Many foreigners have the wrong idea that Bolivia is only an altiplanic country, but in fact, most of the country is covered by tropical flat land, very near or even in the Amazonas. Even more, this area contains most of Bolivia’s population. There are also important health risks associated with the climates of the country that you need to be aware of before visiting or living in Bolivia.
In Bolivia, there are 3 very differentiated climates: 1) a cold, alpine and dry climate in the west side, with 55°F on average 2) a temperate, balanced and moist climate in the central area, with 70°F on average, and 3) an amazonian, tropical and very humid climate in the east side, with 85°F on average.
We’re citizens from Bolivia who have spent all their lives here, so we’ll tell you every detail about the different climates that our country and population experience. We’ll also tell you about some important health dangers that you’ll find when coming here, which are very related to the climates we have in the country, and also, some precautions to avoid these threats.
Bolivia has 3 different main climates
Unlike many people from overseas normally think, Bolivia is not only a cold altiplanic highly elevated country. In fact, nearly 40% of the population live in tropical and amazonic regions. Even more, the largest city of Bolivia, Santa Cruz De La Sierra, is located on a really tropical and warm land.
The territory of Bolivia has 3 very differentiated climate areas:
- The cold and dried altiplanic west of Bolivia.
- The rugged and hilly tempered center Bolivia.
- The tropical and warm amazonian east of Bolivia.
|Altiplanic West||Tempered Center||Tropical East|
|Main cities||La Paz, El Alto, Oruro, Potosí||Cochabamba, Sucre, Tarija||Santa Cruz, Trinidad, Cobija|
|Main features||Cold the whole year, La Paz is warmer, mostly dry but also moist. Snowing and hail are common.||Mild and tempered weather, just enough moist, almost never freezing.||Amazonian climate, somewhat colder in Santa Cruz, very humid the whole year.|
|Avg. temperature||60°F (day), 40°F (night)||75°F (day), 55°F (night)||85°F (day), 70°F (night)|
|Geography||Great elevation (~13,000 ft msl), flat endless terrain, the “Altiplano”.||Moderate elevation (8,000 ft msl) Rugged and mountainous land, with many valleys||Low elevation (1,500 ft msl) Flat tropical endless terrain, part of it inside the Amazonas, also marshy ground|
|Flora and fauna||Little of both, no bugs, and dangerous animals present||Vinchuca bug widely spreaded, other somewhat risky animals present, enjoyable gardens around||Just plain jungle, Vinchuca also present, mosquitoes widely spreaded and many other wild animals|
|Climate threats||Sun burns (often), hypothermia (not common)||None||Heatstroke (rare), tropical storms (common), Surazos (at the middle of the year), floods (sometimes), marshy ground (sometimes)|
|Health dangers||Altitude sickness (common)||Chagas disease (very common, half of the population carries the parasite)||Chagas disease (common, a quarter of the population carriers the parasite), Malaria, Dengue, Zika and other diseases (Quite often)|
1) The altiplanic cold and dried West of Bolivia
This wide and flat region of Bolivia is located at the west of the country, and occups about 35% of its total territory. Its average elevation is around 13,000 ft. (4,000 m.) over the sea level and its average temperature is about 50°F to 68°F during the day and 23°F to 50°F at night. La Paz, El Alto, Oruro and Potosí cities are located in this region.
You may think that it’s too much altitude to live there, but actually, there are about 3.5 million people living in this area, spreaded across 4 principal cities and also rural areas. Nevertheless, if you visit this region and its cities without preparation, you’ll most of the time suffer because of the lack of oxygen.
The “altitude sickness“ is a common health issue that lots of tourists and people from lower altitudes experience when coming to this zone and its cities in Bolivia. Although very rare, it also has been reported around 20 brain swelling cases in the near past 50 years amid people that suddenly went to this zone. Be always careful with this possibility, and take all the necessary precautions.
In essence, this part of Bolivia looks like a desert, very flat towards the horizon, with mountain chains very far away in both the East and West sides, and the air most of the time is dry and cold. But unlike common deserts, in this area it rains a lot. Usually this region is very sunny, but some days it’s cloudy and rainy.
