On the road... Discovering dirty La Paz

Monday, May 09, 2016

You'd expect a city where there's significantly less oxygen to limit the amount of fumes it pumps into the air. Not La Paz. Whilst breathing is almost impossible and altitude sickness is a definite. This bizarre little city became our final stop on a 6 month adventure through two continents. I can't say I love La Paz but I can't say I hate it. There's something so real about a capital like La Paz but I'll get to that later.

La Paz at a glance

 Language: Spanish 

 Currency: Boliviano's

 Street food: $2-$4

 Restaurant food: $3-$5 - Set menus and great price restaurant meals

 Drinking: $1 for local Cerveza

 Must Do: Eat at Mozzarella, Visit the Witches Market, Visit the English Pubs for some home comforts

 Where to stay: Loki La Paz or Wild Rover 

All prices in US Dollar

La Paz from a rooftop

Goodbye Titicaca, hello La Paz

Getting to La Paz is an adventure. If you're on one side of Lake Titicaca and you want to get to La Paz (on the other side). You have to leave Peru behind and cross into Bolivia, usually on a bus bound for Copacabana.

You could go round the lake, but that takes a long time so your other option is to go over... And risk your life on one of these floating boats.

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger
I present to you - Crossing Lake Titicaca on a few pieces of poorly nailed together wood
Fortunately you don't actually have to risk your life on the floating logs, you can actually pay to take an equally as dangerous overfilled taxi boat to the other side. We did that instead and left all our belongings in the bus, on the logs of doom.

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger
Kiss goodbye to your belongings

A long bus ride to La Paz

La Paz isn't your typical South American capital, you often hear the words 'defacto capital' which is about the worst downgrade you can give a city. La Paz reminds me of all those capitals in Central America not worth visiting, Tegucigalpa or Managua maybe. The kind of city you only really visit because of a bus station. Probably filthy, definitely dangerous, that sort of place. In La Paz the restaurant scene is bleak and the touristic areas are limited. 

The streets of La Paz do feel rough and there's always some unpleasant aroma lurking. It's high, like I mentioned altitude sickness is a given in a city 3,650 meters above sea level but there's something about La Paz. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on for several days. It wasn't until we were sitting in a park attempting to soak up some final sun I realised. Each traditionally dressed woman in a bowler hat, each shoe shiner hiding his identity and each child in a fake Barcelona football shirt. It's the people that make La Paz. There's a liveliness and pulse about a big dangerous city like La Paz and after a few days here I could feel it for sure. 

El Alto, Bolivia

The diverse group of people that fill the grubby streets each day bring a life and a vitality to La Paz. Intrigued by these people, I soon began reading about La Paz's history, this is when I first read the words El Alto. El Alto, once a slum, now a suburb of La Paz has the highest concentration of indigenous inhabitants in all of South America. 

This sprawling city sits high above the streets of central La Paz and spills down the mountain sides to meet the steep streets of the historic areas. This all becomes apparent when you leave the mountain bowl. And It's easy to see how high up you are from the snowy peaks surrounding you. 

You can reach El Alto by cable car too, this reminded me of Medellin, Colombia passing through wealthy suburban areas  and eventually ending up high above the city in a more make shift area of thrown together accommodations. 

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger
Cable car tour of the city of La Paz

Experience La Paz and the only rooftop bar in La Paz

La Paz is lacking in beautiful spaces but that doesn't mean to say there isn't a lot of exciting things to experience. The plazas in La Paz are filled with spectacular architecture and important government buildings. The narrow streets can be tiresome and crowded but certain walks are worth the heart attack. 

The witches market for one is an absolute must! Situated along some of the steepest and busiest streets in La Paz it can feel like a mission to get to but it's quirky and more charismatic than many of the other markets we've seen. Now, I'm not so interested in mummified llama babies or every variation of coca-leaf tea in Bolivia but there are gems to be found here! 

We spent our final days buying gifts for our friends and families on the market streets. I know earlier I mentioned the bleak restaurant scene in La Paz but we were recommended a pizza restaurant back in Copacabana and it didn't disappoint. Mozzarella, some of the cheapest wine and best pizza La Paz has to offer, not to be missed really! We actually found ourselves there 3 times which is a first for us during this trip, but when your options are limited you have to eat somewhere! 

Another great experience to be had in La Paz is something we stumbled upon in our first few days here a bar/restaurant and charity organisation all in one. The best part though is it's situated on a inconspicuous rooftop of a shopping centre overlooking Plaza San Francisco! If great drinks and people watching are things you enjoy it's the perfect little spot. My TripAdvisor review even claims its the only rooftop bar in La Paz. Ichuri Food is a place you would want to seek out when visiting this city! Don't forget that name. 

Basilica San Francisco, Plaza San Francisco

Taken from the top of the rooftop bar, looking over La Paz, Bolivia
Plaza San Francisco is a bustling plaza at the bottom of steep and polluted streets where the few restaurants and bars in La Paz can be found. It's a good base and we visited this little square every day for a week. Another plaza worth a walk to is Plaza Murillo filled with possibly the best kept park and buildings in La Paz, for a second you even forgot about the air pollution. 

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger
Plaza Murillo - Home to the government palace and metropolitan cathedral 

The Valley of the Moon, Bolivia 

Another recommended thing to do in La Paz is visit the Valley of the Moon. I won't lie I didn't really get the importance of a few rained on rocks, but as Jamie likes to remind me a geological marvel is a geological marvel it doesn't need to be anything more than that. A beautiful hot day, a nice road trip and in the end it turned out to be a little miniature adventure and I'm always up for one of those! If anything a visit to the Valley of the Moon is actually a great photo opportunity but not exactly worth the entrance fee (a little steep if you ask me).

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger
The Valley of the Moon
La Paz is a tricky one for me. It's kind of curious, a lot of backpackers stick around longer than they had planned to try and figure out this city. I don't know if they ever do, I mean, I know we didn't. I think having two of the largest South American hostel chains within a stone's throw of each other does help to. But it is a lesson in not to judge a dirty facade on first appearance because there's always fun to be had somewhere. 

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger

La Paz, Travel, Bolivia. Latin America. travelsandmore, travel blogger

The final backpacker photos after 6 months and 12 countries - Our final days in La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz basics for a first time backpacking trip to La Paz, Bolivia

Altitude and pollution

Breathing is tough in La Paz the mixture of high altitude, lack of oxygen and pollution from old cars really does give you a beating. Be prepared and mindful of this when visiting La Paz. Don't over do it. No jogging in La Paz. 

Crime in Bolivia

Although we didn't experience any, with poverty comes crime. Protect your belongings and wear a money belt. Solo travellers should avoid wandering around alone at night too. Always be aware of your surroundings. 

The Airport

La Paz's airport is El Alto, book a taxi in advance and leave early to avoid any delays.

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