Information about the Bolivia Country

Facts



Population: 10.72 million(2015)
Area: 424,200 mi²
Capital City: Sucre


About Bolivia


Bolivia officially known as the Plurinational State of Bolivia, is a landlocked country located in western-central South America. It is bordered to the north and east by Brazil, to the southeast by Paraguay, to the south by Argentina, to the southwest by Chile, and to the northwest by Peru. One-third of the country is the Andean mountain range. The largest city and principal economic and financial center is Santa Cruz de la Sierra, located on the Llanos Orientales (Tropical lowlands) mostly flat region in the East of Bolivia. Bolivia is one of two landlocked countries (the other is Paraguay) that lie outside Afro-Eurasia. Bolivia is geographically the largest landlocked country in the Americas, but remains a relatively small country in economic and military terms.
Before Spanish colonization, the Andean region of Bolivia was part of the Inca Empire, while the northern and eastern lowlands were inhabited by independent tribes. Spanish conquistadors arriving from Cuzco and Asunción took control of the region in the 16th century. During the Spanish colonial period Bolivia was administered by the Royal Audiencia of Charcas. Spain built its empire in great part upon the silver that was extracted from Bolivia’s mines.
After the first call for independence in 1809, 16 years of war followed before the establishment of the Republic, named for Simón Bolívar, on 6 August 1825. Since independence, Bolivia has endured periods of political and economic instability, including the loss of various peripheral territories to its neighbors, such as Acre and parts of the Gran Chaco. It has been landlocked since the annexation of its Pacific coast territory by Chile following the War of the Pacific (1879–84), but agreements with neighboring countries have granted it indirect access to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
The country’s population, estimated at 11 million, is multiethnic, including Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans, Asians and Africans. The racial and social segregation that arose from Spanish colonialism has continued to the modern era. Spanish is the official and predominant language, although 36 indigenous languages also have official status, of which the most commonly spoken are Guarani, Aymara and Quechua languages.
Modern Bolivia is constitutionally a unitary state, divided into nine departments. Its geography varies from the peaks of the Andes in the West, to the Eastern Lowlands, situated within the Amazon Basin. It is a developing country, with a medium ranking in the Human Development Index and a poverty level of 53 percent. Its main economic activities include agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, and manufacturing goods such as textiles, clothing, refined metals, and refined petroleum. Bolivia is very wealthy in minerals, especially tin.


Currency

The currency used in Bolivia is the boliviano. One United States Dollar is approximately 6.8 bolivianos, one British Pound approximately 11.3 bolivianos and one euro approximately 9.9 bolivianos. Boliviano bills come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200. Boliviano coins consist of 1, 2 and 5 bolivianos and 10, 20, and 50 centavos (cents in English). The currency symbol is $b and the currency code is BOB.


Climate

The climate of Bolivia varies drastically from one eco-region to the other, from the tropics in the eastern llanos to a polar climate in the western Andes. The summers are warm, humid in the east and dry in the west, with rains that often modify temperatures, humidity, winds, atmospheric pressure and evaporation, yielding very different climates in different areas. When the climatological phenomenon known as El Niño takes place, it causes great alterations in the weather. Winters are very cold in the west, and it snows in the mountain ranges, while in the western regions, windy days are more common. The autumn is dry in the non-tropical regions.The climate of Bolivia varies drastically from one eco-region to the other, from the tropics in the eastern llanos to a polar climate in the western Andes. The summers are warm, humid in the east and dry in the west, with rains that often modify temperatures, humidity, winds, atmospheric pressure and evaporation, yielding very different climates in different areas. When the climatological phenomenon known as El Niño takes place, it causes great alterations in the weather. Winters are very cold in the west, and it snows in the mountain ranges, while in the western regions, windy days are more common. The autumn is dry in the non-tropical regions.
Llanos. A humid tropical climate with an average temperature of 30 °C (86 °F). The wind coming from the Amazon rainforest causes significant rainfall. In May, there is low precipitation because of dry winds, and most days have clear skies. Even so, winds from the south, called surazos, can bring cooler temperatures lasting several days.
Altiplano. Desert-Polar climates, with strong and cold winds. The average temperature ranges from 15 to 20 °C. At night, temperatures descend drastically to slightly above 0 °C, while during the day, the weather is dry and solar radiation is high. Ground frosts occur every month, and snow is frequent.
Valleys and Yungas. Temperate climate. The humid northeastern winds are pushed to the mountains, making this region very humid and rainy. Temperatures are cooler at higher elevations. Snow occurs at altitudes of 2,000 metres (6,600 ft).
Chaco. Subtropical semi-arid climate. Rainy and humid in January and the rest of the year, with warm days and cool nights.


