Bolivia is known as the South American “Tibet” because of its breathtaking natural setting and mountainous landscape. Bolivia is “real” South America, as about half of the population is descended from indigenous groups and its inaccessibility for centuries has made it one of the most natural places on the continent. From touring the famous salt flats of Uyuni and biking up Death Road to the exploring the traditional cities and colonial towns, Bolivia has something for both adventurers and students. If you want to learn in an exciting, diverse, and beautiful country, take a gap year in Bolivia!

Volunteer

The majority of gap year programs in Bolivia are volunteer-based. These range from volunteering in orphanages to doing conservation work in the Andes. Because Bolivia is one of the poorer countries in South America, there are many volunteer programs that directly serve the Bolivian population and strive to make the country better. Doing a volunteer program is a great way to learn the language and culture, as students have the opportunity to work directly with natives.

Adventure

Because of its beautiful setting, there are several adventure/travel programs in Bolivia. While some of these are based solely in Bolivia, others are multi-country adventure programs, such as Real Gap’s adventure program in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. Adventure programs are ideal for students with a sense of adventure, and are great because you get the opportunity to really see the country while learning.

Language Study

Studying the Spanish language in Bolivia is a great way to really become immersed and fluent in the language. While some programs are more traditional and offer Spanish grammar and literature classes, others are more unique, such as the Where There Be Dragons program, which combines language classes with adventuring and volunteering.

Cost of Living in Bolivia

Bolivia is one of the most inexpensive countries in South America to live in. Monthly rent for an apartment can range anywhere from $75 to $300 per month (depending on if you’re living in the center city or outskirts) and in some parts, you can rent a full house with a swimming pool for less than $700 per month. Food and groceries are also inexpensive. You can go out for burger for under $2 and buy a liter of milk at the grocery store for about 75 cents.

Culture and Etiquette in Bolivia

The Bolivian culture is very warm and friendly. Strangers will frequently say hello to each other when passing on the sidewalk, and it is considered rude not to respond. It is also customary to give up your seat on public transportation for a woman or older person. Bolivians stand very close when conversing and maintain eye contact, so creating more distance or not maintaining eye contact will make you appear untrustworthy.

Bolivians are not punctual people, and it is considered impolite to show up on time to a social gathering. Most appear between 15-30 minutes late. Before you arrive in Bolivia, do some research on Bolivian sports…these are popular topics of discussion among natives, so make sure you know something about them. Also, never praise Chile, Brazil, or Paraguay for anything. Bolivia has lost wars to its neighbors, and natives do not appreciate being reminded.

Do not use the word “indio” to describe indigenous people, as it is considered offensive. Instead, use “campesino”, or “Cholo” for an indigenous person living in a city (sometimes locals use this as an offensive term, but it has become more of a symbol of indigenous power). Also, keep in mind the huge differences between the “cambas” of the east (white and mestizo) and the “collas” of the west (Native American). They are not usually on good terms and have been even tenser since the election of Evo Morales (Bolivia’s first indigenous president). To avoid conflicts, do not discuss your travels to the other cultural region.

Health and Safety in Bolivia

Traces of the Zika virus have been found in Bolivia. To learn more about Zika and how to avoid getting infected, read the Washington Post's article on Zika precautions.

It is not safe to drink tap water in most places in Bolivia. However, bottled water is sold in almost every store. Some parts of Bolivia have a very high altitude, so take adequate precautions against altitude sickness, or “sorojchi”. Most pharmacies sell sorojchi pills and other remedies for altitude sickness. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are also much stronger at these higher altitudes than at sea level, so make sure you bring skin protection such as sun screen, a hat, and even long sleeves. There are several vaccinations that are recommended to take before you leave for Bolivia, such as yellow fever, malaria, and hepatitis. Make sure you know if vaccinations are required before you enter Bolivia, as these are frequently changing in South American countries.