People normally dress in quite thick clothing there, with several layers of clothes, but the situation is not always like this. In spring and part of the summer (between October and January), temperature rates normally rise up to 77°F during the days and 50°F at the nights on average.
On the other hand, particularly in winter (from May to July) you’ll feel quite cold there with temperatures during the day below 60°F and freezing temperatures at nights. Some days there’ll also be snow and hail falling from the sky. Finally, between January and March, it’ll rain and sometimes it’ll hail heavily in this part of the country.
In this region of Bolivia, there are located 4 principal cities:
- La Paz (800,000 population, 11,975ft. / 3,650m. elevation)
- El Alto (700,000 population, 13,123ft. / 4,000m. elevation)
- Oruro (400,000 population, 12,254ft. / 3,735m. elevation)
- Potosí (200,000 population, 13,353ft. / 4,070m elevation)
2) The rugged and hilly tempered Center of Bolivia
This montanius area of Bolivia is almost fully covered with valleys and is located at the center of the country, being the transition between the altiplanic cold West and the tropical warm East. It occupies about 25% of the total territory, and also has the best temperature to live in, ranging from 59°F to 77°F most of the time. Its average elevation is around 8,202ft. (2,500m.).
Bolivians normally go to this region and its cities on vacation, because it really has a quite enjoyable climate. During the day, it has a very comfortable temperature and at nights it doesn’t get very cold. It’s also not too dry nor too rainy. The air is somewhat humid but not too much, and also the weather is very stable throughout the year.
Nevertheless, this region has a hidden risk you shouldn’t neglect by any means when being there, the “Chagas Disease”, triggered by the “Vinchuca” insect, which is endemic in this place.
Caution: Health danger
You need to be very careful in these 3 cities, you are at the risk of “Chagas disease“, which is a terrible illness that damages your heart, kills you and doesn’t have a cure. It’s endemic in these cities (in Cochabamba 35% of the population carry this parasite and up to 54% in Sucre, also 48% in Tarija). You should always look for living spaces that are fully plastered, without any cracks, and also take other precautions. Be very cautious!
After overcoming this very dangerous health situation, you’ll enjoy one of the best climates existing in Bolivia. The pleasant weather of this zone is the main reason why many people call Sucre as the “garden city”, and also why many Bolivian retirees move to Cochabamba in their last years of life.
In fact, cities within this region of Bolivia are almost fully covered with green places, but not jungles, just forests and grasslands, and beyond the “Vinchuca” bug, you won’t find many other dangerous and annoying insects there. So, in other words, cities inside this area of Bolivia are just like giant gardens.
In this part of Bolivia, there are located 3 principal cities:
- Cochabamba (650,000 population, 8,392ft. / 2,558m. elevation)
- Sucre (400,000 population, 9,919 ft. 2,810m. elevation)
- Tarija (350,000 population, 6,083ft. / 1,854m. elevation)
Is worth mentioning that a few months every year, between September and November, the South rural area of Tarija department (not in the city of Tarija) is normally a very dry and hot place, and the temperature there can go up to 105°F without any rain, making you feel that you are in a desert. This zone is called the “Gran Chaco” desert.
3) The tropical and amazonian hot East of Bolivia
This is the largest area of Bolivia with a unique climate of the 3 we’re showing here. It occupies around 40% of the Bolivian territory, and it’s mostly a flat amazonic, tropical large land. The air usually is very moist there and the temperature averages 85°F during the day and 70°F at nights. Its average elevation is around 1640ft. (500m.).
Most of the population in Bolivia live in this area, the majority of them are in Santa Cruz De La Sierra, the largest city of Bolivia, with a population of 1.5 million. People in this area of Bolivia behave like Caribbean people, as they experience a quite hot, humid climate. It’s really a tropical place, and all the cities within this area are hot and humid all the time.
The land in this area is almost totally covered with heavy jungles and the insects and bugs are, in many cases, overwhelming. This happens mostly on the outskirts of the cities, as in downtown areas of these, you won’t find too much jungle nor too many insects.
