This is an annual report produced
in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz. OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Bolivia. For more in-depth information, review
page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact
information, some of which may be available only to private-sector
representatives with an OSAC password.
The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this
report’s publication assesses Bolivia
at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased
caution due to civil unrest. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the
Consular Travel Advisory System.
Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed La Paz as being a MEDIUM-threat
location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Most reported criminal incidents involve
non-confrontational property crimes that occur in major cities, particularly in
markets and commercial districts. Tourists and visitors routinely report
pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of jewelry/cell phones. This modus
operandi has also been successful at the airports in La Paz and Santa Cruz.
Stay alert for pickpockets when in crowds and aboard public transportation
and be conscious of distractions created to target you.
Violent crimes (e.g. assault,
robbery) against foreigners are uncommon, but do occur. Exercise caution
and maintain a heightened level of awareness in public.
Bolivia has one of the highest
domestic violence rates against women in South America. Media outlets have
reported, “according to a 2016 national government survey, seven of every
10 women in Bolivia said they had suffered some type of violence inflicted by a
the State Department’s webpage on security for female
Foreign visitors are vulnerable to
crime; criminals may perceive them as carrying greater amounts of cash or other
valuables, such as cameras, than the average Bolivian. Stay
particularly alert for pickpocketing and other crime in La Paz near
the San Francisco church, El Alto market, markets on Sagarnaga Street and in
the Sopocachi area, and in municipal bus stations/terminals. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should
Residential burglary has affected
U.S. citizen residents. Residential burglaries are most common when houses
are vacant, but thieves will also attempt to enter occupied residences via
unsecured doors and windows, tricking domestic employees, or forcing
access through residential perimeters. Thefts of unsecured bicycles, gardening
tools, and lawn furniture are also common.
Vehicular vandalism and
theft occur throughout Bolivia. Criminals steal spare parts and
sell them on the black market. Criminals may rob unattended vehicles of
computer modules, spare tires, sound systems, headrests, and other
valuables. Use a car alarm and park in well-lighted areas, preferably in a
paid parking lot.
U.S. citizens in Bolivia have
fallen victim to fraud related to their credit/debit cards. Skimming, the theft
of credit card information during an otherwise legitimate transaction, can
occur in restaurants or bars where the server takes the card out of the owner’s
view. Pay for items in cash when possible, and use credit cards only at larger
establishments (e.g. hotels). To avoid skimming, take the credit/debit card to
the register yourself, and never let the card out of your sight. Also, be sure
to monitor your bank account or credit card statement frequently. Review
OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s
Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.
There have been some instances of
persons drugged in bars and clubs for the purpose of robbery. Pay careful
attention to drinks as they are poured, and do not leave them unattended. Review
OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of
The frequency and level of sophistication
associated with cybercrime is relatively low. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics,
Best Practices for
Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile
Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones:
Critical or Contraband?
Road Safety and Road
The general disregard for traffic
laws makes driving particularly dangerous. Pedestrians, with a general
inattentiveness to traffic, pose a hazard to drivers. Accidents involving
pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcycle/moped drivers are common in urban and
rural areas alike. Added dangers are the lack of formal training for most
drivers, lack of lights on vehicles, and drunk/overly tired drivers, including
commercial bus drivers. Police rarely patrol most roads.
Outside the major cities, road
conditions are hazardous. Many roads are unpaved, while others are unimproved,
with gravel/dirt surfaces. Unpaved roads can be quite dangerous during
the rainy season (December-March) when rockslides and road/bridge washouts are
common. Many winding stretches lack sufficient lighting, guardrails, traffic
signs, or designated traffic lanes. Mountainous areas pose even greater
challenges, with weather conditions varying from snow to heavy rainstorms,
and narrow, unpaved roads frequently blocked by rock/mudslides.
The North Yungas road (from La Paz
toward Coroico and Caranavi) has earned the dubious designation of "The
World’s Most Dangerous Road," and has become a hub for thrill-seeking
mountain cyclists. Regular media reports describe accidents along
the road, usually involving buses and multiple fatalities. As an alternative,
use Carretera Cotapata – Santa Barbara, also referred to as the “Carretera
nueva a Coroico.”
