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Kenya Overview


KENYA

Why you should be there now.

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Kenya Overview


KENYA

Why you should be there now.

If you haven't been lucky enough to visit Africa, Kenya is probably exactly what comes to mind when you indulge in a daydream about the far-away continent. Stirring landscapes range from the palm-ringed Indian Ocean to the wild savannahs, and with an eye towards the future, Kenyan conservation and planning ensures that abundant wildlife is never too far out of reach. Take all that and combine it with a colorful tradition of (accessible) tribal culture?

This is the Africa you've been dying to discover. 


Already been to Kenya? Share your tips here so we can share the wealth.

Popularity & Rep


POPULARITY & REPUTATION.

AKA THE WORD ON THE (KENYAN) STREET.

Popularity & Rep


POPULARITY & REPUTATION.

AKA THE WORD ON THE (KENYAN) STREET.

Africa is getting a shitty rAP right now.

Between Ebola, terrorist attacks and mass corruption -- not to mention political instability -- the continent might not be at the top of every travelers list, but it should be. With a huge variety of attractions concentrated in a mid-sized country, Kenya is one of the more popular areas for tourism and volunteerism in east Africa.

Take the big, bustling Nairobi. It’s the type of city where cars don’t follow rules, and you’ll hear music blasting at all hours. Matatus (public buses) and piki-pikis (tiny, speedy motorbikes) are weaving through the traffic, offering passengers a rare glimpse of the stunning landscapes beyond. 

Or skip the city and head straight to Great Rift Valley, home to the pride rock of Lion King fame, where you and your Rafiki ("friend" in Swahili) can take in the breathtaking views and mark that movie moment off of your bucket list.

Fiending for a culture fix? Kenya has 42 tribes, one of which is the famous Masai who have been able to maintain their cultural identity. 

In short, Kenya offers something for everyone.

They still gauge their ears (using knives and tree branches… that hipster doesn’t look so hard core now does he?) and wear the traditional red cloths draped around them.

The Masai are also the tribe who send their men into the wilderness for five years to learn how to hunt and use plants for their medicinal properties. Perhaps if we implemented the same practices in the US Tinder wouldn’t be necessary.
— Laura Underwood, Kenya Editor
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KENYA: Visual Inspiration


KENYA. VISUAL INSPIRATION.

KENYA: Visual Inspiration


KENYA. VISUAL INSPIRATION.

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Where The F*ck...?


WHERE THE F*CK IS BOLIVIA?

Don't worry, we get that a lot.

Where The F*ck...?


WHERE THE F*CK IS BOLIVIA?

Don't worry, we get that a lot.

Get Your Bearings.

Touch the sky in Andes, skinny dip in the aptly named and internationally worshipped Lake Titicaca, or test your limits with an Amazon encounter (swimming with pink dolphins and piranhas, anyone?).

 Bolivia offers more activities than a backpacker could ever hope for. Better still, the prices mean you can actually make ALL these adventures your own, rather than having to pick and choose, and still have enough to live like a king for the rest of your trip.

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The Rad & The Bad


IN OUR HONEST OPINION.

A BULLSHIT FREE ZONE.

The Rad & The Bad


IN OUR HONEST OPINION.

A BULLSHIT FREE ZONE.

The Rad.

If it had a beach, Bolivia would have the backpacker game on lock.  Manageable size, inexpensive transport, unique culture and budding tourist infrastructure make it possible to go from 15k feet to 100ft below ground, with a few stops at the Amazon, Butch Cassidy's wild west, the World's Most Dangerous Road and the otherworldly Salt Flats in between.

lake titicaca isla del sol travel guide backpack bolivia

 

The Bad.

I met one person who hated on Bolivia for all the reasons it enchanted me.  A lack of development means trash often litters incredible natural sites, creature comforts (Coca-Cola, McDonalds, hot water) can be hard to come by and the lack of a tourist infrastructure means minimal regulations and standards on tours run by guides that most likely do not speak English.

 

Bolivian Highlights.

 

EASY ACCESS AMAZON.

Let a hollowed out canoe transport you back in time on an action packed adventure complete with anaconda hunting, pink dolphins & piranha fishing. 


