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Safety Travel Safety: Americas: Bolivia

Bolivia Republic of Bolivia
Capital: La Paz (seat of government); Sucre (legal capital and seat of judiciary)
Population: 8,445,134
Currency: boliviano (BOB)
Languages: Spanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymara (official)
Religions: Roman Catholic 95%, Protestant (Evangelical Methodist)
Borders: Argentina 832 km, Brazil 3,400 km, Chile 861 km, Paraguay 750 km, Peru 900 km

Bolivia is a developing country with a growing economy. Tourist facilities are generally adequate, but vary greatly in quality.

U.S. citizens should avoid roadblocks and demonstrations at all times. Demonstrations by various local groups protesting government or private company policies occur frequently, even in otherwise peaceful times. Protesters have blocked roads with stones, trees and other objects, and have sometimes reacted violently when travelers attempted to pass through or go around roadblocks. Protesters occasionally use explosive devices and in some cases, the police have used tear gas and force. Strikes and other civic actions can occur at any time and can disrupt transportation on a local or national level.

U.S. citizens considering a visit to Bolivia should keep apprised of current conditions and monitor local news sources or contact the U.S. Embassy before considering overland travel within the country.

In February and October 2003, approximately one hundred people died during violent demonstrations and protests in downtown La Paz and the nearby city of El Alto. These demonstrations also affected Cochabamba and other towns and villages in the Altiplano. While the protests and demonstrations have subsided, many of the underlying social, political and economic causes remain.

Since 2000 the resort town of Sorata, located seventy miles north of La Paz, has been cut off by blockades on three occasions, ranging from one week to one month. Visitors contemplating travel to Sorata should contact the Consular Section in La Paz prior to travel.

In the Chapare region between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba and the Yungas region northeast of La Paz, violence and civil unrest, primarily associated with anti-narcotics activities, periodically create a risk for travelers to those regions. Confrontations between area residents and government authorities over coca eradication have resulted in the use of tear gas and stronger force by government authorities to quell disturbances. Pro-coca groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. Government or private interests in Bolivia. U.S. citizen visitors to the Chapare or Yungas regions are encouraged to check with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy prior to travel.

Street crime, such as pick pocketing and theft from parked vehicles, happens with some frequency in Bolivia. Theft of cars and car parts, particularly late-model four-wheel-drive vehicles, is common. Hijacking of vehicles has been known to occur, and travelers should take appropriate precautions to avoid being victimized. In November 2003, an American citizen was murdered during an attempted carjacking in Santa Cruz.

Thefts of bags, wallets and backpacks are a problem throughout Bolivia. Most thefts involve two or three people who spot a likely victim and wait until the bag or backpack is placed on the ground, often at a restaurant, bus terminal, Internet caf�, etc. In other cases, the thief places a disagreeable substance on the clothes or backpack of the intended victim, and then offers to assist the victim with the removal of the substance. While the person is distracted, the thief or an accomplice will grab the bag or backpack and flee. In such a situation, the visitor should decline assistance and walk briskly from the area. To steal wallets and bags, thieves often spray water on the victim's neck, and while the person is distracted, an accomplice takes the wallet or bag. Sometimes the thief poses as a policeman, and requests the person to accompany him to the police station, using a nearby taxi. The visitor should indicate a desire to contact the U.S. Embassy and not enter the taxi. All visitors should avoid being alone on the streets, especially after 6:00 PM.

Three years ago female tourists reported being drugged and raped by a tourist guide in the city of Rurrenabaque, in the Beni region. Visitors should be careful when choosing a tour operator and should not accept any type of medication or drugs from unreliable sources. The Embassy has received numerous reports of sexual assaults against female hikers in the Yungas Valley, near the town of Coroico. Visitors to Coroico are advised to avoid hiking alone or in small groups.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Bolivian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bolivia are strict and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines. Incarcerated persons can expect to wait longer than two years before being sentenced. Prison conditions are very primitive and prisoners must pay for their own room and board.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Medical care in large cities is adequate for many purposes but of varying quality. Medical facilities, even in La Paz, are not adequate to handle serious medical conditions, such as cardiac problems.

Prior to departing the U.S. for high-altitude locations over 10,000 feet above sea level, such as La Paz, travelers should discuss the trip with their personal physician and request information on specific recommendations concerning medication and lifestyle tips at high altitudes. Although coca-leaf tea is a popular beverage and folk remedy for altitude sickness in Bolivia, possession of these tea bags, which are sold in most Bolivian grocery stores, is illegal in the United States.

