuables on your person. I’ve never heard stories of crime on Bolivian buses (unlike in Argentina), but it’s better not to risk anything. Have them easily accessible because there are occasionally police checks (though mostly only during the day time). Don’t leave anything on the bus if you disembark during a rest stop.

Take medicine with you. I class medicine as valuables. Once you get sick in Bolivia, you’ll understand why. Especially with the lack of toilets on buses, you’ll need loperamide and motion sickness pills if you do get sick. Throw in some aspirin for good measure too.

Don’t travel during holiday periods. Not only is this a busier time, but drivers are more likely to be drunk or hungover. Note that Bolivians tend to start their partying a day or two before the official holiday and continue a few days later too.

SPECIFIC JOURNEYS

Uyuni to La Paz:
100Bs, about 12 hours. I don’t remember the name of the company but it was one of several similar ones in Uyuni.
I have never been so cold in my life. They said there was heating, but there wasn’t, although they did give us blankets. I remember seeing frost on the inside of the window at one point. My legs were numb from the knees down, partly from cold and partly because there was no space to stretch (and my legs are not even that long). The road was incredibly bumpy in some parts (I kept dreaming of earthquakes) and we made detours to go and deliver some sacks to farms in the middle of nowhere. The only other option was a tourist bus that was almost three times the price. If I was doing it again, I think I might go for that.

La Paz to Sucre:
120Bs, 12 hours, El Dorado.
I bought cama, but when I got on I realised it was cama ejecutivo. It was a super new bus with really comfy seats that reclined almost totally horizontal. Plus heating! I didn’t even need a blanket. The road seemed to be in good condition as I don’t remember any uncomfortable patches.

La Paz to Santa Cruz:
175Bs, 17 hours, El Dorado & Bolívar.
Both were cama but El Dorado was a much newer, cleaner bus. The heating was on very low so I was cold until we reached lower altitude. When I returned from Santa Cruz, I saw at least two cockroaches on the Bolívar bus. The seat was also less comfortable despite it also being a cama, and it was a colder journey. I might have just had bad luck, because I saw other Bolívar buses which looked nice. The road is very curvy in parts (this time I dreamed about being on a roller-coaster) as it needs to make switchbacks between the high and low altitude areas.

Sucre to Tarija:
80Bs, 12 hours. There were only two companies running this route and they both looked the same in terms of quality.
They insisted it was cama, but it was more like semi-cama. It wasn’t the worst bus, but not the nicest either. The departure was at 4pm and arrived inconveniently at 4am in Tarija. I think if you’re not travelling between major cities, the schedules aren’t made to suit passengers. This journey included a bathroom stop ‘in nature’.

Tarija to Potosí:
80Bs, 10 hours. Don’t remember the company name.
Again, there was no choice about schedules so it arrived at an inconvenient time of around midnight. There were lots of companies running the route, mostly semi-cama. Nothing stands out about this journey; neither bad nor good.

Potosí to La Paz:
100Bs, about 9 hours, El Dorado.
I’ve used El Dorado quite often, and they’ve always been good. They were also the only company in Potosí who would sell us a ticket the day before rather than the day of travel. You have to go to the new bus station on the outskirts of town, not the old bus station where many buses will drop you off. It’s a cold overnight journey on the altiplano.

La Paz to Rurrenabaque:
I haven’t done this route. It’s an extension of the Death Road, except after Coroico it hasn’t been rebuilt yet. Everyone I’ve spoken to who has travelled there has returned by plane, even if they originally intended to take the bus.

What’s your experience with Bolivian buses? Are there any routes you would avoid? Any particular companies you would recommend? Leave a comment and help add to this list.

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14 thoughts on “Bolivian bus tips

  1. Talk to anyone in Sucre and they’ll tell you to avoid the Sucre – Santa Cruz route as if you were avoiding the plague. The Sucre/Potosi – Tarija company I used happily sold me a ticket for a cama, when I got on it was semi-cama at best – and no toilet for a 10 hour night bus and I was as sick as a dog. When I complained the nice woman said they ran a cama bus once a week but the owners insisted on the same ticket price for semi-cama…there is some Bolivian logic in there somewhere!

