La Paz is the capital city of Bolivia and claims to be the highest capital in the world with an average altitude of 3660m, 12000ft.
I recently went to La Paz, whilst on a trip to Lake Titicaca, located approximately 5 hours away, depending on what route you take of course. In La Paz and the rest of Bolivia the currency they use is called Bolivianos. I worked out that at the time of writing this, each 10 Bolivianos (Bs) is worth approximately 95p!
One thing I really liked about La Paz was the markets and not to mention that they were really cheap. For example, below is a list of few things I bought and the prices.
Lipgloss, nail varnish & falsh eyelashes - 20 Bs.. just under £2.00
Pair of jeans - 55 Bs.. about £5.00! (amazing)
Sunglasses - 25 Bs.. about £2.50
In hindsight, I wish I had changed more Bolivianos or I may just have to go back to get some more cheap jeans!
There are many tourism sights to see and do in La Paz to include visiting San Francisco Church, Plaza Murillo, Valley of the Moon, Killi Killi Tower, the Cathedral, shop at the many markets and visit the museums.
Some of the favourite places I visited were:
Valley of the Moon
I thought this place was absolutely amazing. Its structures make of eroded pale rock has similarities of what you would expect of the moon, probably hence the moon. This canyon or gorge like site makes a absolutely fantasic place for taking pictures and if you want for simply relazing. It was 15 Bs for the entrance ticket, which I think is an absolute bargain for what you get.
This market was said to be quite dangerous, but as someone who always makes sure my belongings stay as my belongings, I didnt feel too threatened here. Here they sell items, such as clothes, household goods, electrics and shoes. Here is where I bought my bargain jeans, so I definitely like this place and would recommend you visit, if you ever end up in La Paz.
Killi Killi Tower
At Killi Killi Tower, located above the city gives you a fabulous view of the whole of La Paz. Here you get to see the different elevation levels of the city and some of its elegant buildings. A great place to take photos and breath in the fresh air.
Something I noticed more than in any other place I have been is that they like to jack up the price by ALOT when they see tourists. A few examples..When we first got off our mini bus in this city, we were asking directions for our hotel and a kind local man told us we would need to get a taxi but also said, it wont cost you any more than 3 Bs. We got a taxi and was charged 8 Bs. We stopped for some jelly and cream at a stall and asked how much it was. We were told 2 Bs.. not bad. Then we heard one woman asking her friend (the jelly and cream vendor).. how much she charged us and then a little giggle at the end. I mean I dont mind that they kinda ripped us off because at the end of the day, everything was still very cheap for us. I guess they thought well we can rip tourists off so why not.
Overall I really enjoyed La Paz and would certainly go there again... especially for jeans and shopping! Alot of the construction of the buildings are magnificent to look at and I didnt realise there was so much history, until I visited some museums.
A great city.
A FEW FACTS:
La Paz is the capital of Bolivia which is a land locked country next to Peru in South America. It is one of the poorest South American countries but this I no way detracts from its charm as a country to visit.
Strangely in La Paz the wealthier you are the closer to the bottom of the valley in La Paz is where you live. The poorer people live higher up the mountain sides and so get the best views, I'm not sure why this is whether they were closer to the river initially or what but I found it quite odd.
You can fly in to La Paz airport in El Alto which is where we flew out from. They have flights from several South American countries. I'm not sure if you can fly direct from Europe, you may have to go via the USA.
We had come by the Andean Express to Puno near Lake Titicaca and the driven over the border to Copacobana in Bolivia. We then went across Lake Titicaca to Huata Hatta where we stayed for one night.
We left on our way to La Paz from Huata Hatta via Tiwanaku (see previous reviews on these topics) hoping that the demonstration and road closures would allow us to get to our new hotel - the Radisson which was away from the main square where the people were demonstrating (This was in November 2008).
LA PAZ AT LAST:
The first view of the city of La Paz is breath taking. Quite literally as it is about 4,000m (12,008 ft) high and is the world's highest capital city I believe. It is built in the valleys surrounded by hills within a huge valley in the mountains. To get from one part to another requires driving up and down twisting roads and hairpin bends with deep drops down the sides. As we went from one side El Alto to the area of our hotel we passed a big garden cemetery which ran round a strange clay eroded mountain. It was strangely beautiful with lawns and flower gardens curling round this strange mountain. We did arrive safely and decided as we were quite exhausted that we would eat in at the hotel that night and just relax and unpack in our room until dinner.
THE RESTAURANT IN THE RADISSON HOTEL:
The restaurant of the Radisson hotel is upstairs on the 15th floor offered almost 360degree views of La Paz at night with all the lights surrounding the city in a huge circle. The windows were constructed so that the angled outwards from the floor so that your view was completely un - obscured, it was truly a wonderful sight.
The staff didn't speak a lot of English but we managed to understand enough of the menu to order our meals. The starters were huge, I had coquille St Jacques but it was rather different from the usual. It was seafood in a pastry tart but quite tasty. My husband had cerviche (raw fish 'cooked' in lemon juice) which he enjoyed. We both chose the Chateau briande as our main course and it was huge, well cooked and so tender you could cut it with a bread and butter knife but unfortunately I could only manage half of mine, a few chips and a nibble of the steamed vegetables. My husband managed a little more but even he was defeated. This, with drinks came to about £7 each which we thought was amazing. In fact we were so impressed that we ate in the restaurant again the next night and ordered the same meal but without the starters and still couldn't finish it!! The waitress even managed to organise separate bills as we ate together with some others in our group we really appreciated this and thought this was wonderful service.
