Gas Stations & Fuel in Bolivia

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Diesel Prices

Diesel costs 3.72 bolivianos (around 42 eurocent, March ’13).

Bad Diesel (2007)

We took in diesel in Tarija, Tupiza and Uyuni, in between there were no gas stations. We filled up twice at the YPF gas station in Tupiza and on both occasions noticed an inordinate fuel consumption afterward (only time that has happened in South America thus far).

Fill up Your Spare Fuel Tank for Sud Lipez (2008)

Between San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) and Uyuni (about 450 kilometers), there is no petrol nor diesel available. If lucky you may be able to purchase it in San Christobal, about halfway, but don’t count on it.

Two-Tier Pricing System for Cars with Foreign License Plate (2013)

We had read about it in journals from other overlanders during the past year and now have been confronted with it ourselves: the two-tier pricing system for fuel. From what we understand it works as follows:

  • Locals pay the price mentioned on the machine. March ’13: 3,72 bolivianos per liter diesel
  • Vehicles with foreign license plate pay another. March ’13: 9,48 bolivianos per liter diesel.

Theory vs Reality

There is a whole registration system around it which means – according to the official version – you get two receipts: one is the regular fill-up receipt and the second accounts for the extra price you paid. The attendant needs to fill out the second form that includes your ID info from your passport and such.

After two months in Bolivia we haven’t encountered this official system yet. Instead:

  • Some say they don’t have the papers to do it the official way.
  • Some say their boss doesn’t allow selling to drivers with foreign license plates (for whatever reason).
  • Some attendants like to help us but say they can’t because their gas station has cameras.
  • We can sometimes buy diesel for the local price.
  • We can sometimes negotiate a price in between the local and foreign price (say 5 bolivianos), but obviously won’t get a receipt.
  • We could buy a fuel bag (3 bolivianos) and fill it with diesel.
  • We could fill up our jerry cans. Sometimes we had to leave the gas station before filling up, however, sometimes we could then fill the tank on the spot ourselves with the jerry can (how ridiculous can it get)…

Story on Filling Jerry Cans (bidons) or Fuel Drums with Fuel

Little by little we are learning about Bolivia’s laws in this respect. Based on what we have been told in various regions, we think that this is how it works:

  • In border areas filling up jerry cans with gasoline as well as diesel is strictly prohibited and enforcement apparently is strong. This, we have been told, has to do with smuggling to the surrounding countries where fuel prices are higher.
  • In and around Cochabamba filling up jerry cans with gasoline is prohibited, but diesel is not. This has to do with cocaine production, for which gasoline is needed. Whether this rule only applies to cocaine-producing regions like Chapara (Cochabamba) and the Yungas or elsewhere as well, we don’t know.

Our Experiences

Jesuit Mission Route (east of Santa Cruz, Jan ’13): No problems whatsoever. We either paid the local price, negotiated 5 bolivianos and once filled up the jerrycans.

Santa Cruz (Jan ’13): No problem filling up for the local price.

Cochabamba (Mar ’13). Along the main road no gas station wanted to sell us diesel. Most of them didn’t care about any system. It was simply ‘no’. Downtown same story until one suggested to buy a diesel bag, which is a time-consuming version.

At last we found one gas station in one of Cochabamba’s surrounding towns where we could fill up for the local price. The only condition was that Coen had to hand over his international driver’s license of which the number was entered in a computer. So that may be a trick to try: registration according to your international driver’s license.

Tiwanaku (Mar ’13). Impossible to get diesel. We tried all gas stations between Tiwanaku and El Alto but couldn’t get diesel anywhere (regular tank nor jerry cans).

La Paz (Mar ’13). Thus far we found one: The petrol station north (east) of La Paz when coming from Coroico, just before the toll gate (tranca) of Urujara on your left side. We could only fill up our regular tank and paid 5 bolivianos per liter diesel (GPS waypoint: -16.42889, -68.07104).

Of course we’d love to hear your stories and creative solutions on the subject. Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Other practical topics on Bolivia: Money Matters, our Travel Budget, Documents (visa & car papers), Workshops.

For more on Bolivia, check out these articles:

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

11 thoughts on “Gas Stations & Fuel in Bolivia

  1. Sou brasileiro,moro na Bolivia e a informaçao que tenho é que nos postos de abastecimentos junto das fronteiras o combustivel custa o dobro do preço marcado para tentar evitar o contrabando,nos postos no interior do país os preços sao os marcados na bomba.
    O combustivel na Bolivia é subsidiado pelo governo e este é o motivo de ser tao barato,existe carencia de oferta em muitos lugares por isso se recomenda usar galoes extras para viagens!!

