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As I was planning my trip using both my guidebooks, I came across the "Health" and "Safety" sections, only to end up very nervous for my trip to Bolivia.

Both guidebooks explicitly state, "La Paz is not a safe city, especially at night." Unfortunately for me, my flight arrives at 3 AM. I was wondering what I should do to stay safe. Should I camp in the airport until sunrise, then take a legitimate taxi? Or should I just do that whenever I land? In the past, I haven't traveled to such areas, so I apologize if this question sounds a bit paranoid, but I am quite nervous and would like to prepare myself the best I can.

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    Be certain that your hotel can accommodate you that early in the morning (check-in). – Max May 16 '14 at 15:30
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The safest approach to arrive in any city is to arrange for your hotel to pick up you, meaning there will be a guy with a sign with your name on it waiting for you right outside Customs. Just give them a ring and ask about "airport transfer" or "airport shuttle service".

The obvious downside is that this is usually expensive, often 2-4x the cost of a taxi.

  • +1 good advice. Last time I did this (Philippines) the guy didn't bother showing and I had to negotiate in rain and dark for a taxi, so it's good to prepare for any eventuality. – Spehro Pefhany Mar 11 '14 at 10:49
  • It's a good advice, IF they show up that is. Unfortunately we too had a non-show up (Indonesia, Jakarta). At least it was the middle of day and good weather, but the taxi guy spoke like no English and we had a hard time explaining which hotel we needed to go. Eventually we did arrive though ;) – dexter meyers Mar 11 '14 at 16:02
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    If the hotel's driver doesn't show up, then you call the hotel and get them to either sort it out or arrange a taxi to take you over. You can even hand the driver your phone (once you're in the car, that is...) and ask the hotel staff to explain where to go. – jpatokal Mar 11 '14 at 22:17
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I live here in Bolivia (Tarija).

First of all you should never fly into La Paz. Santa Cruz is the better option as they are less likely to steal your stuff when you go through customs. As far as staying in the airport, if you are not waiting for a layover then by all means take a taxi to your hotel. I would suggest that you have your hotel pick you up as Bolivians taxi drivers will rip you off and some of the taxi drivers will take you to bad neighborhoods etc etc.

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I hope someone with direct experience can give you some information.

After a quick google, I'd say that I'd feel somewhat comfortable (as a guy) taking a reputable-looking cab from the airport directly to a hotel at 3:30am or whenever your flight lands and you get your stuff. I have a pretty good sense for who to trust and have avoided being robbed a couple times as a result.

Make sure it's a "radio cab", not a "gypsy cab" (never one that a tout is trying to get you to take), don't share a journey with others you don't know, and beware of real or fake un-uniformed people who say they are police.

If you want to be scared, some more information here and here.

Most of the problems seem to happen with drunk young folks leaving clubs or walking around the city at night. Also at bus stations.

Feel free to tell me I'm full of it if anyone has direct experience, but that's what I'd do if I was arriving there tonight.

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My general strategy for safety in situations like this is not to look like an easy victim. In particular:

  • Know the general route and driving distance to your hotel from the airport. If Google Maps has driving directions in the city you're travelling to, use it. If the driver deviates from it (GPS on your phone can be useful here) immediately say "Hey this isn't where I want to go!" or similar and if they don't have a good explanation, demand that they let you out as soon as you see a safe-looking place.

  • If it's a place where taxi fares are not fixed but subject to bargaining, know what the fair price is and demand it (or slightly lower). This makes you look experienced.

  • Once you get moving, make a fake (or real) cell phone call, speaking in a language the driver understands, telling "your friend" you're on your way, casually mentioning what street or part of the city you're in, and how long you expect to take (see the first point). This lets the driver know (even if it's not true) that somebody's expecting you.

Obviously if the particular place you're travelling is especially dangerous (and also, if you're female; I'm male and thus automatically privileged not to be seen so much as an easy victim) it may be a good idea to have further precautions too. If it's legal to carry mace (or even if it's not, but you're more scared of the risks of not having it than of the legal consequences of being caught with it) you may want to. I've carried mace in checked baggage before which is probably very illegal but gives you self-defense right away upon arrival.

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