Updated May 6th, 2019.
Set at a staggering 3,600 metres above sea level, La Paz is likely to literally take your breath away. To help your body adjust to the altitude, get your hands on some coca tea and take it easy for a couple of days. To truly explore this crazy city, you’re going to need your strength!
Further Reading: Backpacking Bolivia
La Paz is colourful, chaotic and full of life, with its abstract markets and bustling squares. Haggle hard with a cholita for the very best bargains and uncover Bolivia’s interesting past at historic sites throughout the city.
Embark on a walking tour led by a local for a more in-depth understanding of the country’s traditions and how it’s developing.
The city itself is super crowded with red brick buildings which cover the surrounding hills like pieces of lego packed tightly together.
On a clear day the snowy peaks of La Paz’ impressive mountain range can be seen, whilst at night your eyes are drawn to the hundreds of tiny lights glowing like fallen stars caught in the highlands. It’s as beautiful as it is bizarre and guarantees to keep you busy whilst continuing to capture your fascination!
Where to Stay in La Paz
- Loki Backpackers: A popular chain in South America, Loki hostels are well known for being sociable and friendly for young, fun backpackers. There are private bathrooms in every room and a late check out time of 1 pm so you can make the very most of your nights at the hostel bar. Dorms available from $8USD.
- Arthy’s Guesthouse: Situated just a 10-minute walk from the bus terminal, Arthy’s Guesthouse is a convenient and comfortable choice. They offer a mix of dorm rooms as well as private options. There is a well-equipped kitchen for communal use and the staff are some of the most helpful you will meet. Dorms are available from $8USD.
- Colibri Camping: It is tough to describe just how picturesque the setting of Colibri Camping is. Situated around 30 minutes outside of the city, this eco-glamping/camping spot offers a welcome retreat from the chaos of La Paz’s streets. Camping with your own tent comes in at $7USD per person while a stay in the Valley of the Moon Lodge clocks in at $36USD for one person. Tents, sleeping bags and other camping equipment are available for rental.
- Adventure Brew Hostel: A large, fun hostel in a fantastic location just a block away from the bus station and a few blocks from town. It comes complete with ping pong tables, a bar and unlimited free pancakes for breakfast! Dorms available from $7. Adventure Brew also have a newer addition to their empire, Adventure Brew Downtown. Check it out!
- LLama’s House (Formerly Pirwa Hostel): A little way down the road from Adventure Brew, Llama’s House is a quieter option offering a family feel and the comfiest beds in town! Dorms available from $6USD.
Things to Do in La Paz
Unfortunately, there are no longer any free walking tours on offer in La Paz. The Bolivian government have introduced a minimum price for the tour which is usually very little, around $3USD per person. You are then asked to tip on top of this.
One of the best options are the walking tours ran by Be a Local. Not only will a walking tour help you to find your bearings in this crazy, chaotic city but you’ll also learn a whole lot about the people, history and customs which make La Paz so unique and interesting.
Despite there now being a fee for tours, none of this money goes to the guides. They work solely on a tip basis so come prepared with a little cash to say thank you at the end.
The Be a Local extended walking tour can actually be combined with a Cholitas Wrestling show too!
La Paz’ markets are a great place to pick up South American souvenirs, though some rather wackier than others. The Witch’s market is thus named for all the weird and wonderful concoctions sold at the stalls there.
You can find a potion for every purpose, from ‘follow me’ dust to attract new partners, to ‘repel me’ powder to rid yourself of unwanted attention.
Such a phenomenon could reasonably be assumed to be a tourist trap but in fact, the Witch’s Market long pre-existed tourism and Bolivians genuinely believe in the magic of these medicines.
The llama foetuses available at the market remain one of the best selling items because the locals use them as offerings to their Goddess Pachamama.
Death Road Cycle
If you like to live life on the edge, this is not one to be missed. Hire a mountain bike and fly at speed down the world’s most dangerous road!
However, before you start it is vital to ensure that you are working with a reputable company who offer safe and secure bicycles and that you are covered by an adequate travel insurance policy.
Read this account of a first-time cyclist’s experience on Death Road!
La Paz Gondola
Climb the beautiful hills of La Paz by Cable Car for the best views of the city and the surrounding mountains. At the top, you’ll find the El Alto region which hosts one of South America’s biggest flea markets twice a week and is home to hundreds of locals.
Sip on coffee in the San Miguel part of Zona Sur
An emerging coffee scene is growing in San Miguel, La Paz. Visit this area for trendy bars and restaurants as well as some very good coffee. This hipster part of town is attracting an increasing number of foreign visitors, all looking for a taste of home.
