La Paz, coolest city in South America?
We didn’t have a good start in La Paz. We were coming from Isla del Sol in Lake Titikaka. I got some stomach bug and was feeling really shitty. It was Christmas, the traffic was horrible. Bus driver kicked us out before the bus terminal as he didn’t want to go through the traffic. We couldn’t take a taxi and had to walk some 2,5km with our backpacks. Normally we always walk, but my muscles were shaking. It was raining and I slipped and felt on the street and was close to crying. Martin was yelling at me because I didn’t/couldn’t stand up. Just bad, like sometimes the days when you are travelling are.
We did a really smart move thou, we’ve checked into a proper hotel (TorrAndes) which had a hot shower and tv and stayed put for 2 days watching movies. It was AWESOME. Best.Decision.Ever.
Then we went for walking tour, started to find out about the quirky places, discovered the best food spots and suddenly ended up staying 6 days.
We found out the Best Female Chef of all South America is based in La Paz and runs a restaurant Gustu. After that our eyes and minds have opened and we fell in love. Weird, isn’t it?
La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia, it used to be Sucre but there were too many protests happening so they decided to move it to La Paz - to get some peace, I guess? (It’s a poor attempt on pun by me) Although La Paz means peace, it did have its fair share of problems in the past and protests (mostly against government) occur on a regular basis even today.
Fast facts about La Paz:
- we arrived from Copacabana with a bus for 20BOB pp that took around 3 hours
- Stayed at TorrAndes hotel - $37 USD per night but worth it
- 25-30BOB in average for fancier almuerzo
- traffic is bad, walk or use teleferico
Things to do:
- take a walking tour of La Paz
Bolivia on foot - $3 USD per person, it was just the 2 of us, great overview of political situation, different markets, customs between shoppers and buyers, places to eat and shop. Make sure you go to El Alto for the real witches market, don’t get satisfied with what you see in the tourist center of La Paz.
- Take a tour of El Alto
We did and combined it with Cholitas Wrestling for 135 BOB pp (80 BOB for wrestling and 55 BOB for the tour - it did include rides on minivan and teleferico)
This tour was one of the highlights for me. El Alto is 1,5mil city with 95% indigenous inhabitants. It’s 1 teleferico ride from centre of La Paz. It used to be one city but then they got divided and are run separately. You can find here the biggest market in South America where no taxes are being paid to the government. Some of the Cholitas became the richest people and are building crazy commercial buildings thanks to the trade on the market. The most interesting thing was to see the real witches and shamans performing their rituals in one of the streets dedicated to just that. The atmosphere was out of this world. Fires burning on the streets, something weird in the air....you have to go. You can even get your future read from coca leaves.
- Watch Cholitas wrestling
Still don’t know how we feel about this one. It’s definitely a tourist trap, 1 hour of wrestling for 80 BOB. It’s wrestling, it’s a show. I don’t like wrestling but really wanted to go. It’s not a real fight, but it’s funny to watch this lady in her best years, in cholita clothes pretending she is beating the shit out of some male in superhero costume. I didn’t like the part where the referee gets involved and starts kicking the women. That was too much.
- Eat at Ali Pacha and Gustu, treat yourself
Gustu is the best Bolivian restaurant and I wrote a whole post about our awesome experience here. Ali Pacha is new up and coming vegan restaurant where you can get 7 course tasting menu for $30 USD. It was great, really good quality of service, only Bolivian produce.
- Take a day trip to Tiwanaku, the most important historical site of Bolivia
Walk or take a minibus to Cemetario in the city and from there minibus to Tiwanaku go as soon as they get full. 15BOB for a journey where they dropped me off on the main road and I walked 1,5km to the site. Gringos pay 100 BOB entrance that will get you to 2 archeological sites and 2 museums. It’s expensive comparing to what locals pay but I found it super interesting viewing the monoliths, learning that the stones have been dragged from a volcano in today’s Peru and what believes of people can achieve.
Return is very easy, get on the main road and there are plenty of minibuses to La Paz.
- Take a 1/2 a day trip to Valley de la Luna
Eroded rocks that look out of this world with few viewing points and little explanation. Get onto the green teleferico and get off at the last stop (Irpawi). Walk to Alexander Von Humboldt park and catch a minibus that will bring you directly to the entrance of the valley. It cost 15BOB to enter but they gave us only 20min to view it all so we negotiated one entry instead of one. Sweet 😉
- Ride teleferico everywhere
- Death road cycling trip anyone?
Car brings your up to Yungas road at 4700m above sea level and within 61km you cover 3 different flora and fauna ranges on your descent to 1200m. It is not as dangerous as it used to be some years ago as there are no more cars driving on this road, just cyclists and hikers. Yes, you can do a 2 day hike here instead of cycling and you don’t need an agency for that. Get all your maps at the info center in La Paz.
- Read Marching Powder (really badly written book but a good story and introduction to the famous San Pedro prison)
I’ve read it some years ago so I was superkeen to go inside. It’s not possible anymore for tourists (the official way) but you can bribe your way in. The receptionist at our hotel has an uncle living inside and promised to take Martin and myself in for a price. I was stoked. Martin refused. Now the problem is, that the prison is actually cocaine production, tourists are not allowed anymore (since few years ago as there were some bad things that happened to some French girls) and with my 181cm and blonde hair, I’m not going to convince anyone that I’m a cholita. The guards of the prison watch after prisoners who would want to escape. Whatever happens inside it’s not their worry, especially if you didn’t get in officially. After speaking with many locals on this topic I must admit I shut my pants and decided to stay away from prison 🙁
La Paz has horrible traffic, it’s full of people, you might have problems with breathing because of the altitude BUT it made a way into our heart.
Our experience at Gustu, together with the variety of street food and few up and coming places like: Ali Pacha (vegan 7 course degustation for $30 USD) or Italian Berlusca (serving 4 different pastas every day with soup and postre for $5 USD) caused me to rename La Paz to culinary capital of South America.
(In my head I used to call it crime capital of South America, maybe because of the Marching Powder book)
We’ve been to La Paz in December 2017. If you have more up to date information, please do share them in comments. Thank you.