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URGENT WARNING - kidnappings near La Paz

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1. Posted by HollyUK (Budding Member 3 posts) 10y

HollyUK has indicated that this thread is about Bolivia

Attention: moderator

Please can you advise all people travelling from Copacabana to La Paz that there is an increased risk of armed kidnapping and robbery in this area.

Two days ago my mother I travelled from Copacabana to La Paz in a small white minibus which charged 10 Bolivianos for the journey. We took the minibus from Plaza Sucre in Copacabana. Just before La Paz, in a place called El Alto, the minibus unexpectedly turned off the main road and onto a dirt track. The car infront of us stopped and 4 men with guns jumped into the minibus, held guns to our heads, tied our hands, wrapped tape around our mouths and blindfolded us. The driver, and the two other people in the minibus were all involved in this kidnapping and robbery.

We were taken to a house nearby and held there, tied up and blindfolded for 24 hours. The majority of our belongings were stolen and we were forced at gun point to give our credit card PIN numbers. The men then repeatedly withdrew the maximum amount they could from our accounts.

After 19 hours, 2 more Dutch travellers were brought (also at gunpoint) to the house where we were being held. They had also taken a white minibus from Copacabana and they later revealed that exactly the same sequence of events had taken place. We were all finally released together that night. We were taken, blindfolded to an area of waste ground in El Alto and kicked out of the minibus, with a few of our belongings.

According to our respective embassies, this is a very real, and increasing risk for travellers. Both embassies have told us that 5 similar cases have been reported in the last 6 months. Apparently three other travellers experienced the same horrific type of kidnapping/robbery only last week.

RECOMMENDATION:
If travelling between Copacabana and La Paz - ONLY TAKE THE TOURIST BUSES, AND NOT THE SMALL MINIBUSES THAT LEAVE FROM COPACABANA. BUY YOUR TICKET FOR THE TOURIST BUS AT AN AGENCY IN COPACABANA BEFORE YOU TRAVEL (dont just pay on the bus).

I dont want to panic people travelling in this area, but at the same time this is a very real risk and i dont want anyone else to go through what we have just experienced.

Moderator - if you need to contact me to confirm this please do.

Holly Sheldon

2. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 10y

Quoting HollyUK

RECOMMENDATION:
If travelling between Copacabana and La Paz - ONLY TAKE THE TOURIST BUSES, AND NOT THE SMALL MINIBUSES THAT LEAVE FROM COPACABANA. BUY YOUR TICKET FOR THE TOURIST BUS AT AN AGENCY IN COPACABANA BEFORE YOU TRAVEL (dont just pay on the bus).

I dont want to panic people travelling in this area, but at the same time this is a very real risk and i dont want anyone else to go through what we have just experienced.

And panic people is exactly what these kind of postings do. I sympathise with what you've gone through, that must have been terrible. Also, your recommendation makes complete sense, but really, this kind of things has been happening for ages, and (inadvertently) starting a negative buzz on the internet doesn't do much to improve the situation. Since the Copacabana area relies heavily on tourism for its economy, local authorities take this crime very seriously, and for what I know, these incidents really are only incidents, and nothing more.

What this illustrates, however, is the importance for travellers to prepare themselves when going somewhere. One obviously cannot prevent these things from happening, but by being savvy and not taking anything of value that isn't ABSOLUTELY necessary, chances of being mugged are minimal.

Niels (Amsterdam)

3. Posted by Chidgey (Budding Member 11 posts) 10y

Well I'm quite glad that people inform others about the risks of travelling in a country, I travelled South America last year and luckily nothing happened to me, but I'm sure you'll agree what happened to Holly was a horrendous experience and could have potentially ended alot worse, and then it would have been splashed all over the media, at which point you wouldn't have had a voice to say 'don't scare people', but luckily nothing fatal did happen. If it just makes a few more people aware of the possible risks then it could potentially save lives, and I do agree that it might 'scare' people from travelling to such countries, but it also can just make people more vigilant on their travels.

4. Posted by Belize Me (Full Member 137 posts) 10y

Quoting bentivogli

Quoting HollyUK

RECOMMENDATION:
If travelling between Copacabana and La Paz - ONLY TAKE THE TOURIST BUSES, AND NOT THE SMALL MINIBUSES THAT LEAVE FROM COPACABANA. BUY YOUR TICKET FOR THE TOURIST BUS AT AN AGENCY IN COPACABANA BEFORE YOU TRAVEL (dont just pay on the bus).

I dont want to panic people travelling in this area, but at the same time this is a very real risk and i dont want anyone else to go through what we have just experienced.

