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The Ultimate Female Travel Packing List for Bolivia

Valle de los Condores

Image: Lauren at Valle de los Condores.

The following is a guest packing list by Lauren Fitzpatrick. See all packing list posts here.

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.

Clothing

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.

Salt Flats
Lauren at the Salt Flats

Shoes

Tennis shoes or hiking boots: I prefer tennis shoes, but if you plan to do a lot of hiking, you might want something sturdier.
Flip-flops
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.

Accessories

Daypack
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.

Toiletries

Wet wipes: Good for freshening up after overnight buses.
Tampons: Tampons can be tough to find in Bolivia, but they do exist.
Sunscreen
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.
Shampoo/conditioner
Soap or shower gel
Toothbrush/toothpaste
Mosquito repellent: Particularly if you’re hitting the jungle.

Copacabana
Copacabana

Technology

*Wifi is available across Bolivia; it just tends to be slow.
Headlamp + batteries: Good for when the power goes out at 9pm
iPod + charger
Camera + any necessary chargers

Optional Extras

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.

* * * * *
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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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Alice says

    I spent two months in Bolivia a few years back, working in the jungle and doing the La Paz-Uyuni-Tupiza-Potosi-Sucre loop, and it was amazing but you’re right, pretty challenging!

    I ended up taking one carry-on size suitcase for 8 months in South America – meaning lots of hand-washing clothes in hostel sinks and buying cheap extras at the local markets.
    It was good considering how often I had to lug my suitcase around but I always wished I had a fleece (I also didn’t take one) and how long it took me to realise that nowhere was going to have toilet paper. I was carrying a sleeping bag and med kit in there though, did lots of camping in Peru/Argentina.

    Your list is great – I’d just add water purifier tablets and a mini sewing kit – I was always ripping things, but maybe I’m just clumsy! .

    • Lauren says

      Actually, I do carry a mini sewing kit but I totally forgot about it! I’ve never used water purifier tablets but after this trip I’m certainly going to look into it. Hate burning through plastic bottles.

      And yes, carry-on luggage is the way forward! My pack is 35 liters and while it’s a little too small, I can’t imagine going back to a big bag.

  2. Angie says

    Just came across this site – so useful, thanks for posting! I’m going to be travelling on my own through Bolivia in March, and I’ve been told it’s so easy to underestimate just how cold it can get, so definitely won’t be forgetting the fleece, hat and gloves!

    • Lauren says

      Good luck and enjoy Bolivia! I have to say, so many people warned me about the cold that I expected Arctic temperatures. It was nice when it wasn’t *quite* that bad. But the cold-weather accessories are a must!

  3. Julia says

    I was also sure to take a Patagonia or other wind resistant puffy coat which helped later during the salt flats tour when we were at the lagoons. The wind really whipped us around.

    Whenever I travel, I usually take clothes that I am meaning to donate or get rid of. That way, I can leave it in the country for someone else to use and I have space freed up for souvenirs at the end of the trip.

    • Lauren says

      Agreed. I had a Colombia jacket which felt a bit thin at times, but did wonders with blocking out the wind.

      Lately, I’ve come across donation boxes in hostels for clothes you no longer want to keep – it’s great because then I don’t feel bad about throwing them out/leaving them behind, and hopefully someone else will be able to use them!

  4. Mae says

    Hi I am traveling to Bolivia in March next year and was wondering how you found the weather this time of year?

    I’ve read a few articles saying that it’s difficult getting around in March as it is rainy season.

    • Lauren says

      I was there in November so I’m not sure how things would be in March. I know that flights and buses do get cancelled due to weather so it’s something to keep in mind. But I find that trying to beat the system never works so all you can do is hope for the best and prepare an alternative route. I have seen some amazing photos of the salar after a rainstorm though!

  5. Brigid says

    Think you covered everything really well! I’m living in Sucre (a beautiful city in Bolivia) and I highly recommend packing sunscreen…especially for us pasty folk! The sun gets really intense and you can end up looking like a tomato within hours!

  6. valerie fuchs says

    I will be travelling to La Paz & Uyuni in 2 weeks. Thank you for sharing your packing list.
    Can you tell me what type of plug/converter did you need to charge phone/electronics? I’m coming from United States.

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