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!
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!
Places to Stay
- 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 1pm so you can make the very most of your nights at the hostel bar. Dorms available from $7.00.
- Adventure Brew Hostel: A large, fun hostel in a fantastic location just a block a way 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 $7.55.
- Pirwa Hostel: A little way down the road from Adventure Brew, Pirwa is a quieter option offering a family feel and the comfiest beds in town! Dorms available from $7.10.
Things to Do
- Red Cap City Tour – Twice a day every day, a free city walking tour leaves from Plaza San Pedro and takes you around all the best bits of La Paz. Not only will it 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. The guides are all born and bred Bolivians and extremely enthusiastic about their city. They work solely on a tip basis so come prepared with a little cash to say thank you at the end.
- Witch’s Market – La Paz’ markets are a great place to pick up South American souvenirs, though some rather more wacky 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.
- 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.
- Huayna Potosi – 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.
- Urban Rush – 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!
- 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.
By Bus – The main bus station is located just outside the city centre and runs direct buses to most big cities in Bolivia as well as international services to Peru, Argentina and Chile.
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.
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 – 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. Check out our Cusco Guide here!
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 you South America adventure.