Image: Lauren at Valle de los Condores.
My biggest packing regret is that I brought a little black dress to Bolivia.
I’ll give you one guess how many times that came in handy – that’s right, zero. The great thing about Bolivia is that it’s not a dressing-up kind of place. The less great thing is that the weather fluctuates often, especially as you move into higher altitudes, no matter what time of year you visit.
The main thing to remember about Bolivia is to take it slow. You might need time to acclimatize to the altitude, particularly if you arrive in La Paz. There are plenty of outdoor activities to choose from, whether it’s visiting the jungle, cycling down the most dangerous road in the world, hiking with condors, cruising around the Salar de Uyuni, or shopping in one of Bolivia’s many markets.
As usual when I travel, I brought a mixture of the right things and the wrong things. I underestimated the cold evenings and powerful daytime sun, so I was forced to spend $5 on a hat and gloves at a market stall in Potosi. I brought two pairs of jeans – what sensible backpacker brings two pairs of bulky jeans? I can’t talk about it.
Bolivia is a country of contrasts: blinding white salt flats, the vast altiplano, sticky jungles, almost-cosmopolitan cities, and lung-busting altitudes. Pack sensibly and in the end, you won’t need much at all.
Leggings: Under pants or on their own, these are comfortable and warm. I bought a pair in La Paz for $3.
1 pair of pants or jeans
1 fleece: I didn’t pack one of these but I wish I had.
2 long-sleeved layering tees
2 short-sleeved layering tees
1 tank top
Jacket: If you’re coming during the Bolivian winter, upgrade to a coat.
Pajamas: Hostels tend to be chilly at night.
Sports bra: If you plan to do any exercise or hiking.
2-3 regular bras
5 pairs of underwear
4 pairs of socks: Make sure you have at least 1 thick pair for nighttime, especially on the salt flats.
Sarong: I always pack a sarong and it never fails to come in handy.
Tennis shoes or hiking boots: I prefer tennis shoes, but if you plan to do a lot of hiking, you might want something sturdier.
Flats: These are optional, but my ballet flats were a lifesaver when I was sick of tennis shoes and it was too cold for sandals.
Towel: I carry a hand towel (try a travel towel) just in case. Many hostels provide or rent full-sized towels.
Sunglasses: If you’re going to the salt flats, you want sunglasses.
Gloves: You can probably get away without these in the spring and summer.
Hat: I brought one for sun protection and bought another for cold nights.
Scarf: For warmth and to wrap around your mouth/nose during a tour of the Salar de Uyuni. I’ve never inhaled so much dust during a car ride, ever.
Wet wipes: Good for freshening up after overnight buses.
Tampons: Tampons can be tough to find in Bolivia, but they do exist.
Lip balm: Again, especially for the salt flats.
Toilet paper: Always carry toilet paper, but don’t forget to put it in the bin, not the toilet.
Soap or shower gel
Mosquito repellent: Particularly if you’re hitting the jungle.
Sleeping bag: I didn’t bring one and I didn’t need one. Tour operators often rent them if you’re worried about being cold.
Swimsuit: During the Salar de Uyuni tour, there is usually a stop at a hot spring. If you plan on visiting the jungle or the Pampas, you may want a swimsuit as well.
Deck of cards: You never know when you might need a little old-fashioned entertainment.
Capris or shorts: It can get very hot during the day in the spring and summer, so you might want something a little more breathable than long pants.
Money belt: I didn’t have any trouble with theft, but better safe than sorry.
I found Bolivia to be a very challenging place to travel in, but that had more to do with me than Bolivia. That said, it’s beautiful, inexpensive, and rewarding. Take it easy, don’t pack too much, and get ready to go with the flow.
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About the author: Indiana native Lauren Fitzpatrick never got a proper job. Instead, she got working holiday visas for Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Korea. She has held over 30 jobs, including carny, English teacher and movie extra. Lauren blogs at Lateral Movements, and you can follow her on facebook or twitter @LateralMovement.
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