This article is part of our Internet and Phone Report series.
General availability: Medium
Quality of bandwidth: Low
Frequency of internet in campgrounds: Medium
Frequency of internet in hotels: Medium-High
We spent four weeks in Bolivia and visited the following areas: Copacabana, Sorata, Coroico, La Paz, Oruru, Potosi, Sucre, Uyuni, the Salar, the Southwest circuit. We did not visit the Amazon or Santa Cruz.
Internet availability is average. Most hostels have wifi and there will certainly be a café in every town. Campsites will never have it, unless they are associated with a hotel or hostel.
Internet in Uyuni is painful at best, and there is no such thing as wifi. Forget about using your own computer. Most cafes in town run on USB modems from Entel.
Connectivity sucks. End of story. Connections drop, electricity goes out, routers explode. Constantly. Don't count on it working for at least half the day, and you may be slightly less disappointed.
Bandwidth is painful. Most places it was dial-up slow. Not even 56k dial-up, but more like 14.4k dial-up. The worst part is that in some places the connection will be amazingly fast, and you'll think, "Finally good internet". Then you'll go get a cup of coffee and come back and BLAM back to 1996. And for the next painful 8 hours you'll sit there hitting the refresh button wondering why they had to taunt you with those five minutes of speed. The internet gods hate Bolivia.
Skype on any type of schedule is out of the question. Downloads over 100mb will take hours. Internet cafes that will let you hardwire your laptop are the best options, but they aren't easy to find, especially outside of major cities.
The only saving grace of internet in Bolivia is that you can setup an unlocked modem. It takes a bit of patience and a Tigo salesperson that isn't an idiot, but you can do it. We found a small Tigo shop on the market corner in Copacabana and the nice guy quoted us Bs244 (US$35) for a prepaid Tigo modem without any free time. Having just been raped with US$320 in visa fees, we decided to try our luck with our unlocked modem. The store owner said he thought setting up an unlocked modem was possible. We returned with our modem and laptop to make sure we could test it out.
The key to setting up an unlocked modem is to activate the SIM card for use with a modem. You have to call Tigo to do this. Thankfully the nice guy called for us. It took a while because he needed the IMEA number off our modem and spent quite a while on hold. After activation, he recharged the card with Bs150 and we used the modem to send a text and sign up for a one month basic package (good for 30 days and 2 GB of data). More data rates here http://www.tigo.com.bo/seccion/internet-movil-tigo/191 We setup a new connection profile through our modem and could connect without trouble. Settings as follows:
Dial number: *99#
Despite sounding straightforward, for some reason this process took nearly 2 hours. Oh well, it did save us the cost of another prepaid modem.
Connectivity with the modem was lousy compared to the rest of South America. Except for La Paz and Sucre, we were on Edge networks. The connection in smaller towns like Sorata and Coroico was unbearable, always less than a few kbps. While it was better than nothing, don't rely on it for important situations, you will be disappointed.
Note: We did discover that Entel seemed to be a more common provider, especially in podunk places like Uyuni. They may be a better choice for coverage.
SIM cards for Tigo are Bs10 but come with a Bs10 balance. Calling the US is a ridiculous, around Bs4 (US$.58) per minute. Calls are cheaper with Viva, but coverage is worse. We were told there were paquetes for both Tigo and Viva but couldn't sort out how to set them up without calling customer service or sitting in a Tigo office for another two hours.
Internet connections are crap. If you get a good one, count your blessings because it's likely not going to last long. Use a modem as a backup, but don't count on 3G signal outside of big city centers.