A Quick Guide to La Paz Bolivia

At 3640 metres above sea level, La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world. Surrounded by beautiful mountain views, the administrative capital of Bolivia is certainly one of a kind. With Aymara ladies strolling the streets dressed in their traditional outfits, street vendors galore and its weird witch markets, La Paz is a great place for observing and exploring. La Paz is also bustling and chaotic. Its traffic is insane and the streets are filled with minivans known as Collectivos. It’s loud and it’s polluted but it will surprise you and keep you entertained.

A lot of people only pass through La Paz to get to other parts of Bolivia. But if you can afford to spend a few days there, give La Paz a chance. It might surprise you.

Calle Jaen, La Paz

Here are the best things to do in and around La Paz.

What to do in the centre of La Paz?

Explore the city with Red Cap Walking Tours 

Meeting across from the famously corrupt San Pedro Prison, this walking tour will take you to the best spots in the city like Plaza San Francisco and Plaza Murillo and teach you a bit about La Paz’s history, its future prospects and its current issues. You’ll visit the Rodriguez Market and Mercado de la Brujas (witch market), try some local juice and food and finish in the middle of town, to continue exploring on your own. 

Mercado de la Brujas

The tour is run daily at 11 am and 2 pm. It used to be free but it is now US$3 because of issues they’ve had in the past with other tour companies (including threatening them with baseball bats – this is Bolivia!). However this is not a large amount to pay, so you should still tip your guide. 

Take a ride on a cable car

Just like Medellin in Colombia, the people of La Paz are very proud of their cable car system. In operation since 2014, there are now 8 lines running and they provide some of the best views of the city. The cost is 3 Bolivianos per line, so it’s a cheap way to get a birds-eye view of this bustling metropolis. We loved riding the red line to El Alto, especially because of the colourfully painted buildings you see below as you ascend.

La Paz’s cable car system

Take a trip to El Alto

El Alto used to be part of La Paz but after the government repeatedly ignored them, they separated and formed their own city. In fact, at 4,060 meters above sea level, it’s the highest city in the world. In El Alto, you can visit the biggest black market in South America and another witches market (much bigger and weirder than the very touristy Mercado de la Brujas ). You can also visit a local Yatiri (Shaman) to have your fortune read through coca leaves. 

The views from El Alto are spectacular. As I mentioned, take the cable car’s red line to get there. The ride up is worth it for the views alone.

The views from El Alto

Tip: When visiting the market, look out for pickpockets. Many take advantage of the crowds to prey on visitors. Don’t leave anything of value in your pockets and carry your backpack in front of you. Apparently, they like to use various forms of distraction, such as spitting on you or throwing fake babies at you. Charming!

El Alto

Visit the witch markets

If you’re an animal lover, this is probably the most confronting place you will visit in La Paz. It left me feel saddened, angry and queazy all at once. Frankly, I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

In these markets, you will come across all kinds of offerings that the local indigenous people use to please Pacha Mama. Some, such as coca leaves, are fine. But then there’s the Llama, Dog and Pig foetuses. Oh, and did I mention the dead baby llamas?

Yeah, totally gross. I didn’t hang around long there but if you’re not squeamish, you may find it fascinating. It’s interesting to experience other cultures’ traditions but I just couldn’t stop wondering how they’d come about. From what we heard, it’s not a pretty story. 

Dead baby llamas and foetuses… Yerk!

Watch a Cholita Wrestling show

The Cholita wrestling shows are held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays in El Alto. You can book a tour or head there on your own to watch a bunch of cholitas punching, throwing, and yelling at each other. What are Cholitas? They’re indigenous Bolivian women who wear the colourful traditional outfits, consisting of skirts, shawls and bowler hats.

The wrestling tradition supposedly comes from when the women finally rebelled against their abusive husbands but these days it’s put on mainly for the tourists and some locals. While it’s obviously staged (in the vein of WWF), it’s entertaining to watch for a couple of hours.

Cholita wrestling show

Things to do outside of La Paz

Take a day trip to Chacaltaya

Chacaltaya used to be the highest ski resort in the world. Sadly, due to global warming, the glacier has melted and the snow has all disappeared. This abandoned ski resort is now another tourist attraction, providing some awesome views of the surrounding area and the peak of Huayna Potosi. On a clear day, you can see as far away as Lake Titicaca.

Chacaltaya’s old ski resort

Reaching the peak of Chacaltaya, you will be standing as high up as 5400 metres! The drive up was one of the scariest rides we’ve done so far. We drove along a narrow road, very close to the edge of the cliff, but fortunately, our driver seemed to know what he was doing! 

Standing at 5400 m!

PS: Don’t even try it if you suffer from altitude sickness!

Head to the Valle de la Luna

Around half an hour outside of the city centre, visiting the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) feels like landing on another planet. In fact, when Neil Armstrong visited, he said it looked just like the surface of the moon, hence its current name.

Inside this small park, you can explore the bizarre looking rock formations and crevices up close. It takes up to an hour to complete the circuit through the park, depending on the route you take and how many photos you snap along the way. You can visit with a tour or take a cab there. 

Incredible scenery at the Valle de la Luna

Ride the Death Road

If you’re a dare devil, you can cycle down the most dangerous road in the world. I am not very confident on a bike, so this wasn’t for me. Whatever you do, be very careful and make sure you do lots of research before booking this tour.

Many companies offer tours of the death road but some companies are very questionable. Make sure the bikes are safe and read lots of reviews because we’ve heard many horror stories. There has also been a recent death on the road, so take your safety very seriously.

Hike the Canyon de Palca and Valle de Animas

The Canyon de Palca and Valle de Animas (or Valley of the Souls) are about an hours drive out of La Paz. The area is home to some impressive geological rock formations that the locals thought resembled petrified souls. From there, you also get some fabulous views of Illamani Mountain in the background.

It takes only about two hours to hike down into the canyon and across the floor. The walk is very pleasant, not only because of the views but because you will probably be the only one there. 

Canyon de Palca

Tiwanaku

If you are not “ruined out” yet, Tiwanaku is a popular day trip from La Paz. This pre-Inkan ancient city dates back to 500 AD and used to be a pilgrimage site for the Tiwanaku people. This mind-blowing archaeological site has fascinating carved stone faces and incredibly large megalithic blocks. Don’t miss the Puerta del Sol or Sun Gate, believed to have been used as an astrological calendar.

The ancient, ruined city of Tiwanaku is located near Lake Titicaca. You can visit it on the way to or from Copacabana, or you can take one of the many tours from La Paz. 

Image by mgarciaturismo from Pixabay – Tiwanaku

Where to stay in La Paz?

Best on booking.com

Best reviewed: Hotel Mitru Sur or Florez Apartments

Great location: La Casona Hotel Boutique or Hostal La Posada De La Abuela 

Good value: Loki Boutique La Paz or Hostal Iskanwaya

If none of those take your fancy, try using HotelsCombined to search across all of the major accommodation sites. We use it all the time.

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