The next day we had a tour of the Moon valley which is a park in a valley within the city of La Paz which is strangely eroded because it is clay rock. It gets its name as the eroded rocks look a bit like the surface of the moon or so they say. They have carved steps and made a circular path through the area so that you get a really good look at all the rock formations. They also have an odd looking rabbit with a long tail a bit like a squirrel's tail. We were lucky enough to see one perched on a rock but it didn't run off so we were not able to see the long tail. I wanted to clap my hands so that it might hop off but I wasn't allowed to by my husband. It was rather like a wild rabbit, sort of brownish in colour but larger than British wild rabbits.
THE WITCHES' MARKET:
After the Moon valley we went to the old part of La Paz to visit some of the colonial streets with balconies which were quite narrow and rather European looking. We also walked to the Witch's market where you could buy any variety of herbs, potions and strange looking objects including llama foetuses which are supposed to cure ills. I was rather concerned about these foetuses but apparently the llamas abort them and they are collected up for this purpose - I was afraid that they were encouraged to abort them. I am not sure how much they sell but it has become a must for every tourist to visit. After our experience of the witch doctor and the museum at Huata Hatta we were beginning to be able to recognise some of the bits and pieces and understood more of what this market is actually about. Following this we continued through to a more traditional market which sold alpaca wool items, bowler hats and other typically Bolivian souvenirs at incredibly low prices.
We decided that we would like to walk from here towards the main square where the demonstration was taking place as it was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration in favour of the government and more like a party. A group of four of us went down. There were people everywhere dressed in local traditional costumes, groups from different villages dressed in similar style carrying placards and playing instruments and dancing. On the steps around the square were many local people and a few foreigners watching the procession of these marchers around the square and then down one of the side streets. The president sat on a balcony overlooking the whole performance. It was chaos but in a strange sort of way quite organised. People were selling food and drinks as well as propaganda posters; some were lying at the edges of the streets sleeping or were just sitting quietly while in the square this huge throng of dancing singing people snaked its way round. The side streets around the square were also full of people but they were just milling around have marched or waiting their turn. There was no violence at all and nobody gave us a second glance. Once you were a block away from the square everything was as usual except you heard the occasional firecracker let off which made you jump.
We enjoyed La Paz and found it an amazing city. The views of the whole city valley from the view points are stunning. I don't think there is another city that can compare to the beauty of the city as a whole. In part there are obviously nicer areas in other cities and there are definitely cities that have more interesting things to see but the spectacle of the city as a whole looking from outside it truly an amazing sight.
Although Bolivia is a very poor country we found the people very pleasant and welcoming and never felt uncomfortable anywhere. We were at a high altitude for the entire time so it did make everything a bit of an effort and it certainly made me want to eat less but it did not restrict us much. La Paz is a fascinating place and the fact that the city is spread across mountains gives you the most amazing views as you enter the city and also from viewpoints within the city. It is noisy, busy, a bit grubby in places and very chaotic but it seems to work and there is always something to see that is different from ladies in bowler hats to dried llama foetuses and much in between. Food and souvenirs were very cheap, I'm not sure on the price of our hotel as were on a tour with it included - we were supposed to stay in a hotel on the main square but because of the demonstrations we were moved to the Radisson further away from the area of activity.
Thanks for reading and hope it has been of interest to you. This review reflects my experience and time in La Paz and as such does not cover all possibilities in La Paz.
It may be published on other sites under my name.
La Paz is famously located at 3660 metres above sea-level and is the highest capital city in the world (that even beats Lhasa, Tibet!). Furthermore, it's setting in a crater makes this one of the most impressive cities in the world to bus into- as you pass out of El Alto the road suddenly drops down from the altiplano and there are stunning views over the whole city as the bus winds down the side of the canyon before finally descending into the chaos and bustle of this fascinating city.
The best way to see La Paz is just to wander around the centre and explore for yourself. The markets are colourful, hectic and give a good slice of this largely indigenous city. In particular el mercado de los brujos, or the witches' market is chaotic and fascinating-you can buy anything from tourist souvenirs, fake DVDs to local charms such as a llama foetus. The market is off Saganaga calle at Linares. The second market which is definitely worth a visit is the local feria up in El Alto (the poor and indigenous part of town, technically a city in its own right). Colectivos going up to El Alto can drop you at the feria which gives a more local slice of life for regular citizens of the town. La Paz is not a particularly unsafe city but normal precautions apply and be careful at the markets for pickpockets.
The Iglesia de San Fransisco and it's plaza form the centre piece of the town and are good for people watching and watching life go on around you. The Museo San Fransisco is an interesting look at the history of the church and through it the early inhabitants of the city and its development. The second museum worth going to is the Museo del Coca which is small but informative on all things coca-both the leaf and local usage and the more dangerous derivative, cocaine.
Just outside the city is the infamous death road, or the world's most dangerous road from North Yungas to Coroico, a 64 kilometre downhill bike ride. Since the opening of the new road, the actual old road sees far less traffic and is significantly less dangerous. However, there are still occasional deaths by backpacker cyclists and it may well pay to go with a reputable company-cheap often means a lack of safety. Aside from the thrill of the bike itself the road also winds through some of the country's most impressive scenery.
A second day trip from La Paz is to Tiwanaku, a pre-Incan archaeological site and UNESCO world heritage site. Beautifully situated with mountains surrounding it, and a mere 90 minute bus ride from the city, this is well worth a day to see impressive style and architecture from an ancient civilisation.
Many people enter La Paz for the first time by bus either from lake Titicaca or destinations further south in Bolivia, and there is only one bus station within 15 minutes walking distance of the main San Fransisco square so orientation is relatively easy. There are bus connections from here to destinations across Bolivia as well as Peru, Chile and a few extremely long distance buses to Argentina.