Languages

Bolivia has great linguistic diversity as a result of its multiculturalism. The Constitution of Bolivia recognizes 36 official languages besides Spanish: Aymara, Araona, Baure, Bésiro, Canichana, Cavineño, Cayubaba, Chácobo, Chimán, Ese Ejja, Guaraní, Guarasu’we, Guarayu, Itonama, Leco, Machajuyai-Kallawaya, Machineri, Maropa, Mojeño-Ignaciano, Mojeño-Trinitario, Moré, Mosetén, Movima, Pacawara, Puquina, Quechua, Sirionó, Tacana, Tapieté, Toromona, Uru-Chipaya, Weenhayek, Yaminawa, Yuki, Yuracaré, and Zamuco.
Spanish is the most spoken official language in the country, according to the 2001 census; as it is spoken by more than 60% of the population. All legal and official documents issued by the State, including the Constitution, the main private and public institutions, the media, and commercial activities, are in Spanish.
The main indigenous languages are: Quechua (21.2% of the population in the 2001 census), Aymara (14.6%), Guarani (0.6%) and others (0.4%) including the Moxos in the department of Beni.
Plautdietsch, a German dialect, is spoken by about 70,000 Mennonites in Santa Cruz. Portuguese is spoken mainly in the areas close to Brazil.


Economy

Bolivia’s estimated 2012 gross domestic product (GDP) totaled $27.43 billion at official exchange rate and $56.14 billion at purchasing power parity. Economic growth was estimated to be at about 5.2%, and inflation was estimated at about 6.9%. Bolivia was rated “Repressed” by The Heritage Foundation’s 2010 Index of Economic Freedom. Despite a series of mostly political setbacks, between 2006 and 2009 the Morales administration has spurred growth higher than at any point in the preceding 30 years. The growth was accompanied by a moderate decrease in inequality. A surplus budget of 1.7% (GDP) was obtained by 2012, the government runs surpluses since Morales administration reflecting a prudent economic management.
A major blow to the Bolivian economy came with a drastic fall in the price of tin during the early 1980s, which impacted one of Bolivia’s main sources of income and one of its major mining industries. Since 1985, the government of Bolivia has implemented a far-reaching program of macroeconomic stabilization and structural reform aimed at maintaining price stability, creating conditions for sustained growth, and alleviating scarcity. A major reform of the customs service has significantly improved transparency in this area. Parallel legislative reforms have locked into place market-liberal policies, especially in the hydrocarbon and telecommunication sectors, that have encouraged private investment. Foreign investors are accorded national treatment.
In April 2000, Hugo Banzer, the former President of Bolivia, signed a contract with Aguas del Tunari, a private consortium, to operate and improve the water supply in Bolivia’s third-largest city, Cochabamba. Shortly thereafter, the company tripled the water rates in that city, an action which resulted in protests and rioting among those who could no longer afford clean water. Amidst Bolivia’s nationwide economic collapse and growing national unrest over the state of the economy, the Bolivian government was forced to withdraw the water contract.
Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves in South America. The government has a long-term sales agreement to sell natural gas to Brazil through 2019. The government held a binding referendum in 2005 on the Hydrocarbon Law.
The US Geological Service estimates that Bolivia has 5.4 million cubic tonnes of lithium, which represent 50%–70% of world reserves. However, to mine for it would involve disturbing the country’s salt flats (called Salar de Uyuni), an important natural feature which boosts tourism in the region. The government does not want to destroy this unique natural landscape to meet the rising world demand for lithium. On the other hand, sustainable extraction of lithium is attempted by the government. This project is carried out by the public company “Recursos Evaporíticos” subsidiary of COMIBOL.
Once Bolivia’s government depended heavily on foreign assistance to finance development projects and to pay the public staff. At the end of 2002, the government owed $4.5 billion to its foreign creditors, with $1.6 billion of this amount owed to other governments and most of the balance owed to multilateral development banks. Most payments to other governments have been rescheduled on several occasions since 1987 through the Paris Club mechanism. External creditors have been willing to do this because the Bolivian government has generally achieved the monetary and fiscal targets set by IMF programs since 1987, though economic crises have undercut Bolivia’s normally good record. However, by 2013 the foreign assistance is just a fraction of the government budget thanks to tax collection mainly from the profitable exports to Brazil and Argentina of natural gas.
The income from tourism has become increasingly important. Bolivia’s tourist industry has grown gradually since about 1990.


