You’ll love and hate La Paz, where all the cultural diversity of Bolivia collides. A mad, bustling carnival of a city.
In The Andes some 3,600m above sea level. The highest administrative capital in the world. It stretches to the snow-capped El Alto in the highlands at 6,400m above sea level. The city’s dramatic setting can be taken in via the cable car system.
If you’ve read my Sucre post you’ll know La Paz is the de facto capital of Bolivia. Despite being home to Bolivia’s Government buildings and its financial centre, its not actually the country’s capital. Thats distinction goes to Sucre. Santa Cruz is the only place with a bigger population than la Paz.
From Uyuni we took an overnight bus to La Paz. This experience of the nightbus was less enjoyable than my last one. I was upstairs and seemed to feel every turn and the road surfaces are bumpy so I didn’t get a lot of sleep. Fortunately blankets were provided as it was fold but definitely have layers, for the sleep I did get I had my coat on! I was also sat on the left hand side by the window and everyone on that side got a nice drip of air conditioning on them throughout the journey! Happy Days!
We stayed in Hotel Las Brisas in the chaotic downtown area, not far from The Witches Market. There are ATM’s and a pharmacy next door.
Arriving off the nightbus our rooms weren’t ready yet so we headed out for breakfast. I highly recommend Cafe del Mundo. Great breakfasts and a good choice for dinner or a cake later in the day. They had loads of choices for breakfast including vegan options and it was very reasonably priced. Great for breakfast, brunch or more! The owners are Swedish and love travel. All the staff speak English.
La Paz has the biggest cable car network in world. It’s used as public transport and is the most logical method to improve public transport given the height and peaks of the city.
There are 10 different lines. The Red line was the first one introduced in 2014. It’s a great city and this is the easiest way to get out and about and see the city. And it’s very inexpensive at around 3 Bolivianos per line. It’s also clean, safe and well staffed. It’s easy to use the mountains as a reference point so you won’t get lost too easily!
When the cable cars were introduced people initially complained about the lack of privacy. You can see why as you can see straight onto some people’s roof terraces and directly into some people’s apartments from the cable cars. Though I think most would now agree it’s a positive addition to the city.
The Red and orange line start from The Old Central train station, near where we stayed. Bear in mind a short walk in La Paz is hard work! It seems to feel like you are always waking uphill! Obviously you aren’t but between that and the altitude it can be hard work until you’re acclimatised!
The cables allows you to see the diversity of the city. It’s so different in each area. Some people have started to put advertising on their rooftops as people see it from cable cars.
You can see the social project, a poor area where the buildings are now brightly coloured to try and create more positivity. It looks impressive from the cable or you can head there to wander round and take photos.
From the silver line you can see a different part of the city, over the huge market. Usually there Thursdays and Sunday’s. Apparently it sells everything, it looked huge. It’s good for hiking clothes, the branded ones often aren’t genuine but are good quality.
You’ll see some little houses famed for sourcery and fortune telling too.
From the Yellow line you’ll see a lot of the embassies and plenty of stadiums with kids playing football.
The green line you’ll pass a wealthy area with some of the more expensive schools and extravagant homes. There’s also a good mall you can stop at.
We headed back on Green and then blue, for another walk back to our hotel. I think this while trip cost me 9 Bolivianos, and we’d used half the lines.
Things to do
There are numerous trips you can do from La Paz, as well as some key sites in the city itself.
Lake Titicaca, though this one is a long day. You can visit the Sun and moon gate, or Valley of the Moon. Easy to research if your interested and easy to book locally once you’re in La Paz.
The famous Witches market is worth a wander too. La Paz is full of markets that are crazy and disjointed, colourful and noisy, mad and stinky, and remarkable. You can spend hours wandering around and buy almost anything imaginable. Food, sorcery, clothes, flowers, even your stolen camera!
There is also the Church of San Francisco and numerous museums.
For something a bit different, you can try Cholita wrestling! Cholitas are riding a wave of resurgence at the moment. They were once seen as ‘maids’, stereotyped and discriminated against, and have seen a return to having clout in the economic, political and fashion worlds.
Cholitas have a very distinctive style with high bowler hats, puffed skirts and plaited hair. For generations they were not permitted to walk freely in La Paz’s central square, home to the presidential palace. Nor in the wealthy suburbs of the city. In 2005 the first indigenous president of Bolivia was elected. On the back of a gradual rise of grassroots movements lead mainly by peasants. The country has continued to transform since then and credit is due to Evo Morales for the ongoing transformation.
Poverty and inequality remain but Bolivia’s economy is growing. In recent years the Cholitas have shown there fortitude by battling in the wrestling ring. Usually on Sundays.
It cost 100 bob and includes a drink, some popcorn and a small souvenir. As well as transport to the venue in El Alto, on the edge of La Paz and high up in the mountains. It’s very cold – wear a lot of layers!
The wrestling is choreographed and is very amusing! The wrestlers are aged between 15 – 40.
Is another famous option for a day out cycling on the most dangerous road in the world. But that’s another story – more details to follow in my next post!
There was an English pub next to out hotel, normally I wouldn’t be interested but the food was great. Plentiful and good value. It’s also a lot of fun, they do Happy hour drinks, and we did a few shots, some on the house! I tried Golden Tequila with cinnamon and orange, much nicer than your standard tequila!
Carrot cafe is upstairs near the Witches market. It has a good view and WiFi. The food is nice and they have vegan options.
Cafe Del Mundo I’ve already mentioned, great free WiFi connection here!
I didn’t maange to eat there but Higher ground restaurant was also recommended to me. Its a popular Bolivian restaurant, serving great coffee and breakfast, its vibrant and eclectic and serves South American food all day.
The Practical Stuff
La Paz is not known as one of the safest cities, but like most cities in South America just be careful. Be mindful of pickpockets and just take out the money you need for that day.
There is a lots of contraband in Bolivia, electronics, drugs, cars. Selling coca leaves is an important job and requires a licence.
La Paz is cold! It has very high elevation so even though it’s close to the equator temperatures are cool. Check the average temperatures for the time of year before you go and take layers! And sunglasses!
In terms of what to wear Bolivia is a tough travel destination with a climate that can swing from very hot to very cold. For La Paz you definitely need warmth and layers. Practical and hard wearing sturdy shoes and a rain jacket no matter what time of year you go.
Give yourself time to acclimatize to the altitude. Take it slowly to start. You can pick up altitude locally in the pharmacy. I used Sorojchi pills – a red and white capsule. A little Spanish goes a long way. Allow time for delays.
Currency is Boliviano and its about 10 Boliviano’s to the Pound. Everything is cheap in Bolivia so your money will go a long way.
As usual I recommend a Starling Bank Card. Great rates and no fees for using and withdrawing abroad. https://www.starlingbank.com/
In restaurants tips are not usually included. Add 10-15%. Tips aren’t expected in taxi’s, but round up. Tip tour guides 10 – 20%.
Final installment of my South American trip to follow – Death Road!