Alternatively some tourists fly directly into El Alto International around 14 kilometres outside the city on the altiplano. Be aware if flying here that the airport is at over 4000 metres above sea level and if not arriving from altitude then it can be a punishing first breath of the city. it isn't ususual to see people white-faced and gasping in the airport. There is medical help and available if it became serious. For altitude sickness normal advice is to take it easy and not drink excessively especially in the first few days. Most people find they get out of breath much easier than normal and maybe a little headachy but are otherwise ok. If symptoms are serious then seek medical attention and descend-remember that altitude sickness can be fatal and has been as low as 3500 metres.
La Paz is occasionally dubbed the highest capital city in the world - this is partly true; lowland Sucre is Bolivia's constitutional capital, although 4,000 metre-high La Paz certainly plays the central role of the nation's cities. Its considerable altitude has hit the headlines of late after football's world governing body, FIFA, banned matches being played in the city, tired of the tendencies of Bolivia and its Andean neighbours, Ecuador and Peru, to switch home matches against the continent's big guns to high-altitude venues, handing them a distinct advantage while their opponents labour in the thin air. This caused considerable outrage amongst the Andean nations, fiercely defensive of their rarefied air, and the ban was eventually overturned after a campaign in which Bolivia's much-loved President, Evo Morales, took part in a football match staged high on a mountainside.
"Wherever you can make love, you can play sports."
Altitude, then, is a major part of visiting Bolivia. Even if you don't come down with the dreaded Soroche, the altitude sickness which decimates many visitors, you'll feel it in some form. However, equally capable of taking one's breath away is the first sight of La Paz - the effect perhaps multiplied by the distinctly underwhelming approach all visitors will make through the sprawling city of El Alto which surrounds the canyon in which La Paz lies. It's truly a stunning, slightly surreal moment when the dusty, worn-down and traffic-jammed streets of El Alto ('the high one') open up at the lip of the great bowl and clear air fills your eyeline. Look down, though, and La Paz spreads out beneath you. The most curious perspective of this lofty first impression is the tops of skyscrapers upon which you peer down; buildings which will soon tower above you from the city floor.
La Paz is a hectic, wildly busy place - it's difficult to find much serenity in a city whose frenetic energy seems unable to escape up the enclosing slopes. It is not, though, difficult to navigate around - a single street (El Prado) runs pretty much the length of the city centre, following the now largely subterranean Choqueyapu River along the valley floor. As such, if you're ever lost, simply head downhill and you'll end up back on this central thoroughfare. Another point of reference worth noting is the distribution of rich and poor relative to altitude; the poorest of all reside in El Alto above the basin, the richest live at the lowest point of the city south-west of the centre. The rest fill up the canyon walls, increasingly makeshift settlements lining the higher reaches.
La Paz isn't really a major tourist destination in its own right; there's little here one would file under "must-see". It is, though, a frequent stopping-off point for travellers heading north-south or vice-versa, or for those flying into the country, and the city makes an excellent base for a while, with good access to nearby, more attractive places. Lake Titicaca, very much a key point on the "highlights of South America" trail (insomuch as one exists) is a couple of hours away by bus, while the historically important if visually unimpressive ruins of Tiahuanaco are an hour or so to the west. The Peruvian border is also close.
If you are staying in La Paz for any amount of time (and there's good reason to do so), your time is less likely to be filled by well-known attractions than by simply exploring at leisure and absorbing the breathless pace (I'll stop with the altitude puns, really). Plaza San Francisco, with the imposing Cathedral of the same name dominating it, makes a good place to start - you'll run into it a mile or so south of the bus station on El Prado.
This could reasonably be considered the centre of the city, or at least serves the purpose well for travellers looking to get a sense of La Paz. From here, head up either Calle Sagarnaga or Santa Cruz and plunge into the network of street markets that may well provide the most enduring memories of the city - there are plenty of stalls selling relatively commonplace goods; tourist trinkets, cheap and delicious food, often quite excellent artwork - but you'll also encounter the weird and wonderful Witches' Market. Browse around here for your less standard souvenirs - fancy taking a Llama foetus home? You've plenty of choice.
The majority of the city's tour/excursion companies are also housed on this part of the hillside - shop around and have a chat with the owners to find the best deal. It's best to be both very clear about what you're paying for and relatively easy-going about what you end up getting; the "tourists' special" bus I took out of the city to Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, stopped everywhere it could along the way to fill up every spare inch of room - the seat across the aisle taken by a man with a bag of chickens on his lap.
When you've had your fill of the delights of the backstreets behind San Francisco, head back to El Prado, and take a left (up the slope), wander up to the busy intersection and turn right onto Ingavi. There are more direct routes to this street, but the view straight along here, cutting through the packed-in buildings of the city to the 6500-metre peak of Ilimani, the second-highest mountain in Bolivia, is worth the detour. Four blocks along Ingavi, the street opens up into Plaza Murillo, a beautiful, leafy square almost out of keeping with much of the rest of La Paz. The surrounding buildings are suitably attractive, too - the Government Palace especially striking. From here, the football stadium, Estadio Hernando Siles is another kilometre or so along Comercio for those interested - just outside it, Tiahuanaco Square is a recreation of the distinctive style of the nearby ruins.
To get an intriguing insight into another aspect of Bolivian culture considered close to the hearts of many of its people, the Coca Museum is on Calle Linares, just south of our starting point of Plaza San Francisco. To get there, head downhill from Plaza Murillo and jump a couple of blocks up on the other side of El Prado. The museum provides an enlightening account of Coca's many uses, both illicit and otherwise - President Morales, always a man to fight his corner, has given many an impassioned defence of the substance.
