13 THINGS TO DO IN LA PAZ
A guide to ease you into the crazy city
The most accurate summary of La Paz I can offer? Crazy! It's as enigmatically enterprising as it is dirty and dusty. As charismatic as it is cramped. As surreal as it is surprising. A collection of contradictions, La Paz can be quite overwhelming for a first timer but, if you give it a chance, this is a city with a lot to offer.
Nestled on the Andes, Bolivia's administrative capital sits over 3,500 metres above sea level. The first thing visitors may notice is the altitude. It's quite common to feel the affects of altitude sickness in one way or another within your first few days in La Paz. There's no rhyme or reason as to who is affected, it's just pot luck.
There are some measures you can take to limit your suffered get though -
- Avoid alcohol
- Drink lots of water
- Move slowly and don't overexert yourself
- Drink coca tea or chew leaves
For many of us visiting La Paz is a once in a lifetime deal so you'll want to milk it for all its worth. Here are our 13 top picks to see and do.
♥ Ride the cable car (Mi Teleferico)
The city is home to the world's highest cable car system and this is the perfect way to be introduced to La Paz in all it's glory. Not a tourist attraction, this is actually used by most of the citizens for their commute and at 3 BOB (£0.35) is an absolute bargain. Don't get suckered into paying for a cable car tour, just head to the station and buy a ticket like everyone else. Only once you see the city from above will you realise the sheer awesomeness of where you are.
♥ Witches' Market (El Mercado de las Brujas)
If you're like me and you've always wanted a dried out llama fetus or a shrunken baby alpaca then head on down to the witches market. This fascinating market is located in Cerro Cumbre and offers a great selection on hand-crafted souvenirs, both interesting and obscure, at fairly low prices. It's a crazy part of town with some pretty cool colourful street art. Make sure to count your change.
♥ Cycle "Death Road"
Many an adrenaline junkie has been drawn to La Paz to take on the infamous death road. The world's most dangerous road acquired it's name and reputation due to it's narrow winding bends with no barriers separating motorists from the ground 600+ metres below. There are many tour operators offering excursions down death road and prices range from 350 BOB (£39) to 900 BOB (£100). Just remember you get what you pay for.
♥ Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna)
Over the years erosion has taken it's toll on this clay mountain. What has been left behind is a maze of tall spires and deep canyons. Named after it's resemblance to the surface of the moon this is a great spot to wonder around for a few hours and snap some pics. Admission is 15 BOB (£1.70).
♥ Cholita Wrestling
Historically the term 'Cholita' was a derogatory term used towards lower class indigenous women. These women wear traditional clothing and proceed to put on a show that would give the old school WWF a run for its money. Be prepared as the fights quite frequently spill out of the ring and into various corners of the stadium. Catch the show on Thursdays and Sundays in El Alto. 50 BOB (£5.50)
♥ Visit Lake Titicaca
Located a few hours outside the city is the world's highest navigable lake. A scene of utter beauty and tranquility, most visitors end up spending a night or two. There are lots of activities to do including hiking, boat tours and checking out the inca ruins. Watching the sunset from Cerro El Calvario in Copacabana was one of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed.
♥ San Pedro prison
Those of you who have heard of San Pedro prison probably know so from the book 'Marching Powder'. This book tells the true story of Thomas McFadden from England who was locked up in the prison in the 1990's. The prison was once a major tourist attraction with backpackers bribing the guards to allow them inside for tours and to sample some of Bolivia's most famous illicit export. It is supposedly no longer possible to get inside but you can still go and check it out from the outside.
A UNESCO heritage site located an hour outside of La Paz, this ancient city is thought to date back to 1,500 BC. This site offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the one of the most significant civilisations to precede the Inca empire. This is a must for anybody with an interest in the cultural history of Bolivia.
♥ Get lost in the streets
The first thing we do when we arrive somewhere new is to grab our camera and just wonder aimlessly around the streets. No agenda, no timeframe and no destination. You will discover the most interesting and authentic elements of the city when you just follow your sense your adventure.
Let's face it, a lot of people come to La Paz to party, and why not? Beer is cheap, there a lot of other travellers and an abundance of night time venues to enjoy. Let your hair down and enjoy La Paz as backpackers have done for decades. Just remember to be respectful of the locals.
♥ San Francisco church
Slap bang in the city centre is the San Francisco church. This monument is one of the most historically important landmarks in the entire city. It took 32 years to build the first time before collapsing under heavy snowfall. Reconstruction took place over 100 years later and was restored as recently as 2005. Admission to this beautiful church is 20 BOB (£2.20).
♥ Visit El Alto
El Alto, which translate to 'the heights' is a neighbouring city which offers incredible panoramic views of La Paz. More crowded, more busy and more crazy than La Paz, El Alto gives you a more authentic taste of life in a Bolivian city. The market here is quite the experience but not for the fainthearted.
♥ Climb Mount Chacaltaya
At over 5,400 metres the views from the top of this mountain are mind-blowing. It's a tough climb but so worth it.
As mentioned earlier, La Paz may seem like a lot to handle on the surface but if you push past and give it a chance you'll be amazed by how much there is to discover. We hope you enjoy La Paz as much as we did.