Usually, mostly during the summer and part of the spring (from November to February), this zone of Bolivia becomes even warmer, like a real amazonic area, getting temperatures of 95°F during the day and 80°F at nights, with a lot of humidity, a lot of rain, and sometimes tropical storms. But in the other months it’ll be drier and colder, so it’ll be more pleasant to live in.
Although unlikely to happen, sometimes, mostly from November to January, there is also a risk of heatstroke in cities like Santa Cruz, Trinidad or Cobija, with temperatures reaching in on some days 105°F, together with very moist air.
In this part of Bolivia there are located 3 principal cities:
- Santa Cruz De La Sierra (1,500,000 population, 1,312ft. / 400m. elevation)
- Trinidad (150,000 population, 427ft. / 130m. elevation)
- Cobija (60,000 population, 919ft. / 280m. elevation)
Caution: Risk with endemic diseases
The tropical east of Bolivia is also an endemic region for Chagas disease (a deadly illness that damages your heart and doesn’t have a cure, transmitted by the Vinchuca and similar bugs). In fact, 22% of the Santa Cruz population has this illness. There’s also a high risk of getting malaria, dengue and zika in this region, even within its cities.
You should always properly use, without any exception, a mosquito net for your bed when sleeping at night, no matter if it’s inside your house (as 99% of people in this region do), Take any other precautions, which go beyond this article, to prevent these ills affecting you when staying or living in this part of the country.
You need to be very careful here of the bugs and other reptiles, like mosquitos, snakes and spiders, mostly present on the outskirts of the cities and the rural areas of this region, but also quite often in the downtowns.
This is why all the people living in this area (without any exception, even in urban and rich neighborhoods) use mosquito nets for their beds. When staying in this part of Bolivia:
- Always use a mosquito net when sleeping.
- Always ensure that this net and your bed is free of bugs and insects inside when entering your bed.
- Sail very well the net to the bed after you get into your bed.
- Also never leave it unclean or open after you wake up,
- And make no exceptions to these rules.
Lots of bugs and animals are present in this area of the country, because it’s really an endless tropical flat jungle, an amazonian place (in fact, it’s part of the Amazonas), with a lot of rain, wide rivers, and a huge, complex ecosystem. Urban areas have removed most of the jungle from their inside, but it just appears within days and in almost any ground that is not cared for properly.
The climate by city of Bolivia
Santa Cruz De La Sierra is the largest city of Bolivia, with a subtropical and, most of the time, tropical climate over the year. In this city, you’ll see the land around you totally flat towards the horizon, mostly covered with grass, shrubbery and trees in the downtown of the city, and almost jungle land in the outbounds of the city.
In this city, it rains a lot at the beginning and the end of the year, but it doesn’t rain too much at the middle of the year. Normally, you have hot temperatures, averaging 90°F during the day and 75°F at night. Sometimes, it rains so heavily that many neighborhoods of the city become flooded, being the poorest neighborhoods the most affected ones.
But generally, the days are very shiny and humid, so people tend to generally use only t-shirts and shorts all the time. You start to sweat very rapidly until you get used to the weather there. People there behave in many ways like Brazilians or Caribbeans, because the climate of Santa Cruz is very similar to those countries.
The air most of the time is humid, but sometimes you will experience what is called “Surazos” which are violent freezing and dried air waves that come from the South Pole. When this happens, which can last for days or weeks, people normally wear very thick clothes, like if they were in a cold alpine climate. But this only happens a few times over the year, in the winter, from May to July.
Remember to take all the precautions to avoid endemic diseases like Chagas in this city, as we say in a prior section.
La Paz is a mostly cold city at a very high elevation. This city is a little bit warmer than Oruro and Potosí, and doesn’t have wild freezing air waves, because it’s located inside a canyon on the altiplanic terrain. Normally the temperature during the day averages 65°F and 50°F at nights. The air feels mostly dry but not too much, with some other very humid days too.
