The U.S. Department of State currently classifies Bolivia as a medium to high crime threat country. Street crime, such as pick pocketing, assaults following ATM withdrawals, and theft from parked vehicles, occurs with some frequency in Bolivia. You should secure your belongings in a hotel safe and refrain from wearing expensive jewelry. U.S. citizens have also had backpacks, passports, and other property stolen at bus terminals or while traveling on buses, as well as at internet cafes and in other situations where the U.S. citizen is distracted or leaves property unattended. Theft of cars and car parts, particularly late-model four-wheel-drive vehicles, is common, and some vehicles have been hijacked.
Express Kidnappings: Incidents in which tourists are robbed and forced to withdrawal money from ATMs, known as “express kidnappings”, are common in La Paz. Typically, the victim enters a taxi driven by a criminal, and then an additional person or two gets in the vehicle. The victim is then robbed of his/her belongings and/or driven to an ATM where he/she is forced to provide personal identification numbers for debit and credit card withdrawals. The areas where these crimes are most frequent include Plaza Humbolt (Zona Sur), Plaza Abaroa, Plaza del Estudiante, Plaza Isabel La Católica, and Plaza San Francisco. Avoid becoming a victim of this crime by using only radio taxis and not traveling alone, particularly if you’re under the influence of alcohol or it’s late at night.
Coronilla Hill: We recommend that you avoid the Coronilla Hill, a Cochabamba landmark adjacent to the main bus terminal and near several markets, hostels, and restaurants. The Coronilla Hill has become an increasingly dangerous place for tourists and local citizens alike. The local police, tourist authorities, and press have declared the area off limits and cautioned people to enter the area at their own peril. U.S. citizens have been assaulted in the area. The police have made several sweeps of the area in an attempt to control the situation, but incidents of crime continue. Police reports indicate that thieves in that area have gone from purse snatching and burglary to increasingly violent assaults on passerbys.
Public Transportation: The U.S. Embassy in La Paz continues to receive reports of U.S. citizens traveling by bus from Copacabana to La Paz being held up and robbed of their ATM cards and other valuables. This crime reportedly involves U.S. citizens taking an evening bus from Copacabana. While the bus is scheduled to stop at the La Paz bus terminal, the driver will stop short of that location, typically near the General Cemetery late at night. Disembarking and disoriented passengers then have little option but to hail a waiting taxi. Thieves in cooperation with the taxi driver enter the taxi to blindfold and coerce the U.S. citizen(s) into surrendering cash, cameras, ATM cards, and other valuables. Victims have reported that once the thieves withdrew funds using the ATM cards, they were released without further harm. If you plan to travel from Copacabana, you should try to arrive during daylight hours, verify the final destination, and buy tickets directly at the Copacabana bus terminal rather than from third parties.
Scam Artists: Bolivian police report the presence of organized criminal groups operating in the La Paz area. The techniques employed by these groups vary, but there are a few major patterns, including “false police” - persons using police uniforms, identification, and even buildings modified to resemble police stations, who intercept and rob foreigners. Remember, under Bolivian law, police need a warrant from the “fiscal” (prosecutor) to detain a suspect. Any searches or seizures must occur at a bona fide police station in the presence of the prosecutor. The warrant requirement also applies to suspected drug trafficking cases, although such searches and seizures may occur without a prosecutor present. If you are detained, you should request to see the warrant and insist on immediate contact with the nearest U.S. consular office.
Be cautious of anyone introducing themselves to you as a policeman or even a fellow tourist, especially in popular tourist areas. Be wary of strangers and “false friends.” If you have any doubts about a situation, immediately remove yourself from the scene.
Street Crime: Thefts of bags, wallets, and backpacks are a problem throughout Bolivia, but especially in the tourist areas of downtown La Paz and the Altiplano. Most thefts involve two or three people who spot a potential victim and wait until the bag or backpack is placed on the ground, often at a restaurant, bus terminal, internet café, etc. In other cases, the thief places a disagreeable substance on the clothes or backpack of the intended victim and then offers to assist the victim with the removal of the substance. While the person is distracted, the thief or an accomplice grabs the bag or backpack and flees. If you find yourself in such a situation, you should decline assistance, secure the bag/backpack, and walk briskly from the area.
In order to steal wallets and bags, thieves may spray water on the victim's neck, and while the person is distracted an accomplice takes the wallet or bag. At times, the thief poses as a policeman and requests that the person accompany him to the police station, using a nearby taxi. If this happens to you, say you want to contact the U.S. Embassy; do not enter the taxi. Under no circumstances should you surrender ATM or credit cards, or release a personal identification number.
While most thefts do not involve violence, in some instances the victim has been physically harmed and forcibly searched for hidden valuables. This is particularly true in “choke and rob” assaults where the victims report being choked from behind until they lost consciousness and later awoke to find all of their possessions gone. Again, avoid being alone on the streets, especially at night and in isolated areas.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law, too.
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