Bus journeys in Bolivia are chaotic. The station is an adventure in itself.
Because buses are the most popular mode of transport there are an abundance of companies, and each one has its own stand within the station and each stand has one or two spruikers outside rattling off destinations at supersonic speed. Even while you’re waiting to buy a ticket (and have obviously decided on the company and destination) they think by yelling a more interesting destination at you, you might change your mind.
Once you have your ticket you have to pay another fee before you may pass onto the bus platform, the fee for entering the station. It’s 2bob at a seperate counter for a little ticket that the man at the platform door can inspect. That’s all you need to get through though, you don’t have to show the actual bus ticket. In fact anyone can get on any bus as long as they have paid to get into the station.
We’ve had a man selling blow up neck cushions, spluttering his pre-rehearsed speech about the many uses of the thing like machine gun fire. Who knew! It doubles as a fan? Then we’ve had the nutritional preacher who spoke dramatically about meals and foods for 20 minutes as we drove out of Cochabamba. Just before we hit the outskirts of the city he unveiled the miracle elixir, just in time for the closing statements and the cost. I wish I spoke better Spanish just so I could understand his pitch… I guess the fact he sold a whole bunch of the little bottles translated the whole thing quite adequately. He claimed to be a doctor but all you need is a pair of small glasses and a tie to look like the real deal here. He also completely sold out of his cure-all Chinese toffee sweets.
The next bus we took we caught from Samaipata we had to take from the side of a busy freeway, and by the time we got on our allocated seats were already full, as was the whole bus. It turned out a lady with a small girl had gotten on the stop prior without a ticket, and now they were going to have to get out in the cold, in the middle of nowhere. Luckily they managed to find space for them at the back of the bus.
It can be a bit frustrating travelling by bus in Bolivia, but if you want to get anywhere it’s the best option. Be prepared. Because anything can happen, our top tips would be:
- Book with a company that has been recommended, we have travelled successfully with Bolivar so will continue to use them.
- Don’t leave anything valuable in your big bag underneath, or in whatever smaller bag you have on your lap. Strap anything of value to your body. We have heard stories of people having things taken from inside a zipped up backpack that was under their feet.
- Keep your wits about you, in the station and in the bus. Things don’t always follow a logical structure so keep asking around if you’re unsure.
- Busses may run late. Don’t panic if you’re sold a ticket onto the 7pm bus at 7.30pm, that’s normal.
- Wear as many layers as you can, the buses get cold and may be stopped at road blockages. We have heard stories of people being herded out of the bus in the middle of the night due to landslides or protests. Be prepared to end up outside and walking with your bags.
- Take toilet paper and don’t drink too much liquid before a long journey. We haven’t seen a toilet on the bus yet. Usually the driver will just pull over and everyone piles out to wee on the road – but hey, this is Bolivia! Everyone wees everywhere!
Have fun! It’s an adventure 🙂