In the city, it doesn’t rain too much in autumn and winter, but it rains heavily in summers and significantly in springs (from November to March). Also, the temperature can go down to freezing levels at night in parts of autumn and winter (from May to August), heavily snowing and hailing in some days of these seasons.
People in this city in general tend to wear a lot of winter clothes, moreover, they’re not used to wearing dresses, t-shirts and shorts, and they usually wear pants, jeans and jackets. But this situation changes between October and December, when part of the summer takes place, temperatures can go up to 80°F on the day and 60° at nights and during this time some people start behaving as if they were in a warmer place.
Also in this city, most of the days are very sunny in the winter and autumn. Even though they are very sunny, it’s not enough to warm up the people. As you may expect, sunlight can be dangerous at these attitudes, don’t forget to use at least 50x factor sunscreen in this city if you’ll be highly exposed. In contrast to this, in summer the weather is intermittent, with either very sunny and warm days and really cloudy days with heavy rain.
The climate of Cochabamba is very mild and tempered, not too hot nor too cold, just well balanced, enough to feel warm nights and pleasant days for the most part over the year. But this changes in winter, when temperatures can go down significantly, but rarely crossing the freezing barrier at nights. The air of the city is very tempered and calm most of the time, and not too moist.
Along with Sucre, this city is called the “garden city”, because the vegetation is not really heavy, mostly consistent on light grass, shrubbery everywhere and also a lot of trees of different species. It’s like the flora and fauna here had the best climate to become significant but not heavy and dense.
We can say that the climate and weather in this city is really enjoyable, very calm without too much hot and not too cold in both days and nights, without too much rain and not dried at all. The air is also humid, enough to be felt very pleasant. This climate is why many old Bolivian people and retirees go to live in this city in their last years of life.
The bugs and insects are widely spreaded inside the city, but are not annoying most of the time. Anyway, you need to be very careful about the Vinchuca bug, which can transmit the “Chagas Disease”, being endemic in this city, see a previous section for more information.
This large city (population of 700,000), located next to La Paz city, it’s at a really high elevation. So, as you can imagine, it has very cold temperatures almost all the time, these can be on average 60°F during the day and 40°F at nights, the air also is very dry and you are at a high risk of getting “altitude sickness” for the lack of oxygen (see a previous section for more information).
People in this city mostly come from rural altiplanic areas of Bolivia, and they are very used to living in a cold climate during the whole year. In winter, temperatures can go into freezing levels almost every night and some days, hail and snow are very common too. Moreover during the year, generally this city has very sunny days, but this sunshine can be more risky, remember to use a proper sunscreen of at least a 50x factor there.
Currently, few tourists visit this city, and almost no expats or foreigners live there, instead most of them go to El Alto because of the cable car that connects this city with La Paz city. But remember that the international airport of La Paz is located there, so if you go to La Paz, you will be in El Alto city at least for a few minutes, or maybe some hours.
Sucre it’s a relatively small city that is also called a “garden city”. The weather and temperatures are very comfortable there. It even has a better climate than Cochabamba, with more stable temperatures through the seasons, being also a little bit warmer.
From a looking standpoint, this city is just beautiful. It’s like a giant garden, with white houses everywhere, people normally wear light clothes on both nights and days the whole year. The air is somewhat moist but not too much. Also, it rains just enough to make you feel comfortable, many times with mist and drizzle. The climate is very well balanced for human beings in this city.
This city is beautiful to live in or to visit and many Bolivian people go there on their vacations, but it’s not really common to see many tourists or expats being there. When visiting this city, remember to always be careful with the “Chagas Disease”, which is endemic in Sucre (more information in a previous section).
Tarija is also a small city of Bolivia, which is located at the South of the country, it stands over a valley with a significant elevation over the sea level (6083ft. / 1,854m.). This is why it has generally pleasant weather all year long. It has almost the same climate as Cochabamba and Sucre, being very well balanced most of the time.
But some months of the year, this city can get colder temperatures, from May to July, some nights passing freezing levels. Also from October to February, it gets the warmest temperatures of the whole year, reaching levels of a tropical weather, but actually a dried tropical one. Tarija city is also an endemic place for “Chagas Disease” (see a previous section for more information).