    • Seems to me that people say ALL bus routes in Bolivia should be avoided! Being sick on a bus is the worst – hopefully you won’t have to go through that again now you’re back in the UK (although I do remember a rather terrible London to Glasgow overnight bus…)

  2. We had at 6 january 2015 a semi cama bus from Sucre to Santa Cruz. It was a scary ride with a driver in a hurry, too many people on board en laying down on the floor for 15 hrs. But we survived 🙂 Especially the part in the mountains is scary, because of the speeding busdriver. Payed around 160B.

  3. Some good advice. I’ve written an article of the same topic on my blog if anyone is interested. Personally I prefer to travel with Trans Copacabana, Trans Copacabana MEM, Bolivar or El Dorado.

  4. Great info! I have not found any info on where one would freshen up/shower after an overnight bus. Are there hostels that charge for the hour? Are there public restrooms? Thanks!

    • There are restrooms in the bigger bus stations which you pay a small fee to use (not always open either, if it’s in the early hours of the morning). Whenever I arrived somewhere I always checked straight into a hostel/hotel so I was able to use the facilities there. If you were traveling straight on to somewhere else, I guess you could ask if they allow you just to use the showers. In Tarija, the hotels insisted on charging full price even though I was checking in at 5am. I suppose they felt justified because they have to wash the sheets the same as if I’d used the room for the whole night.

  5. Hi All,

    We just came back from a trip Peru-Bolivia, and would like to mention certainly “NOT TO TAKE THE FLOTA BOLIVAR” bus company (although I think many other bus Bolivian companies are as bad, and in general require very high alertness and assertiveness). We took this company for the night trip Sucre – Samaipatha (on the way to Santa Cruz), after hesitating with taking a flight because we knew it’s a long and bad road, but the flight prices had risen, and we thought we would just ask the bus driver to slow down if not carefull enough. Before getting on the bus we had said several times to the people of the company at the Sucre bus terminal that we had to get off in Samaipatha, not in Santa Cruz. We would then arrive there around 4 am, but we booked a hostel in advance so that wouldn’t be a problem. They assured us it was communicated to the driver and he would let us off in Samaipatha. To be absolutely sure we said it again to the bus driver ourselves when getting on the bus. We found the bus driving way too fast, given the road conditions and the sharp turns in the mountains and the steep sides. The bus passed every other vehicle (trucks and other buses), even right in front of sharp turns (and why??!!! tot get there earlier? At what expense?!). At a stop (around 10pm) I went to ask the bus driver to drive slower, and said that if he wouldn’t, we wanted to stay in the village and get our luggage. He said he would drive slower (although obviously annoyed). He went to buy something in the store along the road, and I went to look what he bought (as I also had read about drunken drivers). He had bought a bottle of coca cola and a smaller bottle with liquor, which he placed at the “front desk” of the bus. I got on the bus and grabbed the bottle, and asked him what he was thinking, and why he bought it at 10 pm, with a whole night of driving ahead. He aggressively grabbed the bottle from my hands and put it in a cabin above his head. Later he went out of the bus to do something else, and me and my boyfriend took the liquor and placed it with us in the “passengers compartiment”. We would later give it back but weren’t going to take the risk that he would drink during the night while driving (there is no sane reason that a bus driver should be buying alcohol along the road). He kept driving way to fast (all tourists should really complain when their bus/taxi drivers are driving too fast or not carefull, they just don’t seem to care so much about lives, and it’s a country with a very high accident rate, so tourists should be really assertive (we also thought afterwards we should have been even more assertive), you pay them and you should demand they take responsibilty for your safetiness. It’s not because local people on the bus are used to the way of driving it’s not very dangerous).

    At around 4:30 am we went to the bus driver to ask if we were almost in Samaipatha, and he said that we drove past it but they didn’t want to wake us up (we weren’t even sleeping!!) and that it might have been dangerous to be there so early!!! It was infuriating. Anything was safer then staying on that bus, and we had asked/informed about 10 times that we wanted to get off at Samaipatha. We had booked a hostel and planned a whole day trip. It was not clear to us if it was intentional, forgetfullness, indifference, he just seemd apathically to our bewilderment. They then let us off somewhere in between Samaipatha and Santa Cruz, where we could try to take a collectivo back to Samaipatha (more then an hour back). We only arrived around 10:30 in Samaipatha, which was too late to start our trip that day, although we would probably have been also too tired from a very scary night ride.

