La Paz

A grungy, vibrant city in a spectacular natural setting, Bolivia’s main city of La Paz is an experience to explore. Thankfully I’d already spent a week at altitude but at 3,650m above sea level walking up the endless hills was still a challenge at times. It had plenty to fill a couple of days if little more.

The best way to understand the city is to ride the Teleferico cable car network that has rapidly grown in recent years, with over 10km of routes forming the longest network in the world. It’s perfectly suited to the unusual geography of La Paz, set in a canyon, with the neighbouring city of El Alto (home to more people than La Paz itself, and the airport) on the flat land above it. The purple line had some of the best views of the city, literally passing over the Killi Killi Mirador lookout, the traditional city view point.

Riding the blue line over El Alto on a Thursday I could appreciate the vast expanse of the twice weekly markets, one of the largest in the world. There is only one recent supermarket in the city of over a million people, so most people buy their food and other items from the markets.

The red line travels down from El Alto to the city centre of La Paz, passing over the sizeable La Paz Cemetery.

The most famous market in La Paz itself is the Witches Market, where a range of somewhat bizarre herbs and good luck charms can be bought, including lama foetuses.

Plaza Murillo is home to the national parliament, office of the President, national Cathedral, and lots of pigeons.

On the corner is the National Art Museum, home to a reasonable collection housed in an attractive building.

The Ethnographic and Folklore Museum was one of the best museums in the city, with a diverse and well presented collection, the highlight of which for me was the wonderful (if pretty creepy) carnival masks. Oruro, a mining town of 300,000 people a few hours from La Paz, is home to the second largest carnival in South America, attracting a million people each year.

In the Calle Jaen Museums quarter the Musical Instruments Museum was my favourite though, home to some of the most unusual instruments I’ve seen, many incorporating various animals.

There was a fair amount of decent street art around the city.

Along with these colourful Dodge public buses dating from 1950s, still in service as a cheaper form of public transport than the Teleferico.

The drive to La Paz from Puno in Peru was pretty scenic.

To end with one of the most popular day trips from La Paz, visiting the archeological site of Tiwanaku, about two hours from the city. There are a couple of museums (Stone and Ceramic) and remains of a number of temples to explore. The Tiwanaku were a pre-Inca civilisation dating from around 600-1,200AD, disappearing before Inca arrived. Overall the site is pretty underwhelming but there are a few highlights, including the sun gate and inside the Stone Museum the 7.3m high Monolito Bennett Pachamama. It was in good condition when it came out of the ground about hundred years ago, but damaged after decades of exposure to the smoggy La Paz air, before being brought back to the site in 2002.

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