If and when you tire of the city, one day-trip which gets plenty of recommendations from those brave and/or stupid enough to try it is the mountain-bike descent of "the world's most dangerous road" (sounds tempting, huh?). Dropping a vertical kilometre or so on its way from La Paz to the town of Coroico, the track is actually a lot safer than it used to be when bikers shared with everyday traffic. The cars now take an alternative route, but an often narrow trail with a sheer drop on one side is only so safe. In truth, few if any manage to navigate off the edge, but a fair amount of injuries are sustained from falls at speed. If you fancy it (and it is talked up greatly by those who do it), Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking seem to be a well-regarded company.
La Paz, then, is not a classic tourists' destination; you probably wouldn't want to spend weeks here - it's a little too hectic for most tastes, and there isn't really that much on offer in the city itself. However, it's a good base to travel out from, and offers good transport links - something not true of everywhere in Bolivia; it can be frustratingly hard to get about at times. As an experience of a South American capital, it's a good choice, too - more enjoyable than Lima, for instance. For those spending a few days, La Paz offers more than enough - just take it easy, breath deeply and try not to get sick of the hills. And if that fails - you can finally purchase that Llama foetus Grandma's always wanted.
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One final altitude-related titbit from the sporting world; the former club doctor of lowland football team Blooming Santa Cruz recently admitted giving his players Viagra in an attempt to combat the effects of altitude sickness when playing away games in La Paz. Mixing it with fruit juice, there were apparently no unwanted side-effects during matches - nonetheless, gradual acclimatisation is probably a better remedy for travellers.
having spent 3 months living in la paz a few years ago i feel i can offer some good advice about the city. la paz is the most UNIQUE city i have ever been to, let alone lived in. the location and landscape is simply breathtaking. situated in a basin like canyon, the heart of the city lies at the 'plug' of the basin, with the shanty towns around the sides. towering over the city is the mountain ilimani which, on a sunny day, can be clearly seen from one of the many bridges that link the suburbs to the main city.
bolivians are very friendly and hospitable people but be very careful of pick pocketers - just have some common sense when walking through the streets. everything is very cheap - food, accomodation, transport, so no matter what your budget is, you will be able to do lots in la paz! the must do things are: the markets: located in the side streets near the cathedral - you can literally buy anything you want there! valle de la luna - the valley of the moon - in downtown la paz - an area of land that, well, resemble the moon! mongos: a travellers/locals bar in the heart of the city: great food and cozy atmosphere
if you are passing through bolivia on a latin american trip, or just fancy a trip to bolivia, then la paz must be on your trip!
by the way: be aware of altitude sickness when you first arrive!
La Cuidad de Nuestra Señora de la Paz (city of our lady of peace) was founded in 1548 by the Spanish as a centre of power in the Andes. Today the sprawling Bolivian unofficial capital, located down the slopes of a steep canyon framed by snow covered peaks, is an unusual city, where modernity and ancient traditions exist side by side. In the streets, Paceñas dressed in the latest fashions pass those proudly wearing the traditional dress of years gone by, of thick pleated knee length skirts, bowler hats and woven shawls. In the valley the flash mansions of drugs barons with Ferraris and tennis courts, are watched over by thousands of tiny mountainside dwellings where people hand weave for a living and care for the family llama. However, one of the most enduring traditions to be found in La Paz is the practice of ancient Andean beliefs, which have bridged the gap between those who look to the Western world and those who look towards the mountains.
Long before the Spanish invasion and the forced promotion of Christianity, the Aymara Indians, indigenous to the region, worshipped Pachumama (Mother Earth), the Sun and Moon, and the elements. Despite the best efforts of the Conquistadors, these practices were never entirely eradicated, instead attempts were made to incorporate them into local Catholicism, for example by dressing the Virgin Mary as a sacred mountain. The Andean peoples religion is now a blend of Catholic ritual and Earth worship - many Paceñas attend mass, and then go home to perform ritual offerings to Pachumama. And to obtain the special items needed to make offerings they visit the daily Mercado de Hechicería - Witches Market - in the centre of La Paz.
The witches were so called by the Spanish Conquistadors for their traditional non-Catholic practices, such as fortune telling, and their knowledge of the uses of local plants. Their small stalls are jam packed with objects, such as bundles of brightly coloured sweets and coca leaves, to be used as offerings, herbal remedies, talismans and magic charms. Some of the more unusual items for sale include snake skins, dried caimans and dried llama foetuses, which are commonly buried under new buildings to bring luck to the family home or business within. Most of these are displayed pre-packed, or if something special is in order, the witch will knock up a specific concoction or spell potion from a wealth of unusual substances kept under the stall. And I did find some evidence on my travels that these potions work. I met an American, who had selected an unsuspecting Bolivian man to be her husband, visited the witch for a love potion, and seven days later they were married. To the sceptic, this could be judged as coincidence, but they have been married for twenty years, and in this day and age that is something quite special in itself.
Despite their scary moniker, the witches are happy to show visitors their wares (especially if you buy something), and many of the items can make unusual souvenirs. There are numerous carved statuettes of the three-headed pachumama, small jars of amulets preserved in a liquid with brightly coloured papers, as gifts for specific occasions such as weddings, and small individual carved stone amulets which can be purchased separately, including entwined couples for healthy romance, llamas for prosperity or suns for energy. I bought a set of nine beautifully detailed amulets resting on a bed of brightly dyed llama wool inside a pottery dish for BOB20 (£2.50).
The witches also stock a large range of traditional herbal remedies for various ailments, derived from their vast knowledge of local flora and fauna, along side the cure-all coca leaves (the origin of the notorious cocaine, and a highly effective herbal medicine in its pure form) and their tea derivative. Many cures in flashy, colourful packets have also infiltrated from Brazil, focussing mainly (unsurprisingly) on problems of the boudoir.