    Later in Santa Cruz we went to the bus terminal to the Flota Bolivar bus company, to inform them on the terrible and much to fast driving, the alcohol (with that they at least seemed a little concerned, and said it was a police matter), and the not stopping in Samaipatha after repeatadly asking. Again they were quite passive, which made us again believe that they just don’t care so much (about many things it seems).

    We have to say, although we met unbelievably nice Bolivians too, we have been during our trip very often suprised with their rudeness, apathic attitude, ignorance or indifference (and it’s often not clear which it is). We have travelled a lot, and have nowhere experienced this like here.

    We did have many other good bus rides in Bolivia, where the buses drove much slower and we did feel safe.

    • That’s a really terrible experience!! I’m glad that you got through it ok, and thanks for warning others about it.

      It can be very frustrating dealing with the apathetic attitude or seeming indifference of Bolivians. Like you said, it depends very much on the individuals you meet, but as tourists you do have to be more assertive than in many other places. I think a lot of it comes from not wanting to cause conflict or disappointment, which to us looks like people don’t care, but to them is being polite by not explicitly agreeing or disagreeing to anything that they don’t have the power to control or take action about.

      I hope the rest of your travels are safer and more pleasant!

  6. Very interesting article. I’m trying to figure out which one is the best company to travel by coche-cama from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba. From what I read, it seems to be Trans Copacabana.

  7. Almost a month ago I had a violent accident in Bolivia. Luckily, I’m pretty good, but do not want this happen to someone else, so I’ll tell you my experience.

    01/04/16 Patty and I traveled to Bolivia. We had a whole plan between La Paz, Uyuni, Copacabana, Puno and Cusco. As we wanted everything to go well, reaching La Paz we bought our tickets and tours in a travel agency.
    We booked bus tickets La Paz-Copacabana for 01/07/16.

    On 01/06/16 we were in Uyuni and we received a call from the agency to tell us that we have to change the bus company because there was a strike in El Alto. They offered us that we could store our bags, that the bus had wifi and would be a good experience. Obviously, it was all a lie. The company was TRANS INTERNATIONAL TITICACA also known as TITICACA TOURS.

    01/07/16 we arrived at 6:00 am to the bus station. Everything was a mess. They sold tickets in excess, they put us in any bus, we boarded the bus like cattle and the tourists even came up with the bus almost underway.

    Of course I complained but I was ignored, we were treated terribly and the spokesman answer that “if you do not want to take the bus, there are other people who will do it.” Unfortunately, we hadn’t enough time and we had to be at our destination because we had to take a plane to Cusco.

    The bus left shortly before 7:00am. The first part was a trail, because of the strike we took an alternate route. By 8:30 am, we were on the road usually used to go to Copacabana.

    About 10:30 am, apparently by mechanical failure (the brakes broke), the bus began to wobble, then accelerated, crash into a mountain and flip up. The bus was shattered and some of us flew through the windows.

    Due to the severity of the accident my friend and I were hospitalized for almost a week in El Alto, Bolivia. The owner of the company appeared four days after the accident (not by choice) and he wanted us to sign some papers. It was a horrendous treatment and, in short, told us that if we wanted to sue the company we can do it; we have to say that there was no apology involved.

    Please, share this post. No one is free from an accident and also often of totally unpredictable events, but in our case was more neglect than anything else. I don’t want that this happen again. No one should go through what we had!!

    If you know anyone that is traveling to Bolivia, tell them to never ever take TRANS INTERNATIONAL TITICACA (TITICACA TOURS). They do not care about people life.

    Investigations are under way in Bolivia. The company still continue operating in Bolivia and Perú. Help us to prevent this from happening to someone else.

    • I’m so sorry this terrible thing happened to you! Thankfully you are both ok now! Thank you for sharing your story and warning here. If you haven’t already, please consider posting your story to travelers’ forums such as on Lonely Planet or Boots’n’All websites so that more people can read it. I wish you safe and happy travels from now on and thanks again for helping others by sharing your experience!

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