    • I heard that you would have to have a special permit to carry fuel in drums? Is that so? We also saw a sign that if you carried more than 120 liters of fuel in drums that you could go to jail. Contradicting this is all the Land Cruisers in Uyuni with loads of gasoline on the roof.

  2. Couldn’t get any gas today from the border at Copacobana to La Paz. and I stopped at ALL OF THE GAS STATIONS. They all claimed no reciepts, (and one no electricity for the pumps: legit) and any offer of tips or a middle price (or ANY price) was met with “no” and a point to the cameras. Things are getting worse…

  3. we traveled through bolivia in early 2013, when the new system started.. a good option we found was to buy diesel at the small groceries stores on the side of the road. Sometimes they have a sign sometimes not, so it is worth asking for it. apparently they get paid in diesel by the truck drivers and resell it.

  4. Hi Karin and Coen,
    I’m moving from Brazil to Ecuador within 2 months and will do it on a roadtrip to be able to take my car with me. Me and my husband first thought about making the route from Sao Paulo where we live to Foz do Iguacu, North west Argentina to Chile and from there all the way up to Ecuador by the coast of Chile and Peru entering by Macara border to EC. After reading about the corruption in Argentina we decided to go through Bolivia, Sao Paulo – Corumba – San Jose de Chiquitos – Santa Cruz – Sucre – Uyuni – San Pedro de Atacama – Arica – La Paz – Puno – Nazca – Lima – Trujillo – Piura – Loja – Cuenca and finally Quito.
    I have 2 concerns: 1. Fuel in Bolivia 2. Will my small car make it?
    1. About the fuel, we will need gas, do you think we could have troubles on finding gas on the way I described?
    2. Our car is a Chevrolet Onix, I think we won’t have problems but going from Sucre to San Pedro de Atacama through Uyuni, do you think a 4×4 is mandatory? Or it is only to go to the salar? I would really appreciate your advice and any additional tips you could share. Your posts are certainly a rich source of info!

    • Hello Karina, what a great trip you have in front of you! Great you’ll love it. About your concerns: 1. Gas – I think your talking about gasoline, right? Not natural gas. I have now idea what your fuel range is on a full tank? But most cars in Bolivia are gasoline cars and when push comes to shove, I think you could get some locals to sell you a bit of fuel to hold out. To play it safe, it wouldn’t hurt to get a 5 or 10 liter dedicated fuel canister. 2. Sucre to Uyuni—depending on the weather—should be okay, albeit a bit of adventure now and then. But do remember that things change rapidly due to weather and or road maintanence. The Salar itself shouldn’t be a problem with your car from Uyuni. Just make sure to mark the entrys and exits on a gps and don’t take any short cuts. Then on the Salar just follow the existing tracks. I would advise to loop back to Uyuni and get a good wash underneath afterwards. But Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama (the route south of Uyuni through the Sud Lipez region) would be a bit too adventurous for the low clearance vehicle. You could risk it if there would be a bigger 4×4 vehicle with you and you will take some towing rope with you. I would advice you to drive from Uyuni to Tarija and then cross over to Salta in Argentina (you don’t want to miss this little gem) and then cross over to Chili via the Passo de Jama (spectacular) to San Pedro de Atacama. Note that these high altitude passes your car will loose some power, but not as many as our non turbo diesel.
      It is best to stock up on water and food all the time, just to be prepared. All the best. Adventurous greetings,
      Coen

      • Hi Coen,

        Thanks a lot for your reply. Yes, I’m refering to Gasoline. Brazilian cars are Motor Flex (I’m sure you know this), they work either with gasoline or hydrous ethanol (85% v/v aprox).
        Is an injection engine offering 77 HP. I’m sure you also know this better than me, but this kind of engines requires extra compression since they work with any mix of ethanol/gasoline by adecuating the time of compression to assure the correct exposition of the fuel to oxygen in the cameras. I read about low quality of gasoline in Bolivia, something around 85 octanes?, I have an array of aditive options here in Brazil to take with me to keep the injection system clean but not sure if mixing the aditives with Bolivian gasoline will bring me extra problems instead of benefits. What do you think? I am certainly taking “bidones” of 20 liters with me (2 units), my car has a 50 liters tank and an autonomy of 600 km aproximatelly. So, my 2 bidones will give me almost a full tank.
        I’m also thinking on taking 2 complete kits of fluids for the machine (engine oil, cooling, brakes), 1 oil filter and 1 fuel filter. Any additional I’m missing? I’m also getting brand new tires and spare. (in my case I’m the engineer of the couple so will take care of the car, LOL =P).

        Thank you again for all your support!

        Cheers from Brazil!

        Karina

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