The Witches Market is located in Calle Linares, an old cobbled colonial-style street, in the centre of the city, behind San Francisco Church. The easiest way to reach the market is on foot, and the streets of La Paz are relatively pedestrian friendly and well sign-posted. However, it is a hilly place, and at such high altitude (at 3,500m, La Paz is the highest city in the world) physical exertion can take its toll, with many tourists suffering from breathlessness and altitude sickness. The best remedy is to drink coca tea several times per day, which is readily available everywhere, including most hotel receptions. If walking is not on the cards, taxis can be taken to the market from most parts of the city for under £1, and the local minibuses are even cheaper, if a little unsafe.
After hearing its auspicious title, and reading the rave reviews in travel guide books, I was surprised to find that the witches market is a collection of just seven or so small tarpaulin covered stalls located at sporadic intervals along a narrow cobbled street - not really what I would term a market. Each stall stocks similar items to the next, but it is still a highly unusual and interesting places to explore. However, what ruined the atmosphere for me was the handicraft shops lining the rest of the street, all aimed at the ever present swarms of gringo tourists. In one sense, this concentration of two popular attractions into a single street is convenient for the visitor wishing to pick up some traditional woven cloths, or fine alpaca jumpers for under £5, whilst combining the experience with some local culture. However, I found the whole atmosphere too mass market - being trampled down by hordes of sweaty backpack wielding Germans rushing to buy Che Guevara T-shirts rather destroys the mysticism of what could potentially be a remarkable place. In spite of that, the Witches Market is an interesting place to visit to see the Western and Andean cultures functioning side by side. For visitors travelling to rural parts of Bolivia and upper Peru, stalls like these can be found in many small villages, where the tourist may be less welcome to poke around, but the atmosphere would be more authentic. However, for those just coming to La Paz, I would highly recommend the Witches Market as one of the must-see places of interest, to find ancient traditions are alive and kicking in an increasingly modern city.
Although the Market is extremely easily accessible for those who wish to visit independently, unless you are proficient in Spanish, a local guide is needed to get to the nitty-gritty about the witches potions. All City Tours are pretty similar, taking in the fine public buildings in the main square, one of the many museums, and the Moon Valley, as well as the Witches Market. I visited the Market as part of a private tour included in my holiday, organised by the superb Peru-based Condor Travel, which provided one-on-one contact with a highly knowledgeable, fluent and reliable guide, for the same price as an impersonal coach jaunt with blurb repeated in ten languages.
The witches seriously frown upon those tourists who quickly snap photos then run away, so to get that all important holiday picture it is best to show an interest and approach them about their wares. If you extend some business their way it is surprising how accommodating they become.
As Bolivia is one of the cheaper South American countries in which to buy high quality souvenirs, I would recommend spending two hours to visit the Witches Market and to browse in the surrounding shops. To visit the market alone, half an hour would be adequate.
There are several small cafés in the streets around the market, and vendors are frequently found wheeling around fresh popcorn and the deliciously juicy local empanadas, called salteñas, both of which can be purchased for a few pence.
Witches Market, Calle Linares, La Paz
Open daily, in line with shop opening hours.
© 2006 V.L.Collyer
With its spiralling population of 1.5 million people La Paz has become an important stop on the gringo trail in South America. As well as being the capital of Bolivia (excepting Sucre of course, the constitutional capital) it is also the highest capital in the world sitting at a breath stealing 3,600 metres above sea level. La Paz can be a chaotic town at times and its people are often in your face (and in your pocket if you are not careful!) but overall there are less hassles than you would expect. The shoeshiners bedecked in balaclava's are not half as troublesome as the guidebooks make out (if you wear sandals they don't really have an argument) and most touts are deflected when you blank them. La Paz has a maze of steep cobblestoned streets that are surprising slippy especially late at night (funny that!). The most popular tourist street is calle Sagarnaga which has many of the better hotels, souvenir stalls and internet cafes. Plaza San Francisco is as near a centre as you'll get. It's not exactly that much to look at aesthetically but the constant whirl of people, stalls, ornate buildings and the huge concrete head (with no plaque to let you know who it is!) create an energetic and exciting vibe. As you arrive in the city the view is like nothing you've seen before. Making your way from the cliff top suburb of El Alto to the city proper in the valley far below can take up to an hour. Along the way you will be both alarmed and fascinated in equal doses by the human endeavour along the way. El Alto is the fastest growing city in South America and if you are coming by bus from Peru you'll need to pass through it. It's not at all pleasing on the eye, a lot of its main byways are unpaved leading to mini dust storms every time a vehicle ventures by. Apart from the dirt many of the residential areas are little more than shanty towns. Drugs seem to have invaded the sub
urbs poverty stricken population as evidenced by the blood stained dummy's hanging from lamp posts acting as a grim reminder to would be pushers. Despite the lack of basic human facilities El Alto has its share of football pitches, perhaps displaying how even here people have created avenues to escape the depressing realism. Most buses into town pull up near the cemetery where you step out into the mayhem for the first time. Our bus somehow splutted to a stop on a 45 degree angle which literally meant climbing off the bus. It's easy to get disorientated at this stage so the best advice would be to take a taxi into the centre. This costs about 6-8 Boliviano's (1 Euro = 7B) depending on degree of how desperately lost you look and how honest the driver feels today. Over the last couple of centuries Bolivia has repeatedly gone to war over territory and consistently come out on the losing side. The War of the Pacific saw it become allies with Peru but this was still not enough to see off Chile. Through these wars Bolivia lost its important access to the sea. Being landlocked it now relies heavily on its portion of Lake Titicaca for tourism. ACCOMMODATION La Paz isn't as cheap as would expect when it comes to finding a bed for the night. To get the best value you need to move a little beyond the centre. Calle Sagarnaga has traditionally been the backpacker domain. Places on the street like Hostal Naira are nice but nightly rates of $US30 and more are prohibitive for most budget travellers. After a good look around we settled on Hostel Gloria on calle Illampu. We chose a room with a cama matrimonial (double bed) and ensuite facilities for just 60B. Sadly there was no natural light but there was ample room to fuss about in the dark. For some reason light bulbs in Bolivia never go beyond 40 watts which means that even the
