Bolivia, Latin America

The Gritty Streets of La Paz

Bolivia Latin America

After a week in Cusco, it was time to venture into La Paz. We decided to spend a week in the highest capital city in the world. We chose to stay in an Airbnb in Sopocachi, considered the wealthiest part of La Paz. Our Airbnb was only $35 USD a night and it was a sky rise apartment complex. Our apartment was one of the nicest apartments I have ever seen! We couldn’t believe how inexpensive it was. Sopocachi was a very safe and walkable neighborhood. There were grocery stores, restaurants and a giant mall nearby so we had everything we needed near us. Upon arrival, our Airbnb hosts informed us that most taxi’s and Ubers were not safe. They told us to walk everywhere or ONLY get into radio taxi’s, which are taxi’s that have the company name and phone number on a bubble on top of the car. These radio taxis are tracked by a satellite. Since our apartment was centrally located to all of the main sights, we opted to walk everywhere. A taxi was not necessary until our very last night when we needed to get to a bus terminal. We had a local hotel get us a radio taxi and the ride was fine! The driver was so friendly and played us local music. He even gifted us a CD at the end of the ride!

With La Paz being the highest capital city in the world, it was a given that at least one of us would get altitude sickness. Poor Andrew was very sick for a few days but after some time, he was up to exploring the steep hills of the city. The weather in La Paz was muggy at times and then it would become rainy and cold. Everyone wears pants and sweaters; I did not see one persons legs or bare arms the entire time we were there. The steepness of the city is EXHAUSTING. You will feel like you have walked miles in a few minutes due to the amount of hills. Take your time and drink water! The city of La Paz was amazing. It is wild, loud, busy, and fascinating. I couldn’t wait to see what was around every corner or up every hill.

Beautiful dancers
Jam session in the rain

I was most excited to see the Witches Market. After a meal, we found it and we were very confused. It wasn’t anything special! It was a short street of shops just like all the others. There were a few shops with “potions” and dead llamas for sacrifices but it wasn’t as cool as I thought it was going to be. It is barely worth a short walk through. Oh well! Bring an umbrella and a jacket with you everyday in La Paz, even if its hot when you head out. It started to rain randomly the day we visited the Witches Market and we had to scramble to find an umbrella from a local vendor. Other attractions include San Francisco Church, San Francisco Plaza, Calle Jaen and our favorite, Plaza Murillo. This is the political hub of the city. We watched the changing of the guards and it was so exciting! The Plaza is beautiful, with big buildings in a gorgeous mustard yellow color. This plaza is heavily policed so be on your best behavior.

Witches Market
Witches Market
Changing of the guards

The most impressive part of La Paz? The cable car system! I have NEVER seen such an intricate cable car system. We had to ride it! We walked to the yellow line and took it to the very end. You are HIGH up in the sky. You can see into peoples homes below. It is a great way to see the vastness of the city. La Paz sprawls in every direction. Once at the end of the yellow line, we walked around a bit before taking it right back to where we started. It was inexpensive, the service is efficient and the cars leave the station every 12 seconds. This was my absolute favorite part of La Paz. I wish Los Angeles had such an excellent transportation system!

Since La Paz is so big and tiring, we only took 1 day trip but it was the best one! We visited Chacalataya Mountain and Valle De Luna with Bolivia Hop. Since we took the overnight bus with them to La Paz, they gave us a discount on this tour. Chacalataya Mountain used to be a giant ski resort on a glacier. The glacier completely melted in 2002 and only a building and small hut remains. The road to get here is not for the faint of heart! It is tiny, on a cliff with drops on either side. Our driver was a professional but it was still nerve wracking. Once you arrive to the destination, you can climb the mountain a bit but its not open for snow sports any longer. I absolutely loved being here. Andrew chose to climb the mountain and while I stayed down and explored the remainders of the old ski resort. It was so crazy to be so high up on a snowy mountain with little snowflakes falling everywhere. The next part of the tour was Valley of the Moon. This place was trippy. Years of erosion have left the rocks looking like moon sculptures! The park is easy to navigate, as there are wooden walkways to help you weave through the park.

On the way up the mountain
Chacaltaya Mountain
Valley of the Moon

La Paz is a great city to visit but I would recommend it for experienced travelers. My suggestions and tips are:

  • Do not expect “friendly” people. The locals aren’t rude at all but they keep to themselves and will only help you if you ask.
  • The streets are busy! Streets are sometimes hard to cross, as there are often no lights or crosswalks. Just be confident and watch for speeding buses
  • ONLY take radio taxis. Ask for the price before you get in the taxi and confirm your driver actually knows where you want to go
  • If you do nothing else, at least take a cable car. It was one of the best experiences of my life!
  • Wear comfortable shoes. The hills are unreal. The locals don’t seem to mind but at the high altitude, you will feel like your chest is about to leave your body.
  • Do not wear shorts, dresses, skirts, etc. Cover your legs. The locals do not show skin and you will bring a lot of attention to yourself if you do. I know it might be hot, especially when walking up hills but trust me on this one!
  • There are police everywhere but they don’t bother tourists at all.
Andrew in a Star Wars themed cafe we found!
Contributed by Sigournee Grano
Sigournee is the co-creator of Roaming Love. She is a travel enthusiast, photographer, writer and wife.