Moving around by public transport in Bolivia is one of the easiest ways to experience and see the country's unique landscapes. Bolivia is a very mountainous country with very rugged terrain and is often on the bucket lists of most backpackers.
Being a very mountainous nation, don't fly in into La Paz directly before you acclimatize since the capital is at an elevation of more than 3000m. Instead, fly in into Santa Cruz (located just 400 meters above sea level)before moving forward to La Paz. The city of Santa Cruz has established itself as a crucial commercial center in Bolivia and there are many direct international flights to Santa Cruz from many South American cities.
Public transport in Bolivia
Public transport in Bolivia consists of the following:
Flying around Bolivia
The national carrier Boliviana de Aviacion (BoA) operates most internal flights. BoA has daily flights between the cities of La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and Sucre. BoA also has frequent flights to Trinidad, Tarija, some remote Amazon towns, and some towns in the lowlands on the Eastern side of Bolivia.
Flights cost between $50-70.
Flying over the Amazon is also quickly becoming a popular way of experiencing the forest's stunning views as opposed to exploring the jungle by boats on river routes.
The Bolivian airforce used to operate a civilian wing flight service that offered chartered flights and flights that connected major cities to remote destinations that aren't served by local carriers. They have not been operating since 2020 and it's yet to be clear if they'll resume operations. Their flights were however cheaper compared to flights offered by commercial airlines.
Train transport in Bolivia
Trains are now one of the least used modes of transport in Bolivia. Train transport in Bolivia is by luxury trains that are mostly used by tourists. There are two train networks: The Eastern train network operated by Ferroviaria Oriental. This line runs to the Brazilian border. It's in bad shape, and I don't recommend using it while in Bolivia.
The western train network by the FCA is fully operational. This train network runs across the Andes region and is composed of two lines.
Line 1: From Oruro via Uyuni to Villazon near the Argentine border.
Line 2: From Uyuni to Calama in Chile.
FCA also operates a short tourist route from Sucre to Potosi.
There are two types of train service
Expresso del Sur- This is an express service from Oruro to Villazon. The express train departs every Tuesday and Friday. Express trains don't stop at stations along the way. There's a connecting bus from La Paz that leaves El Alto in the morning to meet the train. Express trains have only daytime departures.
Wara del Sur- Trains offering this service stop at all intermediate stations and usually depart at night. These trains depart at 7 pm on Wednesday and Sunday.
Train fare depends on the train class. Visit ticket Bolivia for train prices and schedules
How to take public buses in Bolivia
Bus transport is the most common means of transport in Bolivia. Bus terminals are locally known as terminal de pasajeros. There's a departure tax of about 2 Bolivianos that's included in the ticket price. At Bolivian bus stations, you can't make reservations, pay online, or pay using your credit card. The only site where you can purchase bus tickets ( Not all bus companies are included) is Ticket Bolivia. Bus companies don't have their websites but you'll find their offices at bus terminals where you can make inquiries.
Long-distance buses ( flotas ) are quite comfortable with buses having three types of seats:
Cama premium- These are the most expensive seats. They recline fully.
Cama- These are midrange seats. They recline to about 150%.
Semi cama- Seats offer relatively decent leg space.
No matter the type of seat you pay for, buses don't offer meals. You'll stopover to purchase food if traveling long distance but that is not assured, to be safe carry your snacks.
Tip: Most Bolivian long-distance buses travel overnight and tend to play movies all night. Bring earplugs and an eye mask for you to sleep comfortably on the bus.
These are some of the most reputable long-distance bus companies in Bolivia:
Short bus journeys use two types of buses: Micros and Trufis.
Micros serve a predetermined route within cities. Route numbers are color-coded. In Santa Cruz, they have an app, Cruzero, that lists all micro routes and the color-coding system used. La Paz is yet to have such an app.
Micros can pick and drop passengers anywhere along the route. To get off just inform the man collecting the tickets about 50m before getting to the place you're disembarking.
In all cities in Bolivia, micros have fixed prices on all bus routes in that city set by local authorities. This ranges between 1 -5 Bolivianos.
This is a microbus
Trufis on the other hand are shared vans or taxis. Their destinations are indicated using a small board on the windshield. I wouldn't advise anyone new in Bolivia to use trufis. They use alternative routes anytime they are stuck in traffic or there's a roadblock making it very tricky for tourists.
How to take taxis in Bolivia
There are two types of official taxis in Bolivia: Radio taxis and regular taxis.
Radio taxis are available based on calls they receive usually from hotels. They are expensive and more people now prefer using Uber and Easy taxi over having your hotel or restaurant call a taxi for you. Uber is now available in La Paz and Santa Cruz.
Regular taxis pick up and drop passengers all over the city and are identified with the taxi sign on their roof.