drabbest rooms can look better than they really are in the dusky twilight. Showers with hot water are equally electrically sourced which can often lead to goosepimpled wash downs. The management at Hostel Gloria were friendly but incredibly loud, normally reserving their most Tarzan like outbursts for after midnight. That said it's not a bad choise and the fresh bread rolls at the stall just outside brightened our mornings. A place that gets mixed reports, situated just off calle Illampu, is Hotel Italia. Some described it as a dump, others extolled the balcony that comes with each room. Whatever the truth its tariff of 40B certainly means it's worth a look for those travelling on a shoestring. ATTRACTIONS Football is popular in Bolivia and the cable channels screen matches from all over the world pretty much 24 hours a day. The biggest team in the country playing out of La Paz are sensibly called the Strongest FC. Boliviar are another top team (Santa Cruz) who perennially do well in the continents version of Champions League, the Copa America. All the big cities have decent sized stadiums and if you get a chance seeing a game is great entertainment. In Santa Cruz we watched local team Oriente Petrolero trash La Paz's Iberoamericana 5 - 1 in front of a small but noisy crowd. With the terraces in constant motion dancing to an even drum beat this is a true spectacle. Tickets for the best seats were only 25B but you could easily suffer the concrete version for 10B. San Pedro Prison is a unique establishment. The place is virtually run by the prisoners and many have a lavish lifestyle. Much of their income is raised through escorting curious tourists around the prison grounds. Getting on a tour is a little like tricky work however. You arrive at the prison gates and somehow make contact with a prisoner willing to show
you around. The Lonely Planet suggests that you ask for Mick, Pete or Liam and that is usually enough to signal your intentions. We shakily made our way to the gates past some gun wielding guards. There were dozens of expectant eyes trained on us and they weren't of the generous or sympathetic kind. As we slowly turned yellow our feet sped us in the opposite direction to safety. Our cowardly streak probably cost us a genuine experience but we're still alive to tell the story. From what we've heard from people who've done the prison tour it is a fascinating insight into prison life. The cost is $8 but for this you get to witness the daily routine of the incarcerated and you can even dine at one of the several restaurants there. Being so high up, La Paz can offer a lot of thrills for those who crave adrenaline pumping activities. Very popular but very dangerous is downhill biking (sheer drops, no protective fencing). For this trip there is no peddling required as the route is downhill all the way from the starting point at Mt. Chacaltaya to La Paz far below. There is an tour operator called Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking who organise these trips. You can find them right beside the very busy funeral home on Avenue 16 De Julio. Another hair raising activity that can be arranged is skiing at the highest resort in the world. The slope is situated at an incredulous 5,300 metres on Chacaltaya which means that ice rather than snow is the norm for the run. This is recommended for experienced skiers only or if your name is Harold Houdini. EATING OUT If it's a snack you're after then the trusted Saltena is a good option. A Saltena is a pastry, shaped in a semicircle, containing a variety of ingredients. We generally plumped for the Saltena Mixto which came rammed full of juice that squirt
ed fountain like to leave every part of our body sated except our tummy's. Saltena Mixto usually has a piece or 2 of chicken and a vegetable soup coterie of other pieces. It is great value, going for as little as 1B but you can spend up to 5B on the dry cleaning and endless rolls of tissues! Saltena's are most prominent in markets and street stalls in the morning and early afternoon. A much safer option are Empanados. These doughy snacks are similarly shaped as the Saltena but often have the dry constitution of an old boot. The most popular ingredient is queso (cheese) but it is applied in such low quantities that it rarely adds much flavour to proceedings. Empanados usually work best as a mop up after a Saltena soaking. Bolivian food is not very distinctive and tends to come weighed down in grease. Chicken (Pollo, pronounced pieyo) is ubiquitous especially on the great value for money Almuerzo (lunch special). Almuerzo's typically consist of a soup starter (usually bland), followed by a Sequendo which is where the chicken usually raises its head. With the meat you get rice or fries and a sliced tomato. Dessert is usually a small jelly. Not exactly for gourmets but for as little as 7B it is incredible value for money. You'll struggle to find many places that offer anything resembling a breakfast in Bolivia. Asking for scrambled egg is often met with horror or unbridled laughter so you'd be better served waiting for lunch which can begin as early as 10am. Dinner is generally more expensive that its lunch equivalent but thankfully portions tend to be more wholesome. After a month or two on the road the bright lights of Burger King can appear as bright as main street Las Vegas. Tucked down a back street off La Paz's main avenue Burger King meals don't come cheap (24B) but with peace of stomach restored you'll probably not notice the dour ai
r conditioned atmosphere. Burger King attracts many freshly arrived gringos with huge carnivorous grins. Somewhat inevitably you'll find McDonald's sitting rather unnoticeably in the middle of Plaza De Etudiente, one of La Paz's more laid back public squares. Here again the prices are well above average but once in a while a good injection of western toxification is as welcome as finding a hostel with hot water. If you want to eat on the cheap then just about every street in town has a varied menu to keep you nourished. Most of the street stalls have a Saltena of some kind on offer but if you look hard enough you can push the boat out and have a hamburgesa and papa fritas. Just don't expect to get a clean bill of health the next time you visit the doctor. A step up from the street stalls are the numerous little cafes that you'll find in and around the Mercado Negro. We had a good breakfast at Providorra Beyta (secured only after some intricate miming). It was amazing to see the lady cook our meal using a camping stove that was hooked up under the counter. Le Pot Pourri Des Gourmets restaurant at 906 calle Linares is a real treasure if you can deal with the incredibly slow service (pleasant though the staff are). There is a good selection of traditional Bolivian and International food. There is a good special (3 courses) for 15B which is available all day long. The decor is overrun with tree carvings, both tables and chairs look like they were cut straight from tree trunks. The restaurants large windows means that the bouquet from the flowers in bloom outside waft in almost unnoticed. Also on calle Linares, Angelo Colonial is so popular that you may have to book ahead. Hidden away in what looks like a second floor curiosity shop this is perhaps La Paz's most popular food haunt for travellers. The decor has an old world style and the atmosphere is cultured if a little sub
