Many people will come to Bolivia and tell you that they ate all the street food and were fine. Others will have bad experiences. From giardia in river water to salmonella in the chicken there are many sources of food poisoning in Bolivia.
The good news is that Bolivians live with the added risks of food poisoning every day and know exactly how to prepare your food to avoid problems. If you do have problems you can get tested at a nearby laboratory or hospital or health centre.
Drinking tap water in Bolivia is generally not advised. Some locals will tell you it’s fine every now and then and that may be the case for them who’s bodies are used to it.
Most Bolivians prefer to boil their tap water for about 1 minute and then let it cool until it is cold enough to drink. In my experience this is fine but if you are having stomach problems then I would definitely recommend drinking bottled water for a few days until you get over it.
Most restaurants offer a refresco, fruit juice and water, drink. While a lot of restaurants use , you can’t guarantee this process. I personally have had no issues with the refresco in Bolivia and I would recommend it to anyone travelling here to try all the different fruit drinks you can. However, if you have a sensitive stomach then maybe you would be better with a hot tea or something from a bottle.
Salad is often overlooked as a source of food poisoning because we relate it to eating healthy. However, most salad is washed in tap water and some vendors are rather lazy about how much they need to wash it.
Again, I eat all the lettuce and tomato that is given to me and haven’t had a serious problem. But if you want to be careful and are happy getting your vitamins from other sources then you should avoid salads especially from street vendors if you don’t want food poisoning in Bolivia. Remove the lettuce and tomato for hamburgers or simply ask for it without salad (‘sin ensalada’).
If you are preparing salad at home then I would recommend washing each leaf of lettuce individually and carefully washing anything else. My wife’s family soaks lettuce and some other fruits and vegetables in water with a few drops of household bleach for about 15 mins. This will reduce your chance of getting sick.
It is recommended that you cook meat right through. I know how tasty a nice juicy medium-rare steak is but it does pose a bigger risk in Bolivia. Most of the time you will be fine with beef but chicken and pork should definitely be well done.
Eating chicken from street vendors is probably fine. Most of it is really well cooked but sometimes it’s been sitting out for a long time. It’s up to you if you want to take the risk.
We buy our meat from the Central Market in Sucre at the stall in the photo above. It is always fresh and cheaper than the supermarkets. It pays to get there in the morning before the good cuts run out. You need to point or ask what you want in Spanish. Here are some common phrases: ‘media kilo’, ‘dos kilos’, ‘cabeza de lomo’ (rump), ‘carne molida’ (minced meat), ‘fileteado’ (sliced very thinly), ‘chuleta’ (T-bone). The meat is generally between 20-50bs per kilo.