Buses in Bolivia are the easiest and cheapest way to get around the country but there is not a lot of information online. I’ve travelled various times by bus around Bolivia and also to Lima and Iquique. I share with you some recommendations and tips for cheap and comfy travel.
Routes I’ve Travelled
Oruro – Iquique (Chile)
Copacabana – Puno (Peru, from here you can go to Cuzco, Arequipa or Lima)
La Paz – Puno (Peru)
La Paz – Lima (Peru)
Buying tickets online for buses in Bolivia is tricky but there is one website I have used successfully called, ticketsbolivia.com. If you buy a ticket online you will still need to go to the terminal early to collect it and you will probably pay a bit extra. You can also find a ticket from La Paz to Puno (Peru) which is a cheap option to prove you have an onward ticket at immigration.
I recommend going to the terminal in the afternoon the day before your trip or in the morning the same day to purchase your ticket. Many cities have public buses or “micros” that can get you to the terminal for a couple of bolivianos.
When you get to the terminal you should shop around for different prices and services. Make sure you ask if they have a toilet (‘Tiene baño?’) and also ask if it works (‘Funciona?’).
There are different levels of luxury and each company is slightly different. The most basic is ‘Cama’ which has 4 rows ‘filas’ of seats. The mid-range is ‘Leito’ which has 3 filas and the top range is ‘Suite’ where you can put your seat nearly horizontal. It pays to ask how many rows the bus has (‘Cuantos filas hay?’) but they will usually show you a layout of the seating when you choose your seat anyway.
Ticket prices go up a little during summer holidays and other popular travel dates.
You will need to pay in cash.
Tips for using buses in Bolivia
All bus terminals I’ve seen in Bolivia have a small tax you have to pay when you leave. Usually there is a small ticket booth near the centre of the terminal and they charge about 2 – 3 Bs. You can purchase it as soon as you arrive at the terminal as long as it’s on the same day you are travelling. They will often ask to see it as you are leaving the city but if you don’t have it you can purchase it on the bus.
When you purchase the ticket it pays to ask where you have to board the bus. They will tell you a number, for example ‘Carril 18’. It will often say this on you ticket too. There should be signs leading you to the correct ‘carril’.
Sometimes you have to take your baggage to the bus where the staff will put it in the hold under the bus. Other times you have to leave your baggage at the ticket office. You can ask them when you buy your ticket to save time later on.
Most buses in Bolivia have toilets but some don’t. Some have toilets that don’t work. If your bus does have a functioning toilet, you will only be able to do number ones (urinate). Also most buses won’t let you use the toilet until you are out of the city because your waste goes straight onto the street. If it is a long trip then most buses stop at some point where there are public toilets and you can do your number two (poo). If there is no toilet you will need to ask the driver to stop with some anticipation as it could take half an hour before they stop.
Buses in Bolivia are great from going between cities. Most cities have a local bus network of many bus routes and small buses. Locals call these city buses ‘Micros’. They can be hard to navigate as there are no route maps publicly available. However, they are cheap and a great way to get around if you know which bus to take. You will need to ask a local which Micro to take or ask your hostel/hotel reception.
When you want to get off you will need to signal to the driver by saying something like, “voy a bajar” or “parada”. You will notice they use slightly different phrases in different cities.
Trufis or Minivans
Trufis, or minivans as some people call them, are very similar to Micros but are just vans. They fit about 18 people and can be a little crowded. If it’s hot try to sit near a window that opens.
These are popular in La Paz to get around the city and in other cities to get a bit further out of the city.
In La Paz you will see a lot of them running down the main road past Plaza San Francisco. You need to know which suburb you want to go to and look for the sign on the windscreen. A few also run to the bus terminal and a few more can drop you off a couple of blocks away from it.
In Sucre you can get Trufis to take you to Yotala from the Mecado Campesino or Tarabuco from Parada a Tarabuco. On the way to Yotala there is a water park.
In Santa Cruz the minivans go around each ‘anillo’ or ring. If you look at Santa Cruz on a map you will quickly identify the rings.
Taxis & Uber
Most cities have lots of taxis. They are usually normal cars with some sort of “TAXI” sign. You can wave them down and tell them where you want to go. Ask the price before you get in.
In my experience they are safe but it pays to be careful especially at night in some areas. It might pay to go with a group if you are worried about safety.
In Santa Cruz and La Paz you can take an Uber. It’s not very common so sometimes there is a bit of a wait but it can save you money on longer rides.