Prices are more expensive than what you would usually expect from Bolivia with the whole area rivalling Europe in terms of cost. Access this part of the city via the green teleferico line.
Hike the Valley of the Moon
Perhaps La Paz’s most underrated attraction, the Valley of the Moon is located around half an hour outside of the city. With an entry fee of just 15 bolivianos (just over $2USD), this is a great budget activity for backpackers.
Hike through one of nature’s most surprising rock formations and take in the otherworldly feel of the landscape.
This place was rumoured to have gotten its name from famous astronaut Neil Armstrong who spotted it when he was playing golf nearby and said it looked like the moon.
Test your physical and mental strength against Huayna Potosi, one of the most impressive peaks in La Paz’ mountain range. This 6,088-metre giant is a fantastic trek for those seeking a real challenge in a beautiful snowy environment.
Spend a night at base camp to acclimatise to the altitude before starting the climb up the steep slopes to high camp. The final stint begins at the stroke of midnight in an attempt to reach the summit by sunrise.
Visit the La Paz Zoo
Although this is a cheap attraction with a 10 boliviano entrance fee per person ($1.50USD), it is probably not worth making a special trip from the centre.
However, for those already exploring the Valley of the Moon, this is a good activity to combine owing to their proximity.
The zoo showcases only Bolivian wildlife and offers the opportunity to check out Condors, Pumas and Vicuñas, many of which you would struggle to see in the wild.
Another one for the adrenaline junkies, this 50-metre descent is a great new attraction in the centre of La Paz. Either abseil slowly or fall face first in a sudden drop down the wall of one of the tallest hotels in the city.
To add some extra excitement, the team will offer you a range of fancy dress costumes, from your favourite superheroes to Santa Claus, or even a rasher of bacon!
Visit El Alto’s 16 de Julio
Every Thursday and Sunday, the Aymara people put on what is likely to be the biggest flea market in South America. You can buy literally everything here, from car parts to natural remedies. A firm favourite with visitors is the designer clothes that you can get for a steal of the original price!
Although you will find bargains on every corner, make sure you don’t end up losing out and keep an eye on your valuables. Pickpockets have been known to frequent this area and they are very good. To visit the market, take the red line on the gondola from the cemetery up to El Alto.
El Choro Trek
Follow in the footsteps of the Incas and watch as the scenery transforms before your very eyes. Over the course of three days, you’ll trek through dense green forestry, paddle in clear blue streams and camp out on the ledges of some of the largest mountains in La Paz.
The trek ends in the town of Chairo where you can either spend another night or catch a direct transfer back to the city.
Watch the Cholitas wrestle
A bizarre but must-see attraction whilst in La Paz is a Cholita wrestling show. This used to be a derogatory term used to describe the indigenous women of Bolivia but in recent years they have reclaimed the word and become cultural icons.
The women, dressed in traditional clothing wrestle each other, to prove both their strength and their resilience in a world created for men. Shows take place every Thursday and Sunday. Whilst it is possible to get to El Alto independently and watch one of the evening shows, the area is sketchy after dark so a tour is recommended.
By Plane – El Alto International Airport is serviced by most South American airlines, connecting La Paz to all major cities over the continent. There are very few direct flights outside of South America with most stopping over in Santa Cruz. If you’re heading from the airport into the city centre, grab a minibus for 4.50 bolivianos per person to save some cash!
By Bicycle – La Paz is very popular amongst cyclists and the Autopista highway makes it relatively easy to enter the city by bike. Some streets can be extremely steep so always ensure you’ve checked your brakes before you travel!
Where to go Next?
- Rurrenbaque – Book a flight or brave the long bus journey to Rurrenbaque where you can explore the Amazon wetlands, interact with the Pampas wildlife and trek through the jungle.
- Sucre – There’s a widespread misconception that La Paz is Bolivia’s capital city but in fact, it is Sucre, approximately twelve hours away by bus.
- Salta, Argentina – Cross the border into Argentina to find the beautiful colonial town of Salta, best known for its authentic architecture and stunning scenery. It’s also the perfect place to catch some much-needed sunshine after the chilly temperatures in Bolivia!
- Cusco, Peru – Head North up into Peru to discover Cusco and its wonderfully colourful markets. If you’re planning to visit Machu Picchu, Cusco provides a great base to leave your bags before you embark on the epic journey to the ancient city.
Written by: Chiara Pelizzari is an English Graduate turned Advertising Executive who has taken a year out to travel the world. Check out her personal travel blog for more great info and inspiration for your South America adventure.
Updated by Sheree Hooker.