Many of the roads north of La Paz
that pass through Guanay, Mapiri, Consata, Apolo, and Sorata are extremely
dangerous due to landslides and narrow roadways traversing sheer cliffs.
Compounding this, as these roads are lightly traveled, motorists involved in
accidents or encountering mechanical problems often find themselves miles from
the nearest village, with little hope of immediate assistance.
Fast moving streams/rivers cross
many roads in Beni province. Rivers, many with no bridges, frequently cross the
road between La Paz and San Borja. Some of these crossings have barges
propelled by a pull rope and pulley system.
Due to regular civil unrest and
the frequent use of roadblocks as a means of protest, as well as
the destructive power of the rainy season on unimproved roads, check on road
conditions and status before departing on overland trips. Those traveling
in the Chapare and Yungas regions should take extra care and monitor
local news and media before traveling. Demonstrations and roadblocks
are also common in major cities and are generally non-violent as long as you
do not attempt to cross them.
Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad,
Driving Overseas: Best
Practices, and Evasive Driving
Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
transportation is poor, except along the more frequently traveled routes with upgraded
and maintained roads (e.g. La Paz-Cochabamba, Cochabamba-Santa Cruz, and La
Paz-Oruro). Bus service along these routes is generally safe, although
accidents occur, often with fatalities. Urban bus transportation can
be risky for foreigners, with frequently reported incidents of theft and
Use taxis that are clearly marked
with the name of an established taxi company. There are
multiple app-based taxi and transportation services. Arranging
taxi service known to or contracted by hotels is also a good
Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit:
Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed La Paz as being a LOW-threat
location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government
Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed La Paz as being a HIGH-threat
location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S.
government interests. Demonstrations, roadblocks,
protests, and other forms of civil unrest are common, especially in La Paz,
Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba.
Widespread national civil
protests occurred for several weeks following a disputed
election in October 2019. Protestors burned electoral offices in multiple
regions across Bolivia, and armed groups targeted politicians’ homes
and vandalized police offices in La Paz and El Alto, causing
panic in many neighborhoods. In response, people blocked the streets and
buildings with heavy objects to protect stores and
houses. Drinking water supplies to some parts of El Alto
and La Paz, the second- and third-largest cities in Bolivia, were temporarily
unavailable. Schools and workplaces in La Paz closed for public
safety. Barricades blocked roads that lead to El Alto International airport
(LPB). Because of blockades from various protests surrounding La Paz,
some goods were also not able to enter. Food supplies were unavailable for
a short period, leading to rationing of some foodstuffs in El Alto and La
the resignation of the former president in November, the swearing-in of
a transitional president two days later, the annulment by
the legislature of the elections, and the scheduling of new elections
for mid-2020, the situation around Bolivia
has largely normalized. However, political tensions remain
high, a situation likely to continue throughout 2020. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Bolivia is highly vulnerable to a
number of natural hazards, including droughts, fires, earthquakes,
floods, and landslides. Fires and floods present particular
challenges, especially due to deforestation and land degradation. Landslides are more
common in areas built on unstable ground, including landfill
sites. In May 2019, a landslide occurred in the centrally
located San Jorge area of La Paz following heavy rains. Principal
roads closed and 46 homes collapsed completely; another 18
In August and
September 2019, major forest fires burned across the
Chiquitania area of Santa Cruz, in Cochabamba, and elsewhere. Before heavy
rains extinguished them, over 5 million hectares of farm and forest
burned. In addition to the devastation of homes, animals, and forests, the
resulting smoke and ash affected several major cities.
Earthquakes are a concern. In
May 2018, 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck the area southeast of
Tarija, and in March 2019, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck
near the city of Cochabamba.
Low-lying areas in Beni, Pando,
Tarija, Potosi, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba experience annual flooding,
especially during the rainy season (December-March).
Maintain an emergency supply of
food/water and establish an emergency plan.
Very strict privacy laws govern
the release of personal information; however, widespread corruption and poor
record keeping present vulnerabilities to privacy.
Bolivia is a
multi-ethnic society, with surveys indicating that about half of Bolivians self-identify as
part of an indigenous group, primarily Aymara and Quechua. The afro-Bolivian
population (about 1%) is concentrated in the Yungas region. In
early 2020, there were initial indications of
increased xenophobia against people of Asian descent due to worries
about the coronavirus.
