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Walk on the Moon, see ladies in bowler hats and dried llama foetuses
La Paz (Bolivia)
Member Name: catsholiday
La Paz (Bolivia)
Date: 23/06/09, updated on 16/08/11 (181 review reads)
Advantages: Unique capital city, colourful and cheap, great food
Disadvantages: high altitude
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.
Summary: Strangely interesting city, very high altitude, colourful friendly people