September 29, 2000
Bolivia has recently experienced widespread civil strife, which has resulted in the death of at least eight Bolivian citizens over the last two weeks. The disturbances began with protests by coca leaf growers in the Chapare region of the country, but have spread to rural areas across Bolivia. Throughout the country, groups of Bolivians protesting various government policies have blocked highways with stones, tree limbs, and trash. Protesters have attacked motorists attempting to evade the blockades, and in one instance killed a motorist. There have been some clashes between police attempting to clear the roads and protesters. Travel to any of the usual tourist attractions, such as Copacabana on Lake Titicaca or Sorata (a favorite destination for backpackers) is dangerous.
All overland shipments to La Paz have been blocked or delayed and all roads leading to the city are also blocked, as rural protesters attempt to isolate the capital.
While U.S. citizens are not specifically targeted, U.S. citizens traveling in Bolivia are strongly advised to avoid overland travel. Air travel to Bolivia's major cities has not been interrupted but U.S. citizens are urged to monitor local news sources and to consult with the Embassy before commencing travel.
For further general information on travel to Bolivia, please consult the Department of State's latest Consular Information Sheet available at the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov. All Americans resident or traveling in Bolivia are urged to register with the U.S. Embassy in La Paz (Tel 591-2-430251), the consular agency in Cochabamba (591-4-273166), or the consular agency in Santa Cruz (591-3-426476) and to obtain updated information on the security situation.
Bolivia is a developing country with a growing economy. Tourist facilities are adequate but vary greatly in quality. The capital city is La Paz.
A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and depart Bolivia. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a stay of one month or less (that period can be extended to 90 days upon application). Visitors for other purposes must obtain a visa in advance. U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Bolivia must obtain a new passport and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the main immigration office in La Paz to obtain permission to depart. An exit tax must be paid at the airport when departing Bolivia. Travelers who have Bolivian citizenship or residency must pay an additional fee upon departure. For further information regarding entry and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Bolivian Embassy at 3014 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008; telephone (202) 483-4410; fax (202) 328-3712; or the Bolivian consulate in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, or Seattle.
Violence and civil unrest, primarily associated with anti-narcotics activities in the Chapare region between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, periodically create a potential risk for travelers to that region. Violent confrontations between area residents and government authorities over coca eradication occasionally result in the use of tear gas and stronger force by government authorities to quell disturbances. U.S. citizen visitors to the Chapare region are encouraged to check with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy prior to travel.
Although there have been no terrorist-related attacks against U.S. official or private interests or persons in Bolivia since 1995, there remains a moderate potential for such incidents. U.S. citizens have not been targeted in recent bombing incidents, which are normally intended to cause only property damage.
Demonstrations by various local groups protesting government or private company policies occur frequently in urban areas. These protests are not specifically directed at foreigners, but visitors are advised to avoid such demonstrations. 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 are advised to exercise extreme care when trekking or climbing in Bolivia. If reasonable precautions are taken, mountain trekking and climbing in the Bolivian Andes can be a safe and 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 (tel. 591-2-324-682) 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 they 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.
There are few telephones in remote areas of Bolivia. Travelers should make sure that others (especially family and friends in the United States) know their 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.
Street crime, such as pick-pocketing and theft from parked vehicles, is common in Bolivia. Theft of cars, particularly late-model four-wheel-drive vehicles, is relatively common. Hijacking of vehicles has been known to occur, and travelers should take appropriate precautions to avoid being victimized.
Muggings have become a problem in certain sections of La Paz, primarily in the downtown area near Calle Sagarnaga and in the Cementerio area. In a typical mugging, the victim is grabbed from behind in a choke-hold, while an accomplice robs the victim of passport, money, and credit cards. Often the victim is rendered temporarily unconscious. Visitors should avoid being alone in these areas, especially after 6:00 P.M., when most of the attacks have occurred.