XTREME MINING IN POTOSI.

Pay homage to El Tio armed only with dynamite, coca leaves & 100% proof alcohol. We have mixed feelings about the voyeuristic nature of this tour, and be warned that one of our claustrophobic friends was so worried she took a Xanax (she admitted later it was unnecessary). But whatever your position on the tour or small spaces, at the very least you'll gain a new appreciation for the trade... & living above ground.

 

PARTY ON THE ALTIPLANO.

Acclimatize with coca tea at one of La Paz's mega hostels, where the party never stops. Need help? Hit up one of the famous cocaine bars in town. More info here.

WAKING DREAMS IN UYUNI.

Pink & green lakes, homes made entirely of salt, llamas, mummies, and mountain flamingos... In Uyuni, the glorious salt flats are just the warm up on an adventure you'll never forget.

 

 

Bolivian Lowlights.

 

OTHER BACKPACKERS.

You'll never be too far away from a backpacker, but the travelers that make it here tend to be more intrepid that the typical gap-year crowd. 

altitude sickness uyuni salt flat tour bolivia guide backpack

ALTITUDE SICKNESS.

From slightly winded to totally incapacitated by the slightest incline (which makes for excellent people watching), no one is immune.

Don't panic if your nose starts bleeding at 15,000 feet -- locals insist this isn't anything to worry about, though when it happens to you it's pretty easy to have doubts.More on how to deal with altitude sickness in Bolivia can be found here.

LONG BUS TRIPS.

On long haul trips, the hours and even days cooped up in the cabin can seem like a rare form of torture. Bring snacks, a flexible schedule and plenty of reading material if you want to make it out alive. Read more about transportation in Bolivia here.

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Vibe & Crowd Factor


PEOPLE VIBE & CROWD FACTOR.

Who and how many to expect.

Vibe & Crowd Factor


PEOPLE VIBE & CROWD FACTOR.

Who and how many to expect.

Locals.

The people in Kenya are extremely welcoming. I found them to laugh easily, and openly. Be prepared to be called Mzugnu almost everywhere you go, and to attract stares. In my experience, the stares and calling out is out of curiosity and wanting to chat. Simply walk with confidence, and wave and carry about your business.

Other Travelers.

The types of tourists will range depending on where you are, from many volunteers and general do-gooders to safari enthusiasts and business Mzungus. 

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Costs & Budget


COSTS & BUDGET.

Don't worry. Bolivia is about as cheap as it gets.

Costs & Budget


COSTS & BUDGET.

Don't worry. Bolivia is about as cheap as it gets.

Per Day: US $20-$30

The cheapest in South America & an excellent value if you plan to live, eat and travel like a local.

 

Activities & Extracurriculars.

Jungle, biking, climbing and Salt Flat trips are all inclusive (food, accommodations, transport) and astonishingly inexpensive if you don't book ahead of time and are willing to negotiate. There are plenty of other temptations (alcohol, shopping, drugs) that will increase costs for some.

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What To Pack


READY, SET, GO!

Packing for Bolivia can be a little tricky, actually.

What To Pack


READY, SET, GO!

Packing for Bolivia can be a little tricky, actually.

Packing Strategy.

Things are so cheap you don't have to worry about too much despite the wild variation in temperatures. La Paz has everything you could need from locally produced llama wool sweaters to outdoor equipment and the surprisingly common Beyonce towel. A few notes:

  • It can get wet during the season, so if the forecast calls for rain a waterproof shell might be handy to protect that llama sweater, but will probably be too hot for the jungle.
  • In the jungle you need insect repellant and the locals will insist on outfitting you in a white jumpsuit they swear repels the bugs. More about this in the Mosquito Survival Guide.
  • It gets pretty wild on the altiplano, but you're in the car the majority of the time so you really only need blankets for the night (usually provided if you look cold enough).

For more, visit our Packing Survival Guide here.

 

Guidebook Recommendation.

The standard uniform for anyone backpacking in Bolivia: alpaca wool sweater, accessories and a Rough Guide.

