La Paz Bolivia
South America, Story, Travel

Pickpocketed in La Paz Bolivia

Creative Commons via Neil Graver on Flickr

Being in La Paz during Carnaval time was a bit overwhelming. The markets are packed to the brim with people trying to buy clown masks, foam, tiaras, and whatever costume they were planning on donning to the festivities.

Unfortunately for us, the main market was on the same street as the tour company that we were booking our Amazon trip which required us to bring a crap ton of cash with us along with our passports to book our plane tickets to Rurrenabaque.

Shaun has always thought he was immune to being pickpocketed. Surely they wouldn’t get through zippers or buttons on pants. That would require so much effort he was sure he would notice.

Attention aux PickPockets
Creative Commons via dullhunk on flickr

I thought that most people would want to avoid us since we’re tattooed and pierced. Instead Shaun stood out like a Gringo beacon of light in the massive crowd of Bolivians in the market.

3 or 4 people squeezed between Shaun and I on our way to the tour company.

And then it happened.

An arm came out from behind Shaun and mud was thrown on his shoulder.

This cannot be happening to us. I know the telltale signs of distractions.

Shaun’s right hand brushed off his left shoulder.

I panicked.

“SHAUN! Watch your sh*t! Watch your sh*t!”

I screamed it over and over again but it wasn’t getting the reaction I was hoping for.

Nothing else could come out. No, “Shaun you’re being pickpocketed!” or “Or hey man, I know what you’re doing!” but just “Watch your sh*t!”?

“I have my hand on my wallet!” Shaun screams back at me.

But it was too late.

“Mister! Mister!” an older Bolivian lady shouts to our friend Travis as she is holding up 2 American passports in her hand.

The culprit had bypassed Shaun’s wallet (that had a couple of hundred dollars for our tour) in his back pocket and gone for the gold in Shaun’s jacket pocket – supposedly protected by a zipper. In the distraction he had unzipped the pocket and taken out our passports. Obviously not what they were intending to get, they hastily threw them on the floor as several people stomped on them as the hoard was moving towards their goods.

We were saved by a good Samaritan for sure.

We walked home embarrassed. We had gone 10 months without an incident like this and it all happened in a flash. We thought we were seasoned travelers, immune to most. In an instant, every bit of comfort was taken away.

Did we hate La Paz? No.

Did we let ourselves down? Totally.

Beers in hand we hurriedly made it back to the hostel to give a bit of comfort.

Have you been pickpocketed before? What do you do to prevent it?

41 thoughts on “Pickpocketed in La Paz Bolivia”

  1. Madrid, our first location once we left the states, we were at a gay pride type festival and the guys got batteries from our camera and a change purse without much in it, iirc. We had been pushing through a crowd, one guy had his hand on my ribs pushin on one side while a much smaller guy I was unaware was between us worked our camera bag. I caught them an confronted them briefly, then walked around the rest of the night feeling stupid and getting more and more furious.

    It could have been worse though, and it taught me I am not immune to it:P

    1. @Drew: I damn near grabbed the guy that was pickpocketing Shaun but I wasn’t sure that would end in my favor. I was so angry… at both Shaun and the pickpocketer but in the end it is best to realize that shit happens.

  2. Holy shit.. that’s crazy! Thank goodness the lady picked up your passports. Crisis diverted. I’m always paranoid of crowded places like open markets when traveling. A little too much. I’m always bugging Gerard every 5 seconds if he still has his wallets. Lol. Fortunately, we haven’t been pickpocketed but know a few who have and it’s terrible. The $ can be replace but when it’s your ID or passport, that’s just awful. Glad you guys came out alright.

    1. @Kieu: RIGHT?! I usually do bother Shaun about holding on to his wallet when we are in situations like this but they got us in that down time. Seriously though, I understand the wallet chains for functionality.

  3. When I travel I have a physical lock on backpack that goes through the 2 zippers. It’s not heavy duty but there is no physical way to get in there without a lot of effort. I normally keep everything buy my camera / wallet in the backpack because I rarely need them on a day to day basis.


    1. @Kevin: We normally don’t walk around with them but they were needed for our tour reservations. Seriously bad timing on our behalf.