While Bolivia is a fairly safe country, you should be aware of certain safety tips. Social conflict is common in Bolivia, so there are frequently road blockades and changes in public transportation. You should avoid areas where social conflict is occurring, as it can turn dangerous quickly. If you take a taxi, use a registered company to avoid “express kidnappings”, which has a higher chance of occurring in a regular taxi. You should always carry a copy of your passport (with the entry stamp and disembarkation card) in case it is requested by police or immigration officials.

Contributed by Rebecca Murphy

Gap Year Programs in Bolivia

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 programs
Where There Be Dragons
South America: Andes & Amazon Gap Year Semester
Multiple Countries
9.5 •6 reviews

From sparkling glaciers to lush tropical forests, this Gap Year...

Where There Be Dragons
South America: The Spirit of the Andes College Study Abroad Semester
Multiple Countries
10 •2 reviews

Take your college education to the mountains and jungles of Bolivia...

Youth International
Explore the Cultures of Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador
Multiple Countries
9.73 •11 reviews

What's on your South America bucket list? Galapagos Islands, Amazon...

Quest Overseas
Quest Overseas - Gap Year in Bolivia
Bolivia
10 •7 reviews

Have a passion for animals, environmental conservation projects, or...

One World Institute
Learn to Travel - Volunteer in South America
Multiple Countries
10 •3 reviews

Do you seek for a life-changing travel full of new experiences through...

Global Routes
Meaningful GAP Year Programs in the US and Abroad for Students in High School or College
Multiple Countries

Global Routes GAP programs (GRIT Track) are tailored to the individual...

Gap 360
The South America Journey
Multiple Countries
8 •1 review

Start in Quito, Ecuador and end in Rio de Janeiro and explore the...

Gap Year Volunteering in Bolivia

Volunteering is a great way to experience Bolivia on your gap year
  • Kaya Responsible Travel
    Kaya Volunteer Programs in Bolivia
    Bolivia
    10 •1 review

    The highest of the countries of South America, Bolivia has an...

  • La Senda Verde
    La Senda Verde - Animal Refuge
    Bolivia
    9.71 •7 reviews

    La Senda Verde wildlife refuge is located approximately 2.5 hours by...

  • Amizade
    Volunteer in Bolivian Andes with Amizade
    Bolivia
    10 •3 reviews

    Registration is open for our March, April, September, October and...

  • Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY)
    Animal Volunteer Program in Bolivia
    Bolivia
    9.5 •6 reviews

    Volunteer with rescued wildlife in Bolivia at one of Comunidad Inti...

  • BiblioWorks
    Volunteer with BiblioWorks, Bolivia - Various Opportunities
    Bolivia
    10 •4 reviews

    Are you looking for… – a genuine and secure NGO to work with? – an...

  • Up Close Bolivia
    Education and Community Development Projects with UCB
    Bolivia
    10 •3 reviews

    Are you seeking a meaningful volunteering opportunity, supporting...

  • Cuso International
    Professional Volunteering Overseas
    Multiple Countries
    8.67 •3 reviews

    Cuso International works collaboratively with overseas partner...

  • Pachamama Universal
    Volunteer at a shamanic ashram near Cochabamba, Bolivia
    Bolivia
    9 •1 review

    Our place, a SHAMANIC ASHRAM, was built 25 years ago. The founder has...

  • America Solidaria
    Fellowship for Latin America and the Caribbe
    Multiple Countries
    10 •1 review

    America Solidaria seeks Fellows who are interested in implementing...

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What People Are Saying

I would like to begin by saying that joining Learn to Travel program was the best decision I ever made. I knew it was going to be a big step in my life, but I never thought it will have such a huge...

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After finishing high school, I had no idea what to do next, because I didn't feel ready for university. Once I found out about this awesome opportunity to travel and volunteer, I was in for it without...

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This experience allowed me to understand how to navigate group dynamics and a foreign country! I now feel confident in my traveling abilities which was one of my main goals when signing up for this...

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