The best time to visit Bolivia: Is rainy season really that bad?!
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Due to Bolivians’ penchant for building cities at high altitude, the time of year that you travel to Bolivia can have a big effect on your experience in the country. What makes choosing the best time to visit Bolivia confusing is that their summer season (Nov-March) is actually when it gets the most rainfall, despite those being the warmer months. Since South America experiences the opposite seasons to Europe due to it being on the southern hemisphere, this kinda brings Bolivia more in line with home for me – lol jk, every season is rainy season for the UK. In this guide to the best time to visit to Bolivia, I’ll talk you through how the climate differs across the country, what rainy season is like, whether the season affects safety, and the best time to visit Bolivia’s salt flats.
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Bolivia can technically be visited and enjoyed all year round (we still loved it during our month in January) but the best time to visit Bolivia is said generally to be April to October to get the best weather. As always though, I’d advise avoiding North American school holidays – even if Bolivia isn’t really seen as the kind of tourist destination to bring kids yet. Lots more adults travel during this time, too. I’m a big fan of shoulder seasons to find spots less busy, so personally I’d say the best time to visit Bolivia is April-May or September-October.
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What’s the climate in Bolivia?
There is not one single answer to this question. Bolivia is not mono-climatic (I definitely just made that term up, but hell, I stand by it.). Unlike the UK where everything is either rainy all at once or BBQ-and-flipflop-weather all at once, extremes in altitudes across Bolivia have a major effect on the climates of its geographical regions. Take a look at the embarrassingly crude map I’ve drawn below. I’m sort of ashamed by my efforts but let’s just roll with it.
What are Bolivia’s geographical regions?
There are three geographical regions in Bolivia, which are created by the position of a few cordilleras of the Andes. This creates different climates within each section. The three are:
The Altiplano – meaning ‘high plain’ – is where you’ll find the Uyuni salt flats, and also the largest Bolivian city, La Paz. This area tends to be wet, and the high altitude means it’s a colder climate than other regions. While the days can actually be quite nice when it’s not raining, at night it’s not unusual for temperatures to fall below zero in the Altiplano region, and in winter it can make it to -20 degrees around the salt flats. Sheesh.
Yungas – which means ‘warm valleys’ in the indigenous language Aymara – is where you’ll start to feel tropical, with lush jungles and much more humid weather to the north of the region. If you go on a bike tour of Death Road, this is where you’ll find yourself, and when you cycle down the mountain, the climate will feel like it’s transforming with every minute as you lose altitude. Further South, cities such as Potosí and Sucre are less obviously tropical, but offer a much more pleasant climate than the Altiplano.
Llanos – or plains – are the lowlands of Bolivia. These include some areas of Amazon rainforest to the North, as well as open flats that are used for agriculture in the centre and the Gran Chaco swamps in the east. This area is as hot as Jason Mamoa walking out of the sea in slow-mo, so pack a hat and a mini fan. Even during winter, the temperatures are at least mid-20s. Here, you’ll find popular destinations such as Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Samaipata.
What’s rainy season like in Bolivia?
Heavy. Rainy season really isn’t the best time to visit Bolivia. Rain showers don’t often last the whole day, but when they come they are intense, with rivers in the streets and slippery mud on less developed roads. This is especially true in the Altiplano region, where you can expect a least at few hours of wetness a day during the heavier months of December to February.
Items of clothing are going to be difficult to air dry in this weather whilst you’re in the Altiplano and some parts of Yungas, so make use of some of the cheap laundrettes that can wash and dry to guarantee your clothes don’t go damp when it comes to cleaning them. Ain’t nobody got time for a smelly backpack.
Does weather affect the safety in Bolivia?
Unfortunately, yes, weather does affect the safety in Bolivia. Bolivian buses have a bad reputation for safety anyway, with drink driving being cited as a casual problem, but if you visit Bolivia during rainy season, you will soon see the issue this brings to the roads themselves. It’s normal for mountain passes to be unpaved and muddy, some of them single-tracked and crumbling into dark ravines at the best of times, so things can get scarily slippery when adding rain to the equation. If you are concerned about safety in Bolivia you’ll want to keep this in mind.
Best time to visit Bolivia’s Salt Flats
The Uyuni Salt Flats are the most famous landmark in Bolivia – and one of the most famous in South America. The miles and miles of perfectly white salt span half the size of Wales, and most people visit for at least a full-day tour to visit the flats, or 3 days if they want to see all the other different landmarks within the area, such as Isla Incahuasi (Fish Island). There’s not necessarily a best time to visit Bolivia’s salt flats, but there certainly is a worst time (and guess what time of the year we went!).
During rainy season, the water that falls on the flats isn’t able to be absorbed into the ground, so it sits on top as a mirroring layer. This does cause really cool effects on the views you’ll have, with crystal-clear reflections in the ground, however it makes the iconic perspective shots almost impossible as you need to lay your camera on the floor and have no reflections for these to work properly. Having this layer of water also means that the jeeps can’t drive at more than 10mph, because salt splashing up onto the mechanics of their car can cause major damage over time. This means you spend an awful lot more time travelling and less time out enjoying the flats.
The amount of water also means that not all of the landmarks are possible to go and see, so those on a 3 or 4-day Uyuni tour will end up paying the same amount for fewer features. Plus, the things that you are able to stop and see along the way are kind of just… duller. The Laguna Colorada barely had any colour to it, and there were very few Andean flamingos still chilling in the lake.
The reasons that December to February is not the best time to visit Bolivia’s Salt Flats may be many, but luckily the rest of the year is pretty spectacular. Use my guide to booking a Uyuni Salt Flats to plan your visit around it.
So there you have it, all you need to know about the best time to visit Bolivia! If you can’t make it during the recommended window, don’t worry, you’ll still have an incredible time. I literally went during the worst month and wasn’t put off at all by it. Enjoy!
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