And panic people is exactly what these kind of postings do. I sympathise with what you've gone through, that must have been terrible. Also, your recommendation makes complete sense, but really, this kind of things has been happening for ages, and (inadvertently) starting a negative buzz on the internet doesn't do much to improve the situation. Since the Copacabana area relies heavily on tourism for its economy, local authorities take this crime very seriously, and for what I know, these incidents really are only incidents, and nothing more.

What this illustrates, however, is the importance for travellers to prepare themselves when going somewhere. One obviously cannot prevent these things from happening, but by being savvy and not taking anything of value that isn't ABSOLUTELY necessary, chances of being mugged are minimal.

Niels (Amsterdam)

HollyUK's post will most definately improve the situation. It is much easier to prepare oneself for travel if we are forewarned and forearmed with as much knowledge as we can get about the area/people in question. Members should not be discouraged from posting their experiences in these forums. Kudos to HollyUK for thinking enough about other travellers to pass along this information. Situations like hers are rarely reported by the mainstream media...we're lucky to be privy to a lot of vital (potentially life saving) information just because fellow forum members take the time to post their experiences! Warning posts will not make people panic, but it may make them be more aware. You go girl

Belize Me

5. Posted by HollyUK (Budding Member 3 posts) 10y

Personally i am not prepared to sit back and not warn people about the possibility of a very real danger. To me that seems ridiculous and incredibly selfish.

According to the police and embassies in La Paz the risk of kidnapping from minibuses between Copacabana has increased dramatically in the last 4-5 months. There have been a string of related abductions in this area. Therefore they are not mere incidents. People should be aware of this danger. It is too recent to appear in the guide books, but is detailed on Embassy websites.

I would like to say that aside from this horrific event i have had a fantastic time working and travelling in South America this year, in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia. I will not leave with an overall negative impression of any of these countries.

The reason for my earlier email was because I firmly believe that others can learn from my experience, my mistakes and my bad luck... enabling more people to have safe travels in Bolivia. The more people who can travel safely in Bolivia and can tell tales of their good experiences there...the better for the Bolivian tourist industry (including Copacabana). So im afraid i find 'Neils from Amsterdam's point of view more than a little naive and foolish.

I will be putting up notices in La Paz to warn travellers. Im afraid im not confident enough to go back to Copacabana to do the same just now. So please, just spread the word if you know of travellers in or near to Bolivia.

Many thanks

Que te vayas bien
Holly

6. Posted by HollyUK (Budding Member 3 posts) 10y

Thanks for the supportive emails on this site.
Holly

7. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 10y

Quoting HollyUK

According to the police and embassies in La Paz the risk of kidnapping from minibuses between Copacabana has increased dramatically in the last 4-5 months. There have been a string of related abductions in this area. Therefore they are not mere incidents. People should be aware of this danger. It is too recent to appear in the guide books, but is detailed on Embassy websites.

It's is interesting how different the information dispersed by officials can be from that given by people working in the area... I know both local government workers and some European scientists that do research in that area, and both groups say that nothing new is happening. The situation is stable, just as safe/unsafe as it has been for years. So for the record, I don't quote travel guides on safety issues, holly.

Niels (Amsterdam)

8. Posted by flo jo (Respected Member 414 posts) 10y

You amazed me niels,

How can you be more aware about what´s happening in south america than people who has been in the country for a year or even natives

For your knowledge which am sure is superior to mine as you are a gifted person (you told us enough about it), south american (chilean) have been confirming the increase of manslaughters and gunpoint attacks in north of chile, Bolivia and Peru, without talking of ecuador.

My second point is directed to you again, niels. The type of information posted by Hollie, is more than necessary. It´s why you have this type of forum.

Forums are not only about telling off people about their bad flying behaviour, where and at what time they will be able to book their spanish classes or buses. They could be about warning.

I Have been reading quite few of your posts and every single time you put down, fellow tps members. I agree that sometimes you have good advice but they get useless as you make us feel as nothing worthly. Please dont tell us one more time that I have no sense of humour as we are few of us, who have been reading your post and there is nothing to laugh about it.

Thank you Hollie for the warning, I hope your mother and yourself are feeling ok and keep all the good memories only.

Flo (did not want to sound pissed off but how can you dare.....)

[ Edit: Edited at Jun 20, 2006 1:02 AM by flo jo ]

9. Posted by bryangrey (Budding Member 38 posts) 10y

I have to agree flo jo. That's a good post by Hollie. I don't think it scares anyone from going to La Paz or anywhere. It's just a heads up to help keep others safe. Simple as that.

10. Posted by Lai (Budding Member 16 posts) 10y

Holly, your advice is necessary, we all appreciate it.