Bargaining for Petrol in Bolivia

Bargaining for petrol in Bolivia

Equipped with some new parts we left Cusco and headed for the Bolivian border. It was sad to leave Peru, which we had enjoyed more than any of the other countries so far. Our main “objective” in Bolivia was Salar de Uyuni, but to get there we needed petrol. Filling up for foreigners in Bolivia is hard though. We were bargaining for petrol every time in Bolivia, and that was the main “challenge”. Especially because the locals working at the petrol stations wouldn’t understand more English than Layla.

In Bolivia, the petrol is highly subsidised for locals. Foreigners pay a lot more, like three times more (roughly 9 BOL instead of 3 BOL). Now even a blind man could easily figure out we’re not locals, so pretending wouldn’t get us anywhere. Now there’s also the problem, that they’re required to do administrative paperwork to sell fuel to foreigners. And since they personally don’t benefit for the transaction at all, they mostly refuse to sell petrol to foreigners at all to avoid the extra work. This could be a potential problem for our roughly 1000km through the country.

Bargaining 2.0

So the trick was to find the petrol stations without cameras, and bargain with the attendant. iOverlander had some suggestions, but these weren’t very accurate since this might also be a little bit the luck of the draw. Our tactics were to stop at a filler point with the engine still running, waiting for the attendant to looked through the passengers side window. After saying “Hola, como estas?” we asked if we could get petrol. Asking “sin factura” (without receipt) sometimes helped. If the answer wasn’t “no”, the next question was “4 BOL esta bien?” Sometimes the answer was “Si” and sometimes there was a short negotiating with some numbers.

Basically what happened, is that we were served as locals and the difference in price (between what we paid and the locals price) was for the attendant. Illegal? Yes. But this saved us a lot of Euros. This required us to take out more cash than usual. We usually withdrew small amounts of cash for little payments and paid the petrol by card because it was safer and cheaper. We never knew exactly how much we needed to pay for petrol.


In an uneventful way through mostly desert, we reached Uyuni. Here we faced an even slightly bigger challenge filling up, our jerry-cans. Throughout our travels we had carried 3 jerry-cans on our roof, with 20L each which almost doubled our driving range. We had used it only once, to carry as much petrol across the border from Ecuador to Peru, because of the price difference on either side of the border. Filling jerry-cans at petrol stations can be, for sometimes vague reasons, complicated. In our case, having them strapped to our roof it would always attracted attention filling them.

For the trip across the Salar de Uyuni and not having an option to buy fuel for more than the range of our tank, we needed to fill the jerry-cans as well. Out tactics were to use mother nature’s coverage, we arrived after sunset at the petrol station of our choice and asked. It was the most expensive time filling up, but we had no choice and still a good deal. Surrounded by darkness at the edge of a small town in the desert, nobody saw Alwin climbing on the roof to fill the tanks. Last time bargaining for petrol in Bolivia; Mission accomplished.

Only a little further down the road there was the city of Uyuni, a nice small city at the edge of the Salar de Uyuni. We felt like we were in a old communist town. With the cool wind blowing through the streets under a blue sky with sun we liked it. We visited the local market to stock up with as much food as possible and we had the first shower with warm water since many 1000s of kilometres. All preparing for the trip across the Salar de Uyuni the next day..


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