Education


In 2008, following UNESCO standards, Bolivia was declared free of illiteracy, making it the fourth country in South America to attain this status.
Bolivia has public and private universities. Among them: Universidad Mayor, Real y Pontificia de San Francisco Xavier de Chuquisaca USFX – Sucre, founded in 1624; Universidad Mayor de San Andres UMSA – La Paz, founded in 1830; Universidad Mayor de San Simon UMSS – Cochabamba, founded in 1832; Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno UAGRM – Santa Cruz de la Sierra, founded in 1880; Universidad Tecnica de Oruro UTO – Oruro, founded in 1892; and Universidad Autónoma Tomás Frías UATF – Potosi, founded in 1892.


Health

Some parts of Bolivia like La Paz (3650), Potosí (4010), Oruro (3950) and the Lake Titicaca region are high altitude, so adequate precautions against “sorojchi” altitude sickness should be taken.
At local pharmacies they sell sorojchi pills, that are supposed to help with altitude problems. It has painkillers as well as natural herbs to help cope with the symptoms of “sorojchi”. In many parts of the Altiplano you can purchase coca leaves, which are reputed to be useful against soroche. Coca tea (“mate de coca”) is available in tea bags in many markets.
However, severe cases of high altitude disease can be treated at the High Altitude Pathology Institute at Clinica IPPA. This Clinic has the most advanced technology including a hyperoxic/hypoxic adaptation chamber. In addition, the sun’s ultraviolet rays are much stronger — up to 20 times — than at sea level. A sun hat, sunglasses, and skin protection (sunblock or long sleeves) are advised.
You can’t usually drink tap water in Bolivia. There’s plenty of bottled water being sold in the stores. One note though: if you’re not a Coca-Cola company (very strong in Bolivia) fan, in some towns you may have trouble getting water from other manufacturer.
Yellow fever vaccination is recommended for those who plan on spending time in the Bolivian Amazon. It must be taken 10 days prior to the person’s arrival into the country if the visitor plans to visit rural areas.
Malaria prophylaxis is recommended if the visitor plans to visit tropical-rural areas.
As a preventive measure, taking the following vaccines is recommended: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Tetanus, Diphtheria and Measles Booster-Vaccines.


