One of the great joys of travel is to explore by road. Having travelled extensively throughout Bolivia, My thoughts on which tyres in Bolivia work best for travel, i’m not commenting on brand, but more on how to prepare your vehicle for travel.
You will no doubt be aware of the benefits of lowering tyre pressures for off road use. There are many articles and YouTube videos offering advice on the best pressures for off roading, rock crawling, mud or river crossings. All good advice but not specific to Bolivia, hence my blog.
When preparing your vehicle and tyres in Bolivia, I would recommend several things:
- You will need a compressor. No doubt about it. Bolivia is 5 times the size of the UK and has a variety of road surfaces. Some good and some terrible. Nearly all main cities can be accessed by paved roads. So, if traveling just between cities, just use standard tyres – whatever you have got. Go with a pressure of about 30 PSI. These paved roads will have sections that are bad and have pot holes and when you hit them, especially at night, you are better off with slightly lower pressures than normal. There are also many unfinished parts of roads where for a section of a few hundred yards you might be driving on gravel. Lower is better here but not so low that you wear the tyre unnecessarily when back on tarmac.
- Moving between smaller towns you will have a mix of gravel, paved or sandy or mud roads. 24 PSI in the dry and 18 to 20 in the wet with an all-terrain tyre is fine in the main. You rarely need mud tyres for Bolivia except in the Beni in the wet.
- Large rims with low profile tyres are often fitted to 4×4 vehicles and they are not very good off road or in mud as you can’t air down easily without losing the tyre from the rim. Go for 16- or 17-inch wheels with high profile tyres that can be aired down if you don’t want to get stuck.
- Also, if you have 19-inch rims and you hit a pot hole and crack one, its really hard to replace these here as very few stores will stock them. Whereas 16 – inch wheels are the norm and can be bought easily. Also consider that steel rims if damaged can be beaten back into shape with a hammer, whereas alloys once broken – that’s it.
- In the Beni and Pando, a good all terrain tyre, aired down correctly is fine even in mud. You could go for mud tyres and it might help you out, but then you will pay for it on the paved roads throughout the rest of Bolivia with noise and lower fuel economy. (Although fuel is cheep here).
- Its my personal observation that skinny tyres are better than wide tyres in the mud as they cut through to firmer ground better than wide ones which tend to stay on the surface spinning for longer. All the local mini busses ( Noah’s) use skinny tyres for this reason and get stuck less often than the 4×4 pickups with ridiculously wide tyres. Also remember that suspension lifts don’t change your ground clearance. The axle will remain the same height off the ground unless you fit bigger tyres. (Bigger not wider).
- Much of Santa Cruz municipality is sand. A Standard tyre can do quite well here as sand compacts under the wheel and I personally find that aggressive tyres with big treads tend to dig more and it is sometimes worse than a smoother tyre with a low pressure.
- Airing up and down is time consuming. For me, I need 10 mins to air down as I never run very high pressures even on asphalt. Airing up takes 28 mins. That’s a pain if the road surface is constantly changing.
- There are sections especially in the Beni where you will need to cross a mud bridge and very wet and slippery banks to get on an off the river ferries, then there might be a gravel section followed by a 2 hour of newly paved section then back to gravel and mud which can be horrendous when wet.
- That’s a lot of airing up and down. Furthermore, it’s hard to know how long each section will be. It’s annoying to drop pressures down to 20 PSI for a 20 min mud patch followed by a lovely paved road. Here I would run 20 psi and only air up to 25 for the paved bit is going to be more than 1 hour.
- Crossing rivers. I personally don’t air down any further for most river crossings. Generally, the river bottom surface will be similar to the surrounding terrain. Walk the river if you can. If its too fast to walk across, I would say its too fast to drive across also. Remember that if you reduce tyre pressures you also reduce ground clearance and it may be more important to have the clearance than traction especially if there are rocks. You might decide to air down if the exit from the river looks complicated and may require more traction. Don’t be afraid to dig. Road building is part of river crossings and many a time I have waded across the river to improve the exit before bringing the vehicle across.
Finally, a note on “Maxtrax” or recovery boards. I personally like them. I don’t think that you need a winch in Bolivia unless you are specifically seeking an off-road adventure. For touring, an all-terrain tyre at the proper pressures will get you though 80% of all situations, Recovery boards will help with a further 15% and every now and then you might need a second vehicle to recover you. Have recovery straps in your vehicle and make sure you have a proper recovery point. Not a tie down point or as many Bolivians use, the rear leaf springs or tow hitches as recovery points. Definitely don’t do that. Its asking for trouble.
People in Bolivia will stop and help if you are stuck, but be aware that they might be fearful of being robbed in remote areas and many will pass by for this reason.
If you choose to travel with vAMMos, we have all the gear and the knowledge to get you safely and comfortably through Bolivia. The journey is part of the adventure and being prepared is a big part of what we do. We always carry extra food and water, comprehensive first aid kits and up to date medical knowledge. We can air up or down our tyres. We run great tyres with good treads. We have a working spare and puncture repair sets. Maxtrax recovery boards, radios, survival bags, recovery snatch straps and most important of all, the experience to give you all the excitement of the adventure in the safest possible way.