The Lonely Planet South America was spotted most on the ground, but for those more interested in Bolivia, we find the Rough Guide to be the most up to date. Footprint is especially good for Bolivia but rarely carried, so best if you're actively trying to avoid the Lonely Planet crowds. There's also a new guide coming out in January 2015 that's available for pre-order now.

Read our review of the top guidebook brands and how to use them here.

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Routes & Itineraries


ROUTES & ITINERARIES.

May we recommend...

Routes & Itineraries


ROUTES & ITINERARIES.

May we recommend...

As part of a South America trip...

Lake Titicaca to La Paz, to the jungle (Rurrenbaque) sometimes via a mountain bike ride to Coroico - back to La Paz - Sucre to Potosi to Uyuni to Chile/La Paz (or reverse if coming from Chile, not Peru/La Paz)

You won’t find too many travelers doing “just” Bolivia, but it’s well worth it.

If You Have MORE Time, We Recommend...

LA PAZ.

  • Acclimate
  • Cholo Wrestling
  • Dangerous Road

LAKE TITICACA.

  • Isla Del Sol and around

RURRENEBAQUE.

  • Pampas Tour

UYUNI.

  • Salt Flats

TUPIZA.

  • Butch Cassidy

TARIJA.

POTOSI.

SUCRE.

Other Favorites: Oruro, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, cruise down river mamore


Miss At Your Peril.

  • Salt Flats (preferably on an overland trip from Chile through the altiplano)
  • Potosi
  • Isla Del Sol
  • Chola Wrestling (if you’re into that)

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Tours


THE WORD ON TOURS. 

Like it or not, Bolivia's budding tourist infrastructure revolves around organized tours.

Tours


THE WORD ON TOURS. 

Like it or not, Bolivia's budding tourist infrastructure revolves around organized tours.

Booking Tours In Bolivia.

Bolivia is indisputably 'backpacker central' and an industry has sprung up to provide easy, cheap and comfortable tours tailored to young travelers. So much so that you could easily explore the jungle, silver miners, salt flats, 'death' road, etc., without ever having to take local transportation, interact with locals (apart from guides). All to a soundtrack of contemporary dance music. These tours make seeing Bolivia easy, cheap and fun (if you get lucky with others in your group).


Buyer Beware.

Don’t be afraid to shop around for your tour.

Usually the offices are all in a row and you can pit the prices against each other to find the best deal. Bear in mind that once you commit, you’ll be stuck with whatever driver, food and accommodations they give you so it’s not a bad idea to get what you’ve been promised in writing and to meet the driver if you’re at all concerned.

For us it’s usually more about what people we'll be stuck with for a few days, so we always ask for the ages and nationalities (or to meet) any fellow travelers before striking a deal. 

 

YOU Might Not Get What You Paid For.

Bear in mind that in the lower seasons these companies often work together so even if you sign up with one group, you’ll be thrown in with the patrons of other tour companies to fill up a car. This can be annoying if you’ve paid for the highest priced trip and get thrown in with people who paid half of what you did.

 

Drunk & Grumpy Guides.

Even though the guy behind the desk says he will, the guides often don’t speak English.

For tours like the Salt Flats, ask for a map and literature (in English) so you know what you’re looking at if you can’t communicate with your driver.

During the holidays especially, there have been reports of drunk guides. Though this might not seem like the end of the world when you’re driving on a completely empty desert, we heard of a group who got lost for two days because their guide passed out at the wheel. Incredibly annoying or an incredible adventure depending on your attitude (& food supply!)

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Accomodations


NEED SOMEWHERE TO SLEEP?

Hostels aplenty, Bolivia is for backpackers.

 

Accomodations


NEED SOMEWHERE TO SLEEP?

Hostels aplenty, Bolivia is for backpackers.

 

Per Night: <$10

Deals can be found if you venture just slightly off the beaten path (to the "artist hostels" that cater to Argentinian and Chilean career travelers) and in Sucre where many stay for long-term Spanish courses. La Paz plays host to a number of "mega hostels". They're not the cheapest, but they're like staying in an all-inclusive, complete with travel desk, security, restaurant, bar, etc. The most popular are Red Rover & Loki La Paz.

 

Good To Know.

