Tuesday Tip #16 – Bolivian Buses

The average Bolivian that desires to travel from one city to another will do so by bus. They call them ‘flotas’. In the case that you are traveling to a Bolivian city that does not have an airport these tips might come in handy.

  1. Cash is the best method of payment.
  2. Your ticket can only be purchased on the day you travel.
  3. There are dozens of bus companies. The best is the most comfortable. Usually the bigger companies are the best bet.
  4. Purchase as early as possible so you can choose your seat.
  5. Choose a seat closest to the driver as possible.
  6. Sitting towards the back means you will feel the swerve and bump of the road more fiercely.
  7. Sitting towards the back means you will smell the country folk, animals, exhaust fumes and motion sickness more strongly.
  8. After you purchase your ticket you will need to pay the bus station tax located in the center of the bus station.
  9. Wait to board until 10 minutes before the bus is scheduled to leave.
  10. Expect for the bus to leave a bit late, but don’t risk it leaving you behind by arriving late.
  11. To board you have to go through the turn sty by your carrier’s counter out to the bus parking lot. Look on the windows of the buses for the name of the city you are going to and the departure time. Also look on the side of the bus to make sure you are getting on the carrier you purchased tickets from.
  12. Make sure you keep your carry-on close at hand and within eyesight at all times.
  13. Try to travel with another person and take turns sleeping so you can watch each others bags.
  14. Travel with photo identification; in the instance of a police search while en route you will be able to prove who you are.
  15. In the case of a trip that will be 8 hours or longer make sure you use the bathroom before you get on the bus.
  16. Do not eat anything sold on the roadside.
  17. When the vendors do their pitch and hand you the sample of their goods you are not obligated to buy the item. Simply hand it back when they come back by.
  18. Sitting close to the driver means that you can make sure that he has a helper who is keeping him awake. Or in the case that said helper is absent you can make sure there is a bulge of coca leaves in his cheek keeping him awake.
  19. When going around tight curves resist the urge to stand up and demand all passengers move to the side of the bus farthest from the 100 foot drop that you can see out your window. Instead pray hard.
  20. When it is raining pray hard.
  21. When there are protests in the middle of the road pray hard.
  22. When two buses are coming towards each other in classic chicken style and have to negotiate the pass on a very narrow part of the road pray hard.
  23. When there has been a fall out and the road is covered in mud forcing the driver to off-road to find a way around pray hard.
  24. Enjoy the scenery; it really is beautiful.
  25. Be quick to get close to the luggage berth when it is open so that you are the only one who gets your bag.
  26. Wear comfortable clothes that breathe.
  27. Bring your own snacks and drinks; especially when you have kids with you.
  28. Bring activities for the kids.
  29. Bring pillows and blankets to make long, cold, night rides more bearable.
  30. Remember to thank the Lord God Almighty for delivering you safe and in one piece when you reach your destination.
  31. Don’t let your mother read this list.
A Bolivian Interstate
A Bolivian Interstate

If you have a story you would like to share or a tip you would like to add feel free to do so in the comments.



20 thoughts on “Tuesday Tip #16 – Bolivian Buses

  1. Nice! I’ve traveled on roads like that in Ecuador, but it has been a LOOONG time since I’ve been on a bus like that! I guess in Ecuador too, but we traveled by car a lot more than by bus… Sounds like fun!!!

  2. This is hilarious! And not so much different from Africa. Last year I traveled by bus in Cameroon, accompanying my mentor and his wife to the airport. I made sure that we were at the bus station very early to get good seats in the front, because I get easily car sick. Later I was not so sure if this was a good idea – I could read the speedometer. And it told me that he was going way too fast for this very narrow mountain road with many curves and oncoming traffic (and I am not a slow driver myself). I tell you – this boosts your prayer life like nothing else! ;-)

  3. Lol – so completely true! Esp. like number 19 – there was one trip where my friend and I were actually clinging to each other! :)

  4. Riding on Bolivian buses sure does increase one’s prayer life! I’ve never been more thankful that after our bus trip from La Paz to Coch. Talk about white knuckles!!!

  5. That’s a great list. Not that I would want to join you on that bus ride or anything, tho. REALLY cracked up when you mentioned not letting your mom read the list :).

  6. “Don’t let your mother read this list.” — Ha! Too true. Just that picture makes me want to stay far, far away from a Bolivian bus.

    Have a great trip, friend!

  7. Great suggestions! But the photo is what got me! Did you take that on this current trip? Have you seen any statistics about the vehicles falling off the edge? Bolivia must not have an agency like OSHA!
    I know that you will “Be wise and be safe!”

  8. The last one is my fav….always keep the parents in the dark as much as possible is my motto. The less they know the better. :)

  9. Ha Ha I love this! But come on its not that bad..I mean I look at it this way, I am always so much closer to God when I leave the bus than when I first stepped on. I am (literally) clinging to him and confessing sins as we screech around corners and have an expectancy to see him soon, and I have never had more faith in God providing angels to protect me than when my drunken driver narrowly misses the 100 foot drop cliff edge! So you see its all about perspective..this is a great way to develope your faith..or see the Lord sooner! (lol)

  10. as a “flotas” driver…I can only say, i will be the one hugging the mountain, and someone else will be on the outside..

    other than the picture, I would give the same advice to someone ridiing the bus through Philadephia or NY..no place like them..and no place to leave your faith at home.

    love you !

  11. Dear readers who so graciously commented here,

    You are all making me smile with your reactions to this post. I am happy to tell you that both bus rides (for a total of 8 hours in the hands of a coca-leaf-chewing Bolivian) were completely uneventful. What is uneventful? Nothing stolen. No puking. No altercations with other passengers. Properly functioning mechanics. No blockades in the roads. No police searches. Timely departure and arrival (for the most part). Minimal product sales. Not altogether unpleasant.

    Annie, there is a report every day on the news of a bus accident.

    Mom, no, I pulled that one off line. But I might as well have taken it.

    Thanks for stopping in!

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