Official U.S. Government travelers to La Paz are provided with the following information: The altitude of La Paz ranges from 11,000 feet to over 13,000 feet (3,500 to 4,000 meters) above sea level. Much of Western Bolivia is at the same altitude or higher, including Lake Titicaca and the Salar de Uyuni, and the cities of Oruro and Potosi. The altitude alone poses a serious risk of illness, hospitalization, and even death, if you have a medical condition that affects blood circulation or breathing.

The State Department's Office of Medical Services does not allow official U.S. Government travelers to visit La Paz if they have any of the following:

-- Sickle cell anemia or sickle cell trait: 30 percent of persons with sickle cell trait are likely to have a crisis at elevations of more than 8,000 feet.

-- Heart disease: A man 45 years or older, or a woman 55 years or older, who has two of the following risk factors (hypertension, angina, diabetes, cigarette smoking, or elevated cholesterol) should have a stress EKG and a cardiological evaluation before the trip.

-- Lung disease: Anyone with asthma and on maximum dosage of medication for daily maintenance, or anyone who has been hospitalized for asthma within the last year should not come to La Paz.

-- Given potential complications from altitude sickness, pregnant women should consult their doctor before travel to La Paz and other high-altitude areas of Bolivia.

All people, even healthy and fit persons, will feel symptoms of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) upon arrival at high altitude. Most people will have increased respiration and increased heart rate. Many people will have headaches, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, minor gastric and intestinal upsets, and mood changes. Many travelers limit physical activity for the first 36 to 48 hours after arrival and avoid alcohol and smoking for at least one week after arrival.

For additional information, travelers should visit the World Health Organization's website at

U.S. citizens are advised to exercise extreme care when trekking or climbing in Bolivia. Since June 2002, four American citizens and their three guides have died in falls while mountain climbing in Bolivia. Five of the deaths occurred on Illimani, a 6,402-meter peak located southeast of La Paz. If reasonable precautions are taken, mountain trekking and climbing in the Bolivian Andes can be an enjoyable way to experience the countryside and culture. Travelers should inquire about conditions in the high country before leaving La Paz. The Club Andino Boliviano (591-2) 2312-875 is a good source of information about trail conditions and possible hazards. Many popular trekking routes in the Bolivian Andes cross passes as high as 16,000 feet. Trekkers must have adequate clothing and equipment, not always available locally, and should be experienced mountain travelers. It is not prudent to trek alone. Solo trekking is the most significant factor contributing to injuries and death. Trekkers have been robbed on popular routes, most notably on the Illampu circuit, and are more vulnerable when alone. The safest option is to join an organized group and/or use a reputable firm to provide an experienced guide and porter who can communicate in both Spanish and English. If you develop any of the following symptoms while climbing at altitude � severe headache, weakness, vomiting, shortness of breath at rest, cough, chest tightness, unsteadiness � descend to a lower altitude immediately. Trekkers and climbers are strongly encouraged to purchase adequate insurance to cover expenses in case of injury or death.

There are few telephones in remote areas of Bolivia. Make sure others (especially family and friends in the United States) know your trekking itinerary. The U.S. Embassy strongly encourages trekkers and climbers to register upon arrival in Bolivia. A registration file with your passport information, emergency numbers and travel itinerary is very useful if the Embassy needs to relay emergency information from home or locate you in case of a natural disaster or evacuation.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Bolivia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Road conditions in Bolivia are extremely hazardous. Although the major population centers of La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba are connected by improved highways, less than five percent of all roads in Bolivia are paved. For trips outside the major cities, especially in mountainous areas, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is highly recommended. Travel during the rainy season (November through March) is extremely difficult, as most routes are potholed, and many roads and bridges are washed out. Added dangers are the lack of formal training for most drivers, lack of lights on speeding vehicles at night, and drunk or overly tired drivers, including commercial bus drivers. Fatal crashes, fender-benders, and car/pedestrian accidents are commonplace.

Drivers of vehicles involved in traffic accidents are expected to remain at the scene until the arrival of local police authorities. Any attempt to leave the scene would be in violation of Bolivian law and could place the driver and passengers at risk of physical harm. The Embassy is aware of three incidents in Santa Cruz during 2001 in which a vehicle involved in an accident was surrounded by local citizens who pounded on the sides of the vehicle and made threats against the American citizen driver. There have been no reports of actual physical attacks on drivers or passengers involved in accidents, although the potential does exist. The Embassy believes that any attempt to flee the scene of an accident will place the driver and passengers at greater risk of harm than remaining at the scene until the arrival of local police.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bolivia's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Bolivia's air carrier operations . For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Please also refer to the separate to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

September 20, 2004

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