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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Bolivia 2020 Crime & Safety Report

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 OSAC’s country-specific 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.


Travel Advisory


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.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation 


Crime Threats 


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 partner.” Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.


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 Leave Behind.


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 Alcohol Abroad.


Cybersecurity Issues 


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?


Transportation-Safety Situation 


Road Safety and Road Conditions  


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.


Public Transportation Conditions  


Intra-departmental public 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 robbery. 


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 option. 


Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.


Terrorism Threat 


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 interests.


Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence 


Civil Unrest 


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 Paz. 


Since 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.


Post-specific Concerns 


Environmental Hazards 


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 suffered damage. 


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.  


Privacy Concerns 


Very strict privacy laws govern the release of personal information; however, widespread corruption and poor record keeping present vulnerabilities to privacy. 


Personal Identity Concerns  


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.   


The 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+ travelers.


Few 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 with disabilities.


Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.


Drug-related Crimes 


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 Yungas regions.  


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. 


Police Response 


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. 


Police/Security Agencies  


The police include two major branches: 


·         Special Force to Fight Drug Trafficking (FELCN) focuses on narco-trafficking and related crimes 

·         Special 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 Emergencies 


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 service. 


Prescription and over-the-counter medications are widely available. However, many pharmacies only stock generic brands. 


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 report, Traveling 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 Water?


Sanitize all produce, and cook all meat products completely, due to higher risks of salmonella or other contaminants. 


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 risks.  


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. 


Consult 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 overseas.


Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad


Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 


The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Bolivia. 


OSAC 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 questions. 


U.S. Embassy Contact Information 


2780 Avenida Arce, La Paz 

Monday-Thursday: 0800 – 1730; Friday: 0800 - 1200  


Switchboard (including after-hours calls): +591 (2) 216-8000

Website: http://bo.usembassy.gov/ 


Helpful Information


Before you travel, consider the following resources:


·         OSAC Risk Matrix

·         OSAC Travelers Toolkit

·         State Department Traveler’s Checklist

·         Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

·         Bolivia Country Information Sheet 


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