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  • Total days on the road: 586
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  • Miles Driven: 36821
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Bolivia Budget Recap

Written by Jared on November 16, 2012

This article is part of our Budget and Money Report series.

Our per diem expenses cover food, lodging, gas and other supplies and travel costs for three people. We travel in a 1997 Toyota 4Runner, tent camp in paid facilities roughly 70% of our nights and eat less than 10% of our meals in restaurants. This budget does not reflect personal spending money, which is mostly used to buy souvenirs and booze. We don't track this money, but we do know we have not come close to spending our budgeted amount of $10 per person per day.

As we'd been informed by other travelers, Bolivia proved to be the cheapest country to date. Even though we entered the country in need of supplies, and have heard mixed reports about the cost of gas, we managed to break even. In fact, we managed to miss our budget by only $0.25 per day.

Even though Bolivia was cheap, it was still a mixed bag in terms of prices. We paid between $0.50 and $1.50 per liter for gas, and $9 and $40 for a hotel room. Food was consistently cheap, we ate out plenty of times, but what kept us on budget in the end were the three nights we camped for free between Uyuni and the Chilean border.

Budget Recap

Number of Days in Bolivia: 24
Average ATM Exchange Rate
(Bolivianos per USD$): 
Budgeted Per Diem:  $65.48
Actual Per Diem:  $65.72
Per Diem Spent:  $1,577.33
Per Diem Budgeted:  $1,571.52
One-Time Expenses:  $189.61
Bolivia Balance:  -$5.81

Not included in our per diem budget was the cost to enter the country ($135 each for two Americans and $55 for a South African) and the cost to replace our car's rear coil springs which came out of our vehicle maintenance fund to the tune of $190.

Cash was easy to find in big cities, easier to find than someone who would sell a foreign-plated vehicle gasoline for a decent price. Dollars were accepted in touristed areas, and there were money changing shops in every decent-sized town. The exchange rate from ATMs was a consistent B$6.86 per dollar throughout the 24 days we spent in the country, which leads me to believe that the Bolivian Peso is fixed to US currency.

Per Diem Breakdown

Lodging:  $445.77 29.62%
Groceries:  $348.50 23.16%
Gas:  $307.51 20.43%
Vehicle Maintenance:  $189.50 12.59%
Eating Out:  $137.17 9.11%
Supplies:  $84.55 5.62%
Park Fees:  $67.78 4.50%
Coffee & Booze:  $58.89 3.91%
Entertainment & Tours:  $33.67 2.24%
Transportation:  $5.10 0.34%

Not much out of the ordinary with our per diem breakdown. Gas, food and lodging accounted for 80% of our expenses. The cost to replace our rear coil springs came out of our $1,500 vehicle maintenance budget, which currently sits around $825 with two thirds of the trip behind us.

In the supplies category we paid for a new portable stove because we couldn't find propane bottles for our Coleman. Plus we bought a couple bottles of octane booster which helped keep our car's engine running smoothly on low quality Bolivian gasoline.

Food & Lodging

  Budget Actual Difference
Percent Time Camping:  50% 75% +25%
Average Camping Cost:  $10.00 $12.23 +2.23
Average Hotel Cost:  $20.00 $25.46 +$5.46
Daily Food Expenses:  $25.00 $20.24 -$4.76

Out of 24 nights we spent only six in a hotel. Our first two nights in Bolivia cost only $8.75 for a triple room, the remaining four nights cost between $25 and $40. Campgrounds were easy enough to find in Bolivia. Aside from Potosi and Uyuni, we were never forced to stay in a hotel due to a lack of camping options.

Food was cheap in Bolivia, we often ate in restaurants simply because it was nearly the same price as buying food to cook in a store. We ate out a total of 12 times, mostly breakfast and lunch. A huge plate of food for under $4 was typical, simple breakfasts and lunches could be had for $2 per person. Grocery stores were difficult to find, La Paz and Sucre were the only towns where we found sizeable places to buy groceries. For the rest we shopped at smaller stores, or hit the baker, the butcher and produce stands as we found them.


  Budget Actual Difference
Average MPG: 13 ??? ???
Average Gas Price $USD/Gallon: $3.00 $3.61 +$0.61
Miles Driven: 1,500 1,556 +56
Total Spent on Gas: $346.15 $307.51 -$38.64

Finding and buying gas proved to be the most difficult part of overlanding in Bolivia. Gas is subsidized, but new laws were passed that require foreign-plated vehicles to pay an international rate that is nearly three times the cost that residents pay. Many stations flat out refuse to sell it because it requires a bit of extra paperwork on their part.

After our first frustrating attempts to find gas near La Paz, we learned to ask for a middle price without the paperwork. Usually the attendants would go for it, since it likely meant that they could pocked the difference. Our price point for haggling was usually around B$6 per liter, roughly USD$3.30 per gallon. Locals pay $2 per gallon, and the "official" international price is $5.50.

Our fuel economy in Bolivia is impossible to calculate. Twice we bought small amounts of gas at high price to get us to the next city where we could get a better deal. And for the last two days we carried extra gas in jerry cans to get us through the southwest where there are no gas stations. If I had to guess, I'd put us at around 16 miles per gallon, slightly less than usual due to high altitudes and lower quality gasoline.

Lessons Learned

  • Haggle for gas! "Es posible sin factura?" are the words you need to know.
  • Gas stations are often few and far between. When you can buy gas, buy it. If you have spare fuel containers, fill them up when you get a good price. You can buy cheap plastic gas containers in Peru around Cusco or Puno before you cross the border.
  • Buying gas in El Alto, the large suburb of La Paz that you pass through north of the city, proved impossible for us.
  • Food is cheap but supermarkets are scarce. Stock up on basics in the major cities and hit the market or small stores when you're in between.
  • Restaurants are a viable alternative to cooking for yourself, it wouldn't be difficult to eat out most meals and still keep to a reasonable budget.
  • If you need work done on a Toyota, Bolivia's a good place to have it done provided you can find a reliable mechanic. Ask the folks at Altai Oasis in Sorata to hook you up with Angel, he's top-notch and very affordable.
  • Small propane tanks are nowhere to be found in Bolivia. Backpacking stoves and butane/propane canisters are available in La Paz and likely other tourist towns where outdoor activities are common.
  • If you have problems with elevation sickness, you can buy pills over the counter at most pharmacies. Bolivia's also a good country to replenish your supply of broad-spectrum antibiotics if you're running low. Prices are under $0.25 per dose.

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