La Paz: Breathtaking Bolivia

La Paz: Breathtaking Bolivia

A sprawling city, La Paz is the highest capital city in the world.  At 3640 metres above sea level it really does take your breath away!  Technically the capital remains Sucre but as the Bolivians love rankings much they still manage to claim the top spot.
After spending a few blissful days of relaxation at Colibri Camping, I booked a taxi to the take me the 30 minute drive into the city centre.  There was a lot of traffic as you would expect, but the old school buses caught my eye.  And traditional ‘Cholitas’ still maintained their dress even amid the busy streets.

Tradition, Old Buses & Innovation come together in La Paz
Tradition, Old Buses & Innovation come together in La Paz

My hostel was basic but ok, I checked in and went to find the free walking tour that Rolando had recommended to me. The meeting point was outside San Pedro prison, a notoriously corrupt establishment in the city centre, where inmates live with their families, and those with money afford very comfortable living quarters, produce and sell their own cocaine and offer tours of the prison. Rumour has it you can bribe your way into the prison but exact details of how to get out again are scarce. I declined the offer of a tour as stories of stabbings, rapes and disappearance of tourists had already reached my ears. It is a prison after all.
After that dramatic start, we were shepherded around the city, calling at various markets, and stopping off to admire St Nicholas Church, which was built with the help of the indigenous people in the hope that they would feel more attached to their new place of Christian worship. The result is a traditional church, with indigenous influences in the stonework and decoration which makes for an interesting mix.

Indiginous Carvings Blend into the Christian Stonework at this church in La Paz
Indiginous Carvings Blend into the Christian Stonework

The most entertaining market was the Witches Market, where locals buy everything they need for offerings to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). Although the vast majority of Bolivians report to be Christian, the blend of indigenous religion still remains. Offerings are made when a new house is built, a new car is bought, and for most similar occasions they request the blessing of Pacha Mama. Offerings include sweets, herbs, coca leaves, burning candles, and in the case of new buildings, a dried llama fetus buried in the foundations. Apparently these llamas aren’t slaughtered in the womb, but are those who die (quite frequently) of natural causes early after being born or are miscarried due to the cold weather in the mountains.
Our guide also told us of the urban legend which requires human sacrifice for large constructions, and Pacha Mama just won’t accept the teeny llama for this. There apparently have been stories of missing homeless people, disappearing before the construction of large bridges, roads etc. And of human remains found while excavating old building sites. Spooky.

Llama Foetuses at the Witches Market in La Paz
Llama Fetuses at the Witches Market in La Paz

At the market I bought a stone carving of a condor, said to represent safe or happy journeys – quite apt I thought. Sadly I broke it somewhere along the trek to Machu Picchu, but hopefully superglue won’t damage its potency!

The food in La Paz that day was average to say the least, a normal hostel breakfast of bread and jam, lunch of a papa rellena (stuffed potato) and a quite unpleasant curry, I can’t wax lyrical about the delights of La Pazian cuisine. The following day, I joined my Dragoman Overland tour group and we enjoyed a dinner that evening, and I tried my first alpaca steak which was delicious!

La Paz from the Cable Car Mi Teleferico
La Paz from the Cable Car Mi Teleferico

That afternoon before we met officially for the trek meeting, my new room-mate and I went to investigate the newly built Mi Teleferico cable car, a network of lines pushed for by the indigenous president Eva Morales, in a bid to unite the outskirts of the city with the centre, and enable the people from the poorer communities such as El Alto to commute cheaply without braving the notorious La Paz traffic. There is some debate about the effectiveness of the project and benefit to the locals, but they do make for an excellent tourist attraction, offering stunning views of the city as you soar above. We took the red line which was closest to our hostel, and for just 3 bolivianos we reached El Alto in around 15 minutes, instead of the 45 minute journey (or more) in the choking traffic below.
After dinner with the group, we all retired early to prepare for our first day on the road the next morning.

Find other things to do in La Paz

Find accommodation in La Paz

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La Paz Breathtaking BoliviaYou may also like:

Colibri Camping: A Haven Outside La Paz

Sucre: A Capital City with a Small Town Feel

Dragoman Overland: Tour from La Paz to Cusco

Santa Cruz: My First Impressions of Bolivia

 

12 thoughts on “La Paz: Breathtaking Bolivia

  1. That market sounds very interesting. I also think it’s interesting how the cultural aspects of the people were able to resist changing even though I’m sure the missionaries tried to force them to forgo such rites and rituals. The same thing happened here in Korea and I’m glad that it did.

  2. Seems like quite an eerie and fun place. The Witches market is definitely a stop I would make. Loved reading about the prisons and its practices. Bolivia strikes me as a lovely heritage destination

  3. I never knew La Paz could be so lovely. Your article surely was an eye opener for my backdated perspective. I loved the view from the cable car. And the sculpture blending was amazing.

  4. La Paz sounds fascinating, though I’m sorry the food was a disappointment. The alpaca steak sounds tasty though. And that’s so creepy about the legend about homeless people being buried on construction projects. I hope it’s not true.

  5. I love how the cholitas wear traditional clothing and stick to their customs and heritage. Did you enjoy the teleférico? I remember riding one in Venezuela and the views are always great. Interesting this one was done for cheap transport as they are usually expensive to build and maintain. Time will tell how successful it is.

  6. Ok so Bolivia is becoming more and more interesting to me after reading your posts. I was planning on pretty much skipping through as fast as possibly. Just a quick stop to the Salt Planes and then on to Argentina. I’m seriously re considering. Maybe 2-3 weeks would be good?

    1. Ahh I thought that too at first, I was there for 2 weeks but then went back for another 2 weeks to do everything! Bolivia is surprisingly diverse & super cheap – you can go to the Amazon, ride the world’s most dangerous roads, see beautiful colonial towns….the list goes on. I’d even say 3-4 weeks at least if you have the time to spare! 🙂

  7. I’m really curious about the preserved baby llamas. Are they taxidermy? It makes me think of the rabbits feet people used to carry.

    The prison tour sounds really interesting, but a little risky! I think I’ll wait for the Vice documentary.

  8. Oh, wow, La Paz and Bolivia in general looks absolutely amazing! I would definitely love to go to a place called Witches Market 😀 And I would like to discover the indigenous beliefs and observe their practice upclose.

  9. Bolivia – another must visit destination for me 🙂 La paz looks like a place with a lot of art and culture – am I right? I would love to see the St Nicholas Church – from the sounds of it, it must be lovely.

  10. That sounds a little gruesome, the stories of disappearing homeless people. I love the idea of the prison tour but think sense would prevail. I’m too much of a chicken for that

  11. Hey Hun I know your blogs are backdated as I am guessing you have done trek now. Can’t wait to read that one! What an interesting place to be La Paz. I eas thinking about you after watching Narcos tv series on escabar. Any way sounds like you are having lots of fun everyday different. Hope you manage to fix the condor!!

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