  4. lost a half a pound of change to a pick-pocket once, on the metro in Quito. didn’t even notice.

    as for prevention, I don’t put shit in my pockets anymore 🙂

  5. That sucks! It could totally happen to anyone; I thought La Paz was crowded when we were there and it wasn’t even Carnaval. John always keeps his wallet zipped or buttoned up and feels that’s safe but you don’t find out until that’s tested. Sorry to hear that it happened, guys but I’m glad that if an incident was going to happen it was something more minor like this.

  6. I always have my important sh*t where it’s hard to get, under my pants and near my crotch. I only carry a small fake/purse/wallet to carry what I need for the day/afternoon. (a few dollars). If that gets snatched, atleast it’s not my passport, ATMcards, ID etcetc. Thanks for the post, we’ll be eXtra carefull in S.America when there’s crowds!

  7. It hasn’t happened to me but it could anywhere at any time 🙁 So glad you two are save and were able to recover the passports. I would have been shaken up as well!

    1. @Andi: THOUSANDS of dollars?! Good lord. We’ve had so many close calls. I think the value has been maybe a thousand… but still. WOW LADY!

  8. Ha ha ha it’s the standard Bolivian trick! Only two times anyone ever tried to pickpocket me were in Bolivia – once in La Paz, once in Cochabamba. Both times all they got were my flailing knees and elbows. Being tall and boney is pretty handy.

    1. @Philip: I’ve known the trick but for some reason I never thought I’d actually see it. The guy nearly got the wrath of Erica (and yes, I’m sure being bony does help!). 😛

  9. It’s good nothing harmful came from this experience. Once in Brazil, I saw an unfamiliar hand delve into my friends purse, I snatched the hand as fast as I could, I think the culprit was more shocked than we. He ran away, fast.

  10. Good to hear that the story had at least a good ending. Nothing got stolen!! But I can imagine the shock… I have had my wallet stolen in Rome and on Ibiza. In Rome I got it back by another samaritan and on Ibiza it was gone. Funny that I have travelled so far already but those things only happened to my in Europe… 🙂

    1. @Kristina: So many people have gone through the pickpocket experience. It is crazy! I’m hoping these situations stay in South America and we can move on with our lives elsewhere.

  11. So you got your passports back? If so, very lucky! Thieves probably didn’t know what to do with them, but surely they’d be worth more than the cash you had on hand if they did.

    1. @Dave: We were just as confused as you were in regards to the passports. If you could dump them, they are worth a small fortune for sure.

  12. Ugh that is scary! I was with my mother when she was pickpocketed in Torquay, England (not even for being a tourist, she’s English!) – so stressful and YES, you need a beer after!

  13. This really sucks and I’m sorry to hear that! La Paz can be very sketchy and when they are targeted you as a group you have no chance!

    Well, as we always say it could have come worse.

    We just got conned here in Sri Lanka. We never thought something like this could happen to us and felt very embarrassed. But stuff like this happens even if you are guarding against it.

    Good thing for us, our Con Artist didn’t through his act very well. We could it cold handed, we know where he lives, met his mother an all. Working right now on getting our money back,

  14. I’m so glad this didn’t turn out even worse. I can’t imagine how scary it must’ve been to have your passports missing for even a second. Glad you’re ok!

  15. Wow, narrow escape, so pleased you guys didn’t lose anything. I’ve never been pick pocketed, but I’m sure there’s going to be a first time 🙁

  16. I’m really glad it all turned out ok! I think we can all get a little complacent after a while when we feel like we know what we’re doing, and it sounds like in a way this was a good thing if it got your guard back up without you losing anything in the process. I hope that lady gets some seriously good karma for helping you with the passports.

  17. Yeah was having a quiet drink in a quiet bar in Chiang Mai with a Thai friend when a black girl came over talking to us… as she left my friend said to check my pocket.. and yeah she had taken my wallet! chased after her..there were 3 girls and 2 white guys and yeah after a row i got it back!!!!

  18. I’m thinking about 4 rules to avoid being pickpocketed,I hope this maybe help someone

    1_Keep wallet,passport,phone (not in the same pocket) in double entries pockets Zippers+Button
    2_Use a small dummy wallet
    3_Be aware of any unusual distraction in any place,sometime it’s 3 pickpocket of any age or gender (example 2 old ladies+runner)who are working together to distract you,keep an eye at your belonging !
    4_Upgrade any piece of small gear (belt,pouch,camera bag…) with pacsafe or similar brand ma

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