After months in South America's southern cone, Bolivia (and its prices) was a breath of fresh air.
We could eat out again, sleep in a double room and no longer felt financially shafted every time we set foot on a bus (Argentina, we still haven't forgiven you!).
However, gone are the days when Bolivia was a place where a budget backpacker could live like a king. No, if you want to live as cheap as possible, you're going to have to sacrifice a few things, things such as fancy hostels, nice restaurants and expensive tours. If you do that, you'll find your travel budget can still stretch very far! If not, then Bolivia will be a lot more expensive than you bargained for.
The costs below are the average we encountered in our time in the country, and the individual items have been chosen for their ubiquity across the world and their popularity amongst backpackers. This allows us, and you, to make a comparison of living and travel costs across Latin America.
Currencies are $Boliviano / £GBP / $USD. Conversion rate as at time of publication.
average daily cost for a couple on a strict budget
Yeah, we got a few nights comped, we stayed in cheap hostels and we still cooked a lot of our meals but, on the whole, we weren't too strict on ourselves in Bolivia.
When we wanted to eat out, we went out. When we wanted a drink or a nice latte in the sun we didn't deny ourselves. We even took a flight!
And yet, we still came in comfortably under budget. Was Bolivia as cheap as were hoping? No - but it was still a place where we could enjoy ourselves and didn't have to stress about every cost.
B256 | £26 GBP | US$37.5
average cost of a private double (locally run)
average cost of a private double (gringo friendly)
Accommodation is the main thing that seemed a little, well, overpriced in Bolivia. In fact, private doubles in some of the nicer hostels were almost twice the price of other Latin American countries! And often, they came without a kitchen. Double whammy.
Stick to smaller, locally run places to make your money go further. They won't be the nicest, and are often poor value with no frills, but they're still very budget friendly. The least we paid for a double was 80B.
100 B | £10 | $14.5
200 B | £20 | $29
average cost of four hour bus ride
Bolivian buses. You may be driven by maniacs, be old, cramped and of questionable safety standards but goodness me, you're cheap!
For basic public services, the average cost was around 10B per hour, but this increased depending on the quality of the bus. Travel in a quicker, newer minvan is a little more expensive, whilst flights between the main cities are affordable and a good idea if you want to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
40 B | £4 | $5.85
one breakfast out
Breakfasts in the traditional sense of the word are a little hard to come by in Bolivia, unless of course you head somewhere aimed at tourists.
Most locals, having been up for hours by the time us travellers haul ourselves out of bed are eating the lunch menu at 8 a.m.
We would strongly recommend not bothering to eat out for breakfast. The quality is generally pretty lousy, and you'll pay more than you should - 20B is the cheapest we found, with plenty of places charging 30B+ for a mediocre coffee, some eggs and bread/jam. A number of hostels do include breakfast in their rate, but it's usually just the bread, the coffee and jam which is served.
20 B | £2 | $2.9
two litres of water
Unfortunately, you absolutely can't drink the tap water in Bolivia which means you're going to spend a substantial amount of money each day on the bottled stuff.
Our tip? Buy it in a bag! At only 50 centavos for 400ml, it's significantly cheaper than the bottled stuff (and better for the environment). Find them with the women selling drinks/snacks/cigarettes in the street stalls.
6 B | £0.6 | $0.9
one good cup of coffee
Of course, you can get a cup of instant brown water (for around 5B) on almost any corner but if you want the good stuff, head to the tourist friendly hubs.
15 B | £1.5 | $2.2
one set lunch in local comedor
When it comes to finding a cheap lunch, Bolivia has you covered. Whilst a slightly more pleasant set lunch (soup, main and sometimes pudding) will cost at least 12B (and up to 25B in touristy areas), if you know where to look you can eat incredibly cheaply.
Often hidden away in corners of fruit/veg markets are women with massive pots of pasta, meat, and rice offering plates for around 5B. The quality varies from stall to stall, but it's a great budget option.
12 B | £1.2 | $1.75
half a dozen eggs
This country has more egg choices than any other we have travelled to in South America. You can choose between free range and regular, as well as at least five additional sizes.
3.5 B | £0.35 | $0.5
one litre of beer
Oddly enough, for a country that on the face of it is pretty cheap, beer really isn't! We were astounded when on our first day in Bolivia, in a small town, we went to a local bar and ordered a beer only to be charged 24B. Yeah, we know, still cheaper than home but given what the people in this bar earn, we couldn't believe the price! And it wasn't just here - it's a common thread across the country. In one shop, Corona imported from Mexico was cheaper than the local brew.
We swapped to Bolivian wine pretty soon after, at 20B for a bottle. It was surprisingly good!
20 B | £2 | $2.9
400g pasta and 400g marinara sauce
This price is if you buy sauce and pasta from the supermarket.
If you head to any market however, your raw sauce ingredients can be found for a much better price (after a bit of bartering!) and you can buy cheap pasta from the huge sacks. Also, take advantage of the huge bundles of fresh basil (2B) on offer - perfect for a tasty dish!
24 B | £2.45 | $3.5
one 500ml bottle of coke
If you've got a sweet tooth, buy your soft drinks in larger bottles - you'll secure significant savings!
5 B | £0.5 | $0.73
six small bread rolls
Given that supermarkets don't really figure in the average Bolivian's life, you'll be buying your bread from the lady on the street - and at these prices, why the bloody hell not!?
3 B | £0.3 | $0.44
one kilogram of laundry
Bolivia really shouldn't charge this much for laundry, but it turns out it's rather difficult to find a Bolivian who agrees.
In fact, in the main backpacker hubs, people may even try to charge you more, which meant we were often wearing dirty clothes for much longer than we'd usually hope to.
We did discover one place in Cochabamba that did it for 10B per kg, but that was only after wandering around for an hour.
15 B | £1.5 | $2.2
one packet of local cigarettes
As with most countries in Latin America, local cigarettes come in far cheaper than brands such as Marlboro Lights!