Politics and Government

Bolivia has been governed by democratically elected governments since 1982, when a long string of military coups came to an end. Presidents Hernán Siles Zuazo (1982–85) and Víctor Paz Estenssoro (1985–89) began a tradition of ceding power peacefully which has continued, although two presidents have stepped down in the face of popular protests: Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003 and Carlos Mesa in 2005.
Bolivia’s multiparty democracy has seen a wide variety of parties in the presidency and parliament, although the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement, Nationalist Democratic Action, and the Revolutionary Left Movement predominated from 1985 to 2005. The current president is Evo Morales, the first indigenous Bolivian to serve as head of state. Morales’ Movement for Socialism – Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples party was the first to win an outright presidential majority in four decades, doing so both in 2005 and 2009.
The constitution, drafted in 2006–07 and approved in 2009, provides for balanced executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral powers, as well as several levels of autonomy. The traditionally strong executive branch tends to overshadow the Congress, whose role is generally limited to debating and approving legislation initiated by the executive. The judiciary, consisting of the Supreme Court and departmental and lower courts, has long been riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Through revisions to the constitution in 1994, and subsequent laws, the government has initiated potentially far-reaching reforms in the judicial system as well as increasing decentralizing powers to departments, municipalities, and indigenous territories.
The executive branch is headed by a President and Vice President, and consists of a variable number (currently, 20) of government ministries. The president is elected to a five-year term by popular vote, and governs from the Presidential Palace (popularly called the Burnt Palace, Palacio Quemado) in La Paz. In the case that no candidate receives an absolute majority of the popular vote or more than 40% of the vote with an advantage of more than 10% over the second-place finisher, a run-off is to be held among the two candidates most voted.
The Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional (Plurinational Legislative Assembly or National Congress) has two chambers. The Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies) has 130 members elected to five-year terms, seventy from single-member districts (circunscripciones), sixty by proportional representation, and seven by the minority indigenous peoples of seven departments. The Cámara de Senadores (Chamber of Senators) has 36 members (four per department). Members of the Assembly are elected to five-year terms. The body has its headquarters on the Plaza Murillo in La Paz, but also holds honorary sessions elsewhere in Bolivia. The Vice President serves as titular head of the combined Assembly.
The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Tribunal, the Judiciary Council, Agrarian and Environmental Tribunal, and District (departmental) and lower courts. In October 2011, Bolivia held its first judicial elections to choose members of the national courts by popular vote, a reform brought about by Evo Morales.
The Plurinational Electoral Organ is an independent branch of government which replaced the National Electoral Court in 2010. The branch consists of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the nine Departmental Electoral Tribunals, Electoral Judges, the anonymously selected Juries at Election Tables, and Electoral Notaries. Wilfredo Ovando presides over the seven-member Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Its operations are mandated by the Constitution and regulated by the Electoral Regime Law (Law 026, passed 2010). The Organ’s first elections were the country’s first judicial election in October 2011, and five municipal special elections held in 2011.


Culture

Bolivian culture has been heavily influenced by the Quechua, the Aymara, as well as the popular cultures of Latin America as a whole.
The cultural development is divided into three distinct periods: precolumbian, colonial, and republican. Important archaeological ruins, gold and silver ornaments, stone monuments, ceramics, and weavings remain from several important pre-Columbian cultures. Major ruins include Tiwanaku, El Fuerte de Samaipata, Inkallaqta and Iskanawaya. The country abounds in other sites that are difficult to reach and have seen little archaeological exploration.
The Spanish brought their own tradition of religious art which, in the hands of local native and mestizo builders and artisans, developed into a rich and distinctive style of architecture, painting, and sculpture known as “Mestizo Baroque”. The colonial period produced not only the paintings of Pérez de Holguín, Flores, Bitti, and others but also the works of skilled but unknown stonecutters, woodcarvers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths. An important body of Native Baroque religious music of the colonial period was recovered and has been performed internationally to wide acclaim since 1994.
Bolivian artists of stature in the 20th century include María Luisa Pacheco, Roberto Mamani Mamani, Alejandro Mario Yllanes, Alfredo Da Silva, and Marina Núñez del Prado.
Bolivia has a rich folklore. Its regional folk music is distinctive and varied. The “devil dances” at the annual carnival of Oruro are one of the great folkloric events of South America, as is the lesser known carnival at Tarabuco. The best known of the various festivals found in the country is the “Carnaval de Oruro”, which was among the first 19 “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”, as proclaimed by UNESCO in May 2001.


