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Diesel in Bolivia

November 10, 2012

Getting fuel in Bolivia is a pain in the Arse.

It all stems from how Bolivia gets its fuel. Bizarrely the government buys the fuel from Chile (where it costs around USD 1.38 per litre. The Bolivian government then subsidises the pump prices to around USD 0.5 per litre. This is much cheaper than the surrounding countries so it was no surprise the Peruvians, Argentinians and Chileans started coming to Bolivia to fill up. Couple this with enterprising Bolivians selling fuel across the border and it was all costing the Bolivian government a fortune.

To resolve this situation Bolivia introduced two new rules:

1)      Banned exports of fuel across the border. This in practice means that you shouldn’t be able to take more than 80 litres of fuel out of Bolivia

2)      Introduced an international pump price for fuel which was triple the Bolivian price.

In reality the first rule shouldn’t impact overlander’s too greatly. We have heard of people having trouble because of jerry cans so it’s a good idea to hide your cans when leaving Bolivia. We were not checked leaving into Chile from Eduardo Avaroa Park.

The second rule is much more of a pain. Almost without fail when you arrive at a station and ask how much the fuel is you will be told about the international price.

So you have to try and negotiate a lower price. Usually this will involve asking for the fuel without a receipt.  We had success with this and managed to reduce the price to an average of B7 from B9.40. The amount of the reduction will depend on how good at negotiating you are and how good your Spanish is, other overlanders have managed to get it for less.

There are a number of excuses you might get though:

1)      We haven’t got any fuel: this is usually genuine – many of the stations just don’t have fuel because they have run out. Between Copacabana and La Paz we didn’t find any diesel at all.

2)      We haven’t got a licence to sell to foreigners.

3)      Come back later when my boss isn’t here – difficult to argue against.

4)      We’ve got cameras so we can’t – some people have had success at getting a cheap price by presenting jerry cans and parking round the corner.

Sometimes they just don’t want to sell you fuel because its too much hassle for them – there’s not much you can do about this.

It’s generally much easier to buy fuel in the lowlands than the Altiplano because they seem more relaxed.

Some general rules of thumb for Bolivia are:

1)      Fill up when you can and get the best price you can by negotiating

2)      Carry a couple of jerry cans just in case

3)      The fuel is terrible so enter the country with a new fuel filter and change it when you leave

4)      The more obviously foreign your vehicle the harder you have to work to get a lower price – sponsor stickers etc just don’t help, a beaten up landcruiser is just the ticket !

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Prior permalink
    November 10, 2012 9:35 am

    Hi Mark, You’re up early. I see the package arrived in Santiago and is awaiting customs clearance. Love Dad

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Betti Doherty permalink
    November 11, 2012 1:52 pm

    Very useful info. Thanks Mark. We heard that there’s trouble getting fuel in Bolivia -in fact we heard, no fuel for foreigners at all. But it seems like there’s chance.

    Still enjoying reading your posts and the photos!
    We are booked to leave England to Halifax on in 3 weeks time.

    All the best,
    Betti And John

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