dued. You could easily spend a few hours just examining all the strange artefacts hanging from the walls or perched on nearby tables. The prices may be a little on the high side but this is one meal you won't forget. Pilsener beer is the local brew and is usually served up in dirt covered bottles. A good test for a place is whether the waiter cleans the dust off before he presents it to you. No matter what the bottle looks like, Bolivian beer is quite nice tasting and really cheap. Getting drunk, like in a lot of the Andean countries, is normally not too difficult a job, altitude and partial dehydration is a wonderful way to have a great time on a small budget. SHOPPING La Paz is an amazing place to shop. Not in a department store type of way because there are none, but because La Paz's markets are some of the best you'll find in South America. The Mercado Negro (Black Market) swallows up a huge area just outside the city centre on the way to the cemetery. Like Hanoi's Old Quarter, individual streets are dedicated to particular product lines. So if it's toilet paper you are after then you'll find between the street that has the best sandals and the one with the rarest of door knobs. Towards town on calle Linares the Witches market is a real eye opener. Here photography and video is banned and you'll see why when you get there. Stuffed full of badly lit shops it has all the potions you'd ever need to cure or curse someone. The dried out aborted baby Llamas are a bit of a shock at first, but there are plenty of other animals that look like they've been frozen in fear (tigers, armadillo's, birds). And I haven't even mentioned the shop owners themselves! La Paz is quite a good place to get (illegal) copies of CD's, Playstation Games and DVD's. Stalls owners op
enly sell their wares and the police never seem bothered so why should you. Prices for CD's are quite low at about 10B and the quality is near perfect. Make sure you listen to the CD before you purchase though. You'll find a plethora of these stalls scattered all along Avenue Mariscal Santa Cruz as far as Plaza Venezuela. MISCELLANEOUS The La Paz bus terminal is within walking distance of the city centre. Buying your onward tickets here, rather than at tour agents can save up to 50% on purchase price. It is advisable to buy a few days ahead if possible to ensure you get a good seat. Laundry facilities are thin on the ground in Bolivia so if you come across one the best advice would be to avail of it. Travelling in a dusty and sweaty environment means that the clean side of your backpack can be hit hard in just a couple of days. With La Paz you'll find most of the better laundries on calle Sagarnaga. 6B per kilo is the usual charge and that usually includes delivery to your hotel. The Bolivian Times is the only English newspaper printed in the country but it is a very light read. That said the activity of being able to read a paper at all is comforting. There is a 24 hour internet cafe near the children's area (if you are under 3 and not too pushed on your style of transport you can rent beat up tricycles and go-karts to cruise around the uneven surfaces and the deadly steps) in Plaza San Francisco that has very cheap nightly rates (2.5B). If you are after a local football jersey or a haircut then the place to visit is calle Santa Cruz. Competition means that prices are low although it difficult to differentiate between many of the outlets as their stock is near identical. Getting a trim can be a little difficult if you're Spanish is weak but through a mixture of sign language and basic ut
terances I managed to escape without too much embarrassment. Bolivian's, it seems, have a clear conscience when it comes to disregarding their rubbish. No rose garden, no footpath, no public amenity is spared the masses of rubbish that builds up daily from people who just drop what they don't want at the earliest opportunity. Litter wardens are a nonentity and the fostering of an environmental conscience seems to be light years away. You'll see the extremities of this particular national trait while travelling on the national byways by bus. I witnessed one particular lady evacuate 3 soiled nappy's out of the window. Even more disturbing was the bus attendant who neatly collected passenger rubbish in a plastic bag and then promptly threw the bag out the roof window. The bus was spotless, the road less so! The Bolivian currency is the Boliviano. Notes come in 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 denominations. The 5B notes are being phased out as they do not stand up to much wear and tear. Many are held together by tape so a new 5B coin has been introduced. You should try and break up the bigger denominations in larger shops or at banks whenever you can because street traders and smaller outlets rarely have much change. Handing over a note as small as a 20B often leads to an elongated groan and several minutes of flustering around to try and get your change together. Bolivia is not beset by the same dollar hungry touts that make travelling around Peru such a chore at times. Although poverty is everywhere it seems the Bolivians have not fully grasped the equation that is the tourist and his packed wallet. Long may this perfect situation continue but it may just be a matter of time. WHERE TO NEXT? There are lots of options when you decide to move on from La Paz. The more sedate option would be to travel to the b
eautiful city (but ultimately boring, we loved it) of Cochabamba about seven hours eastwards by bus. Cochabamba is set in a rich agricultural area and its population are quite wealthy. In some ways Cochabamba is like a different country to La Paz, it is great for relaxing about in for a couple of days. It's most notable attraction is a cable car ride to the Cristo De La Concordia statue (a statue of Christ) at the summit of the highest hill in town. There are great views of the town from here and it costs only 6B for the round trip. The more adventurous another option from La Paz is to visit the Northern town of Rurrenabaque, a great base for trips into the Bolivian Pampas and the Amazon Rainforest. There are 2 ways to get there. Take a $100 flight or the bus along the notorious road of death. As our budget was meagre and our pockets not lined with rabbit feet we decided against it but many visitors to Bolivia recommended this as the highlight of their trip to the country. La Paz has all the excitement and energy of a South East Asian city. Curiously it lags behind much wealthier Bolivian cities such as Cochabamba and Sucre. You will see more native people here than in the countries other main cities (due in most part to El Alto). Thankfully travellers hassles are relatively few, apart from the occasional wrestle for path space. Once you acclimatise to the initial chaotic hurly burly and the altitude you'll have the time of your life.