Bolivian constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and
gender identity. There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations
or the organization of LGBTI events. Review
the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+
buildings and streets are accessible by wheelchair. Sidewalks and ramps are
often in disrepair. The La Paz Teleferico (an aerial cable
car) and the PumaKatari La Paz Bus are the only public
transportation systems in the country adapted for wheelchairs. Review the State Department’s
webpage on security for travelers
Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice,
and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based
Bolivia is a producer of coca
leaf, and a source/transit country for cocaine shipment primarily to
markets in Latin America and Europe. The major agricultural areas of coca leaf
cultivation are the Chapare and Yungas regions. Government coca-eradication
efforts can result in violent producer reactions. Review U.S.
Embassy Consular messages prior to traveling to the Chapare and
Penalties for possession of
illegal drugs are very strict; offenders receive lengthy prison sentences if
convicted. Those accused of drug offenses are often in jail for two years or
more before their trial and sentencing.
The police have limited resources,
particularly outside major cities. In many cases, officers assigned to smaller
villages/towns do not have a vehicle to respond to traffic accidents or
criminal activity. Even when resources are available, response is extremely
slow by U.S. standards. Cooperate with the police if they stop or question you.
Prison conditions are extremely poor by U.S. standards.
If you feel that you are a victim
of police corruption, bribery, or harassment, contact American Citizen Services
at the U.S. Embassy for assistance. The Consular Section maintains a list of
attorneys in Bolivia.
U.S. citizens may contact the
Consular section at the U.S. Embassy for assistance with police matters. The
police emergency telephone number is 110, but response time can be lengthy.
If you are involved in a traffic
accident or the victim of a crime, the
investigating officer may require you to accompany them to the police station
to file a complaint or respond to questions. If you require a police report for
an insurance claim, a nominal fee will apply.
The police include two major
Force to Fight Drug Trafficking (FELCN) focuses on narco-trafficking and
Force to Fight Crime (FELCC) focuses on crimes not associated with
narco-trafficking (kidnapping, robbery)
Smaller units exist, with
jurisdictions in more specialized areas (e.g. traffic police, anti-violence
units), as do local commands responsible for community policing duties.
Medical care in large cities is
adequate for most purposes, but of varying quality. Most medical
facilities are not adequate to handle serious medical conditions, with
a few exceptions in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. There is no reliable ambulance
Prescription and over-the-counter
medications are widely available. However, many pharmacies only stock generic
Bolivia’s western half, which
includes many larger cities including La Paz, is at or above 10,000 feet
above sea level. Consult your healthcare provider for recommendations
concerning medication and high-altitude tips, and review OSAC’s
at High Altitude.
Water treatment methods do not
meet U.S. standards. Avoid consuming unfiltered tap water. Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My
Sanitize all produce, and cook all
meat products completely, due to higher risks of salmonella or other
The blood supply and regulation of
doctors and medical services do not meet U.S. standards in many areas.
Undergoing elective cosmetic procedures in Bolivia presents significant
The following diseases are
prevalent in Bolivia’s lower altitudes:
Malaria, Dengue, Rabies, Yellow fever, Chikungunya, and Zika.
For information on medical
providers, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
with your medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm that
the policy applies overseas, and that it will cover emergency expenses
(including medical evacuation). U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health
costs incurred outside the U.S., unless you purchase supplemental coverage.
Medicare/Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside
the U.S. Many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that
will cover health care expenses incurred overseas. The
U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health
insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments
webpage on insurance
Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way,
Medication, Shaken: The Don’ts of
Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad
Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional
information on vaccines and health guidance for Bolivia.
Country Council Information
There is an OSAC Country
Council in La Paz. Interested private-sector security managers should contact
OSAC’s Latin America Team with any
Embassy Contact Information
2780 Avenida Arce, La Paz
Monday-Thursday: 0800 – 1730;
Friday: 0800 - 1200
Switchboard (including after-hours
calls): +591 (2) 216-8000
Before you travel, consider the
OSAC Risk Matrix
OSAC Travelers Toolkit
Department Traveler’s Checklist
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program