Before we arrived in Bolivia we were a little bit uneasy as we had read that La Paz was one of the most dangerous cities in the world and a little bit uninspired because various people we'd met had plenty of bad things to say about it. Most concerning for us was that the food was apparently very bland and poor quality. The terrible bus journey we endured on the way there seemed like another ominous sign that it was probably not going to be worth staying in Bolivia for long. We couldn't have been more wrong.
Top things we'd recommend to do in La Paz:
- Witches Market (El Mercado de las Brujas)
Less a market more an area, this vibrant, colourful yet slightly disturbing miniature maze of narrow streets is well worth a few hours of your time. You'll see everything from herbal erectile dysfunction remedies to mummified llama foetuses. The latter are traditionally buried underneath houses as offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to bring health, happiness and prosperity. Where the market spills over into adjoining streets there's also some really cool jewellery and knitwear at cheap as chips prices.
- Market Lunches (Almuerzo)
The people that told us the food was naff obviously hadn't had lunch in the markets. The restaurants are essentially like tables set up in the cook's kitchen so you can watch as they prepare your meal. For a £1 'almuerzo' lunch deal you are treated to a bowl of perfectly seasoned and freshly prepared soup of the day followed by your choice of meat with rice or pasta, salad and sweetcorn accompanied by a freshly made juice that changes daily. The portions are massive and they were so delicious we ate lunch like this every day. Brush up on your Spanish though as these are proper locals places, don't be surprised to be the only non-Bolivian in there. The cooks thought it was hilarious when I took a photo of the food. A word of caution though, vegetarianism is not common in Bolivia, our travel buddy made it clear that he didn't eat meat but was given a chicken broth. The portions are massive and they were so delicious we ate lunch like this every day. Brush up on your Spanish though as these are proper locals places, don't be surprised to be the only non-Bolivian in there. The cooks thought it was hilarious when I took a photo of the food. A word of caution though, vegetarianism is not common in Bolivia, our travel buddy made it clear that he didn't eat meat but was given a chicken broth.
- Street Food
Whilst maybe not as varied as in other South American countries there are still little gems to be found. Salteñas, empanadas and chorizo to name a few of our favourites. You also can't go very far on the street without bumping into a sugarcane juice vendor or tuna seller. By tuna we don't mean a tin of John West, its actually the brightly coloured fruit of the cactus plant.
- Mi Teleferico
These recently built (2014) cable cars are a state of the art transport system connecting the towns in the hills that surround La Paz to the city centre itself. They offer incredible views of the city and allow you to skip the total gridlock that blights it for the majority of each day. Three lines are currently in operation with seven more planned. The increase in mobility has reportedly reduced clashes between the different socioeconomic classes of La Paz and the surrounding poorer communities.
- El Alto Market
At the end of the red teleferico line get lost in the sprawling market in El Alto. Here you'll find anything from used nuts and bolts to leather jackets. If this place hasn't got it you don't need it. There's also a great fruit and veg section where you'll find every variety of potato and corn under the sun. We'd heard that it might be a bit dodgy with pickpockets and petty thieves a-plenty but we never experienced anything of the sort. Still, it is very busy so keep your wits about you.
- Mirador Killa Killa
At the top of this short but steep walk you'll find spectacular panoramic views of the entire city, so be sure to take your camera. The 360 landscapes are well worth the effort but don't expect much else than great viewing points. It's a small and peaceful park where you can escape the hustle and bustle of La Paz.
- Death Road
So called because of the high number of fatalities that occur on the road every year. But it's worth noting that most of these are the result of motor vehicle accidents, very few are from cyclists veering over the edge. We didn't actually do it because Sarah would probably manage to kill herself on 'Life Road' due to her below average bike riding skills. However for many tourists it's their sole reason to visit La Paz and indeed Bolivia. It still makes our list because everyone that we spoke to who had done it said it was a truly unforgettable experience.
In light of the above we stayed longer in La Paz than we intended to and even when we were ready to move on we ended up staying a few more days due an election, where amongst other things, alcohol sales and bus transportation out of the city were suspended. All in all La Paz was a welcome surprise. Despite what we had read and heard we discovered a vibrant, culture rich city with tons to offer. We loved the food and never had any problems with safety. It was colder than we had planned, but if like us you don't carry much cold weather clothing you can easily pick up a bargain in the markets. So if Bolivia isn't on your list of South American counties to visit - put it on!
Already been to Bolivia? What was your experience like? Have we missed anything off? If you haven't been, have we inspired you to make a trip?
James & Sarah x