Accommodation is generally divided into two camps: hostels run by Gringos with unexpectedly clean rooms and perks like hair straighteners and those arranged by overnight tours -- which are a crapshoot. Make sure you are comfortable with the lodging before committing to a packaged tour.

 

Temperature & Hot Water.

It can get seriously cold at night on the altiplano but skip the sleeping bag and ask for extra blankets. Hot water may be hard to come by outside of La Paz, so if you need it, ask ahead of time. Hostels in the jungle are the opposite. Plan your mosquito defenses ahead of time or click [here] for more tips.

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Hassle Factor


Hassle & Annoyance Factor.

Hassle Factor


Hassle & Annoyance Factor.

Outside of grumpy guides, the hassles are limited.

In local bars there seems to be some hostility towards groups of gringos (directed more at men than women) but smiles can break the ice.

Transportation.

Long bus rides can wear on you if you don't spring for a flight.

Women Alone.

Be careful at night or if you find yourself the only participant on a tour to a remote area (like the jungle). 

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Food & Drink


FOOD & DRINKS.

Food & Drink


FOOD & DRINKS.

Food.

Some good, cheap food with plenty of vegetarian options.

Drinks.

Mate de Coca, a tea made from coca leaves (as in the raw material for cocaine production) is widely available, drunk and cherished throughout the country and can be helpful with altitude sickness. Don't get too excited though, you would need to be a fairly professional chewer (the locals build up large lumps of chewed leaves in their cheeks, hamster style) or drink a lot of tea to have any real effect beyond that of strong coffee.

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Transportation


GETTING AROUND.

One of the best parts of Bolivia is it's compact size.

Transportation


GETTING AROUND.

One of the best parts of Bolivia is it's compact size.

Flights.

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Without a budget airline network, flights can get pricy compared to buses – but that doesn’t mean their expensive. Flights between La Paz, Rurrenebaque and Santa Cruz can be purchased on the ground fairly easily online or in airline offices for set prices. More info on airlines [here]

One piece of advice on the lips of every Bolivian traveler – fly to Rurrenebaque. Not only is it an incredible journey from the snowcapped Andes to the low-lying Pampas, but you’ll save  yourself the misery of the unpredictable bus ride. However, if there’s bad weather, the flight schedule can get backed up so make sure to give yourself a day or two as a buffer if you’re on a tight schedule.


Bus.

Most roads are okay with frequent trips between the fairly well organized stations in most major cities. Buses are operated by private companies, each of which have their own little booth in the station and which run on their own schedules.Bus trips in Bolivia are long so most feature reclining seats, double decks, and liberal air conditioning. It’s a good idea to pick up a bus blanket. Rural roads, on the other hand, are terrible or non-existent.

 

TRAINS.

Considered worse than buses (a first for this train enthusiast), trains can get very cold at night and are very slow.

 

BOATS.

Nothing quite compares to the sight of a double decker bus being ushered across a lake by poles -- not a motor.

We've had problems negotiating fares to Isla del Sol, but many times the price of ferry will be included in the cost of your bus ticket to Lake Titicaca, so be sure to ask.


Hitching.

In rural areas the locals will be more than happy to give you a lift and a taste of the local life. Best attempted with a friend rather than alone.

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Dangers & Health


STAY HEALTHY, BE SAFE.

You'll probably come home alive.

Dangers & Health


STAY HEALTHY, BE SAFE.

You'll probably come home alive.

Malaria.

A possibility in Rurrenebaque and around, but medication isn't absolutely necessary if you're going to be there less than two weeks. Bring bug spray and make sure your accommodations have nets in this area. Read more in our Mosquito Survival Guide.


Food & Water.

Don't drink the water and watch out for food poisoning. 


Altitude.

Take it VERY easy for the first few days – it’s common to have a terrible headache before acclimatizing and many take altitude sickness medicine before they even land. Ask your doctor, especially if you have asthma – my companion on this trip spent the majority of her time huffing and puffing up and down mountains like an asthmatic champion.


Dangers.

