by car through bolivia, do you need a 4x4?

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean by car through bolivia, do you need a 4x4?

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Last Post This thread is marked as being about Bolivia
1. Posted by ernst (First Time Poster 1 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

I'm planning a trip to go through Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Chile. But I'd like to know about road conditions here. As I understand it is particularly difficult to go through Bolivia. I'd like to come in from filadelfia (paraguay) to boyuibe (Bolivia) and from there on to sucre, potosi, uyuni, and further down south and cross the border at ollague into Chile.. But now I would like to know whether you can do this with a normal car or do you really need to this by 4x4 (of course the last option should be the best, but financially it needs to be feasible as well). Furthermore I'm still not sure whether to buy or rent a car from Buenos Aires. Could someone please provide me with some information on road conditions and other pieces of advice..

kind regards,


2. Posted by dbloom (Respected Member 586 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

I've been there and if going off the main highway (La Paz-Cochabamba-Santa Cruz)one would be required.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Bolivia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. U.S. citizens planning on driving in Bolivia, despite the hazards described below, should obtain an international driver’s license through their local automobile club before coming to Bolivia.

Road conditions in Bolivia are hazardous. Although La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba are connected by improved highways, the vast majority of roads in Bolivia are unpaved. Few highways have shoulders, fencing or barriers, and highway markings are minimal. Yielding for pedestrians in the cities is not the norm. For trips outside the major cities, especially in mountainous areas, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is highly recommended. Travel during the rainy season (November through March) is difficult, as most routes are potholed, and some roads and bridges are washed out. Added dangers are the absence of formal training for most drivers, poor maintenance and overloaded vehicles, lack of lights on some vehicles at night, and intoxicated or overly tired drivers, including commercial bus and truck drivers.

The majority of intercity travel in Bolivia is by bus, with varying levels of safety and service. In recent years there have been major bus crashes on the highway between La Paz and Oruro, and on the Yungas road. The old Yungas road is considered one of the most dangerous routes in the world. Taxis, vans and buses dominate Intracity transportation. From a crime perspective, public transportation is relatively safe and violent assaults are rare. However, petty theft of unattended backpacks and other personal items does occur. For reasons of safety, visitors are advised to use radio taxis whenever possible.

Drivers of vehicles involved in traffic accidents are expected to remain at the scene until the arrival of local police authorities. Any attempt to leave the scene is in violation of Bolivian law. The Embassy believes any attempt to flee the scene of an accident would place the driver and passengers at greater risk of harm than remaining at the scene until the arrival of local police. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

3. Posted by sinfronter (Budding Member 29 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Adding to this info I would strongly advise to travel with public transport. EVERY place in Bolivia you would possibly want to go to has regular bus-services, although it might sometime be tricky to find out where and when the buses leave. Renting cars in Bolivia is extremely uncommon outside Santa Cruz and La Paz, and even there it will be very difficult to find agencies that allow you to return a car from another office of the same branch. Cars are expensive to buy in Argentina, cheap in Bolivia and Chile, but in Bolivia take extreme care with the paperwork, there are LOADS of undocumented, illegal and ultimately unsellable cars out there.

Bottom line, again; travel with public transport.

4. Posted by bosquess (Budding Member 4 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Specially since Uyuni going to Chile is very difficult to go if you don't know the road. Here the road is made by the path of the cars passed by and if you never drive this road before you can be lost very easily and it can be with dramatic consequences.
The best way is to rent a service 4 X 4 with the driver service included, this is what people does normally when they go Uyuni - north of Chile (San Pedro de Atacama). Colque Tours is the most knewed agency by there , they offer transport services to Argentina, Bolivia & Chile in the region. They are flexible related with your interests.
If you want to know something else just email me, I work as a tour gide along Bolivia.

5. Posted by dbloom (Respected Member 586 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Excellent advice Enrique and for anyone driving to remote areas in Central or South America, the driver knows the terrain, the vehicle and carries tools, the vehicle is insured against accident or theft and generally the driver carries a cellphone with international roaming to advise the office in case of emergency. Such services are also offered by some operators in Central America for adventure travel and expeditions. The driver also in some cases may be armed, providing security in high risk situations.

6. Posted by sofiamica (Budding Member 4 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Hi Hernest

We just finished an 18 month overland family trip from north to south america . In fact roads are quite in bad condition in bolivia specially in the salar de Uyuni region. I advice you to drive a 4x4 on that region if you want to cross from there through laguna azul on the way to Chile san pedro de Atacama, or Argentina. But you do not need a tour guide. We did it on our own and is quite difficult to get lost since there are more than 30 tour jeeps a day crossing that region and they leave big treks on the road. You just have to follow the *higway*.
We have our 4x4 expedition vehicle for sale if you are interested. We are in Brasil now and we wil stay here working. Is a Man 9136 4x4 expeditiontruck fully equipped motorhome sleeps 4 up to 6. Is in perfect condition ready to go. Is European registered plate number. If you are interested write to us

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7. Posted by bentivogli (Respected Member 2398 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Riens and Enrique are right; public and semi-public transport (hiring a car with a driver) are the way to go, in Bolivia as well as Paraguay. It will safe you time, money and a lot of stress. In Argentina, having one's own set of wheels could be useful to visit really remote places. But then again, the places that have no bus service may not be worth visiting :-)

An additional hazard to take into account is road safety; in remoter areas, tourists with caucasian appearance run a risk of rather nasty things happening to them, especially when travelling in small groups or alone. Riding a bus amidst the locals is considered much safer.

8. Posted by solveig (Full Member 53 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

I don't agree that taking the bus is a lot safer than driving a car. A great deal of all thefts are taKing place at bus-stations! I crossed in a normal (NOT 4 by 4) car all through Bolivia from La Paz to Corumba (Brazil). At no point feel unsafe, except being worried about the road conditions. But being roubed didn't pass my mind, people were extremely friendly. We passed a 600km unpaved strech from Santa Cruz de Sierra to Corumba and this strech requires 4x4 if done in the summer. As we passed in july we managed with a normal car.

Having your own car gives you lot of freedom and allows you to
see more things (and faster) than taking public transport. It also often gives you the opportunity to meet local in a non-touristic way (we gave many lifts to locals in remote areas). That being said, unless you live in SA (and have a car) and speak spanish it might be stressfull and difficult. So it all depends on your personal situation and what you want. But, please don't think that it is impossible or very dangerous - it is simply not true.

cheers, Sol

9. Posted by dbloom (Respected Member 586 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

True, if the driver has command of Spanish, at least basic, good instincts and is able to handle mechanical problems in case of break down in a remote area, in case of of any emergency one must be able to communicate with locals on some level and to understand well. I drove 15 years in Latin America and one must be prepared and use common sense. As far as giving locals "lifts" I would be wary of picking up young men travelling alone or in pairs. Before you invite strangers on to your property you had best assess your own safety.

10. Posted by Laurens (Budding Member 2 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Dbloom was right.
Stay on the main roads and all should be ok.
I go to Santa Cruz a couple of times a year by air. You would most likely need a 4x4 if venturing off the main roads is what I have found.
Does anyone know a good route to drive a motorhome from Texas to Bolivia?