In our trip we have tried to avoid the big urban centres and metropolis like La Paz We have explored the small towns of Bolivia to get to know the country in depth and immerse ourselves in its culture and history.
However, after the Salar de Uyuni tour we had to stop and rest for a few days in La Paz. Every cloud has a silver lining! We used this time to discover another face of the so-called Heart of South America (as Bolivia is often called).
La Paz – origins and modernity
La Paz, whose full name is Nuestra Señora de La Paz, was founded in 1548 and then moved where the village of Chuqiyapu, mainly inhabited by Aymara miners, used to be.
Today La Paz is the headquarter of the Bolivian government and parliament, while Sucre is the official capital of the Bolivian state.
The geography of La Paz
The political capital of Bolivia developed inside a huge and irregular valley, the hoyada, resulting from the erosion of watercourses that no longer exist.
La Paz has grown on the surroundings hills in an uneven and disorganized manner. Indeed, the altitude of the city ranges from 3.200 to 4.100 metres above the sea level. The imposing mountains that surround it are visible from any point of the city. The most majestic one is the triple peak Illimani (6438 metres), in the eastern part of the Andean altiplano.
La Paz – antiquity VS modernity
In La Paz the modern and traditional world interweave. In the markets and in the less bustling streets the indigenous customs survive, while the colonial influence is clear and strong especially in the big squares.
La Paz and El Alto – twin cities
El Alto, the satellite and twin town of La Paz, is located at the edge of the canyon. El Alto was born spontaneously in the ‘50s and it’s now a city on its own inhabited by 700.000 former farmers and miners who migrated from the villages of the altiplano.
On the touristic guides El Alto is often defined as dangerous. We have been there at night to see an indigenous music concert and it seemed to us much more welcoming and authentic than the richer sister. Indeed, El Alto is like a massive outdoor market where the locals sell meat, fish, bread, fruit, vegetables and all sorts of goods (better to visit on Sunday).
What to see in La Paz
In La Paz there is plenty of important museums, galleries and squares that made the history of Bolivia. Here is a (short) list of the city’s places that we consider the most interesting and beautiful.
La Paz’s Teleferico (cableway)
Why are we telling you about La Paz’s Teleferico? This “modern” transportation system is one of the town’s symbols. Composed of 8 lines and 25 stations, it crosses La Paz and link it with El Alto. A very comfortable way to move in a city like La Paz where walking, due to the altitude, is very tiring.
First of all, the Teleferico’s cabins are wallpapered with propaganda messages, like Mar Para Bolivia (Sea for Bolivia). Famous people like Pope Francis and Hugo Chavez are quoted regarding this matter. Bolivia lost its access to the sea during the War of the Pacific against Chile which took place between 1879 and 1883. Clearly, it’s (almost) impossible that the conquered territories will be recovered by the Bolivian state.
Moreover, another reason why the Teleferico is such an important part of La Paz is that it allows you to watch the city like a condor, from above, and to understand its big contradictions. Going from North to South you will see the ratty houses built on the mountains as well as huge villas with swimming pool.
View of the town of La Paz
Due to its shape, La Paz is definitely a city worth to be observed in all its grandeur.
Among the many miradores, we chose the Killi Killi (reacheable by trufy from Plaza Murillo). From up there at sunset there is a spectacular view of the whole city and the Illimani, its giant guardian. As night falls, the houses in the city and on the mountains light up like in a huge creche.
La Paz’s squares
Plaza San Francisco and Plaza Murillo are surely worth visiting.
Plaza San Francisco, with its Basilica, is at the heart of the city, along the main road of La Paz and very close to Mercado Lanza (perfect for food shopping).
Plaza Murillo is one of the areas where the colonial architecture is most visible (Calle Jaén). The Palacio Legislativo (Parliament’s heartquarter), the Palacio Presidencial and the Cathedral are located here.
La Paz’s markets
The list would be huge so here are only the most interesting and suggestive markets.
- Mercado de las brujas (witches markets) – amulets, traditional remedies and goods related to the worship of Pachamama (mother earth) are sold here
- Mercado de las flores (flower market) – close to the Cemetery
- Mercado Lanza – the biggest food market in La Paz, close to Plaza San Francisco
- Mercado negro (black market) – huge market where smuggling items are also sold
La Paz’s museums
This list would be endless too. Here is a selection of the most interesting museums to visit in town:
- Museo Archeologico – ancient artifacts especially related to the pre-Incaic civilization of Tiwanacu
- Museo della Coca – about the traditinal uses of the Coca leaves
- Museo de Instrumentos Musicales – traditional musical instruments
- Museo Nacional de Etnografia y Folklore, close to Plaza Murillo
La Paz surroundings
There are two places reachable from La Paz that you shouldn’t miss.
First of all, Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) is one of the biggest archeological sites of South America. Recent studies have dated its construction back to 1580 B.C.
[If you want to know more on Tiahuanaco, keep following us. Article coming soon!]
Then the Valle della Luna (Moon Valley), a huge canyon where the fragile rock is constantly shaped by weathering. It really feels like being on another planet (as far as you don’t look too far).
Where to eat in La Paz
Beside the Almuerzos which are kind of everywhere in the city, we recommend the restaurant Angel Colonial, close to El Prado and Calle Murillo (not to be confused with Plaza Murillo, the square with the same name) and Sol y Luna, which is in the same area.
Where to sleep La Paz at a low cost
In La Paz there’s plenty of hostels, hotels and B&B for any kind of traveller. Here are two places that we want to recommend:
Hostal Pacha, in Calle Murillo. Here you can sleep in a mixed dormitory for 35 Bs. There is also a big shared kitchen (very close to Mercado Lanza in Plaza San Francisco).
Hostal Roes: still centrally located, in here you can have a comfortable double room with shared bathroom for 118 Bs. In the room there is everything needed to make breakfast (kettle, coffee and tea). Very nice, recently refurbished and the manager is always available.
How to get to La Paz from Uyuni
There is a direct bus from Uyuni to La Paz (day or night bus) that costs 70 Bs. We left Uyuni at 9:30 PM and reached La Paz at 6:30 AM.