Some female tourists have 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 loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State’s pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. This publication and others, such as Tips for Travelers to Central and South America, are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs; or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
Medical care in large cities is adequate for most purposes, but of varying quality. Medical facilities, even in La Paz, are not adequate to handle serious medical conditions, such as cardiac problems. Medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties. Please check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation. Most air ambulance services cannot fly into La Paz, because their aircraft must be pre-certified for landing and taking off at La Paz’s airport, located at an altitude of over 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level.
Please ascertain whether your insurance company will make payments directly to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299); or via their Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov
Prior to departing the U.S. for high-altitude locations over 10,000 feet above sea level, such as La Paz, travelers may wish to discuss the trip with their personal physician and request information on specific recommendations concerning medication and lifestyle tips at high altitudes.
Official U.S. Government travelers to La Paz are provided with the following information: The altitude of La Paz is over 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level. 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 any 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, 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.
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. To help prevent these complications:
- Consider taking acetazolamide (Diamox) 125 mg. twice a day, starting two days before traveling, on the day of the trip, and two to three days after arriving at high altitude. This medication inhibits the enzyme carbonic anhydrase, has a slight diuretic effect, and stimulates respiration. It is available only by prescription in the U.S. Pregnant women and nursing mothers cannot take Diamox. If you have a severe allergy to sulfa, you may not be able to take Diamox.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking for at least one week after arrival in La Paz.
- Limit physical activity for the first 36 to 48 hours after arrival in La Paz.
For those with diabetes, only the blood glucose meter called One Touch II works properly at altitudes over 6,000 feet. Other models give incorrect readings of blood sugar levels.
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, because 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 drivers, including commercial bus drivers. Fatal crashes, fender-benders, and car/pedestrian accidents are commonplace. Information concerning road conditions may be obtained in La Paz from the Servicio Nacional de Caminos at telephone 591-2-342-956.
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 are expected to pay for their own room and board.
It often takes years to reach a decision in Bolivian legal cases, whether involving property disputes, civil, or criminal matters. The court sometimes orders a defendant held in jail for the duration of the case. Lists of local Bolivian attorneys and their specialties are available from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz and the U.S. Consular Agencies in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.
Civil marriage in Bolivia of U.S. citizen non-residents to Bolivians is possible if all documentary requirements are met. The Bolivian potential spouse should check with the Office of the Civil Registry in La Paz at tel. (591) 2-316-226 to determine what documents are required. An affidavit that the U.S. citizen is single is required and may be notarized at the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy does not, however, authenticate U.S. civil documents, such as birth certificates, for local use. All required U.S. documents must be translated and authenticated by a Bolivian consular officer in the United States.
An establishment in Santa Cruz has reportedly signed dance contracts with women in the U.S., who were then forced or encouraged to engage in prostitution after their arrival in Bolivia. Victims of this scheme say that their U.S. passports and airline tickets were held by their employer to ensure compliance with the employer’s conditions, and that they were given illegal narcotics for personal use and for sale to others. Persons considering signing contracts to dance in Bolivia are encouraged to obtain information in advance from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz or the U.S. Consular Agency in Santa Cruz
For information on international adoption of children, international parental child abduction, and international child support enforcement issues, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.
U.S. citizens living in or visiting Bolivia are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz and obtain updated information on travel and security in Bolivia. The Consular Section is open for U.S. citizen services, including registration, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding U.S. and Bolivian holidays. The U.S. Embassy is located at 2780 Avenida Arce in La Paz; telephone (591) 2-433-812 during business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.), or (591) 2-430-251 for after-hours emergencies; fax (591) 2-433-854; Internet web site - http://www.megalink.com/usemblapaz/. There are also U.S. Consular Agencies in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, which are open weekday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, excluding U.S. and Bolivian holidays. The Consular Agency in Santa Cruz is located at Calle Guemes 6, Barrio Equipetrol; telephone (591) 3-363-842 or 3-330-725; fax (591) 3-325-544. The Consular Agency in Cochabamba is located at Avenida Oquendo 654, Torres Sofer, Room 601; telephone (591) 4-256-714; fax (591) 4-257-714.
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