Is worth mentioning that Tarija city is not located inside the “Gran Chaco”, which is a very arid, hot, large and flat land that seems like a desert. In this place, particularly from August to October, a drought will take place every year, and people living there will suffer heavily, sometimes losing cattle and crops.
Oruro is an altiplanic city that is also located at a very high altitude, this is why the city is very cold almost all the year. In part of the summer and spring (from October to January) it’ll get better temperatures, making you feel as if you were in Cochabamba or Sucre. In these months, there’ll be more rainy and cloudy days too.
But in part of autumn and winter (from May to July), Oruro will get the coldest climate of the whole year, becoming a cold place with snow and hail in some days, and reaching freezing temperatures at some nights. Days at this time of the year will generally be very sunny, but a few of them will be a little rainy.
When staying in this city, you’ll need to take 2 precautions: 1) the Sun is more dangerous at these high altitudes, so get a good sunscreen with a 50x protection factor at least, and also 2) you can get “altitude sickness” (see a previous section for more information).
Beyond these issues, this city will be a good place to be in. For example, when being in Oruro’s carnival (at the end of February, so at the beginning of autumn), you’ll experience cold, but acceptable, temperatures (avg. of 60°F), with intermittent sunny and cloudy days, and nights won’t be freezing.
Potosí is the smallest altiplanic city of this region of Bolivia, it’s at a great elevation. Its climate is very similar to El Alto’s climate, being very cold the whole year and a little bit warmer from November to February. The air in this city is also quite dry, but it rains enough there, so it is not like a desert.
This city is a classical destination for tourists from inside and outside Bolivia, it’s also very near Uyuni’s salt flat, but it’s not imperative to go to this city first in order to visit that place.
This huge salt flat is also a cold place that has a high elevation of 11,811ft. / 3,600m. Its temperature is acceptable in spring and summer, but in winter and autumn it normally has freezing temperatures even during the day, also the air is dry and it doesn’t rain in these seasons. Nevertheless, the Uyuni’s Salt flat can become flooded imposing a risk for tourists, take care of this.
Trinidad is a very small tropical city of Bolivia, and it even has a hotter and more humid climate than Santa Cruz. Its climate can be described as fully tropical and amazonian. In fact, the city is inside the amazonical area of South America. If you are in this city, you’ll be surrounded by a jungle, with even significant fauna in the downtown of the city.
There are almost no tourists and foreigners here, except for people coming from Brazil. In spring and summer, a lot of rain and a mix of sunny and cloudy days are expected. The city will also sometimes get flooded, as the land there is somewhat swampy. Moreover, In autumn and winter the climate will be almost the same, tropical with less precipitation, but still very warm.
Unlike in Santa Cruz, in Trinidad the “Surazos” won’t happen, because this city is nearer to the equator line, so the freezing winds coming from the South Pole almost never reach this city. When visiting Trinidad, take all the same cautions that you would in an amazonian tropical jungle.
Remember to take all the precautions to avoid endemic diseases like Chagas in this city, as we say in a prior section.
Cobija is the smallest principal city of Bolivia, it is located at the very north of the country, so it’s really close to the equator line and has a fully tropical hot and moist climate the whole year. Also, the ground is very swampy there. Like other urban areas and towns around, Cobija has a lot of rain at the end of the year and floods are common.
Also, because it’s inside the Amazonas, even in autumn and winter, and despite less rain, temperatures remain warm, with an average of 85°F during the day and 75°F at nights, with a very moist air all the time. If you are there, you’ll be surrounded by a heavy forest, even in the downtown of the city, and just after walking 10 minutes towards the outskirts of the city, you’ll find a lot of places and pieces of land with wild jungle.
Cobija is not really visited by tourists, except for a lot of Brazilian folks who even live there, as the city is very close to the frontier between Bolivia and Brazil. This is a small city, it could even be called a town, with a population of 60,000 people. If you are there, you need to take all the precautions to avoid bugs and dangerous ills normally found in an amazonian tropical jungle.