La Paz, This is a great place if you want a well-developed, clean and safe place to holiday, whilst experiencing Mexican culture. The town itself has a few separate areas, some of which are worth exploring; others are worth keeping clear of. The beach area of La Paz is a really nice place to generally hang out, drink a few beers, admire the scenery, shoot pool and eat. The beach is not the perfect swimming place, not very secluded and situated along the main road. The bars, restaurants and clubs all offer drinks and food at various prices, if you want an evening of cheap food and drink its best to ask how much the beer is before entering the bar. I found that as soon as I set foot in a bar I had a beer poured and a table cleared before I could find out how much I was paying. If you need to find an Internet café, there are plenty along the beach front, along with travel agencies and bus stations. If you need some shopping there is a large supermarket about 100 meters in-land along with various shops, including chemists, grocery stores, clothes shops and the like. This area is also an excellent place to get cheap food. There are several small fast food restaurants selling toasted sandwiches (‘Torta’s’), burgers etc. If you want to eat what the locals eat try the Taco stands. These are dotted about all over the place, and sell either fish or meat, at a very reasonable price. You buy a Taco (normally corn) with the fish and serve yourself to as much salad as you want. There is one stand in particular that serve’s the most delicious ‘carne assada’. If you follow the Beach road towards the east side of the beach you will start passing the car hire places (avis, hertz etc), there is a road to the left around here which has a taco stand from about 6pm, you will be able to follow your nose when you get close, as they barbecue outside. If you decide to go further north of the main shopping area my advic
e is to be a little careful. This is the residential area, and the local’s don’t appreciate people wondering around. It’s not a nice area, so you won’t be missing anything. La Paz has some excellent beached within easy travelling distance. You can take a bus from the main road to beaches about 30 km away from the centre of La Paz. Two beaches in particular, Balandra and Pichilingue are fantastic. The are generally empty, and secluded, surrounded by desert mountains and shallow warm blue waters. There is not much in the way of facilities, so make sure you take everything you will need for the day. Unfortunately the bus service is not that great, but you will normal be able to catch a ‘collectivo’ (taxi / minibus) for the return journey at bout 5pm. La Paz is a great place to sample some Mexican cultures, relax at some beautiful beaches, and enjoy a reasonable nightlife. All in all, an excellent place at an excellent price.
Built within a huge crater, La Paz is an extraordinary city with a great deal of charm. It sprawls the entire area of a crater the size of about quarter of London, and is therefore extremely hilly, views from around the edge/top of the bowl are awesome spanning across and down into the metropolis of little winding streets with predominantly brown houses and buildings, with a cluster of tall modern buildings and large old cathedrals and historical buildings all in the centre. At night this sight is particularly impressive. The city offers several places to stay for the traveller, hostals and hotels varying in range and quality, I think it's preferable and quieter to stay just outside the central plaza area and up one of the hills to the North of the city, we stayed in a hostal called La Luna (which may not even exist anymore). Walking is quite hard work but you get used to the hills after a while and it's good for you after all. The main plaza offers a stunning old cathedral with little alleys leading off it with stalls selling all the tourist tat. The further away you go from the centre of the city the more Bolivian it becomes (the same can be said for most cities in the world) and you can get a real feel for people going around their daily ways. There is a massive market outside the main city up on the flatlands outside the bowl which sells everything including the kitchen sinc, from giant singer sewing machines to fantastic old second hand garments, we had hours of fun trying on wooly hats, because La Paz is of course at a v.high altitude and therefore pretty damn cold, this doesn't seem to mar the spirit of the city. One of the best things for me were the endless juicers, street vendors with juicing machines serving your choice of delicious freshly squeezed juices of any fruit you can dream of. Food is never great in S.America but there is a little market in La Paz set back just up from the main plaza which is covered overhead and there are at least e
ight stalls with seating offering vats of chicken soup which is great with lemon and pepper to spice it up. Of course if you're on a big budget you can probably afford to eat at pizzeria's and more upmarket restaurants which can be found down the hill from the main plaza where all the cinema's and shops are in the commercial area heading towards the righ part of town. I love La Paz and would suggest that anyone in Bolivia would want to spend about a week on and off soaking up the culture. Travelling in Bolivia invariably means returning to La Paz after each place you've been to in order to get another bus to the next place you want to visit, so you often meet the same people over and over as you cross paths on your travels. La Paz is great fun and we even fell upon a fully fledged Bolivian techno pary one night with people dressed in cyber wear which contrasted hugely to the campesinos (farmers) camped out in the main plaza that same day protesting for rights to own the land they live and farm on. By now I guess you can guage that I have very fond memories of La Paz and higly reccomend it but my opinions and suggestions may be somewhat out of date since I spent time there in 1996.
Nuestra Señora de La Paz or Chuquiyapu is the administrative capital of Bolivia, as well as the departmental capital of La Paz Department. As of the 2001 census, the city of La Paz had a population of around one million.