Safety

Apply common sense and take precautions that apply elsewhere. All tourists should be careful when selecting a travel guide and never accept medication from unverifiable sources. At night try to use “radio taxis” as fake cabs are common and robbings and even rapes do occur. It is a good idea to register with the consulate of your country of residence upon entry into the country. And it is also helpful learn at least basic Spanish to keep yourself a little safe.
Beware of a scam involving ‘non-uniformed’ policemen asking for your passport and permit; official policemen will always be satisfied with a copy of your passport and a copy of your Bolivian visa on your passport. In the event that the con-artists requesting this get aggressive do not hesitate to scream, yell, or do something to attract the attention of passers by. This will usually be enough to scare them away.
The ‘improvements’ made to Yungas Road (the famous highway to death) have made the experience of traversing it go from emotionally harrowing to finger-biting, and Bolivian bus drivers seem all too confident when crossing it. Make sure to look for a reputable driver/bus line from other travelers if you do decide to make this trip.
Be careful of cars when crossing the streets (particularly at roundabouts). Cars go quite “chaotic”. There are usually no lane marking and minimal signage.
It may be not safe to carry a big amount of cash with you. Instead, consider carrying just enough cash for a couple of next stops and a bank card to “fill up the tank” (be careful: smaller and not-so-touristy towns have no ATMs). Take some “international” (i.e. $US or €) currency for a safe start. As a safety measure you can take “secondary” bank card with you (leaving “primary” at home) pre-filling it with amount of money according to your travel estimate (and adding some more – for unexpected cases). If you are running out you may contact your relatives at home to log in into your e-bank account and move some more money to your “secondary” card. It may be wise to attach some sticky stripes of paper to your card with some fake PIN written in unclear manner (i.e. only segments of digits visible – other segments are to “guess”) – if you lose your card and somebody enters a wrong PIN 3 times, your bank will probably block the card.


Transportation

Transportation strikes (bloqueos) are a common occurrence in Bolivia, so try to keep tuned to local news. Strikes often affect local taxis as well as long-distance buses; airlines are generally unaffected. Do not try to go around or through blockades (usually of stones, burning tires, or lumber). Strikers may throw rocks at your vehicle if you try to pass the blockade. Violence has sometimes been reported. Many strikes only last a day or two.
Buses in Bolivia are a nice cheap way to get to see the beautiful scenery while travelling to your destination. Unfortunately the buses often travel solely at night. There are different types of buses: “bed bus” with fully reclining seats and leg platform (bus cama), “semi-bed bus” (semi cama), normal. Keep in mind that roads are occasionally blocked due to protests, often for several days. So ask several companies at the terminal if you hear about blockades, unless you are willing to spend a few days sleeping on the bus.
Bus travel is usually pretty cheap. Estimate that it will cost you about USD1 for every hour of travel (it’s easier to find travel times online than actual price quotes). Prices do change based on supply and demand. Sometimes you can get a deal by waiting until the last minute to buy. Hawkers are constantly crying out destinations in the bigger bus stations cajoling potential riders to take their bus line. There is a negligible tax for using bus terminals, you pay it as you leave.
Usually you have to “check-in” your big bags for the travel – they get a tag and get to the baggage compartment and you get a copy of tag. Overhead reading lamps and air conditioners on buses rarely work (if at all). There usually technically is a WC on board, but it’s never open. Rather the bus stops in some predefined “stations” for WC (baño) and eating. On longer journeys they’ll start some movie on TV in the bus – most are brutal ones. Sometimes (usually when leaving) people gather around or enter the bus to sell food (cuñape, salteña, pollo) to the travellers. At times “brainwashers” enter the bus to sell some books (i.e. health-related) – they tell (using their “plastic” voice) people different things to persuade them to buy their stuff.
On average, bus companies are not-that-great to decent, but some are just really bad. It is recommended not to travel with Urus, as they drive less safely than others, and include many many stops which unnecessarily prolong the ride.
On some routes, the roads are in such a dire condition that the train becomes the alternative of choice. Trains are more comfortable than one would expect, having for example reclinable seats. The trip from Oruro to Uyuni is especialy beautiful, with the train going literally through an Andean lake on the way. The train is especially good for trips to the Salar de Uyuni and the Pantanal.
Coming from La Paz, you need to take a three hour bus ride to Oruro to catch the train. You best book your tickets a few days before your trip. In La Paz booking office is at Fernando Guachalla No. 494, at the corner with Sánchez Lima (between the Plaza del Estudiante and Plaza Abaroa). Main stops are Uyuni, Tupiza and Villazon, on the Argentine border. Travel times here.
Between Santa Cruz and the Pantanal it is more straightfoward to organize a trip. Just go to the Terminal Bimodal in Santa Cruz (see the Santa Cruz page for details), or the train station on the border in Puerto Quijarro. The train is also convenient for trips to the Jesuit Missions. Check the website for timetables.
Shared taxis are common for longer trips between towns and cities that aren’t served by bus.

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