Lies, damned lies and roadblocks.
Roadblocks, or bloqueos in Spanish, are a regular part of life in Bolivia.
And the short answer is, no, they’re generally not dangerous–they post more of a nuisance and inconvenience than a real threat to your personal safety.
But they can happen anywhere, including in and around the town of Uyuni.
Why Does Bolivia Have So Many Roadblocks?
Bolivia is one of South America’s poorer countries, suffering from one of the world’s highest levels of rural poverty.
Considering the social and economic inequality that can exist between different populations in Bolivia, there can be a severe lack of representation for groups on the poorer end of the spectrum.
They don’t exactly have a lot of bargaining power in a traditional social-economic sense.
The one upside that they do have, is the rugged terrain of Bolivia and relatively under-developed national road system. Many cities in Bolivia only have one road to and from the next city–closing or otherwise blocking those roads can seriously disrupt Bolivia’s transit, trade, and more.
For this reason, blocking the roads in Bolivia has become the premier way to resolve conflicts or otherwise demand that someone comes to the bargaining table.
And fun fact, many Bolivians will tell you that their current President, Evo Morales, started the trend of blocking the roads when he was General Secretary of the Cocalero (Coca leaf grower’s) Union.
Are Roadblocks Dangerous?
Generally, no, they are not dangerous.
Keep in mind the intent of the roadblock, as detailed above–to bring a social or other concern to light, and pressure local government or others to come to the bargaining table.
For this reason, most roadblocks are peaceful–with the important caveat that the roadblock is respected, and that you nor nobody else try to breach and bypass the roadblock by car.
In fact, quite often you can walk across roadblocks quite safely, its cars and other automobiles that will upset organizers of a roadblock.
Do be very careful about taking pictures of blockades, or the people at them–Bolivians are already very camera-shy, they won’t like having their photos taken at a blockade.
What Does a Roadblock Look Like?
Roadblocks can take various shapes and forms–the only limits are your imagination!
A roadblock, in its simplest form, can be some rocks and some trees dragged into the road.
A more sophisticated example would be a coordinated effort by city transportation syndicates to park two vans in every major intersection of a city.
It can be on a local/neighborhood scale, delaying commutes by a few minutes as drivers have to take detours, to a national one–with several major highways throughout the country being strategically blocked.
Sometimes blockades can target the 2-3 roads leading out of a city, or the 2-3 roads of a city can be coincidentally all blocked by different bloqueos.
And finally, true story, you can buy a flight between cities because the roads are blocked, only to arrive and have the road to the city from the airport also be blocked.
And if you haven’t picked up on my hints by now, bloqueos are almost always unpredictable.
How Can I Find Out If There is a Roadblock?
If there is a roadblock, bus companies won’t be selling tickets for destinations that use that road, so that’s an easy way to find out if there is a current roadblock.
Sometimes local buses, trufis, or minibuses will be willing to take you as far as the roadblock, but this is uncommon and not recommended. Plus, it’s hard to find good transportation on the other side, and you may have to walk several kilometers.
Local news will also report on roadblocks. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they’ll advise you a day or two in advance of an upcoming roadblock, or of the threat of an upcoming roadblock.
Here are a few that you can keep an eye on:
- La Paz: La Razón
- Santa Cruz: El Deber
- Cochabamba: Los Tiempos
- Sucre: Correo del Sur
- Potosí: El Potosí
The Bolivian Government has a very handy website with a map reporting on road accessibility as well. This isn’t just limited to roadblocks and includes road inaccessibility due to landslides and other elements.
To see roadblocks, look for the light blue points–yes, they’ve got an entire class of alerts just for roadblocks! At the time of this writing, there were three blockades registered on the map.
Again, embassies also typically send an email for major roadblocks, and will often try to keep travelers and foreign residents informed to the best of their ability.
Help! A Roadblock is Interrupting my Trip! What Can I Do?
Sorry to hear it–there’s not much that you can do, really.
This is one of the main reasons that one of our most important tips for visiting Uyuni (and Bolivia) is to be flexible.
For more tips and tricks, check out the full article here.