Fairly safe for travelers by regional standards. There have been reports of violent crime, but rarely towards tourists (if ever) aside from a few late-night muggings. Watch for petty thieves on public buses and in markets. I did experience a few opportunists trying to sell “entry tickets” to hiking trails on Isla del Sol but they were easily brushed aside if approached confidently.


Police.

bolivia police isla del sol guide travel lake titicaca evo morales

Often corrupt or prejudiced towards the backpacker set. Don't assume they're on your side.  Overall very lax, but there have been nightmare stories of foreigners imprisoned in the famous La Paz prison, which has become a tourist destination in and of itself thanks to the book, “Marching Powder”.

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Logistics


KNOW BEFORE YOU GO.

Logistics


KNOW BEFORE YOU GO.

Getting A Visa.

In keeping with Bolivia's general disdain for America, US citizens must part with $135. Pretty much everyone else can get a free pass at the border. More info [here]

 

Language.

The easy to understand Spanish is a welcome change for visitors coming from countries like Argentina and Chile. Don’t count on anyone speaking English, though you’ll probably find at least one person in every hostel or tourist office you can communicate with.

 

Internet.

Plenty of fast wifi in hostels and designated cafes.

 

Cash/ATMS.

ATMs are plentiful in the larger cities but US dollars are of course willingly changed or accepted even in the more remote locales, although credit cards are not. USD can be brought from home (make sure they’re in good shape) or at the ATM in the La Paz airport. Currencies from other South American countries can be exchanged in popular border areas.

 If you’re in a bind, head into a travel agency and ask for a cash advance from your credit card. Most will do it for a small percentage.

 

Recommended Reading.

Marching Powder

Culture Shock, Bolivia

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Drugs & Distractions


DRINKING, DRUGS & OTHER DISTRACTIONS.

Because if you can't be good, at least be smart.

Drugs & Distractions


DRINKING, DRUGS & OTHER DISTRACTIONS.

Because if you can't be good, at least be smart.

Drugs.

Still highly illegal, the attitude is more tolerant in La Paz where 'Cocaine Bars' are set up for tourists to sample the famous marching powder. If you're interested in making some bad decisions, the names Eddies Place and Route 36 are the most notorious options. The rumor is that the police general of La Paz is the owner of Route 36 and that's how they get away with everything.

One of the latest buildings to host Route 36.

One of the latest buildings to host Route 36.

With lots of young (often drunk) backpackers this looks like an accident waiting to happen. Don’t be an idiot and carry the stuff around with you (and certainly not across international borders) and be careful when taking a taxi home when leaving late.
— Bolivia Editor

How To Get There.

Simply jump in a cab. Every driver knows where Route 36 is, and i’m pretty sure it is probably on their license test. It is actually walking distance from both Loki and Wild Rover Hostels but each night its probably easier (and safer) to get a cab.

No Locals.

It is purely a Gringo affair as no locals are allowed inside, which is kind of awkward although we've been assured that the owners have paid off "all the right people" to keep the bar out of trouble.

Prices & Quality.

Prices at Route 36 are 200 Bolivianos per gram, which equates to about USD35. Eddies Place is supposed to be considerably cheaper, but no-one we talked to could give us a firm price, so perhaps it changes as their supply does.

We were also told that the quality at Route 36 is not amazing, and many people commented that it was probably cut with speed/methamphetamine... but the bottled water is free!

Atmosphere & What To Expect.

Both places are very laid back apparently. Music is playing, but not extremely loud, and anyone with an iPod or smart phone can go up and dj for a bit if they want.

Generally it is just a few different group of people all sitting round and chatting, and passing around plates and straws to use the cocaine. Very little dancing as everyone seems happy chatting to each other and meeting new people. This changes later in the evening once everyone is sufficiently geeked out.

Additional Reading.

 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/aug/19/bolivia-cocaine-bar-route-36

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Bolivia: Traveler Rankings


ALREADY BEEN TO BOLIVIA?

Tell us what we missed.

Bolivia: Traveler Rankings


ALREADY BEEN TO BOLIVIA?

Tell us what we missed.

We try to keep it brief, so if you're planning a Bolivia trip and we missed something, just let us know. If you include your email address we'll get back to you with a personalized answer lickity-split.


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bolivia budget travel guide