Remember to take all the precautions to avoid endemic diseases like Chagas in this city, as we say in a prior section.
How are the seasons in Bolivia?
In Bolivia, spring goes from September 21th to December 20th. This season stands out for having the warmest temperatures of the year, with significant rain and moisture in the air. This happens in the 3 climate areas of the country, during these months, you’ll experience warmer temperatures and more rain, and also many cloudy days.
In Bolivia, summer goes from December 21th to March 20th. This season stands out for having heavy rainy days with a lot of humidity in the air and warm temperatures. This also happens in the 3 climate areas. In the tropical West, tropical storms and heavy rain often happen, and in the altiplanic West, a lot of snowfall and hail will occur.
In Bolivia, autumn goes from March 21th to June 20th. This season stands out for having the coldest days of the year at its end or at the beginning of June. This also happens in the 3 climate areas, with many freezing nights and cold days on the altiplanic West, and a little bit colder temperatures, but some “Surazos” with wild cold and humid winds in the tropical East.
In Bolivia, winter goes from June 21th to September 20th. This season stands out for having the most sunny days of the year at the beginning of the season, with still cold temperatures. This happens more in the west altiplanic West of the country. In the tropical Eest, beyond 1 or 2 additional “Surazos”, a warmer temperature is normally expected.
What weather threats and dangers are there in Bolivia?
As you saw thought this article, there are some threats in Bolivia that are related to its climate and geography, you need to care about:
- On the altiplanic West of Bolivia you are at the risk of:
- Getting altitude sickness.
- Getting sun damage on your skin because of the elevation.
- Risk of hypothermia and the freezing days and nights from May to July.
- On the central hilly area of Bolivia, you’re at the risk of:
- The Vinchuca bug, which is the carrier of Chagas Disease.
- On the tropical East of Bolivia, you are the risk of:
- The Chagas Disease (but to a little bit lower extent than in the central area of Bolivia).
- Malaria, Dengue, Zica, yellow fever, and other diseases commonly found in tropical Amazonian areas.
- All sorts of wild bugs, spiders and reptiles.
- Heatstroke at the end of the year.
- Floods at the end of the year.
- Surazos in the middle of the year.
You should take these dangers very seriously. For us, the most serious threats are 1) Chagas Disease, 2) other tropical illnesses 3) the “altitude sickness”. Take all the necessary precautions to avoid these threats to your health and body when visiting Bolivia.
In this detailed guide about the climates that exist in Bolivia, you’ve learned that there are 3 very unique and differentiated climates across our country. The 1st one is the very cold dried and alpine climate of the East, with cold temperatures all year long and freezing temperatures in winter and health. The 2nd is the temperate balanced little moisted climate of the Center of the country. The 3rd is the hot, humid and tropical climate of the East.
You’ve also seen that the West is at a great elevation, with around 12,000 ft. msl on average. So, you’ll find cold and freezing temperatures, very sunny but cold days, dry air, and dry or even the desert lands in this part of Bolivia. In this place, you are at risk of the “attitude sickness” and of getting more serious sunburns because of the elevation.
Additionally, you learned that in the central part of the country, you can find the best climates to live in, with very well balanced and temperate weathers all over the year and the cities inside this area being like giant gardens that feel very pleasant. But you also became aware of an important health risk here, the Vinchuca bug, which transmits the “Chagas Disease”, endemic in this area.
Finally, you’ve known that in the East, you’ll find a flat tropical endless land, with heavy jungle all over the place and very warm temperatures, but with some cold and dried events, like Surazos in the middle of the year and also floods at the end of the year. But you also have seen that the Chagas Disease is present here too, with other dangers like Malaria, Dengue, Zica, yellow fever and similar tropical illnesses, and heatstrokes rarely happening here.
We hope this information has helped you, and if you want to know which are the best places to visit in Bolivia, with all the details from our perspective, visit our dedicated guide in the following direction: The best places to visit in Bolivia, a complete overview link.
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